All 11 Deidre Brock contributions to the Agriculture Act 2020

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Mon 3rd Feb 2020
Agriculture Bill
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2nd reading & 2nd reading: House of Commons & Money resolution: House of Commons & Programme motion: House of Commons & 2nd reading & 2nd reading: House of Commons & Money resolution & Money resolution: House of Commons & Programme motion & Programme motion: House of Commons & 2nd reading & Programme motion & Money resolution
Tue 11th Feb 2020
Agriculture Bill (First sitting)
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Committee stage: 1st sitting & Committee Debate: 1st sitting: House of Commons & Committee Debate: 1st sitting: House of Commons
Tue 11th Feb 2020
Agriculture Bill (Second sitting)
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Committee stage: 2nd sitting & Committee Debate: 2nd sitting: House of Commons
Thu 13th Feb 2020
Agriculture Bill (Third sitting)
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Committee stage: 3rd sitting & Committee Debate: 3rd sitting: House of Commons & Committee Debate: 3rd sitting: House of Commons
Thu 13th Feb 2020
Agriculture Bill (Fourth sitting)
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Committee stage: 4th sitting & Committee Debate: 4th sitting: House of Commons & Committee Debate: 4th sitting: House of Commons
Tue 3rd Mar 2020
Agriculture Bill (Tenth sitting)
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Committee stage: 10th sitting & Committee Debate: 10th sitting: House of Commons
Thu 5th Mar 2020
Agriculture Bill (Eleventh sitting)
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Committee stage: 11th sitting & Committee Debate: 11th sitting: House of Commons
Thu 5th Mar 2020
Agriculture Bill (Twelfth sitting)
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Committee stage: 12th sitting & Committee Debate: 12th sitting: House of Commons
Wed 13th May 2020
Agriculture Bill
Commons Chamber

Report stage & Report stage & Report stage: House of Commons & Report stage
Mon 12th Oct 2020
Agriculture Bill
Commons Chamber

Consideration of Lords amendmentsPing Pong & Consideration of Lords amendments & Ping Pong & Ping Pong: House of Commons
Wed 4th Nov 2020
Agriculture Bill
Commons Chamber

Consideration of Lords amendmentsPing Pong & Consideration of Lords amendments

Agriculture Bill

Deidre Brock Excerpts
2nd reading & 2nd reading: House of Commons & Money resolution: House of Commons & Programme motion: House of Commons & Money resolution & Programme motion
Monday 3rd February 2020

(4 years ago)

Commons Chamber
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Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock (Edinburgh North and Leith) (SNP)
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I am sure I have seen this Bill somewhere before but, as it seems that we are destined to repeat this whole thing, and we will no doubt be going over the same ground, let me say upfront that the Bill does not respect the devolved settlement and that that cannot be a basis on which to proceed.

Let me deal first with the issue of farming support payments. We discussed it during the passage of the Bill that became the Direct Payments to Farmers (Legislative Continuity) Act 2020. That Bill was, of course, needed as a result of the Government’s failure to plan, which, I suppose, is why we find ourselves repeating a failed Agriculture Bill.

Questions that were asked during the passage of the direct payments legislation were not answered at the time. I wonder whether Ministers have had an opportunity to consider them yet, and whether they find themselves in a position to answer them now. In order to be as helpful as possible, let me refresh their memories. Like the debate itself, this may seem rather like an episode of déjà vu, given that I asked those questions twice, and other Members asked them as well. None of us received an answer, but I am eternally hopeful. It must be my Aussie optimism.

First, let me ask about currency fluctuations. Will any drop in the value of sterling see a corresponding uplift in farm payments to take account of the increased costs of the imported products that farmers will need in the event of legislation requiring the Scottish Government to make payments on the basis of existing EU rules? We know that the currency recently took another beating as a result of Brexit; do the Government propose to help farmers a little with that, and with future fluctuations?

Will there be a multi-annual framework for farm support, or will there just be ad hoc, “make it up as you go along” nonsense? We were told that the details had not been worked out. Has any thought been given to that framework since then? Even the merest idea of how the basic framework of the scheme will look would be a start. When will that be available?

When will we hear details of the shared prosperity fund—details of how much money it contains, and what conditions might be attached? When will we see the global funding figure, and the proportions for Scotland and Wales? Will we have any guarantees that they will be at least maintained in real terms and on international comparators? Will support for our farmers at least keep pace with the support that farmers in the remaining states of the EU will receive? Farmers need some idea of the long-term support that they will receive, or not receive, so they can plan their businesses. The Minister is a farmer himself, and he must be aware of that. Brexit is enough of a disaster for farmers without their not being made aware of the funds that they are likely to receive.

Perhaps the Minister will be able to tell us whether it will be open to owners of grouse moors, shooting estates, private forestry and other such land to apply for the new English scheme for public goods. Will public money, having been directed away from food production, be finding its way to them? I personally think—and I believe that many other people think so too—that the proposed new English system will store up long-term problems in England’s food supply, which will, of course, affect Scotland’s production chain. I hope that we shall hear some answers from the Minister tonight, even if there is a timetable for substantive answers.

We have some other concerns. The viability of many of our farms relies on getting produce to European markets, but the only word that we seem to have had on the future relationship is the Prime Minister’s lukewarm hope for a trade deal. We do know that there are a couple of deadlines on the horizon in June, with the questions of financial services and fishing to be decided. We are fairly sure that fishing will be sold out in favour of the City of London’s access to the European markets. However, that wrangling and betrayal dance will mean less concentration on agriculture and the movement of goods—food produced here, to be sure, but also the fertilisers, herbicides, pesticides and other crop products that our farmers use, as well the animal feed on whose import they rely.

That, of course, feeds into the subject matter of part 2: food security and the supply chain. There will be little point in the Bill if farmers cannot farm in any case. What conversations are Ministers having about ensuring the free flow of goods into and out of the EU? Just this morning we read that the Prime Minister would rather accept tariffs than EU laws, and would not follow EU regulations. Imagine the feelings of farmers and crofters hearing that from the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom! What guarantees can be offered on the future of their trade? Without some guarantees, the structures and rules being set up by the Bill are meaningless phrases and empty promises.

The other deadline in June is, of course, the decision on applying for an extension of the transition period beyond the end of this year. I do not think that anyone will be surprised if there is a great deal of hubristic chest thumping and a great many refusals to extend, but the truth is that farmers will need that extension while the deals to ensure their survival are being hammered out.

In the midst of all of that chaos, the Bill contains measures that cut into devolution, trampling on devolved competences such as livestock identification and organics. That is not acceptable, and it must be reversed if the Government want to respect the voices of the Scottish people.

One final issue worth addressing, given the promises made by the Government time after time, is the failure to include protections for food quality and protected geographical indications, of which we have heard much today. We have no guarantees, our food protections are being stripped away, our food quality and welfare protections are going, and support for farmers is under threat, as is their ability to farm. This is not legislation; it is a Brexit fire sale.

In an area of “government by clever wheeze”—or what the Government think are clever wheezes, anyway—good management and sensible government have gone, and we are left with assertion, bluff and bluster. Far from the ideal of evidence-based policy making, the Bill is a hope-and-prayer pitch at filling a giant hole with a tiny pebble. In Brexit England, evidence seems to be treated with the same suspicion as experts, and we are left with this nonsense instead.

This Bill does not respect the devolved Administrations, and the SNP will be withholding our consent for its progress.

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
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It is a pleasure to call Virginia Crosbie to make her maiden speech.

Agriculture Bill (First sitting)

Deidre Brock Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee Debate: 1st sitting: House of Commons
Tuesday 11th February 2020

(4 years ago)

Public Bill Committees
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: Public Bill Committee Amendments as at 11 February 2020 - (11 Feb 2020)
Robert Goodwill Portrait Mr Robert Goodwill (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con)
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Q I declare an interest: I am a farmer in North Yorkshire, where we have been since 1850, and a member of the National Farmers Union and the Country Land and Business Association. The question I want to ask is whether you think the Bill will do enough to enable us to get the balance right and reward people for what they are doing already—I am thinking particularly of some of the upland farmers on the North Yorkshire moors and in the very marginal parts of our country. Most people probably take the view that they should keep doing exactly what they are doing, because that is exactly what we want. The flip side of that is incentivising other farmers, perhaps in the east of the country, on some of our more intensively farmed areas, to do more green things. Do you feel that there is enough in the Bill to reassure those who are in those upland areas who are concerned because the subsidies are basically what are keeping them on the land, and the others—the Beeswax Dyson Farmings of this world—who can dance to the tune that the Minister is playing? I think Caroline might be the best person to start.

Caroline Drummond: I am not too sure. It is interesting that there is a lot about livestock production in here, but a lot of that level of detail will have to come through the policy support, because upland farmers are under a huge amount of pressure. There are discussions around the meat challenges of Veganuary and climate change mitigation, but we should look at what they offer in terms of tourism and capability to manage. For those very sensitive land areas, right through to some of the high-value peat areas, I think there will be the need to get some really good ELM projects to better understand how we can support those farmers. Exeter University is doing a lot of work in this area at the moment to find out how those farmers, as Jack just said, can actually make a profit at the end of the day. There are a lot of social services, public goods, environmental goods, tourism and additionalities that these farmers offer on incredibly tight margins.

Martin Lines: I think there will be movement with payments. As an arable farmer in Cambridgeshire on a large field system, the productivity of my landscape is really good. Most years it is quite a good, profitable system. If you are in the marginal areas—the uplands, in the west country where there is a smaller field-scale system—the public goods should be rewarding you more. I will probably receive less public goods money, but that will be moved, hopefully, across to the uplands and those cherished areas that cannot deliver more productivity, but need to be supported to deliver the public goods and with the landscape delivery stuff. It should be swings and roundabouts, but it should be fair. The detail is not in there and we need to see that transition. It is going to be about the journey if we move from one to the other and give farmers confidence about the future.

ffinlo Costain: I understand your point, Mr Goodwill. There is one farmer we work with in Northumberland with 1,000-odd acres on a sheep farm. When we have run the metrics of looking at his carbon footprint with GWP*—global warming potential “star”—the new accurate way of accounting for methane, which is very different from the way methane was accounted for 18 months ago and was recognised in the Committee on Climate Change land report just a couple of weeks ago, his farm impact is less than the average household of four, which is astonishing. We want to make sure that farm continues to get the funding as well.

We have proposed in the past that an acreage basis for that continuing maintenance of excellence could be a way to go because we need to make sure—exactly as I think you are saying—that we do not just restore biodiversity, we do not just mitigate climate change, but we hold and maintain that excellence afterwards. I hope that, within public goods applications, farmers will be able to make the case that they are continuing to deliver excellence. All farms can be better managed. We never achieve sustainability; it is a journey. However, if farmers can make the case that they are delivering public goods and continuing to deliver that—I would like to hear from Ministers on that—I hope they will continue to be eligible.

Jack Ward: From the fresh produce industry, in terms of sector, I think there is a lot of interest in what the ELMS might offer. Just coming back to the earlier question: until we see the detail it is difficult to make a judgment.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock (Edinburgh North and Leith) (SNP)
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Q It is very encouraging to hear your enthusiasm for improving the standards of the producers you represent. How concerned are those folks about cheaper imports undercutting produce through trade deals that might be negotiated in the future? Would you like to see something preventing that in the Bill? Certainly, the farmers I speak to are increasingly concerned about that.

Martin Lines: If we do not have the rug taken from under our feet: we are told to produce to a standard, but if different standards are allowed to be imported, how can we compete? Our costs are different. If the standard is positive across the platform, we can compete. It may be a different price model, but we can compete with that standard. We should export our environmental footprint. We can bring in produce from around the world to the same standard, so other people’s standards can increase. There is huge risk because if we are told to produce goods to a standard, then yes, there needs to be something in the Bill or an assessment of the amount of stuff allowed in that is below our standards. We already allow in a lot of products below our standards. We are not allowed to use neonicotinoid treatments or genetically modified processes in the UK, but we import huge quantities. So there needs to be that sort of balance. I would struggle to say none, but there needs to be balance and fairness for the whole farming industry.

Caroline Drummond: It would be fair to say they are extremely concerned, and I think the majority of farmers are very concerned about not undercutting the capability and the investment that they have made. We are very fortunate. We work with a lot of can-do farmers who have made a huge investment in making sure they reach the level of trying to be more sustainable; trying to ensure that welfare standards are meeting and going beyond the regulation; and driving for new innovation and ways of improving and doing things. As Martin has said, offshoring the environmental and animal welfare delivery and the learnings we have made from those practices that are just not acceptable—not only to our farmers but to our customers—is not good news. There is a double whammy because although many countries say they do not support their farmers, they do in many different ways. That will be through investments and free advice. You just have to go on to the United States Department of Agriculture website to see the substantial amount of money that is going to support marketing, drainage schemes, flood alleviation, irrigation and so on. We need to be very careful. There is that second hit of not only importing produce that potentially does not meet the standards or requirements of our farmers, but in addition to that is also being supported through different ways.

