All 6 Theo Clarke contributions to the Agriculture Act 2020

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Mon 3rd Feb 2020
Agriculture Bill
Commons Chamber

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)
Public Bill Committees

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)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 2nd sitting & Committee Debate: 2nd sitting: House of Commons
Thu 13th Feb 2020
Agriculture Bill (Third sitting)
Public Bill Committees

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)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 4th sitting & Committee Debate: 4th sitting: House of Commons & Committee Debate: 4th sitting: House of Commons
Mon 12th Oct 2020
Agriculture Bill
Commons Chamber

Consideration of Lords amendmentsPing Pong & Consideration of Lords amendments & Ping Pong & Ping Pong: House of Commons

Agriculture Bill

Theo Clarke 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, 3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Theo Clarke Portrait Theo Clarke (Stafford) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to be able to welcome this groundbreaking Bill. Now that we are outside the EU, we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reform how we support English farmers. We have the chance to move away from the EU’s bureaucratic CAP. My constituency has a variety of farms, ranging from dairy to arable, and is one of the largest fruit producers in our region, so this Bill is of great interest to me.

Let me start by saying that I welcome the principle of public funds for public goods that this Bill recommends, but we must ensure that any future agricultural policy also supports farmers in their role as producers of food. I thank the Government for guaranteeing the current annual budget to farmers in every year of this Parliament, but we must ensure that farmers have the funding and certainty they need to plan for the longer term. Let me give a few examples from my constituency to illustrate that point.

It is difficult for local farmers to make long-term investment decisions if they are not guaranteed future payments. Buying a tractor can cost up to £100,000, and investing in a milking parlour or slurry system can cost several hundred thousand pounds. Everything farmers do, from buying livestock to ordering seed in advance or signing new tenancy agreements, requires forward planning and investment. Farmers in Staffordshire have done an admirable job of coping in the past few years, but the situation is challenging. So I am pleased that this Bill recognises the primary role of farmers as food producers, as it is a matter of national interest that our country can feed itself and continues to be self-sufficient. Last month, I brought the Secretary of State for International Trade to meet local farmers in Stafford, who expressed concerns about this issue. We should never compromise food security, especially as an island nation, but that does not mean that we should not incentivise farmers to allow room for nature to thrive. I do not see conflict between farmers’ roles as food producers and as environmental stewards.

Dearnsdale Fruit in my constituency has also spoken to me directly about the labour supply challenges facing large fruit producers. Already this season, there has been a 20% reduction in the number of responses to applications. The seasonal workers pilot scheme needs to be running quicker, or fruit will go unpicked this season. Local producers have told me that the Home Office permits have not yet been granted, meaning that they cannot recruit from non-EU countries. Labour supply is critical to the functioning of the agricultural sector.

In conclusion, the Bill marks the introduction of an important domestic farming policy for the first time in half a century and is a great first step towards a better and greener future for farming and our environment.

Agriculture Bill (First sitting)

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

(4 years, 3 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
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Abena Oppong-Asare Portrait Abena Oppong-Asare (Erith and Thamesmead) (Lab)
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Q The main clause of the Bill provides Ministers with the power to make payments to farmers, which is most likely to be allocated on the basis of environmental improvements, not how land is farmed. The Bill does not give any clear guidance on how environmental improvements will be measured. Do you have any thoughts on that?

Caroline Drummond: Potentially, that all goes back to the metrics, and what we are looking to ultimately deliver. The Environment Bill has set out some of the requirements in that area, although that obviously goes beyond farming as well. The 25-year environment plan also covers that area. We have seen, through things like the sustainable development goals and all our global commitments, that there are some really good opportunities to align our ambition here in the UK with delivering against some of those areas. It all depends on how ELMS are going to be managed and developed, but this is where some good environmental performance metrics and targets are starting to come through—hopefully from some of the targets that farmers are setting and working with Government on in a particular area.

ffinlo Costain: There are two aspects to your question. The first is what those measures are. As many Members here and Ministers know, we have been working very closely with Government, particularly on the farm animal welfare metrics and how those relate to the environment. That is critical; what those metrics are is really important, and Government needs to start collecting those.

