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Public Bill Committees

Debated on Tuesday 3 March 2020

Agriculture Bill (Ninth sitting)

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairs: Sir David Amess, † Graham Stringer

† Brock, Deidre (Edinburgh North and Leith) (SNP)

† Clarke, Theo (Stafford) (Con)

† Courts, Robert (Witney) (Con)

† Crosbie, Virginia (Ynys Môn) (Con)

† Debbonaire, Thangam (Bristol West) (Lab)

† Dines, Miss Sarah (Derbyshire Dales) (Con)

† Doogan, Dave (Angus) (SNP)

† Goodwill, Mr Robert (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con)

† Jones, Fay (Brecon and Radnorshire) (Con)

† Jones, Ruth (Newport West) (Lab)

† Jupp, Simon (East Devon) (Con)

† Kearns, Alicia (Rutland and Melton) (Con)

† Kruger, Danny (Devizes) (Con)

† McCarthy, Kerry (Bristol East) (Lab)

† Morris, James (Halesowen and Rowley Regis) (Con)

† Oppong-Asare, Abena (Erith and Thamesmead) (Lab)

† Prentis, Victoria (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

† Whittome, Nadia (Nottingham East) (Lab)

† Zeichner, Daniel (Cambridge) (Lab)

Kenneth Fox, Kevin Maddison, Committee Clerks

† attended the Committee

Public Bill Committee

Tuesday 3 March 2020


[Graham Stringer in the Chair]

Agriculture Bill

Before we continue with line-by-line consideration of the Bill, I remind Members to switch off electronic devices or put them on silent. Tea and coffee are not allowed during sittings. The selection list for today’s sitting is available in the room.

Clause 8 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 9

Power to modify legislation governing the basic payment scheme

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

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship again, Mr Stringer. Clause 9 provides the Secretary of State with the power to modify, for England, the legislation governing the basic payments scheme, which includes the greening and young farmer payments. We will remove the unnecessary bureaucracy. From the responses to the extensive consultation that the Department undertook in 2018, and further consultation with stakeholders, we think that that will be welcomed by farmers up and down the country.

It is a pleasure to continue our discussion with you in the Chair, Mr Stringer. I want some clarification from the Minister. The clause is obviously quite apposite, as it will give the Government powers to simplify the system, and it is topical, given that the three-crop rule is controversial and unpopular, and something on which many farmers would like urgent action.

Farmers Weekly reported that Minette Batters, the president of the National Farmers Union, said at its conference last week that farmers were hugely frustrated:

“We have left the EU, half the country is under water and…we are still going to abide by the three-crop rule and process thousands of force majeure applications. It just seems absolutely extraordinary.”

The Secretary of State explained the complex situation we find ourselves in, but I ask the Minister to explain why we cannot move more quickly, given that we have now left the European Union.

The situation is under consideration, and I ask the hon. Gentleman to wait for the Department to consider the matter further. Farmers are undoubtedly suffering because of flooding in their fields and concerned about whether they will be able to plant their crops. There are, for them, many other mechanisms for asking—whether by force majeure or otherwise—for the three-crop rule not to apply.

The position is under active consideration and I am happy to talk to the hon. Gentleman outside the confines of the Agriculture Bill, which refers to future payments—so probably this is not the place to be having the conversation. I want him to be clear that the Department is looking carefully at the next steps for this year.

As to future years, it might help if I say that we intend to make some minor simplifications in 2020 on greening payments, if I can use that terminology, using our existing powers. We intend to simplify the penalties for small overclaims of land, for example. We are also removing some of the paperwork connected to the young farmers scheme, which I think will be widely welcomed. We plan to introduce further simplifications for the 2021 scheme, such as removing some of, or possibly all, the greening rules, so watch this space.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 9 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 10 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 11

Power to provide for phasing out direct payments

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

The clause allows the Secretary of State to make regulations to apply reductions to farmers’ payments under the basic payment scheme in England so that we can phase them out. We plan to start reducing payments in 2021. Clause 11 concerns reductions to be applied to direct payments under the basic payment scheme; de-linked payments are dealt with in clause 12.

We will apply the reductions fairly, with higher reductions initially applied to amounts in higher payment bands. All farmers will face some reductions from the start of the transition. That reflects strong calls from industry stakeholders and many farmers for the reduction to be shared across the sector.

We have set out the maximum reductions that we intend to apply in 2021. We will set the reduction percentages for subsequent years taking account of our detailed plans for future schemes—which, as we have rehearsed many times, we do not yet have—and the wider perspective of Government spending. I reassure the Committee that regulations setting out the reductions will be made using the affirmative procedure, so there will be an opportunity for Parliament to scrutinise and debate them carefully.

I am grateful for that explanation. We had quite a discussion of some of these issues last week. Unfortunately, it appears that there is a second policy paper, which I am not sure every Committee member was entirely aware of last week. The Minister will be delighted to know that it is my new favourite document.

But before people start applying cold compresses to their heads, I assure the Committee that I will not subject that document to detailed scrutiny. Some of it would have been helpful in our discussions last week, but it is as it is.

The document, which is entitled “Farming for the future: Policy and progress update”, sets out at page 36 the approach that is going to be taken to phasing out direct payments. As the Minister said, the reduction will be 5% for payments up to £30,000, and so on up to 25% for payments of £150,000 or more, so there will be significant reductions.

I have a genuine question, which I would like to explore. It is not clear to me what constitutes a payment in this sense. Can one simply look at recipients? The database shows that some recipients get a £1 million payment. Do these figures apply to that amount or to all the smaller payments that go to make it up? There would be a significant difference between the two.

I sought advice from one or two people, who were also puzzled, so I do not necessarily expect the Minister to know the answer this minute. However, it seems to me that it makes a huge difference, both to the people who receive payments and to the amount of money available in the system. If we cannot get an immediate answer, perhaps we can come back to that point later in the day, because it is key to the discussion.

I hesitate to behave like a lawyer, but it seems to me that what is specified under subsection (2) is the power to reduce basic payment scheme payments and, of course, any regulations made in the past under the basic payment scheme. I hope that is a sufficient answer for the hon. Gentleman. If not, perhaps we can take the conversation offline and I can talk him through what is planned. I accept that this is difficult. One of the problems with the common agricultural policy is that it has been accused of being not very transparent and difficult to manage, and it has different pillars, but I assure him that we are talking about BPS payments.

I understand the difficulty, but I think this is a pretty important point. This is a framework Bill, but people are looking for certainty over the next couple of years and will want to know how much they stand to lose. There could be a huge difference, depending on how the figure is calculated. Someone in the Department must know the answer to that question. I am not necessarily expecting it this minute, but it is important that we find it out.

I am reassured by the departmental staff present that the reductions will be applied to the total basic payment, including the greening and young farmer allowance. That is my understanding of the scheme and I hope that is sufficient for the hon. Gentleman. I am not sure that I fully understand his question, so this is possibly not the most productive place to have this conversation. We could discuss the matter on our own or exchange letters, if he is still confused.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 11 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 12

Power to make delinked payments

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

The clause provides the Secretary of State with the power to make regulations to enable de-linked payments to be introduced in England for the remainder of the transition period. De-linked payments will remove the requirement to farm land. Once introduced, de-linked payments will replace the basic payment scheme for all farmers in England.

De-linked payments benefit from further simplification during the agricultural transition period. Farmers can access payments for the remainder of the transition without the bureaucracy of the basic payment scheme. Instead, farmers will have maximum flexibility to plan for the future, choosing to spend the money as best suits their circumstances. That should help those who wish to retire to do so, freeing up land for new entrants.

The clause allows us to introduce de-linked payments from 2022 at the earliest. Alternative enforcement mechanisms will be introduced before direct payments are de-linked, so that we can maintain agricultural and environmental best practice.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 12 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 13

Power to provide for lump sum payments in lieu of relevant payments

I beg to move amendment 74, in clause 13, page 11, line 8, leave out subsection (4) and insert—

“(4) Regulations under this section shall make provision for circumstances in which an eligible person may receive a lump sum under this section.

(4A) The circumstances under subsection (4) shall include a commitment by the eligible person to use the lump sum to—

(a) make a change or changes to practice in managing land in such a way as to deliver one or more of the purposes under section 1(1) or 1(2); or

(b) make land available to other persons or bodies who undertake to manage the land in such a way as to deliver one or more of the purposes under section 1(1) or 1(2).”

Before making my comments on the amendment, I would like to point out that I am not confused about the previous issue; the Government are the ones who have the confusion. We will seek that out, I am sure.

We will do that.

Turning to clause 13, de-linking is significant for our farmers and there is a worry around it. The House of Commons Library briefing talks about the effect and the responses to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs summary last year. A lot of respondents felt this was a less popular option than retaining and simplifying the existing scheme. More significantly, the DEFRA evidence and analysis paper, “Agriculture Bill: Analysis and Economic Rationales for Government Intervention”, says:

“Most farm businesses will be able to make modest cost reductions in order to improve efficiency, which will be required when Direct Payments come to an end.”

That is strong statement. A lot of people will feel that it is not going to be easy to make those changes.

The analysis that DEFRA published alongside the paper notes that the impact of the removal of direct payments on overall profit margins is likely to be “non-negligible”. That is a wonderful civil service word that can be synonymous with “considerable”. I urge the Government to be cautious. De-linking has some positives, but the reductions are challenging for many.

The Bill outlines the seven-year agricultural transition period during which direct payments will be phased out, which is a significant change. It means there will no longer be a requirement to farm the land in order to receive the payments. In some ways, that is the gist of the Bill. Some will remember that, on Second Reading, a Government Member said, “Surely not!” because the common agricultural policy used to reward people for not farming. This is CAP on steroids in that case, because it completely breaks that link and is a significant change, and it is something that needs to be thought about.