Jack Ward: In the fresh produce industry, we already import from about 90 countries, so there is a fair degree of free trade within fresh produce. I think the areas that would concern our growers are particularly around production systems that would be unlawful in the UK. That is particularly around crop protection and labour welfare standards. Those are two very key areas for the sector.

ffinlo Costain: I think it is terribly important, exactly as everybody else has said, but there are two sides to this particular coin. I understand, hear and welcome what Ministers have said repeatedly, that standards will not be lowered and that trade deals will not allow that to happen but, in terms of farmer and public confidence, it needs to be written in the Bill. I think it is really important that it is there.

I think that partly because of the impact that it could have on food, but also because of the impact it has on the industry that grows up around excellence: the marketing, the branding, the new technology, which Britain can become excellent and fantastic in. Associated with that—the other side of it—is what does brand GB look like? What are we exporting?

The opportunity here is to get something right in Britain, to do something excellent in terms of food production and the environment, and to export that knowledge and those brands and that technology around the world. When I look at Ireland, with Origin Green, it is the only example that exists of a national scheme of metrics. In Ireland, it is only around carbon; it does not yet incorporate GWP*, so it is flawed. It does not include biodiversity.

There is an opportunity for Britain when we get the metrics right, when we are collecting these at a national level, which also, by the way, means that we can better inform policy making in future, that this can underpin the British brand. If we allow food in that is undercutting our standards, it undermines our brand. It not only undermines our farmers, but the industry as a whole.

Caroline Drummond: We operate a global standard with LEAF marque; 40% of UK fruit and veg is LEAF marque certified. The fresh produce and the farmers that we work with on a global scale are meeting the same requirements demanded of our farmers in this country.

None Portrait The Chair
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We are now halfway through the evidence session. I have lots of colleagues who want to ask questions and I want to ensure that they are all called.

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Fay Jones Portrait Fay Jones
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Q The Bill amends the red meat levy system, in that it irons out an imbalance that has often penalised Welsh and Scottish farmers. Do you think that is sufficient, or should the Bill contain further reforms around the red meat levy?

John Cross: I had quite a lengthy history in the levy sector. The complexity around this issue is really quite deep, because it depends on where the benefit of the levy investment is secured, where the products derived from the industry are consumed and where the supported supply chains sit. As for the desire to capture and formalise a more even-handed distribution back to the devolved regions: from what I have seen of it, it does do enough. We live in a very complex domestic market; 50% of Scottish beef production is consumed within the M25. That illustrates how complex the mix is. The red meat levy is designed—yes, funded by farmers and processors—to make the best of a supply chain and to deliver business enhancement throughout for the good of consumers and producers. It is quite a complex issue and it is not just as simple as three separate lots of industry all wanting to do their own thing in isolation, because they are all interdependent.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
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Q This question is specifically for Mr Hall and Mr Cross, just about your organisations. Can you tell us, please, how you reformed; what your role is; what your governance rules are, and what jurisdiction you have in regard to Scotland and the devolved nations?

John Cross: I will leave some of the technical detail to Simon, but in principle, this is how we arrived where we are now. Yes, we have established traceability systems in this country and they work but, as we speak, they still tend to be a blend of paper and digital—sometimes both at the same time. They work but they are high-maintenance. They are sub-optimal and they take a lot of resource to keep them going. They were, of course, designed to hoard data on behalf of statutory obligations, as opposed to share data, so the design principle needed to be completely different.

I think it is fair to say that Government was faced with the reality of having to achieve an IT refresh at some stage, with some fairly urgent timescales. For a long time, industry has wanted to have the benefit of the use of its own data. Data was being collected about the industry, but the industry could not use it to enhance itself.

We came to a moment after the referendum where the industry and Government were faced with a series of scenarios that required them to think differently and start to think together—this is where the principle of co-creation came in—right across DEFRA and all its dependencies, the Food Standards Agency, the Rural Payments Agency and the others, and right across the industry to form a think-tank as to how you design, hopefully, the optimum traceability and information system that enables Government to fulfil its statutory obligations, but better and faster, while allowing industry to start adding value to itself with information.

If it is a matter of exploring global markets, you can evidence a brand vastly better. In the global marketplace, traceability is king. In that area, you have huge opportunity. Similarly, from the viewpoint of the industry looking to eradicate non-notifiable endemic production diseases, again, to tackle disease risk you need information—you need data. As soon as you have got a unique identification of any one animal, the information you can attach to that provides almost endless opportunity.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
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Q But your focus is on England; is that right?

John Cross: This is an English system; yes.

Simon Hall: But it is in the context of a UK story. This is quite complex. In the current situation, traceability services are delivered through a bit of a mixed economy in the UK. Northern Ireland has a multi-species service operating there for cattle, sheep and pigs. Scotland has a traceability service for sheep and pigs. Wales has a traceability service for sheep. England operates a GB service for cattle, and we operate a pig service for England and Wales, and a sheep service in England.

So, it’s quite complicated. Then, within that, there is a mix of services and databases that come together to provide a UK view of that traceability data, so that colleagues at the Animal and Plant Health Agency, for example, can use that data to respond to an animal disease outbreak or a food safety concern, or whatever.

We have an ambition in England to create a single multi-species traceability service, or a single service capability, including help desk and so on, a single IT system, underpinned by the ambition to exploit data, not only for the benefit of Government and statutory disease control, but to deliver a range of outcomes externally. In that context, the Scottish Government and Welsh Government have decided to bring the cattle services into their own Administrations, and in the case of Wales, to bring the pig service in-house as well.

We are all moving at the same time to a position that respects devolution, where every Administration will have its own multi-species traceability service. Particularly in the context of cattle, that creates a new requirement to ensure that we have a really good UK view of cattle, recognising that we are disaggregating services that are currently delivered through one service, so we need to ensure that that comes together.

DEFRA has asked Livestock Information Ltd, as part of the process of designing and implementing the traceability service in England, also to ensure that there is a way—a mechanism, a service—to ensure that we have good visibility of that UK data. That approach is supported by UK CVOs and so on.

We are, though, at a very early stage of designing exactly how that would work. So, we do not have a technology strategy yet for exactly how that would work and whether that means that Livestock Information Ltd would have a copy of all the UK traceability data, or whether it is just providing a window into each of the services and each of the Administrations for the Animal and Plant Health Agency to look at, for example.

We have really good relationships with colleagues in each of the UK Administrations and we are having regular dialogue around how this would work and whether there would need to be some specific governance arrangements around the UK view, and so on.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
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Q So there is no suggestion of imposing a UK-wide scheme on devolved nations that already have their own.

Simon Hall: Quite the reverse.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
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As you have elaborated, they already have quite developed traceability schemes

Simon Hall: This is seeing a move to devolve traceability services that comes together seamlessly at a UK level, recognising that disease and food contamination does not respect borders.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
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Q What are your governance rules, and how confident are you that the traceability set-up will be ready in time for the end of the year when we leave the EU?

Simon Hall: There are two questions there. The first is easy: our governance arrangements are that Livestock Information Ltd is a subsidiary of the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, which is the levy body in England. AHDB is a non-departmental public body of DEFRA, so it is accountable to DEFRA but funded by the levy payer, and therefore responsible to the farmer, grower and processor in England.

For us, the attraction of using AHDB as the parent body for this company is the way in which we can embed the traceability service as close to industry as possible, while retaining the sufficient control needed by Government. That model has already been adopted in Scotland, Wales and further afield, in Australia. Livestock Information Ltd is a company limited by a guarantee; it is a subsidiary of AHDB; it has a 49% ownership stake from DEFRA directly—DEFRA is important, but if it wants to exert control it does so through the levy body.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
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Q And your readiness for the end of the year?

Simon Hall: The business case has been approved; we have funding in place; we have procured IT systems; we have a team of around 50 people delivering; we are working very closely with devolved Administrations, and we are aiming for implementation from the autumn. There is lots to do. There is lots of complexity. The No. 1 thing we must not do when we effect this change is compromise our quality of traceability. If we are not ready, we will delay, but there is no indication that we will need to at the moment. We are planning for implementation from the autumn, starting with cattle, sheep next year and pigs later next year.

John Cross: A parting message: the important thing for us is to be smart and collaborative with the devolved regions, because disease pathogens—whether notifiable or not—and disease outbreaks do not recognise any political boundaries. We have to be smart and have a UK view on disease. If you look around the globe, on the international trade stage we are seen as the UK. It is a UK story if a product goes out, so from the point of view of access, wherever you go internationally, the UK is the recognised body. It is important that we have a smart, collegiate view on this.

Simon Hall: This Agriculture Bill does support the delivery of the programme in the way we set out. In part 4, clause 32 talks about granting additional functions to AHDB that will allow it to deliver that English traceability service through the subsidiary body. It currently has the function to deliver the programme and to design and implement the future service, but not to run it. The Bill provides the functions to do that, and the flexibility to provide any UK functions required, or that are sensible. For example, one might imagine that allocating a unique identity for an individual animal might be something that we choose to do once only in the UK, and we may choose to do it from here or from somewhere else.

The Bill provides the functions that we need to deliver this programme in the way that we want in the future service; it also provides some flexibility, should we work together and decide that we want to carry out some UK responsibilities.

Danny Kruger Portrait Danny Kruger
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Q May I quickly return to the trade deals? Mr Cross, you said earlier that we must not export our conscience to other countries to import cheap, low-quality food from abroad. Quite right—we need to export our high standards, and I think we agree that the Bill is the opportunity to set a world-class benchmark model for regulating agriculture and sustainable farming.

My question is on behalf of our producers. The paradox is that everybody complains about the complexity of CAP, and farmers have a tough time filling in the forms. Of course, the principle of CAP is very simple: you just pay for the amount of land that you have. We are proposing to introduce a system with a lot more complex objectives—quite rightly—for all the different public goods. I share Ms Whittome’s point about the opportunity for community-based markets and more locally based producers—more local sourcing. Do we think that those community groups and small farmers will be able to navigate what sounds to an outsider like a very complex set of objectives, and therefore potentially some complex subsidy systems?

John Cross: I can make a comment as a farmer rather than chair of Livestock Information. You make a very good point: we are entering a very different scenario. Some farmers will need considerable help in changing that mindset and getting used to a new environment, because it will require a lot more proactivity from the point of view of seeking rewards for those public goods. It will be a more complex—

Agriculture Bill (Second sitting)

Deidre Brock Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee Debate: 2nd sitting: House of Commons
Tuesday 11th February 2020

(4 years ago)

Public Bill Committees
Read Full debate Agriculture Act 2020 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: Public Bill Committee Amendments as at 11 February 2020 - (11 Feb 2020)
Robert Goodwill Portrait Mr Goodwill
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Is that your experience as well, Mr Ferguson, from a farmer’s perspective?

Ivor Ferguson: Yes indeed. Coming back to the discussion document we produced after some consultation with our farmers, our idea was that when we moved away from the basic payment to a payment for productivity and environmental measures, it would mean that some of the farmers who wanted to do extra environmental schemes on their farms would be able to avail themselves of a grant to do that, so it would encourage environmental measures as well as production measures. That is something we are very happy about.

On the young farmers scheme, as Norman said, some young farmers certainly benefited from the scheme and it does encourage young farmers. However, going a bit further, we would like to see a succession plan put in place for older farmers to pass on to the next generation, and we would like to see some incentives, like they have in southern Ireland, such as tax incentives and that sort of thing. That would make the transition from the older generation to the next generation a lot easier, and it would be more encouraging for our young farmers.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock (Edinburgh North and Leith) (SNP)
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Q With regard to the regulatory and policy divergences between the four nations of the UK, I am lucky enough to have been on the Agriculture Bill Committee twice in the last two or three years, and I think I am right in saying that we heard from all the NFUs in the previous iteration of this Bill Committee. I recall all the NFUs being at pains to say that they currently operate different schemes and policies between themselves, as you would expect from organisations in devolved Administrations. There were discussions around common frameworks and how they would work once Brexit occurs; those organisations currently operate in Europe under common frameworks. However, the details of the future frameworks must be agreed, not imposed—I think that that was said right across the board by all the different NFUs. Is that something that you recognise and agree with?

Norman Fulton: Yes. I think the frameworks will be important. Up to now, we have operated within a regulatory framework, the CAP, which gave us a degree of flexibility, although it was ultimately constrained. Going forward, we will no longer have that regulatory framework. It then comes back to the politics of devolution and the fact that agriculture is fully devolved. I think all the devolved Administrations will jealously preserve that flexibility, but they will also need to recognise that we will operate within a single market, and that there will therefore have to be ground rules—

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
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Q When you say single market, do you mean the internal market of the UK?

Norman Fulton: Of the UK, yes, which is obviously of utmost importance for everyone.

Ivor Ferguson: I agree. For us in the Ulster Farmers’ Union, we would certainly have to have some ground rules. We meet our colleagues in the NFUs in England, Scotland and Wales on a regular basis, and we certainly discuss all those matters. We fully agree that we will have to have some ground rules, but we do keep in touch with farmers in the other regions.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
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Q The impression I got was that the relationship between the four NFUs is very good, and that you speak regularly about these sorts of thing.

Ivor Ferguson: Yes.

None Portrait The Chair
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I am afraid that this will have to be the last question.

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Virginia Crosbie Portrait Virginia Crosbie
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In terms of the scheme.