Then there is the question of the mechanisms—who collects those metrics, and how. From that perspective, Government could work much more closely with assurance schemes to make sure that the metrics that they are collecting are good proxies for what Government wants, and that the new metrics that the Government are looking at are then embedded within those assurance schemes, so that assurance schemes that are already going on farm can do that metrics collection. Then farmers can sign to say that they are happy for some of those metrics to be self-reported. For example, RSPCA Assured may be collecting 500 metrics, perhaps in terms of pigs or sheep, but Government does not want all of those. There are perhaps 15 key ones that Government wants, and farmers need to tick a box to say that they are happy for those to be self-reported, perhaps through the assurance schemes. So there is what the metrics are, and the mechanisms for collection.

Caroline Drummond: We have already earned recognition with the Environment Agency, Red Tractor and LEAF Marque, in terms of helping support that relationship.

Theo Clarke Portrait Theo Clarke (Stafford) (Con)
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Q I represent a rural constituency with a lot of dairy and arable, and some of the biggest fruit producers in the west midlands. Quite a lot of farmers have said to me that they are currently enrolled in things like countryside stewardship schemes, and they are going to transition over. Caroline, you mentioned the ELMS scheme. Does this Bill do enough to help them transition over to the new schemes? Are we doing enough to support farmers in the longer term? For example, I have people signing county farm tenancy agreements, which are for 10 years, but we have guaranteed payment for only five years over this parliamentary term. Are we doing enough to support them in the longer term?

Martin Lines: We need guaranteed long-term funding or the ambition to deliver it. On a five-year rolling plan, I am planning eight or 10-year rotations in farm planning. If you are taking on tenancies for longer than that, the business risk is huge. It is about that long-term development. In the transition that we are going to have from one system to the other, we need to be clear and transparent about how that will fit and how we can move. It has become clearer that if we can enter into a stewardship agreement now, we will be able to move into the ELMS when it becomes available, before the end of the period. It is about how we are flexible within those schemes. The current system has been delayed payments, with a nightmare bureaucracy. It has over-measured and over-regulated, and there has been no trust in the farmer to deliver. We need to build that into the new scheme, and build trust with farmers to work to that system.

ffinlo Costain: Countryside stewardship has been very input-focused. Often farmers have done something because there is a box to tick—because they are getting paid for x, rather than because it necessarily delivers the outcome. I think that is what Martin was alluding to. It is not the most successful scheme. There is this five-year transition, where the basic payments are going out. In that time, it is for farmers to step up and understand how to deliver these outcomes, and to develop, either individually or across landscapes, proposals that deliver those public goods. So long as we are focused on outcomes rather than inputs, we will make progress. Farmers should be absolutely at the forefront of that.

Caroline Drummond: A little bit more security and clarity in the timescale is really important. Obviously, farmers do not make decisions today for tomorrow; many decisions are made three or four years in advance. Many crops are grown for nine or 10 months—for livestock, it is a longer time span—before you get any level of return. That timescale is at the moment not 100% clear, because decisions could be made at the very last minute. That is a big concern.

We must not forget that although a lot of the stewardship has not been ideal, for every pound that farmers get from support mechanisms they are delivering so much more from an environmental perspective, because it is good for their business and because, obviously, they fundamentally believe it. We do need to build confidence that the system will work, and that farmers really want to adopt it. We are involved in some of the trials for the ELMS project, and it is really encouraging to see farmers very much embracing it and saying, “Yeah, we want to be involved.”

ffinlo Costain: I said earlier that land use—the way we farm—is the golden ticket for getting us out of the challenges we face and continuing to support food production. I want to give you a couple of statistics. Funding for agriculture is £3.1 billion, but that is tiny in terms of Government expenditure. For every citizen in Britain, we are paying less than £1 per week to farmers for all the good work they do, which we have been talking about. Compare that with £42 per citizen per week for the NHS. Just administrating central Government is £3.57 a week per citizen, so farming is getting very little.

In terms of managing the transition and making sure that farmers can deliver, somebody has to say it: farmers should be getting more because they are doing such a good job. In the future we will be expecting so much more, and I would like the budget to increase.

Nadia Whittome Portrait Nadia Whittome (Nottingham East) (Lab)
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Q I want to come back to the point about bringing sustainable food production closer to people’s lives. What measures could be added to the Bill to encourage local community schemes to reduce food poverty and improve good nutrition?

Jack Ward: I think the two are largely unrelated. One is an income issue, and there is a separate farming issue. Conflating the two is a problem because the food we produce is often not leaving the farm at a sustainable price, and the opportunity to drive that price down is very limited.