In clause 14, we also look at how someone who potentially wants to come out of farming can request to have their remaining de-linked direct payments put into a lump sum. We understand the attraction of that for some, giving some flexibility and, as the Government have said, a route out of farming and the possibility of setting up a new business or diversifying, if they do not want to transition into the new world of environmental land management schemes. As the Minister said, the Government’s policy statements have made it clear that the intention of that is to increase opportunities for new entrants. In a wonderful, idealised world, this is all one would hope to happen—but the world does not always work in the way one expects.

Without a condition requiring farmers to make their land accessible to new entrants or to encourage transition on their land to a more sustainable way of farming, we believe the Bill poses a risk whereby retiring farmers could simply take lump sum payments and possibly sell the land to a larger holding or move out of farming altogether. That may be part of the Government’s underlying intention, but there are significant consequences to it. It is not entirely obvious that that will lead directly to new entrants.

I have mentioned the additional policy paper we have discovered. I point to page 39, which Members will probably not have to hand but which I will quote:

“Receiving a delinked payment will not disqualify the recipient from applying for payment under our new schemes, including our Environmental Land Management system.”

I ask the Minister whether the intention of that is as it seems to me to be read. Many of my constituents on benefits would love to continue getting their benefits when they got a new job, but no one would think that remotely reasonable. There is potential for double payment here and I ask for some explanation on that.

Going back to where the de-linked system has been initiated, we could conceivably be left in a situation whereby the provision of de-linked lump sum payments had incentivised a reduction in the amount of land being farmed in accordance with the aim of securing environmental public goods. It takes the land, which we are hoping will be managed in a more environmentally friendly way, out of the framework. I am sure the Minister gets the drift of where I am going with this.

That concern was raised by a number of witnesses in Committee, particularly the Landworkers Alliance in their written evidence. We think that that would be not only a detrimental and unintended consequence, environmentally speaking, but an unjust and politically unacceptable use of public funds, as it would hand public money to farmers who might already have a large capital asset in the farm and the house.

I have already said that the double payment point is an issue. How are we making sure that land will be put to continued use and deliver the environmental public goods at the heart of the Bill? There is a danger that the land will be left to the market with no guarantees that new entrants will take over and farm in an environmentally conscious way.

That is why amendment 74 would help the Government to tackle this conundrum by making the receipt of a lump sum de-linked payment conditional on either transitioning the farm to being run according to purposes outlined in clause 1(1), delivering public goods, or in clause 1(2), improving productivity, or on making land available to new entrants or for community ownership to ensure it continues as farmland. We think that would allow the Secretary of State to make regulations that stipulated that retiring farmers wishing to sell their land must offer it for sale to new entrants or the local community for a fixed period before offering it on the open market.

We are not trying to be difficult here; we are trying to make some suggestions to avoid what we think could be the unintended consequences. Farms and farmland could be placed on a national register of land for sale with an established time period for its availability before going to the open market. That would give local people—community land trusts and cooperatives—the opportunity to raise the capital to buy the land. It would also allow for flexible options for how farmers receiving lump sum payments who do not simply want to sell their land could move forward in the way that is helpful to new entrants.

The Landworkers Alliance pointed to some key examples: farmers who wish to pass their land on to a new entrant but also want to retain involvement in the business could enter into a farm partnership, enabling them to pass on their skills and knowledge while providing opportunities for new entrants to access land and get started in farming.

For those who want to keep their farm and stay in their house but retire, private land could be made available to rent as a series of rental units on a farm. The farmer would remain the owner of the farm, but its house and buildings, and lump sum payments, could be invested into conversion to a series of units for rent. That would provide the farm owner with a retirement income. Those units could include horticultural units, micro-dairies, and land and buildings for a beef or sheep enterprises, as well as housing for farm workers.

Farmers who do not wish to retire could use the lump sum to transition their farm to become run along agroecological principles. The agricultural transition period could be used to fund the capital investment required to change the direction of their farm business, including infrastructure, machinery and new livestock.

The flexibilities and possibilities reflect the fact that farmers and their families will be in a wide variety of circumstances. There are huge differences across the sector, and many farmers are not driven solely by profit. It is not just a business; it is their life. This change will be hard for many. Some may wish to release capital by selling their land, but others will want to retain an involvement. That is what we are trying to frame. These proposals would help farmers who do want to be able to move out to retire with dignity. If they wish, both their skills and their attachment to their farm could be managed as it is transitioned to a new generation.

Amendment 74 does not go far beyond the Government’s intentions as already explained: clause 13 already stipulates that the Secretary of State has the power to “make provision” for these lump sum payments via regulation and that any recipient must meet criteria as set out in these regulations, which the Secretary of State has the power to choose. Amendment 74 simply adds to that, with the clarification and guarantee that the criteria for receiving these lump sum payments will be to ensure that the land is genuinely made available to new entrants, or that the money is used to improve farm holding within the purposes of the Bill.

Many questions arise from the general provisions for de-linking and making lump sum payments in and of themselves, and I have already alluded to one or two of them. There is uncertainty over whether farmers will get a lump sum from their total, de-linked payments over the transition period. The document “Farming for the future” is vague on the issue: it says that the Government will look at offering farmers

“the option of taking a one-off lump sum payment”

that is “subject to affordability”. That is a pretty big caveat. It partly goes back to my earlier question about how much money will be in the system to allow for these things. It then says that the rules for receiving these payments, which will be consulted on, will cover who would be prioritised for these payments

“if we need to prioritise applications to manage affordability”.

That is not a concrete promise or explanation for what could be a complicated and controversial set of issues. If this is as attractive as I have made it sound, there may well be a rush.

This is a framework Bill and I understand that, but I refer back to my basic point: farmers want to know what they will be faced with in coming years. We need a little more detail. There are a great number of questions to be answered about the general issue. What measures are in the Bill to ensure that the land will be managed in line with environmental principles once payments have been de-linked in the transition period with no cross-compliance measures to EU environmental standards? Those receiving de-linked payments will be eligible to apply for the ELMS—the double payment point I made earlier—but there is no guarantee or likelihood that all will wish to do so. It goes back to the need for strong baseline environmental standards, as raised last week.

A statement on page 40 of the policy document says:

“We will confirm the tax treatment of lump sums, as well as delinked payments, in due course.”

This is a framework Bill, but gosh, there are huge implications as to how attractive or not that may be. As we all know, the tax issues are pretty significant, and people will be pretty uncertain about how the system will work in practice. In the light of all that uncertainty—and, from the taxpayers’ point of view, how much it might cost—it would be sensible to amend the clause to deliver better what is intended and encourage the take-up of farms by new entrants.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments and the spirit in which he made them. We will certainly all have to work together on perfecting the new schemes for the benefit of us all. The amendment seeks to apply conditions on those opting for a lump sum. Given the tenor of the hon. Gentleman’s remarks, it would be helpful, with your leave, Mr Stringer, if I made a few comments about de-linked payments and the definition of de-linked payments and lump sum payments. It is important to be clear about that.

De-linked payments, once introduced, will replace the basic payment scheme for all farmers. They will not be paid as a lump sum. A lump sum payment will be completely optional for farmers; it is something they can apply for. Such payments will replace any future basic payment scheme or other delivered payments that they would have been entitled to receive under a previous payment regime. De-linking payments from the land will allow farmers to access their payments easily and, we hope, bring much simplification.

Along with the phasing out of direct payments, de-linking sends a clear signal that we are leaving behind the common agricultural policy. It will give farmers greater flexibility to plan for the future, because they will be able to choose how to use the money they receive to best suit their circumstances. Some farmers may choose to use it to contribute to their retirement from farming, which would help new entrants get into the industry, while others may use it to adapt or expand their business.

When clause 12 becomes effective and we introduce de-linked payments, those payments will replace the current basic payment scheme for all farmers in England and be paid each year during the remainder of the agricultural transition, rather than as a one-off lump sum. Separately, clause 13 provides the power to make regulations to offer farmers the option of taking a one-off lump sum payment in place of future payments, whether BPS or de-linked payments, during the agricultural transition.

On the hon. Gentleman’s points about regulation and the current cross-compliance regime, we have a strong domestic legal framework for enforcing environmental and animal health and welfare protections, but we will, of course, keep those powers under review to check that they are adequate. We will maintain strong regulatory standards and introduce a new approach to monitoring compliance and enforcement.

Currently, as the Committee has rehearsed, checking takes place in only a small number of cases. We hope to move to our new system as we go through the transition period. We hope for improved co-ordination between authorities, better data sharing and greater use of earned recognition. Enforcement will be proportionate and fair, and those who do not comply with regulations can expect to be sanctioned in future.

The Government want to see more public goods and farming to become more productive. The amendment is counter to the purpose that underpins lump sums: it would tie lump sums to financial assistance under clause 1, but the whole point of lump sums is that they are separate from that.

As the Secretary of State outlined in his speech to the National Farmers Union last week, we are looking to provide a means for older farmers to leave the profession with dignity. We are committed to phasing out direct payments and doing so in a way that helps those in the profession to adjust. Lump sums could bring many benefits. They could increase the ease for new entrants and those existing farmers who wish to expand and acquire land. They could also help those remaining in the industry to invest in their businesses.

The Bill gives the opportunity to move away from the highly bureaucratic and complex rules in the CAP. The amendment would go against the thrust of the desire to move to lump sum payments, by adding conditions to the receipt of funding without any consultation.

The clause would allow the Secretary of State to attach conditions on those opting for a lump sum, but we want to get it right. Therefore, it is important for the Government to consult the industry, so that a lump sum scheme is effective in achieving our aims, without introducing needless bureaucracy. I heard what the hon. Gentleman had to say about specific ideas. I would like him to rest assured that we will take those into account and that we are also very keen to discuss with him any further ideas he may have about the lump sum scheme.

Our commitment to the farming industry and to the provision of greater public goods is clear, but lump sum payments are different, as is this chapter. It is about phasing out direct payments. Lump sum payments are one way that we are going to help farmers during the transition, alongside our other plans to deliver real simplification of the scheme. I therefore ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his amendment.