Jim Egan: In terms of the scheme, it would be everybody engaging, and engaging willingly and talking about it.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
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Q On the face of it, the Bill seems to be for the support of farmers, crofters and agricultural activities. Getting back to what you were saying, Mr Fiennes, about grouse moors, it sounded that you thought their activity should not be part of the Bill, yet in part 1 of the Bill, the clauses around financial assistance are certainly drawn loosely enough that it could apply to shooting estates, as well.

Jake Fiennes: I don’t think I was referring to grouse moors specifically. I was referring to game shooting as a community.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
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Q Okay. Do you think it is appropriate, then, that shooting estates receive financial assistance as a result of the Bill? If not, should it be redrawn more tightly, so that they could be excluded? Is that what you think?

Jake Fiennes: Well, no, I think there are clear benefits from grouse shooting. We can see greater biodiversity on well managed grouse moors. If we look at the burning of peatlands, on Saddleworth Moor last year a huge area of moor had very deep burning within the peat; that was an area of moor that was not managed for grouse, because the heather was very poor, and it was a tinderbox that caught fire very quickly. We must understand the benefits of well managed grouse moors to a landscape that is iconic to the English uplands: 70% of the world’s heather moorland is in England, so it is a key habitat. Admittedly, there are some quite extreme management techniques in places, which we are quite aware of, and the industry is looking inward on how to address that.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
- Hansard - -

Q I hear what you say. Do you think it is appropriate that financial assistance could be given to those estates as a result of clauses within the Bill, or do you think that the clauses should be redrawn to exclude those estates?

Jake Fiennes: A payment system that rewards farmers and land occupiers for delivering public goods should not exclude anyone. As Jim just said, this has to be open to everyone.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
- Hansard - -

Q Okay. Would those be the views of Mr Willis and Mr Egan as well?

Jim Egan: I do not get involved in policy; I have never worked in it.

Graeme Willis: In terms of the breadth of it, I think it is still open to question as to how wide it goes. I am on the stakeholder engagement group, so I am limited in what I can say because of confidentiality about that. However, I have certainly seen a slide that shows how wide it might go, and there might be questions around whether it includes, for example, airport operators, which have large tracts of open grassland that they need to manage to keep trees off. Could they do positive things with that?

I think there is a very important question about the amount of resource available and whether those are the right people to receive that resource, as against farmers, given the context we talked about, the viability issues going forward and the cuts to basic payments during the transition. However, something to address the issues across a broad landscape is very important.

On whole-farm areas, we would not want large areas of farmland managed very intensively within a system in which other areas are just managed for public goods. I think they need to be combined and harmonised, as we said before, so that land is shared and used in the very best way, for the environmental benefits and for good, sustainable food production.

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q I return to Mr Egan’s point about the control and enforcement regime. If you are close to the schemes, you will be aware that the introduction in the latest EU scheme of a common commencement date—so that everybody had to start at the same time, which caused all the predictable administrative problems for everyone—combined with the introduction of the IACS enforcement regime drove the terrible, draconian regime that you describe.

One thing we have described for the future scheme is that you would instead leave all that behind, and individual farms would have a trusted, accredited adviser on agri-environment schemes. That could be a trusted, accredited agronomist, or someone who works for the Wildlife Trust or the RSPB, and they would be trained to help put the schemes together. They would visit the farm, walk the farm with their boots on and then sit around the kitchen table and help an individual farmer construct a scheme.

We are obviously testing and piloting and trialling that now. If that system could be made to work—an altogether more human system, as you said, because a trusted adviser would do the initial agreement and would maybe visit the farm three or four times a year, not to inspect but to be a point of advice—how many farms can a single agri-environment adviser with that type of remit realistically do?

Jim Egan: It would depend very much on type, size, place, aspect and everything. I do not think you can put a number on the people that you could hold as clients. I actually do not know how many clients my agronomy colleagues have, because I am new to that business. However, where I work, I would be perfectly comfortable managing 40 or 50 clients and working through with them.

The main premise is not to overlook that that process of walking the farm with a trusted adviser already happens for countryside stewardship. Most farmers will take advice and will rely on somebody working with them. The opportunity that comes from splitting out and putting everything into ELMS—including all the basic payment elements, so that it is one big agricultural and environmental processing scheme—actually means that you can widen that advice and make it broader. The trick will be that those advisers will have to have knowledge of the farming business and will have to talk to others within the business. Even on a small dairy farming unit, they will have to talk to the vet, the feed merchant and the farmer. It is a facilitation skill as much as anything else, and it will require an understanding of how those farming sectors work.

This is definitely the right way to go. We will need professional advice to do that. A farmer doesn’t grow an arable crop without an agronomist. You don’t grow beef cattle without a vet or a feed merchant. So why should you not have what I would call environmental facilitators?

Agriculture Bill (Third sitting)

Deidre Brock Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee Debate: 3rd sitting: House of Commons
Thursday 13th February 2020

(4 years ago)

Public Bill Committees
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: Public Bill Committee Amendments as at 13 February 2020 - (13 Feb 2020)
Alicia Kearns Portrait Alicia Kearns (Rutland and Melton) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The other day, we heard evidence from John Cross of the Traceability Design User Group and Simon Hall, who is the managing director of Livestock Information Ltd, which is a new organisation. I thought they were a little vague on details of the traceability service that they are setting up in England, and on how it will integrate or potentially even overrule existing traceability services in the devolved nations. I would be very interested to hear your thoughts on that.

Dr Fenwick: Having only had the time to look at this and go through it as thoroughly as I could yesterday, that clause did ring alarm bells for me. Compared with other systems, Wales has a very successful sheep traceability system that it took into public ownership, rather than farming it out to a private body. It works very well. It could work better, as is the case with all systems, but we hope to develop it into an improved system that will encompass more species. That is certainly the aspiration, and that clause of the Bill certainly raises questions about how those two things interact.

It certainly makes sense to have some form of central data collection point for the UK, given that we are a single country and that it is important for our trading arrangements with other countries. Nevertheless, it depends on how that functions. That part of the legislation would effectively grant powers to non-public bodies—boards that are given certain powers by the Secretary of State. That in itself raises questions; indeed, it is why you took evidence from the witnesses that you mentioned.

Tim Render: To build on that, there are clearly some really important operational issues with the livestock identification systems. We are developing the livestock identification system that we already have in Wales, which works very well. It was co-designed with the industry for ease of operation. We also built it with expansion to different species in mind, so we are looking to turn it into a full livestock ID system, building on a proven IT platform and user interface. It is absolutely vital that we get the behind the scenes IT with what happens in England, Wales and Northern Ireland to have that interchange of data, because you have got cross-border trade and that is how you manage animal health issues, which do not respect borders. That is the big piece of IT work that we are doing with colleagues in DEFRA and colleagues in the other Administrations around the livestock identification system. We will build our own front-end system for Welsh farmers to use, building on what the industry sees as a successful system.

John Davies: It is vital that we get this right. Animal disease does not respect boundaries well, and I concur with everything said in terms of the databases talking to each other. There is also an opportunity here to bring realtime information to purchasing decisions around animal health and the likes, and we need to get this right.

Dr Fenwick: If I may come back, to lessen the potential adverse impacts of clause 32, which amends the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006, there needs to be at the very least a duty to consult and reach agreements with Welsh Ministers, the Scottish Government and so on to ensure that this does not hand over an extreme power to, in effect, an English board.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
- Hansard - -

It is the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board.

Dr Fenwick: Yes, or it could be anyone, because it is only created with those powers.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
- Hansard - -

Q How do the four different schemes and the devolved nations currently integrate?

Tim Render: At the moment, it is only sheep for which there is a full integrated electronic system.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
- Hansard - -

In Wales.

Tim Render: In the UK. The other systems are much more primitive, it is fair to say. For instance, the British cattle movement service is not essentially an online realtime system. This is one area where we have what are technically called concurrent powers and we are in discussion with DEFRA about these powers and those around organics being subject to consent by devolved Administrations rather than just consulting, for the reasons that colleagues outlined.

Theo Clarke Portrait Theo Clarke (Stafford) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q I want to pick up on the question of divergence. I realise that the Bill affects England, but there are plenty of farms around the border. How will they be affected and what can we do in the Bill to support them more?

Dr Fenwick: There are about 600 cross-border farms. Some are administratively answerable to England and some to Wales, depending on the proportion of land on each side of the border—I think that is how it works. Those guys have consistently been the last people to receive payments of any form for the last 15 years, since basic payments and what is generically called the single farm payment was introduced in 2005. They have a very tough farm and are placed at significant disadvantage.

Divergence will clearly be an issue for those farms. Conversely, some of the powers in the Bill would lessen the impact, allowing their payments to be released earlier by changing EU regulations that make it difficult when one payment authority is slower than the other at processing applications—because unless everything has been processed, payments cannot be released. The ability to change the rules is therefore welcome, but as things diverge, as they may well do—it is difficult to see how they would not—a lot of thought and care needs to be taken regarding those impacts. It is not just divergence over payment systems and policies; it is also about standards. This provides an opportunity for Wales to, for example, have different assurance standards from England, yet we have a 300-mile-or-so border, which is effectively porous.

John Davies: As one of the UK NFUs, we have a fantastic working relationship. We met last week in Glasgow at NFU Scotland’s AGM. Divergence is front and centre of all our minds, because it is vital that we do not diverge too greatly and create a different trading environment in the UK. That is really important. The key basis that we always operate on is that everything should be done through agreement, not imposition. That is our guiding principle.

Tim Render: Divergence is a consequence of devolution, in that you are making different choices to reflect different circumstances, although I have a lot of sympathy for Mr Davies’ points about operating in a common market, and about standards and not diverging in some of those areas.

The issue of cross-border farms keeps me awake at night, as I think about how I move to develop a new policy. It is one of the really difficult issues. We do not have clear answers to it yet. We are working with the industry and DEFRA on what doing potentially quite different things in return for public support on either side of the border means for those 600-or-so farms that are potentially on either side of that. How we manage that is a tricky question. I do not have any answers to that, but it is something that we are working on with DEFRA and the industry, to work out what the most practical, simple and effective way of doing it is.

Dr Fenwick: When it comes to divergence, of course devolution implies divergence. We as a union supported devolution, so we have no problem with divergence, but it was divergence within boundaries. The current EU framework has strict boundaries in terms of flexibility within legislation and flexibility within financial limits. We are looking, potentially, at a complete liberalisation of those boundaries, so that they become far wider and the degree to which divergence can be market distorting becomes potentially far greater under what is happening at the moment.

Robert Goodwill Portrait Mr Robert Goodwill (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q This question is primarily for Mr Render, but others may wish to chip in. In earlier evidence sessions, we heard some of the frustrations with the inflexibility of cross-compliance, such as the three-crop rule or rules on hedge cutting. In particular, farmers tell me that it can sometimes be frustrating that rules on the application of slurries and manures are based on the calendar, not on the particular climatic conditions of a season or the situation on a particular farm. Do you feel that the powers that you will have will allow you the flexibility—even in-year flexibility—to enable you to carry out those sorts of operations under the best conditions, and at the same time to understand your obligations in the way that we implement the nitrate regulations and water framework directive-type regulations that we take over? Do you feel that you can get the balance right between the flexibility and the obligations to the environment?

Tim Render: I think we can. The questions around water and diffuse agricultural pollution are live in Wales at the moment. In terms of our regulations under the various water rules, we are some way behind the rest of the UK, and we are looking to take action to ensure that we have effective measures for the management of agricultural pollution.

One of the things, looking to the medium term, is an ability to think about how we do some of the wider regulation: what conditions we attach to future payment regimes; how we link that to the regulatory floor; and things around earned autonomy for more flexibility, in return for clearer, authenticated and demonstrable actions that take account of flexibility while there are, at the same time, clear ways of ensuring and providing assurance that the necessary actions are taken. Those are some of the opportunities that we have in the medium term, adapting some of the regulations, but it is probably through more sophisticated regulation and earned autonomy approaches that we can really provide some of that greater flexibility.

John Davies: Thank you, Mr Goodwill, for the opportunity to comment on this, because obviously regulation has been one of the reasons that Europe has had less favour. Nitrate vulnerable zone regulations are among the most prescriptive and least effective of those that have been implemented by Europe. Let us move away from that. Let us ensure that regulation, when it comes, fills the gaps and is effective. Anybody who thinks that they can farm by date will fail. It is vital that we farm by the ground conditions. We have a changing climate here, and we have to respond to that. We have to evolve, adapt and work effectively to reduce the number of incidents. It is coming down slowly, but we need to move more rapidly to reduce it. It is vital that we get on top of that through effective, proper, reasonable regulation.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
- Hansard - -

Q I wish to reinforce the point that Mr Render and Dr Fenwick made. They basically made my point for me: the four nations already operate different policy and regulatory frameworks, within a common framework across the UK, and with certain common frameworks under the EU. That has been the case since devolution 20 years ago. I would hate to see any sort of imposition of a UK-wide situation that would affect that.