Martin Lines: We need clear transparency within the supply chains, and parts of the Bill address that. Who is getting the benefit out of the produce? Farmers are selling at a gate price that is way lower than the retail price, so who benefits? How can we join up the supply chains to shorten them and give farmers the opportunity to market more directly? There will be lots of exciting technologies and systems that may be able to do that, but it is about incentivising that opportunity.

ffinlo Costain: I think you have highlighted a real challenge, and I am not quite sure how we address it within the Bill. We do not want to see farmers in Britain uniformly producing high-quality produce that just fuels middle-class meals and those of affluent people. We need to recognise that an awful lot of people live in poverty or relatively close to poverty, and we need to be able to feed those people as well. But I do not think that we do that just by continuing with the model that we currently have, which involves ever more intensive volume production and low-nutrition food. We need good food. That is about the supply chain. As Martin said, it is about how we connect people who are living in more disadvantaged areas, with food. Often, if you are buying directly—if you are buying food and making meals yourself—it is a hell of a lot cheaper than living on Pot Noodle or whatever else.

Caroline Drummond: One of the scary facts is that 50.8% of the food we eat in this country is ultra-processed; in France, it is 14%. We do not know about the sustainability of highly processed food, and we often do not know its country of origin. This is where the national food strategy is such a core part of trying to understand what our ambition is for the health and the connection of what we grow. It is out of kilter at the moment and in a very difficult place.

Going back to Jack’s comment, the Bill is about trying to drive the ambition for a highly productive, responsible and sustainable farming system. We need to be very careful. There is often confusion. Poverty is a social issue, rather than necessarily an issue that farmers can respond to, and we need to be very careful that, as an industry, we are not subsidising the social challenge of poverty.

Agriculture Bill (Second sitting)

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

(4 years, 3 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 11 February 2020 - (11 Feb 2020)
Abena Oppong-Asare Portrait Abena Oppong-Asare
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Q I will be quick. You mentioned that you are waiting for DEFRA to give you further information. Have you highlighted to them which of your recommendations you want them to take forward?

Nick von Westenholz: Yes. We have good communication with DEFRA officials and conversations are ongoing. Given the immediacy of some of the changes coming in, we are looking for assurance that schemes are going to be developed and deployable quickly. There are concerns over that.

Theo Clarke Portrait Theo Clarke (Stafford) (Con)
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Q Does the Bill include the right measures to give tenant farmers certainty over succession, tenancy length and security of tenure?

Nick von Westenholz: As far as they go, we are pleased with the inclusion of the tenancy clauses in the Bill. They are quite technical and we are looking to develop some amendments to strengthen them, which we will be happy to share with members of the Committee. In particular, we want to bring in more of the recommendations of the tenancy reform industry group, which has been up and running and working for some years now, so that those are properly reflected in the Bill. We will suggest some improvements, but we generally welcome the clauses that have been introduced in this Bill that were not in the last one.

Kerry McCarthy Portrait Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab)
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Q This is probably a question specifically for David Goodwin. What role do you see county farms playing, given that the Government and the Minister have in the past expressed support for reversing the decline in county farms? Is that something your members would be interested in?

David Goodwin: Yes, very much so. County farms have been a shining light for getting younger people into holdings. In the counties where it works well, it works very well. Obviously, there are counties where there are challenges and more pressures on estates. Unfortunately, we see those in the news regularly at the moment. There are some good examples. The number of county estate farms is very small, compared with the number of people who are perhaps looking for opportunities. Some of those individual holdings are very small and do not always offer the stepping stone that is needed. Going on from there, there is still a lack, particularly with tenanted farms, of progressional farms to go on to from a county starter farm.

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Sarah Dines Portrait Miss Dines
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Q What would your choice be? Would it be five years, or four years?

Richard Self: Five years would seem like a good period, but I do not have significant knowledge on that front.

Theo Clarke Portrait Theo Clarke
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Q I just want to pick up on the issue of transparency and fairness in supply chains. Would the fair dealing obligations in the Bill currently work with the existing groceries supply code of practice? I want to make sure that we have a consistent approach to fair dealing across the whole supply chain.

Richard Self: I’m sorry; what would that be?

Theo Clarke Portrait Theo Clarke
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Q How do we ensure that the existing groceries supply code of practice is consistent, so that we have fair dealing across the whole supply chain?

Richard Self: I probably do not know enough about that. The code does a good job in helping the process. Co-operatives are my area of expertise. It would be good if that included co-operation and collaboration as it would help redress some of the balance of fairness within the supply chain, but would be for the benefit of the whole supply chain if handled the right way.