I have listened closely to the Minister’s response. Although I recognise some of the points she makes, she has not addressed our fundamental concerns. All Governments talk of spending public money wisely. There is a real risk that it will be hard to keep track of how the system is working, and that public money might not be used for the hoped for outcomes. That is why we are cautious and will press the amendment to a vote. It is important to get more clarity.

We keep coming back to the same point. The Minister wants to set out options for the future, go to an iterative process and learn from it. The truth is that, once it starts, unless there are protections in place, there are the risks we have outlined. There are also risks around taking away some of the cross-compliance rules. The irony is that it could inadvertently allow for lower environmental standards rather than the higher ones that we are all keen to achieve.

I do not underestimate the complexity and difficulty, and I understand why the Government would not want to be constrained by extra suggestions put at this point. However, it is not clear that we will be able to exercise much leverage further down the line. The Government are asking for a huge amount of trust to go and design these systems and schemes, taking away many of the protections, both regarding money and the environment.

I do not think I heard the Minister address the double payment issue, which I would like to know about. Many people outside will not necessarily be following this closely. I say to the Minister that Governments are rarely rewarded for the successful bits of policy but are tripped up on the bits that the media can alight on and ask why they are happening.

The Government might want to look at the issue and be ready to explain to the public why that might happen. We are facing huge pressures on public expenditure in general and this could look very generous to those outside. I have nothing against being generous; I would like the Government to be more generous in general. I just think there are potential problems in this area. On that basis, I would like to press the amendment to a vote.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

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

I will say a few words, not least because I hope they will answer the hon. Gentleman’s point. Clause 13 provides the Secretary of State with the power to make regulations to give farmers greater choice, by offering them the opportunity to apply for a one-off lump sum payment. That lump sum payment would be instead of receiving basic payment scheme or de-linked payments during the remainder of the agricultural transition. I hope that answers his question. We feel that lump sums would provide extra flexibility and choice for farmers.

I am afraid that does not answer the question. I will repeat what the policy document says on page 39:

“receiving a delinked payment will not disqualify the recipient from applying for payment under our new schemes, including our Environmental Land Management system”.

It seems to me that there is a risk there. That is not to do with the lump sum, but with de-linking in general. I suspect we will go around in circles on this, and I do not intend to go any further now, but that is why I have raised a concern.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 13 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 14

General provision connected with payments to farmers and other beneficiaries

I beg to move amendment 43, in clause 14, page 11, line 45, leave out “any”.

This drafting amendment removes an unnecessary word from clause 14(3) for consistency with other similar provisions of the Bill.

As the explanatory statement says, this drafting amendment removes an unnecessary word from clause 14(3) for consistency with other similar provisions in the Bill.

Amendment 43 agreed to.

Clause 14, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 15 and 16 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 17

Duty to report to Parliament on UK food security

I beg to move amendment 7, in clause 17, page 14, line 20, leave out “five years” and insert “year”.

I am very happy to move this amendment; as keen-eyed Members might notice, it was originally tabled in the name of the hon. Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce), so this is probably a circumstance that neither of us would ever have predicted. We entirely agree with the proposal to make this extremely important change to the clause 17 food security provisions and amend the timing of the reports from once every five years to every year.

We are all glad that the Government paid heed to the warnings of stakeholders and our predecessors on the previous Bill Committee and included a duty in the revised Bill to report to Parliament on UK food security. It was widely commented at the time that it seemed curious that an Agriculture Bill’s purposes would not include producing food. I think that the clause is the Government’s response to that. It is unthinkable that food security provisions—particularly the Government’s intentions with respect to the proportion of food to be produced domestically or imported—should not be included in discussions of the post-Brexit future of our agriculture sector. Clause 17 is welcome, but the stipulation that the Secretary of State must prepare a report on an issue as important as the state of the nation’s food security only once every five years seems weak.

I completely agree with my hon. Friend about the five-yearly reports. There should be annual reporting. The guidelines in the Bill are not clear, so does he agree that there should be clear targets and actions, and that the Bill should say what needs to be carried out to look at food security?

I agree with my hon. Friend. We need much more clarity. The clause is clearly not strong enough, at a time when food security has the potential to become a major cause of uncertainty and concern as we leave the EU and negotiate our own trade deals. It is of course an extremely topical matter, given many of the discussions going on at the moment.

Our food security in terms of self-sufficiency is already in long-term decline. We now produce only 61% of our own food, which is down from 74% around 30 years ago. It is a matter of strategic national interest to ensure that our country can, as far as possible, feed itself. A reasonable level of domestic production in a volatile world is a critical aspect of food security. It is a hugely complicated and contested issue. The modern world that we live in is highly interconnected—something that, as we speak, is looking increasingly difficult, for reasons we are all aware of. Those things raise questions, and different approaches are taken in different countries, but this is a good time to be discussing them.

There is still a huge amount that we do not know about the impact that the Government’s new trade and immigration policies will have on domestic food production year to year. Last week I quoted the concerns from some sectors—particularly the poultry sector—about our ability to continue without the people to do the work. We do not know whether the Government will make good on their as yet empty promises and protect our domestically produced food from being swamped by imports of a lower standard. That is the—I was going to say “the elephant in the room”, although I am not sure that we are farming elephants. This is a huge issue, which we shall obviously be coming to in the next few days, and, I suspect, returning to on Report and Third reading. It is one of the top issues at the moment. We do not know what the impact will be of any outcomes with respect to trade deals, but I suggest that they should be informed by a view on what we are trying to achieve overall. This Committee is a place where we can have at least part of that discussion.

I guess that some of those advising the Government have rather let the cat out of the bag over the weekend. I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby is not here, as he has had problems with cats in the past, although I was not going to tease him about it too much. The Sunday newspapers, of course, were full of the press scoop that one of the new Chancellor’s top economic advisers thinks that our entire food sector is not critically important to the UK.

I recognise that the comments of one adviser do not Government policy make, but for many of us it feeds into a concern about where these policies are going. It is also part of the argument I made last week—that there is a real risk that we are looking at a much smaller, albeit high-quality and environmentally friendly, food sector in this country than we have now. That is something on which we really need clarity from the Government.

It was not just agriculture; the adviser also talked about fisheries, and suggested that maybe we should follow the example of agriculture in Singapore. We are a very different nation from Singapore. We are hugely different geographically, because they do not have much arable land in the way that we do, so they rely almost entirely on imports of food. I would go further than that and say that this is part of the debate about what it means to be English or British. Our rural heritage is a key part of our country, and the suggestion that we do not need some of it is, frankly, deeply shocking.

I am sure the Minister will disassociate herself from that kind of comment, but, given the extraordinary turmoil going on within No. 10 at the moment, this seems a classic example of taking advice from weirdos and misfits. I am afraid that the frivolous musings of people in such positions have very real consequences on the good work that the Minister is trying to do on a Bill such as this, and I am sure she did not welcome some of the publicity over the weekend. I would gently impress on her the importance of paying heed to something that we on the Opposition side have been trying to warn her about throughout this Bill Committee: that this Bill needs to be strengthened to guard against exactly this kind of approach, which undermines many of the worthy intentions behind it.

Going back to the food security report itself, the danger in that, under this clause, we will not even see the first one until after the next election, when we will have been out of the EU for half a decade. To us, it seems extraordinary that we would wait so long. We believe it needs to be done much more frequently. Given the kind of dramatic changes we are seeing around the world with the climate crisis, flooding and so on, we think that having reports on our food security annually would be a vital tool in the Government’s toolkit, enabling them to react to trends as they develop year on year and to address them. A further weakness of the food security report approach is that we can have a report, but we then need some tools to respond to what the report is telling us.

There is considerable consensus, not just among the hon. Members who have signed the amendment previously and on this occasion, but across the sector. We have heard from the NFU and the Tenant Farmers Association, and from the environmental organisations Greener UK and the Nature Friendly Farming Network. It is unusual; we have seen remarkable consensus on a number of these points, but on this point there is real consensus. I hope that the Minister has been paying attention to the fact that the original proposal came from her Government’s own Back Benchers. There is now a cross-party effort to shift the Government on this.

This is the first time in more than 40 years that a Secretary of State has been directly responsible for the nation’s food security. It is vital that we get this right, so we welcome the cross-party support for the amendment—not necessarily from the Government, but from their Back Benchers. Five years is simply too long to wait for these important reports. I hope the Minister has noted the strength of feeling. It is not going to go away, and that is why we will push this amendment to a vote.

Although the issue of standards is not entirely on-topic, I will deal with it briefly. I refer the hon. Gentleman not to leaks from Downing Street advisers but to a speech in the Chamber last night by the Secretary of State for International Trade, who said very clearly that

“we will not lower our standards. We will maintain our food safety and animal welfare standards and will not lower them as part of this free trade agreement. We decide which standards we abide by here in the UK. We have exceptionally high standards of animal welfare”.—[Official Report, 2 March 2020; Vol. 672, c. 649.]

I am sure we will come back to that later in our consideration of the Bill.

I hear what the hon. Gentleman says about the amendment and its cross-party origins, and I understand why it may appear to be an attractive proposition. However, I will explain the clause’s proposed frequency of reporting “at least” every five years and why we think that will provide for both a more meaningful report on food security in the medium and longer term and a sounder basis for any relevant and appropriate policy response.

Food security is a complex issue that cannot be measured or defined by a single metric. The Government work closely with the food industry to ensure that we have a secure food supply. As the hon. Gentleman says, this is very important at this important point of change in our farming practices, and it may well be that it is appropriate to have a report before the five years is up. However, I would like to maintain the provisions in that allow the Government to decide that this is appropriate “at least” every five years.