Tim Render: I agree with that. Equally, there are some measures that need to operate across the UK for trade and operators. The red meat levy is a very good example of something that needs to be applied at the UK level, but from a devolved Administration perspective, where some of those powers operate at a UK level, that needs to happen with our consent and agreement. Yes, let us agree a common approach to something—that is very often the best approach—but, for us, those sorts of concurrent powers need to be with consent.

Dr Fenwick: To give an example of the sorts of divergence at a very simplistic level that will potentially have an impact in the coming months, the Direct Payments to Farmers (Legislative Continuity) Act 2020 received Royal Assent the day before we left the EU. That effectively cuts and pastes EU payment regulations back into domestic legislation. However, one section of the Act allows devolved regions—this relates primarily to Scotland—to exceed those financial ceilings that are effectively derived from EU-set ceilings.

Within hours or minutes, effectively, of our leaving the EU, we have the potential for financial divergence that would increase the difference between the average payments received by a Scottish farmer and a Welsh farmer, which is already in the tens of thousands, potentially to far more. That relates to the Bew review, which has given lots of additional money to Scotland. Previously, that money could not be paid to farmers. The new legislation allows them to diverge—I go back to that word—from the ceilings that are set in the legislation.

John Davies: We have a very clear ambition for a policy made in Wales, where we see the productivity and the environment meshing together, underpinned by a stability pillar that will give us real opportunities. We are ambitious for the future. There is real opportunity out there to make policy in Wales, for Wales, by Wales.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Order. I am afraid that we are at the end of the time allotted for the Committee to ask questions. On behalf of the Committee, I thank the witnesses for their evidence.

Examination of Witness

Gareth Morgan gave evidence.

Agriculture Bill (Fourth sitting)

Deidre Brock Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee Debate: 4th sitting: House of Commons
Thursday 13th February 2020

(4 years ago)

Public Bill Committees
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: Public Bill Committee Amendments as at 13 February 2020 - (13 Feb 2020)
Fay Jones Portrait Fay Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Correct me if I am wrong, but my understanding is that the Scottish Government still maintain a headage payment system, particularly for the beef sector. Would that sort of measure remain on the table as you design a future agricultural policy?

Jonnie Hall: We have had a beef calf payment since 2005 under the CAP. There are strict rules on how much money can be spent on that. It is about how important the suckler herd is to the socioeconomic fabric of rural Scotland. It certainly has not driven production, because suckler cow numbers have continued to decline over that period. If anything, it has slowed the decline down, so I would not call it a production support. It recognises the additional cost of suckler production in our hills, in particular, and therefore it is a very important piece of the policy toolkit. It enables the retention of suckler beef in Scotland, and that has significant implications further downstream and into the supply chain, as I am sure Alan Clarke would agree.

Alan Clarke: Absolutely.

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

Q We do not have much time, so could you let us know quickly the main areas you have concerns with in the Bill? You have expressed some of them—governance frameworks is one, of course, Jonnie. One of the things that was brought up was the livestock information provision. An organisation is being set up, and this morning our Welsh counterparts expressed real concern about that. They said that that section of the Bill rang alarm bells and raised important operational issues about whether this could indeed be overseen and directed through England, through the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. That is a starting point, but are there are any other areas of the Bill that you have concerns about?

Jonnie Hall: In our evidence we cite a number of areas. If you look at the Scottish Bill going through the Scottish Parliament and the Bill that you are considering now, there are clear overlaps, not just on animal traceability issues but marketing standards and other things. Many of those issues are devolved, but our concern goes back to the operation of the internal UK market. It is quite right that those things are devolved, but how do we ensure that there is consistency in application of those devolved issues across the United Kingdom? If there is not consistency, there has to be at least co-ordination of those things. It is right that the capacities are devolved. It is right that the Scottish Bill is doing what it does and the UK Bill does what it does, but it is about where those things might rub together to create problems in the UK internal market. There are a number of examples in there. [Interruption.] I am not saying that it will happen, but we need to have consistency if not co-ordination across the UK.

George Burgess: From the Scottish Government’s perspective, the Bill is something of a curate’s egg. The provisions that we like include the red meat levy provision, which we played a large part in developing at the outset. We very much welcome that, and we would like to see a commitment from the UK Government to its swift implementation.

Other provisions in the Bill on food security and fertilisers make a great deal of sense, but we have some difficulties with others, including the livestock information provision, which has already been mentioned. Again, the concern is really about governance and the appropriate role of the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland Governments.

Similarly, the organics clause to some extent recognises devolved competences, but we are concerned about the power that is given to the Secretary of State to act in devolved areas without seeking the consent of the Scottish Parliament. Other concerns of long standing from the previous Bill relate to producer organisations, the World Trade Organisation agreement on agriculture, and fair dealing in supply chains, where we have a very different view on devolved competence from DEFRA.

Alan Clarke: I will pick two, Deidre, because I am conscious of time. In relation to the LIP system that we talked about, I think there has always been a history, if there has ever been a disease breakout, that everybody has worked extremely well together and come together and shared all the information. I think it is important that that is retained and that anything that is developed in England must read across to the rest of the UK. ScotEID, again, has been leading the way on that in Scotland. There must be those links. I know the meetings happen regularly every month with the devolved associations and the developers of it, but the mechanism that George talked about is one to consider.

The second issue is levy repatriation. I have been working very closely with AHDB and HCC towards getting a scheme of operation, which can be put to Ministers, showing what the long-term solution for levy repatriation would look like. We have identified, using that scheme, the numbers involved. It would mean that every year, £1.2 million of producer levy that is currently trapped in England would come back to Scotland, and £1.1 million of Welsh levy currently trapped in England would come back to Scotland—to Wales. Apologies—Wyn will not forgive me for that one. Essentially, the scheme has been agreed by the three levy bodies. It has now gone to each of the boards, and we hope to be in a position to put that to the Ministers in a short period of time.

Behind the scenes, we have been looking at the interim solution of the ring-fenced fund—the £2 million that has been ring-fenced for the benefit of levy payers in England, Wales and Scotland. We hope to make an announcement in the next few weeks on greater working relationships between the three levy bodies. This gives us a really good opportunity. We would like to see a date put into the Agriculture Bill to say when the legislation must be passed and the scheme be in operation by. The three levy bodies are working to a date of 1 April 2021 for a long-term solution to be in place, meaning that this is the last operational year of the ring-fenced fund that we will be coming into in April. It would be nice to have that enshrined in law.

Robert Goodwill Portrait Mr Robert Goodwill (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q On Tuesday, we had evidence from Jake Fiennes, the general manager for conservation for the Holkham Estate. In his view, the definition of livestock in clause 1 should not be extended to game—to grouse, pheasant or venison, such as the excellent produce produced in Scotland. Do you agree with that observation, or do you think that the management of game and financial help from the taxpayer for those sorts of landscapes would be beneficial to the future of agriculture in Scotland?

Jonnie Hall: First, I do not think the likes of game—pheasant, grouse and, indeed, wild deer, because we have farmed deer as well—should be governed as agricultural activity. The husbandry is not the same. They are wild animals. The habitat may be managed in their interests, but nevertheless they are not livestock that are bought, sold and managed in the same way as cattle, sheep, pigs and so on, so I do not see the benefit of that.

I do see, particularly in the Scottish context, the benefits of multiple land use in the same vicinity—the same land—such as having grouse moor management and managing wild deer populations in the interests of conservation, as much as in the interests of stalking and venison, alongside extensive grazing systems for the delivery of key habitats. That is one thing, but we will also be thinking increasingly about the preservation and restoration of our peatlands in the effort to tackle climate change. Grazing management will become a more fundamental issue—and extensive grazing management in Scotland—specifically for its public benefits and public good delivery, rather than just the production of an agricultural product.

That debate is an important one, but at this moment in time I do not view those things as agricultural activities. They can be supported through other means, because they are essentially environmental delivery mechanisms as well.

--- Later in debate ---
Danny Kruger Portrait Danny Kruger
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q However, a good pasture-fed, grass-fed cattle herd has a net positive effect in terms of carbon. Do you not agree?

George Monbiot: No, that is simply not true. That claim has been made many times, and it is now basically reaching the level of climate denial—climate science denial—because it is so far removed from what the science base actually tells us.

I can pass the papers on to you if you wish. There has been a meta-study done by the Food Climate Research Network that looked at those claims. It investigated 300 sources and found that in none of the cases that it looked at was carbon sequestration in the soil under pasture compensating for carbon losses. The highest level of compensation was 20% to 60% of the overall carbon losses; there is a net loss in every case. The extensive grazing systems also have a higher net loss and a higher carbon opportunity cost than even the intensive grain-fed systems.

There is a paper by Balmford et al in Nature, I believe. There is another one by Blomqvist et al—I think it is in Science of the Total Environment. They show that, paradoxically—unexpectedly, perhaps—intensive systems per kilo of beef produced are less carbon-damaging than extensive systems per kilo, and that is simply because of the amount of land that they occupy.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
- Hansard - -

Q You were speaking just then about the conflict between natural heritage and cultural heritage, and you will know that the highlands in Scotland still have a wonderful cultural heritage, despite what was at times a quite systematic depopulation of the area. I wondered what sort of future you envisage for the people who live there now if they turn from being farmers on the uplands, which, as you know, are basically largely suitable for rough grazing—that is one of the reasons why sheep, and to a lesser extent cattle, are grazed there. If they do that, what do they then become? Just on a practical, day-to-day level, what do they then become—just land managers, because they get subsidies for food production, which only supplements part of their income? What do those people do, and how do we keep them there so that we still have communities in the highlands?

George Monbiot: I would see them as ecological restorers—people who have a different but very rich relationship with the land, bringing back wildlife and ecosystems. We would hopefully see a constant racking-up of ambition as time goes by.

It is hard to universalise it, but there is now quite a big literature on nature-based economies, showing that, certainly in some circumstances, they can employ a lot more people than farm-based economies, even in quite fertile areas. For instance, I was at Gelderse Poort in the Netherlands last year, in an area that was previously dairy and maize farms. For the purposes of creating more room for the river, the dykes were taken a mile or so back from the river and the land was rewilded. The farmers were saying there would be a loss of employment. In fact, it turns out that there was an increase of between five and six times the total employment as a result of the tourists who have come in to see the wildlife, the bed and breakfasts, the cafes and the rest of the things associated with that. The farmers have done very well out of it.

I do not know the answer to whether we can replicate that everywhere, but we should be urgently investigating other new rural economies based around the restoration of wildlife and nature. Given that we are competing here with a loss-making economy—an economy where the farmers would make more money if they took the subsidy and stopped farming—it is not a very steep competition that we have to win if we are to show that nature-based economies are more productive in terms of employment and income.

Fay Jones Portrait Fay Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q My farmers would argue that food production and environmental delivery go hand in hand, and you cannot have one without the other. They would not be able to make any money if they did not have good soil, clean air and clean water, and they are responsible for maintaining that. If we did adopt your model of removing land from agricultural production, who would be responsible for ensuring those environmental benefits? Who would be safeguarding that?

George Monbiot: Yes, how did nature survive before humans came along? It is extraordinary, this idea of stewardship and dominion—this idea that humankind has to intervene to protect wildlife and ecosystems. We do not. We can do a lot to encourage the protection and to kick-start things, and we will always need a role as rangers to ensure that there are not too many conflicts between people and ecosystems. However, the idea that we are necessary to create healthy soils and healthy ecosystems—the best thing we can do in the great majority of cases is to remove extractive economies from the land and to let ecosystems recover. We need to bring back missing species, to take down fences, to kick-start woodland in places where there is not a seedbank left and stuff like that, but we need very little human intervention to get a healthy ecosystem going. While farmers are absolutely right to say that they need a healthy ecosystem to sustain their farming, we do not need farming to sustain a healthy ecosystem.

Agriculture Bill (Tenth sitting)

Deidre Brock Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee Debate: 10th sitting: House of Commons
Tuesday 3rd March 2020

(4 years ago)

Public Bill Committees
Read Full debate Agriculture Act 2020 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: Public Bill Committee Amendments as at 3 March 2020 - (3 Mar 2020)
0

Division 16

Ayes: 5


Labour: 5

Noes: 10


Conservative: 10

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.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment 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 Portrait Deidre Brock
- Hansard - -

It is, as always, a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David.

It might help the Committee if I lay out briefly a little of the SNP’s reasoning behind our approach to the Bill and to the amendments. Scottish agriculture has always followed a different line from UK agricultural policy. Different circumstances—very different, in many cases—demanded that. Agricultural policy had administrative devolution long before the modern era of democratic devolution.

In the days before the Scottish Parliament was reconvened, the old Scottish Office, which I am sure you remember, Sir David, had responsibility for agricultural policy in Scotland, just as it did for many other areas of policy. It was administratively devolved, and the re-establishment of the Scottish Parliament in 1999 simply democratised that devolution. In fact, stories tell of Scottish Ministers of old doing battle with their UK counterparts on such issues, arguing the case for that devolution settlement to be respected, way back as far as Mrs Thatcher’s Government and George Younger’s ding-dongs with colleagues.

The SNP is simply seeking to protect the decision-making powers of the Scottish institutions in the Bill, to ensure that the policies applied can be the best fit for the farmers and crofters concerned. That is why we have argued and continue to make the case for the Scottish Parliament and its Ministers to hold the powers for Scottish agriculture and food production. That is why I am in Committee now: I will make a case that some present might not give two hoots about. Despite all that, I will continue to argue it.