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
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Q I wanted to return to the issue of dairy contracts, and whether there should be a continuation of the special exemption for dairy co-operatives. What is the remedy for a farmer who finds himself trapped in a long-term contract in Arla, a huge pan-European co-operative, where he is not happy with the price he is getting or the way the organisation is being managed, but is unable to change either of them despite nominally having a share or stake in it? Should there be some rights for that individual member as well? Do the articles of association in co-operatives generally provide sufficient protection?

Richard Self: Obviously, there is a democratic process within the co-operatives in which you can vote people on who have a particular stance. The idea is to help control your own co-operative in doing what the membership wants. A co-operative should have a process in place whereby that can be fed into the co-operative to get the criteria right for that membership. The process of democracy within the co-operative should allow for that. I cannot comment on an individual case, but it is up to the members how they run their business. They should be able to set it up the way they want it.

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Thangam Debbonaire Portrait Thangam Debbonaire
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Oh, please don’t call it that!

George Dunn: More widely, we think the taxation system needs to be looked at to incentivise longer-term tenancies and penalise shorter-term ones through the taxation system. Ireland has done some good things on the income tax side, which the Treasury could look at, but that is not something that would be put in the Bill.

Judicaelle Hammond: You will not be surprised to hear that I do not agree with that. I do not see that there is a market failure. There might be things in the market that are happening at the moment, because of the way that the system works, that may be unsustainable. We will see what happens when the BPS ends. If you look at some of the reforms that have been made, not in Ireland but in Scotland, it all but killed the rental market. That would not be good for my members or for George’s. We need to be extremely cautious about putting things in legislation and rushing them through without proper consideration of the consequences for both parties. That could lead to a market that is even more nervous than it is now and, as a result, becomes ossified. I do not think that would be good.

George Dunn: We certainly need to learn the lessons of what happened—what is happening—north of the border, but that should not be an excuse to do nothing south of the border.

Theo Clarke Portrait Theo Clarke
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Q Mr Dunn, I was struck by your comment about tenancies being too short and the fact that people are just staying 2.9 years and not longer. In my constituency I have a lot of county farms, but I also have a real problem with the lack of a new generation coming through. One thing farmers have raised with me is that because the subsidies will not necessarily continue beyond this Parliament, they can plan for five years, but not for 10 years. Is there anything specific we can add into the Bill to address that specific problem? I totally agree that this longer-term issue is the problem. If I am a county farmer in Stafford, I cannot submit a 10-year business plan because the Government are only guaranteeing it for the first Parliament term. Is there anything specific we can do to address that?

George Dunn: All businesses operate within a sphere of uncertainty about the future for their market and how they intend to run their businesses in the long term. Anybody who thinks they can do a 10-year business plan and stick to it after year five is thinking wishfully. The idea of having multi-annual plans is really good, but they need to highlight how much money will be spent and how it will be spent through those plans, rather than just vague indications of the way in which the financial systems powers will be played. If farmers had a reasonable five-year horizon to work through, that is as much as I think they would be looking for.

Judicaelle Hammond: I totally agree with the TFA that the more certainty in the future, the better. Part of the problem we have at the moment is that we do not have certainty past next year. Although there have been commitments to maintaining the current level of funding, so far they are, unfortunately, just commitments. We would welcome a quantification as part of the multi-annual financial assistance frameworks.

Theo Clarke Portrait Theo Clarke
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Q Is the delegated power included in this Bill, which allows the Government to extend the transition period, a good enough safety net if things did go wrong in the future?

Judicaelle Hammond: I am sure it could be improved.

Theo Clarke Portrait Theo Clarke
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Q In what way?

Judicaelle Hammond: I think that my lawyers would probably have my guts for garters if I tried to answer that question on the spot.

George Dunn: I think it is good that there is the facility to pause or extend. One would hope that there would be close consultation with the stakeholders to consider that. There is a doubt as to whether we can reverse, which might be possible. There is also the issue, which I know other witnesses have raised, that if you are taking money out of the BPS, and, for whatever reason, we are not ready to spend that through the new public payments for public goods or productivity schemes, that money needs to be paid back to the recipients from whom it has been removed, until such time as the Government are ready to commit to that expenditure.