I also ask the hon. Gentleman to view this in context. There has not been a food security report since 2010. I think we all agree that a report is a positive step. We are making an important new commitment to analyse and publish a regular report on this important subject. The report will use a set of core measurements for each key topic area, so that we can consider the trends over time. These will be drawn from a blend of national and international data sources. Sources that we expect to draw on include trade and domestic production data and statistics on energy, household expenditure, food and food safety. Many of those sources are in the public domain already and can be considered by anybody who wishes to consider them in between reports, but we propose that we do a really substantial report not on an annual basis but within a longer period, and at least once every five years.

The frequency of reporting every five years was included to balance the commitment to regularly report with the need to allow sufficient time to observe key trends from this vast variety of sources. I hope that explains why the clause is in the Bill. I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the amendment.

The Minister makes a fine attempt, but I am afraid that this is a basic issue of trust. Governments are rarely trusted, however hard they try. She asks us to take this on trust, and frankly we do not. As we will come back to time and again, we hear Ministers repeatedly say this, in which case they should put it in the Bill. That would solve the problems. Of course, we know that they will not, because this is all part of the new macho-posturing negotiating world that we now live in post Brexit. We used to have a civilised approach to the world, but no longer. This is the new world, but these questions are not answered.

Food security reporting is particularly interesting, and our further amendments will tease more of this out. The Government could reassure people by saying roughly what they expect the future to look like for food security. By not so doing, they absolutely stoke the scepticism of people who look at that adviser’s comments and think that that is actually where some of these people want to go. I invite Government Members to think hard about whether they are actually in the loop on this. I think some people out there have a very clear idea about where we should want to go. That is why the Government are reluctant to issue a food security statement. That would give some idea of what they hope for in future. If they do not have an idea, that is also pretty scary. There are plenty of reasons why Oppositions and the country do not always trust Governments. Sadly, experience often suggests they were right to be sceptical.

It is absolutely right to ask these hard questions, particularly because the Minister said that it would be at least once every five years. We are being asked to trust the Government. If the Government have stuff to hide, which I suspect they have, they are not going to do that very often. Five years is far too long. I agree with the Back-Bench Government Members on the side who tabled the amendment and clearly share my concerns. I want to see a much clearer outcome, which is why I will press the amendment to a vote.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

I beg to move amendment 75, in clause 17, page 14, line 25, at end insert—

“(aa) the impact of food production upon global resource sustainability (including global carbon emissions, impacts on biodiversity and water usage);”

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment 76, in clause 17, page 14, line 27, at end insert—

(ba) food poverty and progress towards achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goal on hunger, malnutrition and food poverty (SDG 2);”

We believe there are a number of missed opportunities to strengthen clause 17 to provide adequate reports on food insecurity. Very little has been revealed in the Government’s “Farming for the future” policy document about what those reports might involve. It merely repeats the provisions in clause 17 that the reports may include global food availability; supply sources for food, including the availability to the public of food from domestic and other sources; the resilience of the supply chain; household expenditure on food; and food safety.

All of those are important, but we believe there could be much clearer requirements relating to the degree of the nation’s food security derived from domestic production. That is a point I have already alluded to. There should also be a clear commitment to prevent any further decline in self-sufficiency. That prompts the question of whether one considers the current position to be the right one. I am happy to engage in a debate on that.

As a starting point, we believe that a further decline would be unwelcome. All I am trying to find from the Government is whether they agree, which they ought to be able to tell us. The clause could also have included a requirement to specify food security targets and to identify the actions to be prioritised if those targets are not being met. That goes back to my point that it is all very well to produce a report but, if it is to be used as a tool for change and action, levers will also be needed. We believe amendment 75 would help with that.

Entirely absent from this clause is the contribution of our agricultural workforce to food security, and how immigration changes will affect that. It is fairly clear to those of us who are close to the sector and know what it is talking about that, as it stands, there could be quite substantial changes. They could be unintended, but changes there would be, and we need to know how they will be dealt with.

I turn to amendment 76. It is disappointing that the remit of the proposed report does not include that aspect of food security: not just supply, but whether people can access that supply. It is worth noting that the Environmental Audit Committee’s January 2019 report “Sustainable Development Goals in the UK follow up” found that

“Food insecurity is a significant and growing issue in the UK, with…levels…among the worst…in Europe, especially for children.”

Avid watchers of “Countryfile” will have noticed that this weekend one of the lead reports was on food banks in rural areas.

The report—the Environmental Audit Committee’s report, not the “Countryfile” report, although “Countryfile” is more fun in some ways; I really should not ad lib when I have notes—explicitly highlighted how the

“Government has failed to recognise and respond”

domestically, allowing these issues fall between the cracks. The Committee recommended that the Government appoint a Minister for hunger, but they have not responded to that sensible suggestion. The fact is that, sadly, food poverty is now all too rife in this country. The stat frequently quoted is that there are now more food banks than McDonald’s outlets, and we know how many of those there are.

In “Countryfile” I was struck by the Frome community fridge. There is also an excellent one at the Edge Café in Cambridge. We did not previously have to concern ourselves with such things, because there was a presumption that policy in general would ensure that we had a plentiful supply of affordable food; that is, of course, part of the aim of the common agricultural policy. That goes to the heart of our discussion of the Bill, because for too many of our people that is not the case. Although it is wonderful that people make the effort to try to deal with this problem, in a rich country we should not be in such a situation. Food is an essential and basic human right, and it is shocking that the country is not performing better on that. It is therefore right that that aspect of reporting on food security should be included in the Bill.

The recording of household expenditure on food, as suggested in the Government’s new policy document, will not properly record the free, charitable provision of food that has become a core staple for so many people. I urge the Government to consider expanding their proposed report to include the prevalence of hunger and malnutrition among the population, and the extent and distribution of food bank demand and provision. I suspect that, not many years ago, many of us would have thought it highly unlikely that in 2020 we would have to be discussing the need to report on hunger and malnutrition. It does not reflect well on the Government’s record that we have to ask for that, but we must do so if we are to eliminate this problem.

The amendment seeks to address that by stipulating that UK food security reports include analysis of food poverty and our progress towards achieving UN sustainable development goal no. 2, which is to end hunger, achieve food security and improve nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture. The Government signed up to that goal, and they probably thought we would never seek to apply it here, because we had assumed that it would not be necessary. Sadly, it is, and we are signed up to it, so the Government should not have any problem including those provisions in their flagship post-Brexit Bill on their commitment to food and food production.

The themes that the food security reports will cover are remarkably similar to those of the UK food security assessment carried out by the previous Labour Government in 2009. In fact, it looks like much of that has been carried forward. In stipulating that the reports may include data about

“global food availability…supply sources for food…the resilience of the supply chain…household expenditure on food”

and “food safety”, the Bill and the recent policy document adopt every area covered by the previous Labour Government’s report on food security, except one: global resource sustainability.

That area was explicitly included in Labour’s report on food security to provide a global environmental context to UK food security, to ensure that we were paying sufficient attention to longer term environmental challenges that could impact food production, particularly climate change and agricultural intensification, and to enable us to understand the impact of our own food production on natural resources in order to prevent issues such as soil degradation and resource depletion. It is puzzling that in a Bill about reforming our agricultural system to take greater account of such ecological and climate concerns, the Government have left out that area in their provisions to provide reports on food security. It would be interesting to know the thinking behind that decision.

It is particularly frustrating because, as we have established, there is nothing strong enough in the Bill to guarantee the measurement of the Government’s progress in what they are trying to achieve by financially supporting the clause 1 public goods that focus on sustainability. We know the Bill includes a requirement for the Secretary of State to have regard to the need to encourage the production of food in an environmentally sustainable way, but there is no requirement to report regularly on whether they are achieving that.

The Bill stipulates that the Secretary of State must, from time to time, produce multi-annual financial assistance plans laying out their strategic priorities for providing assistance for the clause 1 public goods that focus on sustainability issues—we discussed that at length last week—and monitor and report on the impact of each financial assistance scheme. According to the explanatory notes, that could include an assessment of the extent to which public goods have been delivered. However, the Secretary of State has complete discretion over the number and frequency of these reports, and no requirement to act upon them.

The Government have rejected our amendments that aimed to pin down the multi-annual financial assistance programmes, and to stipulate that the opinion of the office for environmental protection should be sought as to whether the financial assistance given under the Bill has been sufficient to meet the strategic objectives of the funding. The provisions lack the consistency required to make them robust enough to secure those worthy objectives, to which we all subscribe. The Bill has lofty aims, which are welcome, but lacks a strong overarching framework for measuring progress and success, or even failure, in order to ensure the aims are achieved.

The inclusion of global resource sustainability in the Government’s food security reports could have been a simple way—entirely following the precedent set in previous UK food security reporting—to ensure that we considered the impact of global issues, such as the climate crisis and water use, on our food security. Not only that, but it could provide a way of measuring the success of the Bill’s overarching aim of supporting sustainability in our agriculture by considering our impact on global resource sustainability. Therefore, we think global resource sustainability should be included in the areas covered by the Secretary of State’s food security reports.

Self-sufficiency has only ever been one part of food security in this country. We supplement our produce with a range of other products from around the world that are difficult to grow and rear here. Our high degree of food security is built on access to a range of sources, including robust supply chains across a wide range of countries in addition to domestic production. It is important to view the debate on food security in that light.

I begin with amendment 75. I reassure the hon. Gentleman that we are planning to include in the food security report a theme relating to global food security and how it affects food security in the UK. I have a summary of some of the reports that we might consider in the section on global food availability, which may reassure him. However, I do not want him to think that what I will say is conclusive or relates to other issues that will be considered in the report; this is just about global food availability, which relates to amendment 75. We would expect to look at global output per capita, cereal yield per region, commodity price analysis, country consumption data and country commodity trade proportions. In addition, I suspect many other reports and factors will be considered, many of which will be publicly available between reports.