Amendment 19 specifically mandates that Scottish Ministers retain their devolved powers and that when, and only when, regulations made under the clause extend to Scotland, the Scottish Government will have to consent to them. I have been following the Tory leadership election in Scotland; I understand that the current Scottish Tory leader intends to be the next First Minister, so enshrining that principle in legislation would clearly be a big help to him. Perhaps the Minister will bear that in mind. It would also have the benefit of being the right thing to do, and it respects the devolution settlement. I certainly hope the Government will support the amendment.

Amendment 20 would sensibly ensure that the businesses most closely affected by the regulations are consulted before the regulations are created. That is an extremely sensible way to conduct Government, and it helps to ensure that unintended consequences are kept to the bare minimum and that the industry buys into the regulations. It seems to be a sensible and measured amendment, and I hope the Minister will support it.

Victoria Prentis Portrait Victoria Prentis
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I appreciate the hon. Lady’s clear desire to ensure that any statutory codes are fit for purpose, and we are equally committed to ensuring just that. We want to see consistent protection against unfair trading practices for farmers wherever they are in the United Kingdom. We continue to consult widely and meaningfully with everyone who will be affected by our new codes of conduct, including the devolved Administrations and producers in those territories. Their views will be listened to and respected.

Amendment 19 is designed to require the consent of Scottish Ministers in respect of the regulations, thereby potentially preventing the UK Parliament from developing codes of conduct that would apply across the UK. We do not think it appropriate, nor is it in line with the devolution settlement. The objective of clause 27 is to promote fair contractual dealing and to prevent the abuse of a dominant market position. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs sought a view from the Competition and Markets Authority on whether that is a devolved matter. The CMA’s view is that the purpose of promoting fair contractual dealing is definitely related to the regulation of competition. Competition is a matter reserved to the UK Parliament. As such, clause 27 is reserved and we should not be seeking legislative consent to exercise powers that are reserved to the UK Parliament. Amendment 20 deals with the obligation for broader consultation, and we are committed to using those powers in the most effective and least burdensome way possible.

We fully acknowledge that it is crucial for any new codes to be the product of a deep partnership between Government and industry. Thorough consultations will be conducted prior to the design and introduction of the new statutory codes. However, placing a requirement to consult in primary legislation would be burdensome, especially for regulations that make only minor and technical changes. I therefore ask the hon. Lady to consider withdrawing the amendment.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
- Hansard - -

I thank the Minister for her response, but I am afraid that we will have to agree to disagree. It is very much the SNP’s view that these competencies rest with Scottish Ministers. Where common frameworks are to be decided on, they should be agreed, not imposed. That lies at the heart of what we are talking about. I appreciate the Minister’s honesty on this issue, but I will ask for the amendments to be pushed to a vote.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

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Producer and interbranch organisations etc: application for recognition
Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
- Hansard - -

I beg to move amendment 21, in clause 28, page 23, line 42, leave out

“to the Secretary of State”.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 22, in clause 28, page 24, line 12, leave out

“to the Secretary of State”.

Amendment 23, in clause 28, page 24, line 20, leave out

“to the Secretary of State”.

Amendment 24, in clause 28, page 24, line 38, at end insert

“(6A) An application under subsection (1), (3) or (5) is to be made to and determined by—

(a) the appropriate authority for the part of the United Kingdom in which the applicant has its registered office or principal place of business, or

(b) where the applicant is made up of producers, producer organisations or, as the case may be, businesses operating in more than one part of the United Kingdom, the appropriate authority for any of those parts.”

Amendment 25, in clause 28, page 25, line 5, leave out “The Secretary of State” and insert

“The appropriate authority to which an application is made under this section”.

Amendment 26, in clause 28, page 25, line 24, at end insert

““appropriate authority” means—

(a) in relation to England, Wales or Northern Ireland, the Secretary of State,

(b) in relation to Scotland, the Scottish Ministers;”

This amendment, together with Amendment 25 would require organisations of agricultural producers, associations of recognised producer organisations, and organisations of agricultural businesses to apply for recognition to the appropriate authority in the country of the UK where the applicant is principally based.

Amendment 27, in clause 29, page 26, line 9, leave out “the Secretary of State” and insert

“an appropriate authority (within the meaning given in section 28(13))”.

This amendment would require the delegation of functions to require permission from the appropriate authority.

Amendment 28, in clause 30, page 26, line 16, leave out “the Secretary of State” and insert

“an appropriate authority (within the meaning given in section 28(13))”.

This amendment would allow regulations to give the power to delegate functions to be made by an appropriate authority.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
- Hansard - -

I will speak to all of these amendments very briefly; they are completely self-explanatory. Again, they are about respecting the devolution settlement and the current powers of the Scottish Parliament and Government. Ensuring that Scottish organisations apply in Scotland rather than in Whitehall would help to keep the task off Whitehall’s desk, saving unnecessary effort on the part of UK Ministers and officials, which the Minister might want to keep in mind.

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Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

A number of these amendments relate to wider devolution issues; my comments are applicable to a number of them, in particular those that we are discussing at the moment.

We are going to need clarity on how we will work together in the future, because the structures being set up are quite complicated. For some, it would be entirely reasonable for the powers to be passed to the devolved organisations, but there needs to be a detailed discussion about the merits in each case. At the moment, I am not convinced in this instance. I was actually persuaded by the Minister’s arguments about whether, as we stand, passing these matters down to the devolved nations would be the right way to go. Although I certainly would not rule out considering doing that further in future, because we want to ensure that we devolve as much power as possible, there are issues around competition law—we will come to further amendments where is some interaction with World Trade Organisation rules, general agreement on tariffs and trade rules and so on, which make it difficult to do that. While supporting the Government on this occasion, I want to put down a marker to say that in future we would want to devolve where possible.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
- Hansard - -

I am very interested to hear the hon. Gentleman’s comments. Clearly, there are discussions to be had—before Report, perhaps—on this and many other issues. However, I am afraid this still comes back to the point that, in our view, these decisions are more properly reserved to Scottish Ministers, and so we will be pushing the amendment to a vote.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

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Regulations under sections 28 and 29
Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
- Hansard - -

I beg to move amendment 29, in clause 30, page 26, line 29, at end insert—

“(2A) Regulations under section 28 or 29 containing provision that extends to Scotland may be made only with the consent of the Scottish Ministers.”

This amendment would ensure that regulations under section 28 or 29 containing provision that extend to Scotland may be made only with the consent of Scottish Ministers.

This amendment would ensure that the Scottish Administration is involved in decisions on devolved areas, which seems sensible—I would be interested to hear support from Labour in certain regards. The Minister would surely approve of the amendment, given how much Ministers have worked with Scottish Ministers on the Bill so far, so I look forward to seeing her support for the amendment.

Victoria Prentis Portrait Victoria Prentis
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The amendment seeks to give Scottish Ministers discretion in respect of the regulations, potentially preventing the UK Parliament from creating a UK-wide producer organisation scheme. As I noted previously, the act of granting producer organisation recognition relates directly to competition law, which is reserved to the UK Parliament. We absolutely look forward to working collaboratively with our colleagues from the devolved Administrations when designing the new UK-wide domestic scheme, but given the circumstances outlined, I ask the hon. Lady to withdraw the amendment.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
- Hansard - -

The amendment gets to the heart of the issue. This is designed to be a common framework. As many will recall from when we heard evidence, and from the previous Agriculture Bill Committee as well, where common frameworks were to be agreed across the UK, all the NFUs were in favour of decisions being agreed, not imposed. I see this as part of that outlook, which is not one that we are willing to support, so we will push this amendment to a vote.

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

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Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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 - -

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.

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Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
- Hansard - -

I confess that I am disappointed by the Minister’s response, because this situation has been ongoing for years. Many people have been waiting patiently, for the most part, to get a decision taken on this. It is extremely disappointing to hear that we cannot even get an assurance that this will be available and implemented in April 2021. In the light of that, I will press the amendment to a vote.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Agriculture Bill (Eleventh sitting)

Deidre Brock Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee Debate: 11th sitting: House of Commons
Thursday 5th March 2020

(3 years, 12 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
Read Full debate Agriculture Act 2020 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: Public Bill Committee Amendments as at 5 March 2020 - (5 Mar 2020)
None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Good morning everyone for what might be the last day of consideration in Committee of the Agriculture Bill. The selection list for today’s sitting is available in the room.

Clause 40

Power to make regulations for securing compliance with WTO Agreement on Agriculture: general

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

I beg to move amendment 31, in clause 40, page 36, line 20, 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 the power to make regulations extending to Scotland can only be exercised with the consent of Scottish Ministers.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment 99, in clause 40, page 36, line 20, at end insert—

“(1A) No regulations may be made under this section unless the Secretary of State has consulted each devolved authority on a draft of the regulations.”

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
- Hansard - -

I will be brief, because this is basically a rerun of arguments I have made in Committee on earlier amendments on Scottish Ministers getting a say over areas of devolved competence. We are concerned that the views of Scottish Ministers might be overlooked or overruled in future. In our view, the agreement of Scottish Ministers should be sought in all areas of devolved competence. Again, I cannot see why it is possible in other Bills being scrutinised by this Parliament to insert that the agreement of the devolved Administrations is required, not simply that their views will be taken into account, only for that perhaps to be subsequently ignored by this or future Secretaries of State. I will leave it there, but our views on the issue are particularly clear. I am interested to hear what the Minister has to say in response.

Victoria Prentis Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Victoria Prentis)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is a pleasure to be back for a busy day in the Agriculture Bill Committee.

We do not dispute that agriculture is a devolved matter. However, this particular provision is about ensuring UK-wide compliance with an international agreement. That responsibility is, rightly, reserved to the UK Government. This is not about whether the devolved Administrations have the competence to implement and observe international agreements; it is about ensuring UK-wide compliance in an international sphere.

We therefore maintain that the clause is reserved, and we cannot concede that the regulations may be made only with consent from Scottish Ministers, because that would impinge on our powers to ensure our compliance with the World Trade Organisation agreement. We recognise that devolved Administrations have significant interests in these matters, and we are working closely with those Administrations on the draft regulations. We have made a firm commitment to consultation now and in future in the making and operation of the regulations.

Turning to amendment 99, the clause underpins the Government’s commitment to continued compliance with WTO regulation following European Union exit. The UK is a founding member of the WTO, but, as a member of the EU, was bound by the regulations of the common agricultural policy, which ensured compliance by all member states with WTO obligations. Outside the common agricultural policy, we will have to have a new regime and a new approach to ensuring compliance with our continuing WTO obligations.

Agriculture is devolved in the UK, so each Administration will decide their own future policy on farm subsidies. The clause allows each Administration to do that, but it gives the Government powers to ensure UK-wide compliance with WTO obligations. We will continue to work closely with devolved Administrations officials, as we have been doing for more than a year. I am assured that the relationship is good and that that work is going well. It is important to ensure that all parties’ views are properly considered.

An agreement between the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Welsh Government contains commitments that the draft regulations will be presented to the UK’s four Agriculture Ministers with the aim of securing agreement, followed by an exchange of letters. In that context, I ask that the hon. Lady withdraw her amendment.

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Victoria Prentis Portrait Victoria Prentis
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We need to ensure that the provisions made under the clause are fair and proportionate. We want to involve devolved Administrations and I have set out how we intend to do so. In my view, that is adequate, so I ask the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith to withdraw her amendment.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
- Hansard - -

I agree with the hon. Member for Bristol West that power is being concentrated under this clause towards the UK Government and the Secretary of State. Once again—when there is a common view among the four National Farmers Unions of the four nations that any common frameworks covering anything to do with agriculture must be agreed, not simply consulted upon—I fail to see why this quite reasonable suggestion is continually disagreed with by Ministers.

I speak here, I suppose, on behalf of the Scottish Government, rather than every devolved Administration, because I would not presume to do that. However, I assume that they feel exactly the same and follow the views of their National Farmers Unions as well. The possibility exists within this clause and others for our Ministers’ policy choices to be constrained. Those policy choices reflect closely the conditions of their own nations, and they must be taken into account. Their views must be listened to and their agreement sought.

That is why, although I agree with much of what the hon. Member for Bristol West has said, properly involving the devolved Administrations means respecting their wishes and seeking their consent, rather than simply seeking to consult with them but ultimately, perhaps, ignoring them. I will therefore push the amendment to a vote.

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provision of information
Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
- Hansard - -

I beg to move amendment 32, in clause 42, page 38, line 17, leave out from “support” to end of line 19.

This amendment would remove the role of the Secretary of State as final arbiter in dispute resolution.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment 33, in clause 42, page 38, line 20, leave out subsections (4) and (5).

This amendment would remove the requirement to provide information to the Secretary of State.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
- Hansard - -

These amendments once again go to the heart of the devolved settlement, and the question of whether for Scotland, “taking back control” means actually taking back control. The principle is that Scotland should be the arbiter of her own schemes and provisions, and should decide what is covered in them. There should be no role for a Secretary of State in the UK Government to be an overlord for Scotland’s agricultural sector, or for its support schemes. It makes sense for Scottish Ministers, overseen by the Scottish Parliament, to make those decisions.