Robert Goodwill Portrait Mr Goodwill
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Q Chapter 2, clause 8 deals with the possible extension of the period. I may not understand it particularly well, but it does not make it clear whether, if there is an extension to the seven-year period, that would pause the transition from BPS to ELMS, or whether that would just continue, but at the end of the seven years there would be an extra year or two under the full ELMS system. If there was an extension, at the same time, could that be coupled with a freeze in the transition for a number of reasons, including that the ELMS was not being taken up as quickly?

George Dunn: Yes, and I think that is what the Bill intends. My reading of the Bill would suggest that that is what would happen under those circumstances. To go back to the previous question, if money was taken out of the system that was not able to be spent through the new arrangements, that would have to be paid back, in our view.

Agriculture Bill (Third sitting)

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

(4 years, 3 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
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Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
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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)
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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)
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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.

Agriculture Bill (Fourth sitting)

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

(4 years, 3 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
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None Portrait The Chair
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A very brief question from Theo Clarke.

Theo Clarke Portrait Theo Clarke (Stafford) (Con)
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Q Thank you. Farmers are at the forefront of climate change and, I think, do a huge amount to help conserve the countryside. Do you think that farmers and land managers should be financially supported to deliver environmental improvements, or should it just be required by regulation?

George Monbiot: As I say, we should distinguish between environmental improvements and not doing harm. I do not think we should be offering payments for not beating up old ladies. That is the way I see it. Lots of people do not do bad things in society, but they do not get paid for refraining from doing bad things. Keeping soil on your land should be a regulatory requirement. We should not have to pay people to do that; we should say, “You are not allowed to destroy our natural heritage in that way.” But we should pay for bringing in ecosystems that do not currently exist.

None Portrait The Chair
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Order. That brings us to the end of this session. On behalf of the Committee, I thank you for your evidence. I apologise to those members of the Committee who would have liked to ask questions. You have answered more questions per minute in half an hour than anybody else. Thank you very much.

Examination of Witness

Professor Bill Keevil gave evidence.

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Robert Goodwill Portrait Mr Goodwill
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Q Key to the structure of agriculture in many parts of the country is the traditional family farm. In many cases, family members who perhaps have other jobs will come and work for free at weekends. Spouses are often unwaged. As a farmer’s son myself, I did not get any wages at all until I was 28; I just got some money out of my mum’s purse if I needed it. You suggest reinstating the Agricultural Wages Board. How would that work with the traditional family farm structure? I can see difficulties. Some of these farms are very marginal indeed and can survive only because of people working either unwaged or for low wages in the hope of inheriting the family business.

Diana Holland: When it existed, it was not any different, and it was fine in the sense that it operated. Whether everybody got what they were entitled to is another question; perhaps you are suggesting they did not. Certainly, we have worrying evidence of individuals being paid not in money but through provision of accommodation and so on. We got evidence—it was a terrible story—that an individual woman had worked for a long time on a farm and in all that time had never received anything, apart from the odd bit of what might be considered pocket money. She was extremely worried when the employer was in danger of stepping down from his responsibilities that nothing—no rights—would exist for her. I think that is evidence of the nature of the problems that workers in the sector face. I do not think it is a reason for not trying to do something about it. I think it is important that people receive recompense for what they are doing, and that needs to take account of the nature of agriculture. The Agricultural Wages Board does that by bringing together workers’ representatives, farmers’ and employers’ representatives and independent experts in a tripartite way, to make sure that that properly reflects what is really going on. The issues you raise would be discussed at the table, alongside the pressures and issues that I am raising and the official evidence gathered by the experts.

Theo Clarke Portrait Theo Clarke
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Q I want to pick up the point about agricultural workers. My constituency in Stafford has a lot of rural areas. Farmers have mentioned to me that the pilot scheme is great, and it has now been extended to 10,000. Are your members saying that we need to have an increase in seasonal workers, because there will be fruit left unpicked later in the year if more do not come in? What are your views on that?

Jyoti Fernandes: We believe in smaller units, where you do not need to bring in loads of seasonal workers. With smaller-scale market gardens and horticultural units that pay well, you can attract British workers and will not need to bring in so many people from other countries in order to pick those crops. We see a flourishing, home-grown fruit industry, where you can bring in more people to do that kind of work.