We will include consideration of the sustainability of global resources, but I hope the hon. Gentleman will understand that we do not intend to list in the Bill all the indicators and data sources that we intend to use in the preparation of the report, because doing so would make the Bill unwieldy—one can imagine a situation in which one of those data sources becomes unavailable between reports. That is why the clause is structured as it is. It is not that we will not look at those sources; it is just that we do not want to list them. In producing the report, we will set out our analysis of the wide range of statistics relating to food security in the UK, from global UN data to UK national statistics. I therefore ask him to withdraw amendment 75.

On amendment 76, I reassure the hon. Gentleman that we already intend to address food insecurity in the report. The Government are committed to achieving the principles set out in the UN sustainable development goals. We plan, under subsection (2)(d) of clause 17, to report on how the UK is performing against those goals. As part of that theme, we intend to consider all the key indicators that will help us to understand the impact of household food insecurity, including data from the Office for National Statistics.

As I said last week, food insecurity is an issue that we should all take very seriously, and the Government are committed to having a strong safety net for those who suffer from food insecurity. I will politely say again that the £95 billion welfare budget is the first port of call for people who suffer from food insecurity. It is proper that we consider food insecurity as part of this report—we have said that we will do so—but the welfare system is the place for people with food insecurity, and that is where they should go. I do not denigrate in any way the efforts and the great achievements of food banks and food fridges around the country.

I hope that I have suitably clarified our intentions and explained why it is not necessary to include specific text in the Bill. I therefore ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the amendment.

We will not withdraw these amendments. I hear what the Minister says about the welfare system, but the welfare system is failing. That is why people are hungry. It did not use to be the case and it does not have to be the case, but that is the case. That is why it is right that the Government set out their position and the Opposition say, “Frankly, you are wrong, and we will not accept this.”

This is a Bill about agriculture, which many of us still think is as much about food as environmental protections, although we want to ensure we do that they are of the highest standard. Those things should not be contradictory. If we are talking about food, we must talk about access to it. It was striking to see people on “Countryfile” who are on such low wages that they can barely afford to buy the food that they are producing. There is something seriously wrong here. We do not think this is a big ask, given that the Government have signed up to the sustainable and millennium development goals.

I am afraid it is, again, a question of trust. The Government want a vague framework. I am grateful to the Minister for making some points about global food production, because they are now on the record, so when we come to rehash this argument, when we do get some of these food reports, we will hold her to that. In the meantime, it is essential to press this amendment to a vote, because too many people across this country—thousands every week—use food banks. It would be a dereliction of duty on our side not to press this to a vote.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

I beg to move amendment 62, in clause 17, page 14, line 32, at end insert—

“(f) food insecurity.

(3) For the purposes of this section ‘food insecurity’ means a person’s state in which consistent access to adequate food is limited by a lack of money and other resources at times during the year.

(4) Before laying a report under subsection (1) the Secretary of State must—

(a) consult the Scottish Ministers, the Welsh Ministers, the relevant Northern Ireland department, and such other persons as the Secretary of State considers appropriate, and

(b) have due regard to international best practice on food insecurity, including but not limited to the United States Household Food Security Survey.

(5) A report under subsection (1) must include—

(a) an assessment of trends in food insecurity, broken down by different parts of the United Kingdom and different regions of England, and

(b) a summary of actions to be taken in areas of high food insecurity by the UK Government, the Scottish Government, the Welsh Government or the Northern Ireland Executive.

(6) The Secretary of State must consult the Scottish Ministers, the Welsh Ministers and the relevant Northern Ireland department before preparing a report under subsection (1).

(7) In this section—

‘parts of the United Kingdom’ means—

(a) England,

(b) Scotland,

(c) Wales, and

(d) Northern Ireland;

‘regions of England’ has the same meaning as that used by the Office for National Statistics.”

Amendment 62 was initially tabled in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mrs Emma Lewell-Buck), but it has support from at least three parties. I pay tribute to her and the work she did on the all-party parliamentary group on hunger with the former Member for Birkenhead, which led to the establishment of Feeding Britain and its offshoots, such as Feeding Bristol. I am pleased to have been involved in that.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Shields introduced a private Member’s Bill a while ago, and as a result of that pressure the Government agreed to measure household food insecurity as part of the family resources survey. The first data will be available in 2021. In a recent press release, she referred to the amendment saying that

“there is no commitment…that the measure will continue for future years, nor that the results of the survey they are conducting will be laid before Parliament for scrutiny.”

The point of amendment 62 is to try to give some certainty. As she says, we have seen

“devastating levels of hunger right across the UK”

and the UK has been

“dragged kicking and screaming into agreeing to measure food insecurity”

but we do need a degree of certainty about it.

As to the Minister’s comments on the welfare system, a Department for Work and Pensions Minister in the House of Lords said yesterday that there is “no doubt” at all that universal credit has driven people towards using food banks. Many people who use food banks are experiencing in-work poverty. We have had examples of people who work for Tesco selling cheap food but who are still not being paid enough, particularly if they are casual workers or on zero-hours contracts, and the welfare system is not flexible enough to adapt to that. Clearly we have a crisis. As my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields says:

“It is clear urgent action is needed. To keep ignoring this issue is a shameful dereliction of duty.”

We need firm data. Amendment 62 would give the Government the tools they need to identify the key drivers of food bank use in detail, as well as which groups in our society are most likely to request emergency food parcels. It will shine a light on the number of people who, year-on-year, go several days without food, as well as on others who skip meals due to lack of money or parents who sacrifice their own meals to feed their children—not all of them will be food bank users. In the past, the Government have been sceptical of data produced on food bank use by, for example, the Trussell Trust. That is all we have been able to rely on. It has become a proxy measure for hunger and food insecurity, but there will be many families who rely on broader programmes of support. Feeding Bristol had a holiday hunger programme to compensate for the fact that children do not get access to free school meals during the long summer holidays. That would not necessarily be picked up by the food bank data, because food distributed with play schemes and so on.

I was privileged to take part into the children’s future food inquiry last year. The chief executive of the Childhood Trust, Laurence Guinness, told the inquiry:

“We have spoken to children who have shoplifted for food, scavenged for food from bins, eaten tissue paper to fend off hunger, bartered for food at school, sold drugs for food, and mugged other children for money for food.”

I am sure some of those issues are familiar to hon. Members here today. It is essential that we try to pin down what we are doing as a country to tackle food insecurity and food poverty, and that Ministers have a yearly duty to monitor those trends in people who are food insecure.

In some cases, people may not need to rely on food banks yet, but they may be only one crisis away. I always think that when people rely on very low incomes, all it takes is for the fridge or the washing machine to stop working, or for there to be some sort of flooding and the house to not be insured, for “just being able to manage” to become “not being able to manage at all”.

This amendment would not only mean that we have the data and a clearer understanding of the problem, but enable the Government, when they make the report to Parliament, to set out the actions they would take to relieve food insecurity in the areas where it is highest. It is the whole package of measures. I will conclude by saying that the amendment is supported by Feeding Britain, the Food Foundation—established by a former Conservative MP, Laura Sandys, who has done great work there—Sustain, the Independent Food Aid Network and the Food Ethics Council.

I would like to speak in favour of amendment 62, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields . I commend her tireless work on food poverty and insecurity, and her considerable knowledge and expertise in the area.

In February last year, the Government agreed to measure household food insecurity and to report on it by March 2021. I welcome the fact that the Department for Work and Pensions has included food insecurity measurement questions in the family resources survey, but this breakthrough, and the duty to report on the survey results, must be enshrined in law. We have an opportunity to do just that, so that the measurement happens routinely.

As it stands, the Government’s commitment fails to ensure that the measurement will continue for future years, or that the results of the survey will be laid before Parliament for scrutiny. Amendment 62 would also serve to make the Government’s pledge more comprehensive, by expanding the definition of food insecurity to consider whether everyone in the UK can get access to or afford the food available.

The definition of food security in the Bill currently covers only global food availability, where food comes from, the resilience of the supply chain and data on household food expenditure, food safety and consumer confidence. It does not include any measure of food poverty or household food insecurity, contrary to an internationally agreed definition of food security. Year after year, charitable food banks have provided evidence of the gigantic increase in the number of our constituents running out of money for food. Teachers tell us of children in their classes struggling because they are going hungry. Local authorities are cancelling meals on wheels services due to unprecedented cuts in their budgets.

For too long, the problem of food insecurity, which affects children and adults in all corners of the UK, has been overlooked. It leaves lifelong scars on health and wellbeing. Food banks and other food aid providers cannot be left to continue to pick up the pieces and distribute increasing numbers of emergency food supplies. We need the Government to commit to regular food insecurity measurements and to the resulting data being scrutinised.

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Lady, and I welcome her to her place. I thank the hon. Member for Bristol East for the amendment, and I recognise the commitment of the hon. Member for South Shields in her important work around food insecurity and in ensuring engagement with the devolved Administrations on the amendment.

We are planning to include a theme on household food security, which is clearly set out in subsection (2)(d). As part of that theme, we will be considering the key indicators that help us take a view on food insecurity and why it happens. I hope that the hon. Member for Bristol East will understand that we do not intend to list in the Bill all the data sources we will use in the report, as it would make the Bill unhelpfully unwieldy.

As I said on a previous amendment, our purpose in producing the report is to set out our analysis of the widest relevant sets of statistics relating to food security in the UK, ranging from global UN data to UK national statistics. Many of those data sets are only published at UK level, so breakdown to the devolved Administration area or regional level will not be available in all instances. We will not commit at this stage to the precise data we will use, but all available relevant data will be considered, including breakdown by devolved Administration area if appropriate.

It is our intention that the report will inform discussion and debate about UK food security, both across Government and with wider stakeholders—that is why we are doing it. I assure the hon. Lady that we will of course consider the themes covered in the report, and the analysis, evidence and trends within it, with all sorts of stakeholders, including the devolved Administrations. We have well-established forums for discussion of that nature. Introducing a more formal requirement for a consultation for Ministers with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland before the report is even laid is therefore unnecessary.