I appreciate that, as we have already heard, the opinion of the UK Government is that compliance with the WTO agreement is an international obligation, and that the final decision should rest with them. I remind them that the Scottish Administration have had cases where they have been held liable for infringements of international agreements. I argue that Scotland’s Government should not be reliant on the UK Government to get those decisions right in order to avoid being stung by the consequences. Scotland is more than capable, I assure all hon. Members, of getting these things absolutely right on its own.

Robert Goodwill Portrait Mr Robert Goodwill (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It seems somewhat ironic that with all those policies, the Scottish National party would abdicate the decisions to Brussels; certainly on agriculture and fisheries policies, particularly those involving trade, Brussels would be making the important decisions.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
- Hansard - -

I am not really inclined to rehearse all the arguments of the Brexit situation back and forth—they have been ongoing for some time. I am certain the right hon. Gentleman is well aware of the Scottish Government’s views on these issues, as well as those of the SNP group at Westminster.

I will refrain from pointing out that the WTO is falling apart at the moment, unfortunately, as a result of the actions of the US President, because that would be beneath my dignity, but it should be borne in mind that without a tribunal system, the WTO simply does not function. The point of the amendments is simply to ensure that Scotland has the freedom of movement to ensure that it complies with the agreements, whether or not the UK does. That seems a very fair and equitable way to do things. I hope the Minister will take that into consideration and agree to my proposals.

Thangam Debbonaire Portrait Thangam Debbonaire
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I wish to make a few remarks on amendments 32 and 33. We will not support amendment 32 because it provides a veto for Scotland on the reserved matter of WTO compliance. The hon. Lady is right about the WTO; we could have a whole discussion about why and how we have ended up with the WTO and where we seem to be going, but today is not the day for that.

On amendment 33, we still feel that our amendment to clause 40 would have provided a good compromise of a consultation process, whereas the SNP amendment removes the requirement on the devolved Administrations to provide that information. It would have been better to be more balanced. We will not vote against that amendment, but we wish the Minister to take into account the fact that we offered a compromise in amendment 99, and we urge her to consider that at a later stage.

Victoria Prentis Portrait Victoria Prentis
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Starting with amendment 32, now that the UK has left the EU, we have become a fully independent member of the WTO. That means that the UK Government are responsible for ensuring that the whole of the UK complies with its obligations. In fully federal countries such as the USA and Canada, the WTO always insists that agricultural trade is reserved—that is how the WTO functions with federal states. One of the UK Government’s obligations under WTO rules is to notify the UK’s use of agricultural support to the WTO membership. It is essential that the nations of the UK take a consistent approach to classifying agricultural support in accordance with those requirements.

Clause 42 provides for a decision-making process that will, quite properly, involve all four nations of the UK. That will be set out in regulations made under the clause. Where a decision cannot be reached through that process, the UK Government, as the hon. Member for Bristol West said, must ultimately be responsible for the final decision, but we hope that agreement can be reached. The amendment would remove the safeguard of final decision making from the Secretary of State and potentially impede our ability to comply with WTO obligations where we cannot reach agreement, although we hope that we will.

Turning to amendment 33, the whole clause must be read in the context of “securing compliance” with the WTO agreement on agriculture, which is incontrovertibly a reserved matter. We need to be able to reassure WTO members that, despite the unusual degree of agricultural devolution in the UK, we have the means to ensure that we will have the relevant data to be able to comply. The amendment would remove the Secretary of State’s ability to make regulations for securing, from any part of the UK, the information necessary for the UK Government to meet those international obligations. I therefore ask the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith to withdraw the amendment.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
- Hansard - -

I heard what the Minister said and we are clearly having great difficulty in coming to an agreement between the two Governments and between us on the Committee. From my point of view, decision-making powers that allow not for agreement but simply for consultation do not seem fair or equitable, so I will press the amendment to a vote.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

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Kerry McCarthy Portrait Kerry McCarthy
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am not sure that that is particularly relevant. At the moment there is a ban on hormone-pumped beef entering our markets. The UK is the third biggest market in the world for food imports. It is clear that if the doors were open, there would be a potential market here and the US would be very keen to get into it. Most of the discussion on trade deals so far has not been about the beef sector anyway.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge has already said, at about the time that the now Secretary of State wrote that article, he also tabled what are now new clauses 33, 34 and 35 to the then Agriculture Bill. Why would he do that? He had made the arguments in public. He did a sterling job trying to defend the Government’s position during the first sitting of the Agriculture Bill. He came across as reasonably sincere, but the moment he had the freedom to say what he really thought, he went to the press and wrote an article in The Guardian outlining clearly and eloquently what his concerns were. He did not seek verbal reassurances from the Government; he sought legislative reassurances. So if it is good enough for the Secretary of State when he is allowed free rein to say what he feels, I am sure the Minister can understand why many of her colleagues on the Conservative Back Benches and Opposition Members also agree with him.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
- Hansard - -

I agree with much of what the previous speakers have said. New clauses 1 and 4 are grand in their way and I will support them, but we have to go further. I want to see the standards of the EU maintained, but perhaps that is for a different debate. However, it is possible to write it into domestic law that imports have to match the sanitary and phytosanitary standards of the WTO.

The WTO agreement on the application of sanitary and phytosanitary measures is clear that science has to underpin the standards to protect human, animal or plant health. The agreement allows states to protect their food supplies and the imports of supporting products to the benefit of citizens. I know the argument will be that Ministers seek to protect citizens, but we do not know that that will always be the case. We should seek to ensure that citizens have the confidence to believe in this measure and in future Governments, and in the commitment to protecting foods and health. Citizens should also have the right to understand how Governments intend to do that and should have the ability to challenge them if necessary.

The SPS agreement allows standards to be set, so we should have them set. That would have allowed Ministers to assure the public that animal welfare and plant health would be maintained, and that imported food would be of a standard that we could rely on for health and the protection of life. As NFU Scotland recently pointed out, assurances around priorities in negotiations work only if the US upholds its side of the bargain. It stated:

“After all, there’s no point having a level playing field if the two sides are playing to different rules.”

I therefore support new clause 7.

Thangam Debbonaire Portrait Thangam Debbonaire
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I will make a few brief remarks on behalf of the shadow European affairs team. As we leave the European Union, we want to make sure we do not lose anything in terms of our high standards and that we try to spot the places where there is potential for loopholes, which I hope none of us wants.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East admirably made the case that the Secretary of State’s real views are in alignment with ours. We therefore present the Government with an opportunity to vote for the Secretary of State’s actual views. We in the European affairs team feel we are here to make sure that the transference of Europe-wide rules to UK standards is not undermined by trade agreements with other parts of the world. We simply want to safeguard that. So, on behalf of the shadow European affairs team, I want to add my support to the case made by Opposition Front and Back Benchers, which, after all, reflects the Secretary of State’s views.

Agriculture Bill (Twelfth sitting)

Deidre Brock Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee Debate: 12th sitting: House of Commons
Thursday 5th March 2020

(3 years, 12 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
Read Full debate Agriculture Act 2020 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: Public Bill Committee Amendments as at 5 March 2020 - (5 Mar 2020)
Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner (Cambridge) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Sir David, you will be glad to hear that earlier I was mid-sentence but close to my conclusion. All I was going to say was, when we come to conclude our discussion, the simple answer is to put it in the Bill.

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

The important point about new clauses 1, 4 and 7 is that they would allow us to set standards high to protect the food chain and therefore the consumer. The Minister might, and indeed I am sure she does, have a commitment to maintaining high standards, and she might even believe that her colleagues have a similar commitment. However, as we all know, Governments change—we are still within five years of David Cameron’s last election victory, after all—and the current Ministers will not always be in post. I would hate to think of the Minister, in the far-off days of her declining years, staring at a plate of questionable food in front of her, wishing that she had taken steps to guard against it when she could have done. We should take those steps to safeguard our food standards, protect our food producers and maintain the health of consumers, who are, after all, the people who send us here. The SNP therefore supports new clauses 1, 4 and 7.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.

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Kerry McCarthy Portrait Kerry McCarthy
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I hope we can continue the dialogue about county farms and that we can see some concrete action from the Government. Given what the Minister has said, for once I will take her at her word that she has leapt upon this and I will not push the measure to a vote. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 6

Quality schemes for agricultural products and foodstuffs

“(1) Subsection (2) applies to any function of the Secretary of State under—

(a) Regulation (EU) No 1151/2012 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 21 November 2012 on quality schemes for agricultural products and foodstuffs (“the EU Regulation”),

(b) the delegated and implementing Regulations,

(c) any regulations made by the Secretary of State under the EU Regulation, and

(d) any regulations made under section 2(2) of the European Communities Act 1972 relating to the enforcement of the EU Regulation or the delegated and implementing Regulations.

(2) The Secretary of State may exercise the function only with the consent of the Scottish Ministers.

(3) In subsection (1), the “delegated and implementing Regulations” means—

(a) Commission Delegated Regulation (EU) No 664/2014 supplementing the EU Regulation with regard to the establishment of Union symbols for protected designations of origin, protected geographical indications and traditional specialities guaranteed and with regard to certain rules on sourcing, certain procedural rules and certain additional transitional rules,

(b) Commission Delegated Regulation (EU) No 665/2014 supplementing the EU Regulation with regard to conditions of use of the quality term “mountain product”, and

(c) Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) No 668/2014 laying down rules for the application of the EU Regulation.

(4) The references in subsection (1) to the EU Regulation and the delegated and implementing Regulations are to those instruments—

(a) as they have effect in domestic law by virtue of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, and

(b) as amended from time to time whether by virtue of that Act or otherwise.”—(Deidre Brock.)

Brought up, and read the First time.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
- Hansard - -

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

The new clause is about protected geographical indictors. They are a vital part of the business plan of many of Scotland’s top food producers and many food producers in other nations. They are a guarantee of quality and of the care and skill that goes into their production.

I am sorry to say that I remain to be convinced that a UK system would be any kind of replacement or match for the EU system, but the UK Government still intend to create their own new system instead of sticking with the EU system, as I understand they could have done. It therefore seems sensible to me to make sure that the new scheme properly serves producers who have the full protection under the current scheme, and any new producers wishing to get geared up for it.

To protect Scottish producers, it seems sensible to ensure that there is input from the Scottish Government to the new scheme. The new clause would simply ensure that the views of Scottish Ministers are properly considered in the exercise of functions under the scheme. It reflects and respects the devolution settlement and is measured.

Victoria Prentis Portrait Victoria Prentis
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I see the good intentions behind the new clause, and I understand the desire to ensure that Ministers’ decisions on geographical indicators are made in the best interests of all stakeholders across the nations. However, that is not quite what the new clause would do. It would give Scottish Ministers a veto over Government decisions, even when there was no Scottish interest in those decisions. GIs are a form of intellectual property law and are therefore a reserved matter, so it would not be appropriate to go down the path proposed in the new clause.

Nevertheless, even though GIs are reserved, the Government recognise that the devolved Administrations have always played an important role in these schemes—Scottish salmon, for example, is an important export—and I am keen for that to continue. I assure the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith that my officials have worked closely with colleagues from the devolved Administrations to agree a working-level arrangement to underpin very close co-operation in the new domestic schemes. That was agreed and signed by senior officials in the devolved Administrations, including the Scottish Government, on 4 October last year. The arrangement ensures that the devolved Administrations will be included in the assessment of GI applications and will have a say in the development of scheme rules. I believe that this arrangement does what the hon. Lady seeks with her new clause.

--- Later in debate ---
Thangam Debbonaire Portrait Thangam Debbonaire
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

What a wonderful invitation. I was mentally running through Government Committee members and trying to think of a geographical indicator in the constituency of each one, and I think I did pretty well, actually. Probably all of us have a product in our constituencies whose GI status we want to protect, so the hon. Lady’s offer is useful.

In that spirit, as I said, we support the sentiment behind the new clause. We cannot support subsection (2), but in every other way we support making this law, because we need to do everything we can to protect our GIs. I am sorry if that disappoints the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith, but that is where we are at the moment.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
- Hansard - -

I appreciate the words of the hon. Member for Bristol West. There is that veto word again. I think it is more a matter of respect for the devolved Administrations and their knowledge of the conditions that apply in their areas, rather than seeking to override their views of Scottish, Welsh or Northern Irish Ministers, as the Bill potentially allows for.

Leaving that aside for the moment, I stress how incredibly important protected geographical indicators are in Scotland and to those producers and areas fortunate enough to have been awarded membership of the scheme. There are many questions outstanding about the replacement scheme. There are fears that it will be in no way strong enough to stand up to the US tendency to prefer a trademark system, which is a lot weaker than the European PGI scheme. Previously, a producer who came across a good that made use of their brand inappropriately had the whole of the EU standing behind them when they took action against the offender. We are not entirely sure what we will have instead.

This is something I feel very strongly about. I have done quite a lot of work on PGIs. We have taken a lot of evidence about them in the Scottish Affairs Committee, and I know how important they are, particularly particular to some of the further flung areas of Scotland. I hate to use the word fragile when talking about rural areas because I know how it sometimes offends people who live up there, but there is no doubt that PGI status is crucial to maintaining people’s ability to stay in some of those areas, to work there and to keep the countryside alive with people. I will press the new clause to a vote.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.