That needs investment, access to land, grants for people to get into that kind of small-scale market gardening and horticultural units and to plant fruit trees into mixed farms, and training. It needs routes to market, which means processing facilities, so that you can make apple juices and that type of thing, and so that you can store those things, add value to them and get better value back on them. It needs distribution facilities within local market economies. That might be market facilities in town, online distribution services or co-operatives that try to process those fruits and get them to market, so that you get a good price for them. It needs all those sorts of investment in our national infrastructure in fruit, fruit processing and distribution.

Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner
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Q I would like to pursue the labour supply issues, because my understanding is that there are very large numbers of people working in something like the poultry sector who are not originally from the UK. Is there anything you think the Bill should look at to make sure that some of those issues are addressed—I am looking particularly at Diana on that one—and am I right to be concerned about it?

Diana Holland: You are definitely right to be concerned about it. The important thing is that, where decent standards are protected and reinstated, they should apply to everybody. The original seasonal agricultural workers scheme was part of an educational opportunity for students. We worked very hard and gave evidence over many years to make sure that that was what it was. It should not be about workers coming in from other countries—because the sector cannot get people in this country to work for the terms and conditions and pay that it is offering—and then treating them extremely badly when they are here. As you say, it will not provide the security, the quality needed or the stability in the sector. It is very important. We want opportunities that are properly worked out. How fantastic it would be if we could make this sector one that people want to work in and one that they look for, rather than thinking it is somewhere they will be exploited.

--- Later in debate ---
Ruth Jones Portrait Ruth Jones
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Q You mentioned that you want to look at banning live exports. Have you talked to people— certain farmers—who say, “Look, let’s be honest: in the south-east of England, to export live exports is quicker than travelling hundreds of miles to an abattoir, given the numerous closures of many of the abattoirs”? Do you have a solution to that?

Dr Palmer: Having more local abattoirs is clearly desirable. It is a marginal business for many, and you cannot force people to set up a local abattoir, but I think there would be a great deal of cross-party and cross-industry support for the idea that it should be encouraged.

The problem with overseas shipment is partly the time involved, and you can get pre-weaned calves transported for over 100 hours. That is with pauses, but it is nevertheless a grim business and is really difficult to defend, and a lot of farmers will not defend it.

Also, there is the lack of control. It is very difficult, with the best will in the world, for DEFRA to say what will happen at all stages of a journey once a vehicle moves outside the UK. I used to be Parliamentary Private Secretary to a DEFRA Minister, and this was an issue we struggled with. Live exports is a very small part of the British farming industry, and we think it is one that should come to an end.

James West: I would add that people can take the journey length to be the time it takes to take the channel tunnel from Dover to Calais, for example, but we are talking about live exports going on a boat that is not really designed for sea crossing. The crossing from Ramsgate to Calais normally takes about six hours, so by the time you have got to Ramsgate and across to the other side, you are talking about a fairly lengthy journey time, which in most cases would probably get you to an abattoir in the UK.

Theo Clarke Portrait Theo Clarke
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Q I am pleased that the Secretary of State now has direct responsibility for the nation’s food security, but I wonder whether it should be a national priority to support domestic agriculture. What is your view on the frequency of reporting? I know at the moment it is being suggested it should be every five years, but we have heard differing views today. What do the panel think about that?

Vicki Hird: I think it is welcome to have that in there. There is a case for making it more frequent, given that we are facing a climate and nature emergency that will threaten our supplies and production here and overseas. We should be building that into the review, in terms of anticipating how that will affect land use both here and overseas. That is currently not in the Bill, and it would be a welcome addition to recognise the sustainability factors that will increasingly come into play before the next five years are up. We already know that flooding is more frequent, and drought is affecting many parts of Africa, which supplies us with a lot of fruit and veg.

There is a case for more frequent reporting; it is a welcome element in the Bill, but as the previous speaker mentioned, we already do much of this food security assessment already, so it is a question of building on that and making it an integral part of the sustainability of our food system. [Applause.] May I congratulate George Eustice, our new Secretary of State? I will end there, on food security.

Kerry McCarthy Portrait Kerry McCarthy
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Q I am trying to tease this out, because we have heard previous witnesses say that there is concern about the lack of baseline regulation in the Bill and the fact that we no longer have the cross-compliance checks. There are concerns that people will drop below the minimum standards. How does that work? Clearly, you do not want to use public money for public goods just to reward people for keeping to the standards required of them by law, because there is no additionality to that; they ought to be doing it anyway. We could reward farmers for doing the higher welfare stuff, but at the same time, we really ought to have an ambition to say, “If they can do it, why can’t all farmers treat their animals that way?” Will we end up always having to keep raising what counts as higher welfare for farmers to get money? Do you see what I am saying? You could almost end up not raising standards, because the farmers would not get paid for the higher welfare standards.