I hope that clarifies the intention of the clause and provides the hon. Lady with sufficient assurance. I ask her to withdraw the amendment.

The problem with subsection (2)(d) is that it just talks about

“household expenditure on food (including in comparison to expenditure on other items)”.

As we have outlined today, that does not go anywhere near looking at the scale of the problem and the many factors that contribute to food insecurity. I am not prepared to withdraw the amendment.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Clause 17 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 18 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 19

Exceptional market conditions: powers available to Secretary of State

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

In the health and harmony consultation, the majority of respondents suggested that Government intervention is essential in extreme circumstances, identifying market interventions in times of extreme price volatility as an area of particular concern. However, a high proportion of responses argued that farmers should self-manage risk. While the Government understand that there are events that even the most resilient of farmers cannot provide for, the agricultural industry must be sufficiently dynamic and self-reliant to survive in a free market. The clause tries to balance those two factors by creating new powers for the Secretary of State to provide financial assistance to farmers in England and to run public intervention and private storage schemes during exceptional market conditions.

Before speaking on the clause, I give the Minister advance notice that I will also say a word on clause 22, on data. I draw attention to paragraph 170 of the explanatory notes to the Bill. This is potentially a big issue and goes back to our philosophical discussions last week on what the common agricultural policy had been for, to some extent. Of course, it was there to deal with extreme volatility and difficulty and so on. The Government make the fair point of questioning whether that is appropriate in a modern, more complicated world. However, I urge a slight note of caution to those who imagine that this is pretty much a carry-over of the current system.

There is a pretty clear cautionary note in paragraph 172 of the explanatory notes, where the Government say:

“Analysis suggests that public intervention and private storage aid are not required to enable farmers to manage their risks.”

That is quite a strong sentence. The notes continue:

“They can have negative effects, encouraging more risky farming practices and crowding out the development of futures markets, innovative contracts and private sector insurance products. Such market intervention schemes, if available routinely rather than in genuinely exceptional circumstances, run counter to the image of a dynamic and self-reliant agriculture industry.”

That could lead to many an academic paper, because it is a huge subject for discussion and debate. Many of us will think that it is probably fair enough that risk should be transferred on to the agriculture sector itself. During the foot and mouth crisis almost 20 years ago, many commentators made exactly that point. In particular, those from the manufacturing sector, who had seen their sector decimated by market forces, wondered why it was different for others. The reason is that food is a basic human need. This goes almost back to the discussion we were just having about food security. We may be able to live without some widgets, but we cannot live without food.

This is a really big, substantial issue, but is tucked away in a subsection. I suspect that some farmers will look at it and think not only that the future will hold no support and a much more complicated—in the view of some us—move to environmental land management systems, but that they will also have to deal with

“futures markets, innovative contracts—

I think a lot of us know what “innovative” often means—

“and private sector insurance products.”

I raise that just to sound a warning note. I am not sure that the matter has been discussed sufficiently.

I completely agree with my hon. Friend’s points. The Tenant Farmers Association highlighted the same matter in its written evidence, saying that the clause mentions only “‘acute’ hardship or difficulty” and would not be invoked for “‘chronic’ or long-lasting difficulties”, which, as has been mentioned, would include foot and mouth disease or epidemic diseases. In the current climate, we should look at that and make sure that agricultural producers are extremely resilient, and that they have that level of support, particularly when such crises happen, because they are expensive. There could be a big impact, particularly on the agricultural community and on consumers, especially in the face of the economic challenges of Brexit.

That is an important intervention, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for mentioning the evidence of the Tenant Farmers Association. There is a bigger debate to be had—the Minister is nodding—although I am sure that we can leave that for another day. The issue is important and I hope that it will be looked at more closely.

By creating a new power we are moving away from the crisis measures that were designed with the EU market in mind and allowing schemes to be created that are tailored to our domestic conditions. It is important that farmers feel the Government are able to help where necessary. However, it is equally important that those financial assistance and intervention powers will not be seen as a panacea for any issue in agricultural markets. They are intended for use in exceptional situations.

The discretionary nature of the power will, I hope, reassure the sector that the Government will be able to help should extreme circumstances come to pass, by taking action and tailoring it to those exceptional circumstances. It will also ensure that intervention in the market and financial assistance will be limited to occasions when they are really necessary.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 19 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 20 and 21 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 22

Meaning of “agri-food supply chain”

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

I apologise, Mr Stringer, for not listing the clause earlier as one on which I wanted to make an observation. I should declare—I am a bit of a data person—that I run the all-party parliamentary group on data analytics. The Minister sighs, but the data is important and has huge potential. We are in an era of precision agriculture where we seek to be able to provide, now and in the future, the correct nutrients for the individual Brussels sprout plant. That is an exciting possibility and many people in Cambridge are working on it. Agri-tech East is a powerful force for innovation and, I hope, good—but alongside all the politics with data there are one or two caveats.

The House of Commons Library briefing says—I imagine this has been deduced from the Bill:

“Data would normally be published in anonymised form”.

Evidence from elsewhere suggests that data anonymity is really hard to achieve. What we have seen with artificial intelligence and all the rest of it suggests that the power is there to trace anything back, so I urge a word of caution on that.

The reason I am cautious is that my reading of clause 22(4), dealing with people who are “closely connected”, raises a few anxieties in my mind about whether data is going to be collected on people working in agriculture. That is not always a force for good, I am afraid, and I want to make sure there are proper protections for people.

The Bill mentions vets, and there may well be good reasons for that related to animal health. However, we already have a workforce who are, in my view, often poorly paid and who face some serious and relentless challenges. I worry that further scrutinising them through a monitoring and data system would create a series of further problems, so I would welcome the Minister’s observations on that, and ask whether she shares my concerns. I am not sure there is much we can do about this issue in the Bill at the moment, but monitoring is clearly being set out as a way forward, and I hope we can make sure that we protect the people involved.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for what he has said, and I do not wish in any way to make light of his concerns about data. How we obtain and hold data is extremely important, and I am very happy to answer any concerns that he has on this subject.

The clause seeks to provide clarity about who might be required to provide information. A fairly broad scope has been outlined within the clause, and I think the drafters were trying to take a common-sense and down-to-earth approach to what sort of people we might need to get data from. For example, farmers, abattoirs, vets, wholesalers and retailers might well be in scope, but would not by any means always need to be in the frontline of data collection; it depends on the circumstances. It is important to note that those connected to the agri-food supply chain include people undertaking activities capable of affecting the health of creatures and plants in that food chain, or the safety of products.

I appreciate how difficult it is to frame these things, but that would include pretty much everybody who is involved, as far as I can tell. I cannot think of anybody who is not going to be caught by that definition, which is really my concern. Obviously, we all hope these powers will be used for the right purposes, but it is easy to see how they could become a new tyranny if every tractor had a camera in its cab and people were being monitored.

That is not at all the intention. The intention is that where it is necessary to collect data from those in the food chain, the clause gives us the ability to do so. That is not at all to say that we will routinely connect data from all these actors, only that the power is there to enable us to do so when required. For example, with the coronavirus outbreak, it is possible—although I very much hope this is not the case—that further down the food chain, we will need to know who is touching the food that we eat or is responsible for various areas of it. I can foresee a situation in which it might be possible to ask people who seem far away from the farm gate to provide their data, although I very much hope that does not happen.

Before any data requirements are imposed, a draft proposal must first be sent to all relevant parties. If a supply chain member believes that such a request is not appropriate, they will be provided with at least four weeks to notify the Secretary of State of their reasoning.

I am not sure that under the drafting of the clause trade unions would be included; in fact, I think they would not. However, it is open to members of a trade union to consult that union as necessary, and I would not seek to stop them doing so.

The idea is that an actor will receive the draft proposal. One example is that if a small-scale blackberry grower does not think it appropriate for them to provide data on productivity, which it may well not be, they will be able to submit that in response to the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State will then review whether it is necessary to carry out the initial requirement for data collection.

It has been difficult to draft this clause. The hon. Member for Cambridge understands that the need for public safety and food security along the supply chain has to be balanced with the need to protect people’s privacy and not to overburden them with regulation. I hope he feels we have broadly got the balance right.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 22 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 23 to 26 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned. —(James Morris.)

Adjourned till this day at Two o’clock.

Agriculture Bill (Tenth sitting)

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairs: † Sir David Amess, Graham Stringer

† Brock, Deidre (Edinburgh North and Leith) (SNP)

Clarke, Theo (Stafford) (Con)

† Courts, Robert (Witney) (Con)

† Crosbie, Virginia (Ynys Môn) (Con)

† Debbonaire, Thangam (Bristol West) (Lab)

† Dines, Miss Sarah (Derbyshire Dales) (Con)

† Doogan, Dave (Angus) (SNP)

† Goodwill, Mr Robert (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con)

† Jones, Fay (Brecon and Radnorshire) (Con)

† Jones, Ruth (Newport West) (Lab)

† Jupp, Simon (East Devon) (Con)

† Kearns, Alicia (Rutland and Melton) (Con)

† Kruger, Danny (Devizes) (Con)

McCarthy, Kerry (Bristol East) (Lab)

† Morris, James (Halesowen and Rowley Regis) (Con)

† Oppong-Asare, Abena (Erith and Thamesmead) (Lab)

† Prentis, Victoria (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

† Whittome, Nadia (Nottingham East) (Lab)

† Zeichner, Daniel (Cambridge) (Lab)

Kenneth Fox, Kevin Maddison, Committee Clerks

† attended the Committee

Public Bill Committee

Tuesday 3 March 2020


[Sir David Amess in the Chair]

Agriculture Bill

Clause 27

Fair dealing obligations of business purchasers of agricultural products

I beg to move amendment 77, in clause 27, page 22, line 4, leave out lines 4 to 7 and insert—

“(1) The Secretary of State must, before the end of the period of 12 months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed, make regulations—

(a) imposing obligations on all business purchasers of agricultural products in relation to contracts they make for the purchase of agricultural products from all qualifying sellers;”

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention. Of course, he is an expert in this area and I bow to his superior knowledge, but what we are saying is that we need to clear the matter up for the whole industry, not just for certain sectors that already work well. However, I appreciate his intervention.