--- Later in debate ---
Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
- Hansard - -

I support the new clause simply because it is the right thing to do. I appreciated the speech by the hon. Member for Nottingham East very much, and I hope the Minister will see her way clear to coming to some sort of agreement on this, because many of us are very disturbed by this trade and would like to see it stopped.

Victoria Prentis Portrait Victoria Prentis
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

While allowed under EU law, the Government have made clear that the production of foie gras from ducks or geese using force-feeding raises serious welfare concerns, as the hon. Member for Nottingham East outlined. The production of foie gras by force-feeding is banned in the UK, as it is incompatible with our domestic legislation. After the transition period, there will be an opportunity to consider whether the UK can adopt a different approach to foie gras imports and sales in this country. I am afraid the time is not quite now; the time is after the transition period.

I understand the strength of feeling on the issue, but this Bill is not about making provisions prohibiting imports. I reassure hon. Members that the Government will use the opportunities provided through future free trade agreements and, of course, our wider international engagements to promote high animal welfare standards among our international trading partners. I am afraid the time is not yet, and I ask the hon. Lady to withdraw the amendment.

--- Later in debate ---
Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
- Hansard - -

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Briefly, what new clause 17 boils down to is ensuring that Scottish farmers can plan ahead. It would ensure that the resources that will be made available to support Scottish farmers are known about in advance of the implementation period completion day. To be honest, I am not sure that a month is long enough notice, but it would at least be notice.

I am sure that the Minister could give that commitment today, but I think we would all agree that it would be much better written into the Bill. The Minister can think of the new clause as a sort of love letter to Scottish farmers, Parliament can think of things being done in the right way, and I would just be glad to have it confirmed.

Farmers, just like any other business, do best when they have some clarity on their long-term planning—we have heard the Secretary of State say that on several occasions. Providing that certainty and clarity—that honesty and transparency—is the work of the Government in this instance, and that is what new clause 17 asks for. Scottish farmers need that certainty and therefore the Scottish Government need certainty on funding. I would prefer farmers, crofters and Ministers to be told earlier whether funds will be made available that are at least equivalent to the cash that has been available to farmers and crofters up to now, but I look forward to the Minister telling us that the Government agree that farmers and crofters need that certainty and that they accept the new clause.

Thangam Debbonaire Portrait Thangam Debbonaire
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We on the Labour Front Bench would say that the new clause makes a reasonable request. There are lots of ways in which we could try to deal with the problem of divergence and the tension between devolved and reserved matters and protecting regional interests, which we wish to do. There are various alternatives that the Minister could commit to. Having something from her on the record today, in Hansard, will be helpful.

Regardless of whether the new clause is agreed to, I am sure that all of us on the Opposition Benches will hold the Minister to her word; she is a woman of her word. If she makes a commitment on the record that there will be some form of report, we will put it in our diaries to follow that up. If the new clause falls, but she has made that commitment, we will be coming back to this point a month before the implementation period is over, at the beginning of December. I hope that, in that spirit, the Minister will consider making the commitment and therefore, when the time comes, the relevant statement can take place. It is completely reasonable that farmers across the whole of the regions and nations—not just Scotland, but the whole of the United Kingdom—can have that continuity and some certainty at least.

I may be wrong, but I am guessing that the Minister might be about to say that it is not necessary to add the new clause to the Bill. We have heard that before, and I understand the argument, but it would be good to have some recognition on the record that we can hold her to.

Victoria Prentis Portrait Victoria Prentis
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

In my experience, farmers would much prefer a cheque to a love letter. Maybe I have met the wrong ones. In that spirit, the only commitment I am going to make is the important one, which is a commitment to guarantee the current annual budget in every year of this Parliament, giving real certainty over funding for the coming years. That is worth a great deal more to farmers than a new clause that would merely require the Secretary of State to make a statement on agricultural funding for Scotland.

I reassure the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith that in recognition of the perceived injustice felt by Scottish farmers over convergence funding, the Scottish Government will receive an extra £160 million over two years in 2019-20 and 2020-21. All Members will know that Her Majesty’s Treasury is ultimately responsible for financial matters across UK Government. Treasury colleagues lead on discussions on all funding matters with Finance Ministers in the devolved Administrations. DEFRA will continue to work closely with the Treasury and the devolved Administrations on funding arrangements, but the Government have committed to year-on-year funding, and I am afraid that is the best I can do.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
- Hansard - -

I cannot say that I am not disappointed by the Minister’s response. Yes, the convergence funding was welcome, but that was after many years of tussling over it, as Members will be aware. In our view, that money was returned to us after it was wrongfully taken away by the UK Government. We are delighted we have it now, as are the many farmers and crofters who will benefit from it, after it not being with them for some years.

I do not doubt the Minister’s sincerity over this, but I want to hear that the funds made available will be at least equivalent to the cash. That includes such things as inflation, and I do not feel that her words are sufficient to provide that surety. Forgive me, Sir David, but—this is a commonly held view in this place—I do not have a great deal of faith in the Treasury and what it will decide in the future.

I thank the hon. Member for Bristol West for her kind words of support, because this important principle applies not solely to Scotland, but to all the devolved Administrations. She is right about that. That surety is vital for all our farmers and crofters, and even being able to put that into words in Committee would have been a helpful start. With that in mind, I will press the new clause to a vote.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.

--- Later in debate ---
Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

On a point of order, Sir David. I expect that I will say something remarkably similar. I particularly thank you and Mr Stringer for your excellent chairmanship. I thank the Whips for making the Committee run so smoothly and efficiently. As we approach International Women’s Day, I look around the room and notice that all my team appear to be women, and there appears to a majority of women on the Government side, too. I think that reflects an important step forward in this place. I suspect that this has been a more gentle and consensual discussion than one might have had otherwise, although I have been chided from my own side for being insufficiently dressed on occasion.

I thank the Clerks, who have been extraordinarily helpful in translating not always clear instructions into workable amendments. I thank all the staff working across the shadow teams; it has been a particularly difficult time. I particularly thank the adviser Rob Wakely and my assistant Rafaelle Robin. We probably expected far too much from them in a short period of time, and I am eternally grateful. All the mistakes are my responsibility.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
- Hansard - -

On a point of order, Sir David. Briefly, I thank you and Mr Stringer for your good-humoured chairmanship of the proceedings, and the Clerks, who have been tremendously helpful to my colleague and me. I thank Hansard, who sit there patiently recording our every word, and the Officers, who have had to get up and down frequently to close the doors and open them again. My thanks to all the Committee members for interesting proceedings. I look forward to the Bill reaching Report and to further discussion on many important points.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Mr Stringer and I would like to thank all hon. Members for their generous remarks. We thank Hansard and officials for all their support. We particularly wish to commend the Doorkeepers. One had to cope with a key breaking in the door while he was locking it; another was opening the windows at the same time as closing the doors—there is an example of multitasking. Most of all, I thank our Clerks. Without them and their wise counsel, the Committee would not have run so smoothly. I congratulate hon. Members on the way that they dealt with the proceedings, in spite of my many stumblings.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill, as amended, accordingly to be reported.

Agriculture Bill

Deidre Brock Excerpts
Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I call Deidre Brock, who is asked to speak for no more than eight minutes.

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

I will speak to amendment 39, which is in my name.

This is a strange beast of a Bill—a hybrid that covers reserved and devolved competences, and a Lazarus that has had to rise again after that odd election in December. It now looks as if it will be the first UK Bill to be passed under the new hybrid procedures, and therefore the first UK legislation to be passed using electronic voting—so even Westminster can look a bit modern when it needs to. Perhaps electronic voting and other good developments might be retained after this pandemic is over.

Of course, the Bill is only needed because we are leaving the EU, so it is a case of cauterising a self-made wound. The Bill will pass because farmers—our food producers—need to be provided with the support they need to keep going. I will say it again, because it bears repeating: farmers are good stewards of the land; they take good care of it. It is, after all, one of their biggest assets, and it is essential to their ongoing businesses and livelihoods. Good farmers manage the land well and improve it.

I urge the Government to offer farmers more immediate support to help them get through this crisis, so that they can come out the other side with working farms and productive land. There might even be opportunities for them to use this time to innovate—to adapt their farming and business practices to a new model with an eye to future operations. We recently passed legislation that set up a new payment system. I do not see any reason why the Government should not use that to support farmers now.

We have a few choice selections on the amendment paper, and the SNP will be backing sensible improvements to the Bill. We support writing the need for high standards in imported foods into the legislation, and will be voting for that. It is of great concern to farmers, fishers and other food producers that any low-quality, mass-produced, low-price rubbish from elsewhere might be allowed to flood the market and squeeze them out. Our food producers have high-quality, high-standard and high-welfare products that provide consumers with excellent nutrition. We would be doing the food producers, the end consumers and the retailers a disservice if we allowed those high-quality products to be squeezed out by any low-quality products that have to be, for example, dipped in bleach to kill pathogens before they are dumped on the shelves. It is also a massive concern for consumers, who do not want to see their choices shut down by low-grade products.

Save our farmers, save our cooking and save our families. We must support continued high standards in animal welfare, plant hygiene and end product quality. Do not dump rubbish in our kitchens and on our plates. Let us have standards on imported food that are as high as the standards on food produced on these islands. I noted the Minister’s commitment in her speech to maintaining those standards, but I cannot understand why it is not on the face of the Bill. I look forward to her explaining that a little further later, because I am afraid that her explanations were not sufficient for me.

We also support the principles the shadow Secretary of State has written into new clause 7. Food poverty in these wealthy nations was always a disgrace, but the pandemic has brought that inequality and inhumanity into sharp relief. Action is needed to address that. I can only hope that the Government take that under advisement and look to extend the principle in the long term. People should not go hungry, or have to rely on charity to feed their children; decency and humanity are not too expensive.

Public Health Scotland looks at the effects of poverty on health, including food poverty, and analyses possible solutions as part of its work. I would imagine that Public Health England must be doing something similar, so the preparation for this would not be as big a task as it might seem, and Scotland might also offer a template you can adapt to serve England better. The “Fairer Scotland” action plan seeks to address gross inequalities. Recommendations from an independent working group on food poverty informed the creation of a fair food fund, which is now part of a larger fund investing in communities. A large lesson from that is that you cannot address food poverty properly unless you address poverty properly, and you have to roll back austerity fully if you are going to do that. You also need to ensure that there is nutritious and untainted food available, which brings us back to the principles underpinning the need to keep import standards high. There is not, however, a recognition of the devolved Governments in the amendment and it is a devolved competence, which leaves us unable to support it.

I turn now to the amendments we have lodged, including mine on import standards. I want to mention the timeous commencement of the proper operation of the red meat levy. I understand that the boards themselves are in agreement about the way forward and have been for some time, and it is incumbent upon the Government to accommodate the ambition they are showing by making sure that the machinery of the scheme is up to scratch and ready to rock ‘n’ roll as soon as possible. Scotland’s farmers have already waited far too long to get their money back so that their investments can support their businesses. I note the Minister’s commitment on this, but we will be continuing to press the Government on their commitment to April delivery.

The amendment I would like to put forward for a vote today is a bit technical. It is explained in some detail and at length in Holyrood’s Sewel memo, or legislative consent memorandum to give it the fancy title, if anyone needs the background, but it concerns the reporting to the WTO. My amendment 39 addresses the concerns in the Sewel memo and would remove the scheme that renders the devolved Administrations subject to the whims of the Secretary of State. It is surely a central principle of devolution that the devolved Administrations should be free to operate in devolved policy areas without interference from the UK Government. As the Bill currently stands, the power to determine how farming support is treated for the purposes of WTO reporting, and therefore the ceilings in each classification of support, are reserved to the UK Government rather than the devolved Administrations, which will still be tasked with providing the support to farmers. I must stress that this is a new reservation; it is a centralisation of function that does not currently exist, so I urge Members to support amendment 39 to remove that from the Bill.

I am conscious that we have a restricted timetable for these proceedings, so I will end my contribution there.

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Thank you. I am now introducing a time limit of five minutes, and advise hon. Members speaking virtually to have a timing device visible.

Agriculture Bill

Deidre Brock Excerpts
Consideration of Lords amendments & Ping Pong & Ping Pong: House of Commons
Monday 12th October 2020

(3 years, 4 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Agriculture Act 2020 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: Commons Consideration of Lords Amendments as at 12 October 2020 - (12 Oct 2020)
Neil Parish Portrait Neil Parish
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It would indeed. My hon. Friend is right. If we try to amend the Trade Bill, we get told, “That is not the place to put it.” If the Agriculture Bill is not the place to put it either, where is the place to put it? The place to put it is in this Parliament. I will very much support this, as do my hon. Friend and many Conservative Members. We want to negotiate very good trade deals, and not only with Australia, New Zealand and America. Do not forget that this is about not today and tomorrow, but probably several years down the road. What about when we start to do trade deals with Brazil? Brazil has burned down 2.5 million acres of rainforest this year and what do they do? They grow sugar beet and soya, they produce poultry intensively and they destroy the rainforest. When they have destroyed 2.5 million acres of rainforest every year, they will move on to another bit of land. They have destroyed the fertility of that land. They do not even farm the land in the right way. They destroy the environment and the land for farming and if we are not careful, that is exactly where we are going to take it.