Dr Palmer: Yes, I see the problem. As in other areas of public subsidy, we have to start from where we are. Because we have the range of quality that I mentioned in response to the previous question, there are a lot of farmers who would genuinely like to raise their standards, but need assistance in doing so. I accept that there is an element of moral hazard in that, if someone already has superb standards, they may feel a bit irritated that someone else is being given money to come up to them.

Agriculture Bill

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

(3 years, 7 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)
Olivia Blake Portrait Olivia Blake (Sheffield, Hallam) (Lab)
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You might be surprised to know, Madam Deputy Speaker, that one third of the land in Sheffield Hallam is agricultural land, and my husband is the trustee of a city farm. Farming in all its forms is of great interest to me.

The Government have insisted that when we leave the EU, our trading standards will be world-leading, world-beating, the best, the greatest, and the most fantastic in the world. In fact, they have started to sound a bit like the President of the US, and they obviously want to make a sweetheart deal with him. Our farmers are not convinced. I have been contacted about the Bill and the amendments under debate by hundreds of constituents, farmers and producers alike, and every one of them is concerned about the future of our trading standards on food, animal welfare and the environment, as well as the impact of that on their farms and what is on their plate.

That is no wonder, because although Ministers talk about high standards, without the amendments nothing will protect British farmers from being undercut on food and animal welfare standards. The rhetoric about protectionism is reckless; we are talking about people’s incomes. The Minister may say that we do not need to worry about food such as chlorinated chicken because the EU withdrawal agreement has carried over existing standards, but my constituents do not trust the Government on that. We have seen what respect the Government have already shown to this issue, and there is nothing to stop bans on such products being overturned through secondary legislation. If the Government want to set minds at rest, why will they not accept amendment 16 to guarantee that those bans will not be lifted without proper scrutiny in Parliament?

In any case, the EU’s import restrictions apply only to products that are prohibited because they breach our standards on food safety, not those on animal welfare and environmental protection. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) said when highlighting the issue of sow stalls in California, it is right to ban such things in the UK. That cruel and inhumane method of producing pork should also be banned from all our imports on animal welfare grounds. We need explicit guarantees on animal welfare, but so far we have none.

Given that UK farming accounts for roughly one tenth of our national CO2 emissions, we need a Bill that enshrines action on climate change. Why the Government are so averse to proposing any obligatory measures to meet our net-zero targets is beyond me. We need the Bill to be more robust, to enshrine the commitment of zero-carbon emissions in the sector, and to support British farmers and the health of our people by protecting food and animal welfare standards. Without the proposed amendments, the Bill will fall well short of that.

Theo Clarke Portrait Theo Clarke (Stafford) (Con)
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I welcome the Minister’s opening speech, which I listened to carefully. It did a lot to assuage the concerns of my constituents in Stafford, which is a rural constituency, and of many farmers across the UK. However, I also understand the sentiments of colleagues about the amendments under debate. I sat on the Trade and Agricultural Bill Committees earlier this year, so I had the opportunity thoroughly to question stakeholders and Ministers, as well as to scrutinise the Bill line by line. I feel that the Bill now provides a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create an effective agricultural scheme that backs British farmers.

I agree with my hon. Friends the Members for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) and for Keighley (Robbie Moore) when they said that the previous scheme for agriculture, the common agricultural policy, has been a failure. From an agricultural perspective we have seen sluggish improvements to productivity, poor farm incomes, regressive distribution of funding to the largest landowners, ineffectual rules, and a failure to encourage the next generation of farmers. I believe that Staffordshire farmers deserve better, and this Bill will be better.

Early this year I invited the International Trade Secretary to my constituency, and we held a joint roundtable with local farmers, who directly raised their concerns with her about animal welfare standards post Brexit.

I believe that British farmers have some of the highest food standards in the world, which is something that we should be extremely proud of. From my meeting with Staffordshire farmers and local NFU members just last month, I do appreciate that maintaining these high standards comes at a high financial cost for the producer. British farmers must absolutely not be put in a situation where they are having to compete with lower quality food from abroad. I was very pleased that the Government listened to the views of the NFU, myself and other colleagues earlier this year and have now established that independent Trade and Agriculture Commission, which was referenced in Amendment 18.