I hope that the amendments have shown the Government that there is widespread support for this action. They are about not partisan advantage, but clarity for the sector and an improved set of circumstances and conditions. I am proud to have tabled them.

What a pleasure it is to have you back with us, Sir David! I thank the hon. Lady for the amendments, which reflect an obvious desire to ensure that all farmers and producers are spared from unfair trading practices. We absolutely share that goal; our only disagreement is the means proposed to achieve it.

Essentially, we believe in the principle of a targeted solution for a specific problem, and we are keen to take the time to get the solution right. No two agricultural sectors are the same, and neither are the contractual issues that they face. Certain sectors, such as the poultry and grain sectors, may, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby reminded us, be so well integrated that contractual problems do not often arise.

We should have targeted solutions where they are needed, but we need to avoid burdensome new requirements where they are not. To ensure that, the specific detail of each code will be developed in consultation with industry and set out in secondary legislation. Enforcing a time limit on the creation of fair-dealing obligations would prevent regulations accounting for the complex nature of our agricultural market.

Turning to amendment 78, I assure the hon. Member for Newport West that all types of agreement to purchase agricultural products can already be protected by the clause, and the position of farmers in the supply chain will be protected under the current drafting. The clause allows us to regulate for the purposes of fair contractual dealing. That goes beyond a formal, written contract. As the hon. Lady no doubt knows, a contract constitutes any agreement of sale, whether it is formally written down or not. In the dairy sector, it is commonplace to write things down; in other sectors, there are more informal, word-of-mouth arrangements, particularly in the red meat world and parts of the arable world. However, the clause covers all agreements, written or otherwise.

On amendment 79, we deliberately designed the clause to be as flexible as possible. That is a change since the previous iteration of the Bill. Having listened to comments made at the time, we severed the link to the list of sectors in schedule 1 so that future regulations are no longer bound by it. It remains very much our belief that each sector is different and requires a tailored approach. We intend to be forensic in establishing what the needs of each sector are. That will include detailed engagement with industry.

I am thinking back to our earlier discussion on data throughout the entire system. Why do some sectors need to be treated differently here, but did not when it came to the collection of data?

During our earlier conversation, it was clear that we will have to be forensic and tailored in our approach to data collection. This is very much part of the same theme. We do not want to treat all sectors the same when they raise different issues and come to us with very different current practices.

If issues that are consistent across multiple sectors are revealed, and if they could be addressed under new, comprehensive regulation, we absolutely have the power to deliver that. I therefore ask the hon. Member for Newport West to withdraw the amendment.

I listened very carefully to the Minister. I agree that we do not disagree on the broad principles, but I am seeking to get the regulations tied down so that they are clear and comprehensive for everybody in the agricultural sector. It seems reasonable that the Groceries Code Adjudicator should be the regulator. I do not see any dissent from that, but it would be helpful if we could tie things down in writing rather than, as the Minister says, in verbal agreements.

I must apologise to the right hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby—I misheard his earlier intervention; I thought he was talking about the “grey” area, not the “grain”. I misunderstood completely. I apologise, and will wash out my ears.

I welcome the Minister’s assurances—she is listening and wants to make things run as smoothly as possible. However, given this time of general unclarity, as we leave the EU, with all the uncertainty that is throwing up, we need things set in writing now for the months and years ahead, to prevent any misunderstandings or anything going wrong in that respect. I accept that the Minister has described the Bill as a new iteration, and we accept that it is improved, but at the same time we still need clarity, transparency and openness. We will therefore press the amendment to a vote.

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.

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.”

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.

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.

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.

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

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

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I will speak to all the amendments together. Being mindful of time, I will not read out the wording of the amendments. I know that hon. Members are grateful for that.

The amendments would ensure that the role of regulating agricultural contracts is given to a body that is competent to undertake qualitative assessments, such as the Groceries Code Adjudicator’s office. That sensible suggestion would ensure that effective and authoritative oversight and assessment takes place.

External organisations such as the Tenant Farmers Association believe that the Government have a vital role in the face of significant market failure in agriculture and food supply chains, but it is concerning that the Government do not see that as forming part of an expanded role for the Groceries Code Adjudicator. It has been proposed instead that the Rural Payments Agency would be an appropriate regulator. The Government need to explain why they think that the RPA has sufficient expertise in that area; I look forward to the Minister’s explanation on that specific point. There seems to be no reason why the responsibility should be placed anywhere other than with the Groceries Code Adjudicator.

The Government have previously decided not to broaden the scope of the Groceries Code Adjudicator. Those decisions suggest that, without a clear duty, they will come under pressure from retailers to row back on the provisions. We need to be focused and tenacious in how we monitor the assessment process, including the criteria used. Importantly, the amendments would provide the clarity and certainty that are desperately needed by our farmers and the agricultural sector more generally.

We need to drill down to the detail and explicitly identify which regulatory body will be in charge and what expertise and experience the Government expect it to have. When will the Government see fit to provide a clear answer on that? I look forward to the Minister’s response to these probing amendments.

We are committed to tackling supply chain injustices, and an effective enforcement regime is a crucial part of that process. It is important to state that no decisions have yet been made about the nature of enforcement or the body responsible for it. We intend to listen to the ideas and concerns of the industry before any decisions are made, and we will of course exercise due diligence in designing the enforcement regime when we appoint the regulator.

I understand the attraction of replicating the success of the GCA elsewhere in the food supply chain, but it is important to recognise that the GCA works so well because it has a very targeted focus on the behaviours of extremely large retailers that deal with their direct suppliers and have a good understanding of how that particular supply chain works.

A 2018 Government review found insufficient evidence of widespread problems further down the groceries supply chain to justify extending the remit of the GCA to indirect suppliers. The issues that the review identified were sector-specific and are best addressed with the proportionate and targeted interventions contained in the Bill.

No decisions have yet been made about enforcement. Although the RPA has undoubtedly had difficulties with direct payments in the past, it has a wealth of experience in the agricultural markets. We will take a measured approach to arrive at the best possible decision. I ask the hon. Lady not to press the amendment to a vote.

I thank the Minister for her explanation. Obviously, external bodies and stakeholders will be actively encouraged to lobby the Government on the matter, and I hope that they will take the opportunity to do so. In the meantime, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment proposed: 20, in clause 27, page 23, line 27, at end insert—

“(10A) Before making regulations under this section, the Secretary of State must consult persons—

(a) who are representative of—

(i) qualifying sellers of, or

(ii) business purchasers of,

the agricultural products to which the regulations will apply, or

(b) who may otherwise be affected by the regulations.”—(Deidre Brock.)

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Clause 27 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 28

Producer and interbranch organisations etc: application for recognition

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

“to the Secretary of State”.

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.

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.

I thank the hon. Lady for her thoughtful desire to progress with these amendments, to ensure that Scottish farmers are effectively and appropriately supported. We are committed to ensuring that the provisions are applied effectively in all the nations of the United Kingdom.

Recognition as a producer organisation, association of producer organisations or inter-branch organisation automatically activates exemptions from competition law. That has been the case under the EU regime since the omnibus regulation, which amended several CAP instruments at the beginning of 2018.

That approach will continue under the new domestic PO regime. The act of granting recognition therefore relates directly to competition law, which, as I said earlier, is reserved to the UK Parliament. However, I will take this opportunity to assure both the hon. Lady and Scottish Ministers that this merely reflects the status of competition law as an area reserved to the UK Parliament. The PO regime will continue to operate as it always has. We have no intention of introducing jarring changes that will undermine its functioning. It will continue to be administered by the RPA, as is currently the case. We will consult thoroughly, both with the devolved Administrations and with farmers, in every part of the UK, during the development of our bespoke UK regime. I ask the hon. Lady to withdraw the amendment.

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.

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.

Clause 28 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 1 agreed to.

Clause 29 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 2 agreed to.

Clause 30

Regulations under sections 28 and 29

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.

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.

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.

Clause 30 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 31


I beg to move amendment 51, in clause 31, page 28, line 48, leave out

“the National Assembly for Wales”

and insert “Senedd Cymru”.

Section 2 of the Senedd and Elections (Wales) Act 2020 (2020 anaw 1) changes the name of the Welsh legislature to “Senedd Cymru or the Welsh Parliament”. This amendment and Amendments 52 to 61 are consequential amendments and they follow the new practice in the English language version of devolved Welsh legislation of using the Welsh name only when referring to the Welsh legislature.

With this it will be convenient to discuss Government amendments 57 to 60, 52, 53, 61, and 54 to 56.

Section 2 of the Senedd and Elections (Wales) Act 2020 changes the name of the Welsh legislature to “Senedd Cymru”—I hope the hon. Member for Newport West will correct me if got that wrong, although my Welsh relatives would not forgive me—or “the Welsh Parliament”. Amendments 51 to 61 are technical consequential amendments. They follow the new practice, in the English language version of devolved Welsh legislation, of using only the Welsh name when referring to the Welsh legislature.

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

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.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for raising the issue of the red meat levy with her amendment. I recognise that there is an inequality arising from the current system of producing the red meat levy. Indeed, our Parliamentary Private Secretary has been assiduous in bringing that to our attention.

The clause is designed to provide a permanent solution to this long-standing issue. In the meantime, the three levy bodies—the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, Quality Meat Scotland and the HCC, which I will not even begin to pronounce—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Newport West must bear it in mind that I have a vast number of Welsh relations who would not appreciate it if I did not get my pronunciation perfect. The three levy bodies are working collaboratively, using the interim fund, to benefit the red meat industry across the whole of Great Britain. Adequate time must be allowed for the full and careful development of a redistribution scheme, allowing for due consideration and consultation in order to provide a workable solution.