Instead of that, we—the British—believe in animal welfare. We believe in the environment. All the signatories to the NFU petition agree on the way forward. So do the Government. I have every respect for the Government and the Minister. But, for goodness’ sake, get the backing of Parliament. Yes, we will get a certain amount of scrutiny of the trade deals when they are done, but the deal will be signed and then presented before Parliament. There will then be the option of objecting to it, or voting it through.

That is why the work has to be done. We do not need the whole Trade and Agriculture Commission; we could have a slimmed down version that could consider every individual deal over the years, as we sign it, to ensure that we do not trade away those standards, and that we improve standards across the world—that we raise the standards of animal welfare and the environment. Surely that is laudable. All of us can support that, irrespective of our political party. I urge the Government: instead of saying, “We’ve got the power. We can vote it down and stop those rebels whatever happens”, we want something really positive from the Government. I support the Minister very much in what she is doing, but let us get this measure in, so that we can actually support trade and trade deals in the future.

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

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish), who made a passionate speech.

I rise principally to speak in support of amendment 16, although I will have a few words to say about the missing amendment 18. Amendments such as Lords amendments 9 on a national food strategy, and 11 on pesticides, are clearly devolved matters and properly decided by our Government in Scotland. However, in solidarity with our friends in England, I wish to express disappointment that this Government have chosen simply to strike all the amendments down, rather than to amend them and use them to improve the Bill. I cannot understand why they have not taken that opportunity. Regrettably, however, I think I am right in saying that very few—if any—Opposition amendments or new clauses were accepted by the Government throughout the course of the Bill, so perhaps I should not be so surprised.

I welcome Government amendments 10 to 15 and 20 to 29, which mean that the UK Government will have to gain the consent of the devolved authorities in further areas such as organics, but once again I contrast that approach with the bulldozing of devolved competences in the internal market Bill. I wonder if one hand of the Government is aware of what the other hand is up to.

There remains plenty to be worried about in the Bill, and the dismantling of England’s farm support system, to be replaced by some amorphous idea of payments for public goods, must rate high on that list. The issue that causes the most concern to food producers in Scotland, and to Scottish consumers, is that of food standards. The extra scrutiny measures that the Minister has announced are of course useful, but I look in vain for something with real teeth that can quell the very real concerns that we hear from all corners of the House.

One provision that has been inserted into the Bill will do something to address that gap and place the issue of food standards in the Bill, and we should keep that provision. Lords amendment 16 relates to clause 42 of the Bill, as it was bounced back here from over there, and it should be kept in the Bill. It is not perfect but it is serviceable and it offers some protection against what are sometimes appallingly poor standards of food production in other countries.

Shoppers have some idea of the quality of what they buy in the shops because of the regulations in place to ensure the quality of food from farm to shelf. Those regulations—those safeguards—will be dumped if this Government get their way. We know that because there have been plenty of opportunities to put protections and guarantees into legislation. This Bill, the Trade Bill, the withdrawal Bill and the internal market Bill have all been passed up by the Government, denied, done down and refused.

This Government sometimes seem hell-bent on reducing the quality of our food supplies and, frankly, it is not entirely clear why. Some have suggested that it is to secure a trade deal here or there, but that seems too high a price to pay. I am left considering only the possibility that they simply have not thought this through because the alternative explanation is that they intend to drive down food standards and consumer protections. Some say that that is because they have the wealth to ensure sufficient high-quality food for themselves and so give not a jot for the health and wellbeing of others. That, frankly, would seem a strange attitude for elected representatives to have. However, I see few other explanations for the refusal at least to replicate our existing food protections. The former Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, now Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, promised us several times that UK food standards would not be undermined by future trade deals. Here is the best and very possibly the last opportunity for this DEFRA Secretary and his Minister to do something about it.

I must say a few words about the rather hamfisted use of parliamentary tactics by the Government to prevent debate and a vote on Lords amendment 18, which would require the Trade and Agriculture Commission to make a report on recommendations for policies to protect food standards, domestic production, the environment and animal welfare, and the Secretary of State to lay the report before Parliament. It has long been suspected that the Trade and Agriculture Commission was created so that the Government might evade the wrath of their Back Benchers and a likely defeat in this Chamber. Here was an opportunity to create a Trade and Agriculture Commission with some real purpose and strength, instead of leaving us with the weak sop to the Government’s MPs that it is currently. Instead of creating a commission that had the ability to overturn any decisions made by Governments that might threaten the viability of our farming and food and drink sectors, we have a body that is frankly nothing more than a poodle of the International Trade Department. It looks like yet another internal battle between the Department for International Trade and DEFRA has been comprehensively won, or lost, once again.

We in the SNP have repeatedly expressed concern about the body over its lack of any real teeth and the lack of regard for the devolved authorities. These proposals do not go far enough, or did not go far enough, as reports do not provide concrete protections or requirements for the Government to act, but they also do not reflect the reality of devolved competences, and we insist that the devolution settlement be considered and respected in any reports so produced. With all that said, the Tory Government are offering nothing more than empty words as a protection for food standards and a report by the Trade and Agriculture Commission would at least do more than that to protect food standards. However, as we see tonight, even that wee bit of protection has been blocked by the Government.

All Scottish MPs received a letter signed by dozens of farming, health, environmental and social justice organisations recently pleading with us to support higher food standards through these amendments—from the National Farmers Union Scotland, to Citizens Advice Scotland, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds Scotland, the Leith Community Crops in Pots, Unite Scotland, Unison Scotland, the Trussell Trust and many, many more. The question for me is: will the Scottish Tories ignore them all?

I note from the most recent survey of Which? on the subject that some 95% of the respondents from Scotland who voted for the Conservatives in 2019 called for food standards to be maintained, with around three quarters of them saying that they were uneasy, first, because the UK Government had not entirely ruled out for good lifting the bans on chlorinated chicken or hormone-treated beef; and, secondly, because such bans could be lifted with a vote in Parliament. Again, I call on the Scottish Tories to do the right thing by all their constituents—to give them the protection that our citizens look to their elected representatives to provide and vote for this amendment to stay within the Bill. We challenged Scotland’s supine six to do the right thing by their constituents and by the people of Scotland at the time of the Trade Bill debates, but they meekly followed their Westminster leader through the Lobbies once again. Will they finally, this time, do their jobs and represent the interests of the people who elected them to this place?

Agriculture Bill

Deidre Brock Excerpts
Victoria Prentis Portrait Victoria Prentis
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The whole purpose of the reporting mechanism is that it will not just be for Parliament, or indeed any of the devolved Administrations, to object to the report; it will be publicly available and, I suspect, widely scrutinised—we have all seen how interested the public are in these matters. In those circumstances, I am quite sure that we would find a way of discussing the matter in this place, so that the views of the Commons could be tested in the normal manner. Were that situation to arise, I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman would find a way of making his views and those of his constituents clear.

Victoria Prentis Portrait Victoria Prentis
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I will not, because many Members wish to speak and I have been asked to be as quick as possible.

We are putting the Trade and Agriculture Commission on a statutory footing. The House asked for scrutiny of trade deals, and I am pleased to provide it. Parliament will have the reports from the Trade and Agriculture Commission, and it will have time to study the texts and specialist Committees in both Houses to examine them in more detail. It will be the lawful duty of Ministers to present both Houses, and indeed the devolved Administrations, with the evidence they need to scrutinise future trade agreements.

I believe that the Government amendment provides a comprehensive solution that really gets to the heart of this important issue. I therefore urge the House to reject Lords amendments 16B and 18B and to accept the Government’s amendment in lieu.

--- Later in debate ---
Neil Parish Portrait Neil Parish
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the hon. Gentleman very much for his intervention. The commission will not have the powers to stop proposals but it will have the powers to bring them to this House. Therefore, it is very much for us to make sure that we raise that and drive this through. The measures will also make it more difficult for the Secretary of State for International Trade to sign away animal welfare in a future trade deal because of the commission.

I have said from the start that I am pro-trade with any country, but we do need fair trade. We also need to make sure that we have good negotiating teams that will gather years of experience in negotiating, because it is absolutely essential that we get good trade deals. We need to use all our experience and expertise in Parliament, Government and across the industry so that we are wise to the challenge that new trade deals can present. I want deals that deliver for British farmers and help them to sell more brilliant produce across the world, such as lamb and cheese—dare I say it, from Devon, but also from the whole United Kingdom—into America and Scotch whisky to India, and I know that the Government are really keen to ensure that this happens. Let us use organisations such as the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, which has a levy paid into by farmers, to get our market open in developing markets, with a high British standard of food and with us presenting it well across the whole of the world’s markets. We need to back British food and get it out into those markets, because until people have actually tasted our great British food, they will not realise how wonderful it is, and the moment they have tasted it, they will want more of it. We really can do this.

I very much welcome what Ministers are doing and the beefed-up Trade and Agriculture Commission. We need fair trade, not just free trade; they are compatible. I believe that we will see good trade deals in the future but we will maintain standards. I assure the Minister that all of us on the Government Benches, and I suspect those on the Opposition Benches too, will hold the Government to account, and I look forward to us delivering these good and fair deals in the future.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
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My inbox has been full of messages from constituents looking for food standards to be maintained. I know from conversations with colleagues that their inboxes have been filled, too, and we know from comments that we have heard already today that other Members have had similar experiences. If Ministers will not protect those standards in legislation simply because it is the right thing to do, perhaps they will consider doing it because there is huge public pressure for it.

Throughout the passage of this Bill and in other debates, we have never been given an adequate reason why the Government are so determined to keep food standards off the face of legislation. We were told that they should not be in this Bill but in the Trade Bill; come the Trade Bill, we were told that they should not be there but somewhere else. We have been told to trust the Government to deliver, and that future deals could be scrutinised by Members. Indeed, we have just heard that from the Chair of the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish).

We are always being told, “Not here, not now,” but we have never been told why exactly the Government are so opposed to putting food protection in legislation. The EU manages it and other countries manage it, so why not the UK, particularly in view of the overwhelming support from the public and our agricultural communities? I would be happy to give way if any member of the Government wanted to let us know what the thinking is there, and why the standards we are told will be insisted on are not written into law. It is an issue that causes grave concern to food producers and consumers, because the guarantees that help to protect farm businesses also help to protect the health of people who pick up their food from the shelves of supermarkets.

Anthony Mangnall Portrait Anthony Mangnall (Totnes) (Con)
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The hon. Lady says she has received a great many emails about this from her constituents. I hope she has gone back and told them about the triumvirate of checks and balances that are now in place from CRaG, the Trade and Agriculture Commission and the International Trade Committee. The Government have put in place the mechanisms to scrutinise all that. That is the solution to this situation.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, but of course he is talking about scrutiny in the face of a Government with a nearly 80-Member majority. We have no way of pushing that forward if we disagree with whatever comes up in whatever trade deal comes before this House. The Government’s majority means that those of us on the Opposition Benches will be completely overruled. That argument is spurious, frankly, and I am afraid that many in agricultural communities, and certainly many of my constituents, simply do not believe the Government.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
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No, I am going to get on for the moment —and I can see that Madam Deputy Speaker is encouraging me to do so.

Lords amendment 16B is a watered-down version of those protections, not the gold standard that people were hoping for, but it is what we have. Surely, it is something that Ministers can accept, given their repeated insistence that food standards will be respected in trade deals. Similarly, Lords amendment 18B would be a tiny imposition on ministerial life but, likewise, a little reassurance that is worth having. I recognise, however, that it will fall in the face of the Government’s amendment in lieu.

I am afraid that the Government’s amendments fall far short of offering us any reassurances or any meaningful way forward, and that the future for high-quality food production and consumer confidence in the end product is in danger. [Interruption.] I hear the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Andrew Bowie) chuntering from a sedentary position about the National Farmers Union Scotland. Just today in the Scottish Affairs Committee, we heard from the NFUS on its concerns about the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill—the potential for a dive to the bottom in food standards that comes with it, and its relationship to what happens in trade deals on the back of the Agriculture Bill and the forthcoming Trade Bill—so the NFUS still has its reservations.

Matt Rodda Portrait Matt Rodda (Reading East) (Lab)
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Like the hon. Lady, I have had many emails from constituents raising concerns about this. Does she agree that part of those concerns stems from the time it has taken the Government to come back and the fact that they have repeatedly issued confusing messages about this matter? There is deep concern that the way the Government have responded has not really dealt with it.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
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I absolutely agree. That is basically what I am attempting to get across. I feel very much—the contact I am receiving from constituents across agricultural communities indicates that this is also how they feel—that this is a sop, really. The Government are encouraging Back-Bench MPs to vote for the Bill and ensure that it gets through, but this House will have no meaningful way to stop anything that endangers food standards in future trade deals when they come before us. I suppose it is a step forward that reports have to come before the House, but it is not enough. The future of high-quality food production, potentially animal welfare rights and consumer confidence in the end product are in danger.