The amendment moved by the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith would provide a short timeframe in which to create a new scheme. Imposing such a deadline is not appropriate, because it is important that we consult properly on how the redistribution of the red meat levy is delivered, and the Administrations must have time to agree the scheme. The interim fund continues to be available in the meantime. I therefore apologise that I cannot give her every assurance she seeks at this point, but she knows that we have worked hard to put right this wrong, and will continue to do so. In that spirit, I ask that she withdraw the amendment.

I will be brief, but the clause is something that we can all welcome. There has been a long-running difficulty and it reflects changes in the availability of local abattoirs in particular. Many of us would like to see measures elsewhere to try to redress that. In the absence of that, the world has changed and it is welcome that the Government are responding positively. If it is pressed to a vote, we will be happy to support the SNP’s position.

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.

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

The clause will address the current inequality in the distribution of the red meat levy within Great Britain caused by the complex movement of pigs, cattle and sheep when animals cross from one country to another for further rearing and finishing and for slaughter. The levy is collected at the point of slaughter and can only be spent to benefit that country’s industry. The clause will allow for a scheme to redistribute some producer red meat levy between the levy boards of England, Scotland and Wales. It will sit beside the current legal framework and allow the transfer of levy.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 33 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 34 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 3

Agricultural tenancies

I beg to move amendment 87, in schedule 3, page 50, line 15, leave out “may” and insert “must”.

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

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

Amendment 87 is designed to make it a requirement for the Government to bring forward regulations to provide a framework for tenants to object to their landlord’s refusal to allow them to enter a relevant financial assistance scheme. As drafted, the Bill provides the power for the Government to introduce regulations, but it is not a requirement. There is a trend in the Bill for the Government to use the weakest language possible or to take the most timid of approaches. In our view, it is essential that tenant farmers are given full certainty in this situation.

Tenant farmers have welcomed the recognition that they require and deserve additional measures to protect them, and this is one of the areas that we highlighted during discussions on a previous version of the Agriculture Bill. We are pleased that our probing has produced a framework of protection for tenants, but it is essential that the provisions are used. If they are not used, what is the point of having them in the Bill? If it is the Government’s intention to use the provisions, it will not be a problem to change them from a “may” to a “must”. That is one of our big points on the Bill—we would strengthen the weak wording. We want to strengthen up, not level down.

The Minister’s predecessor, now the Secretary of State, has shown a willingness to listen, engage and reflect on Opposition amendments. I hope that the Government will go further, listen harder and deliver for tenant farmers.

Amendment 88 is about action. It would close a potential loophole in the Bill about the consent of the landlord. Currently, it sets out the circumstances where any regulations will apply in respect of a landlord’s consent. They are defined as circumstances where either the agricultural tenancy legislation or the contract of the tenancy requires the tenant to have the landlord’s consent. What that appears to have missed out—I am sure it is inadvertent, but it has done so—is where the provisions of the financial assistance scheme itself require the tenant to obtain the landlord’s consent.

As an example, the current countryside stewardship scheme requires all tenants occupying land under the Agricultural Holdings Act 1986 to have their landlord’s consent, even though those tenants will have security of tenure. The amendment would ensure that tenants have recourse to the regulations in every case where the landlord’s consent is required. I am sure the Minister would not want any of the provisions or effects of the Bill to create difficulties for tenants in accessing public money for public good, which is obviously the Government’s favoured system for replacing the basic payment scheme.

I place on record my thanks to all those organisations that have made representations on the issue. I think of the Tenant Farmers Association and their chief executive George Dunn as an example of strong and effective campaigning.

These are simple, arguably technical, but important and empowering amendments. The Government have demonstrated a willingness to listen and engage to a degree, but I call on them to go further—to take the plunge and deliver on what is a cross-party and all-UK commitment to empowering and supporting our farmers. The Bill needs to be joined up, it needs to be smart and it needs to be fit for purpose. The amendments help in that purpose. I hope the Government, and indeed the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith, will support them.

Agricultural tenancies are a vital part of our farming industry, accounting for nearly a third of all farmland in England and Wales. I want to see a thriving tenant farming sector in the future. That is why we have included provisions in the Bill to modernise agricultural tenancy legislation.

Turning first to amendment 87, the Committee has already considered at length the use of the words “may” and “must” in legislation. I do not intend to go over those arguments again. As I said last week, the use of the word “may” is entirely consistent with other legislation in this sphere. I assure the hon. Member for Newport West that there is absolutely no doubt that the Government intend to use the powers to make these important regulations and that we will move quickly to do so. Plans are already under way to meet industry representatives for discussions on their scope and content.

I understand the drive behind amendment 88, which seeks to broaden the scope of the dispute provisions to cover any situation where the tenant may need the landlord’s consent to undertake an activity. However, the intention of these provisions is to provide tenants of the older Agricultural Holdings Act 1986 agreements with a mechanism to challenge outdated restrictions in those agreements. In some cases, they were written 30 or 40 years ago, when there was a very different policy and commercial environment. That is why it is important that the procedure for referring requests to dispute remains clearly linked to the terms of the tenancy agreement. To broaden the scope further to include any issue or activity where landlord consent is required risks unintended consequences and opens up the potential for misuse of the provisions, which could damage landlord-tenant relations.

The provisions in schedule 3 had broad support in our public consultation. They have been shaped to ensure that the interests of both tenants and landlords are considered. We will continue to consult the industry generally, including members of the tenancy reform industry group, as we develop the supporting regulations. I therefore ask the hon. Member for Newport West to withdraw the amendment.

Again, the Minister and I share the same broad aims and principles, which is great. However, we have not changed our minds about “may” and “must”, and the need to strengthen this legislation and beef it up to give people the protection they require. I am glad that the Minister has agreed that stakeholders will have the opportunity to lobby and that she will be consulting widely as the Bill is developed. I accept the history of the tenancy agreement Acts, but we will press the amendment to a vote.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

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

See the explanatory statement for Amendment 51.

Amendment 58, schedule 3, page 54, line 9, leave out “the National Assembly for Wales” and insert “Senedd Cymru”.

See the explanatory statement for Amendment 51.

Amendment 59, schedule 3, page 54, line 14, leave out “the National Assembly for Wales” and insert “Senedd Cymru”.

See the explanatory statement for Amendment 51.

Amendment 60, schedule 3, page 54, line 19, leave out “the National Assembly for Wales” and insert “Senedd Cymru”.—(Victoria Prentis.)

See the explanatory statement for Amendment 51.

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

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

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

26A After section 28 insert—

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(4) In this section—

“appropriate authority” means—

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

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

“relevant financial assistance” means financial assistance under—

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

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

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

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

(a) an Act of Parliament;

(b) an Act or Measure of Senedd Cymru;

(c) retained direct EU legislation.””

I will speak briefly to both amendments. Like all the amendments tabled by my hon. Friends and me, they are important, and I hope they will receive a fair hearing. They cover the elements of the Bill that look at powers available to tenants, succession rules and guidance around rent reviews. Anybody who has been to a farm or has a farm in their constituency will know that, although those areas are niche, they are incredibly important.

Amendments 85 and 86 would ensure that tenants renting land under the Agricultural Tenancies Act 1995 can object to a landlord’s refusal to allow access to financial assistance. The Bill currently omits cover for those tenants and we need to address that. That lack of protection is odd, given that, as the Minister has said, nearly half the land in the tenanted sector in England is now let under 1995 provisions. In Wales, the figure is more than a quarter of the land.

Over time, that area of land will grow and it will be important to ensure that those tenants are protected as much as those under the 1986 Act. Given that these are more modern agreements, which will have had the full attention of the legal profession in their drafting, they are more likely to include more restrictive clauses than those under the older legislation. That will cause problems for tenants if they do not have adequate recourse to object to the use of those restrictive clauses within the new policy framework.

It will be a significant failure if we cannot provide the same level of protection to tenants under the 1995 Act as we are seeking to provide to tenants under the 1986 Act. That is a simple but important point. I hope that the Minister will receive it warmly, in the spirit that it is intended.

I receive all the hon. Lady’s amendments warmly. She has again raised an important issue. Farm business tenancies are a vital part of our farming industry. They provide a flexible way for established farmers to expand their business, by renting additional parcels of land. Crucially, they also open the way for new entrants, with no family connection to the land, to get a foothold in the sector.

As I have already stated, I want a thriving tenant farming sector. That is why we have included provisions in the Bill to modernise agricultural tenancy legislation. Although I recognise concerns that the new dispute conditions do not include farm business tenancy agreements, there are very important reasons for that.

Shall I set out some of my reasons first? Then, if necessary, I will give way to the hon. Gentleman. First, evidence from the public consultation on this issue in England does not support extending the provision to include farm business tenancies. That is because, as the hon. Member for Newport West said, they are more modern, commercial agreements, negotiated more recently than agreements under the 1986 Act. They are shorter term and reviewed more regularly, so that tenants have the opportunity to renegotiate and vary the terms to fit changing commercial conditions, and ensure that they can access future financial assistance schemes.

Secondly, the legal framework governing farm business tenancies already provides for enabling the parties to agree terms, so that the tenant can continue to deliver diversified activities, such as environmental schemes, alongside farming. Thirdly, extending the provisions to include farm business tenancies risks undermining landlord confidence in tenancy agreements that had been freely and relatively recently entered into by both parties. That could lead to landlords withdrawing from the let sector in favour of contracting or farming in hand, which would reduce opportunity for tenant farmers.

The aim of the provisions is to provide a dispute mechanism specifically for tenants of 1986 Act agreements, because those are lifetime agreements that were negotiated 30 to 40 years ago in a very different world. They often contain outdated restrictions that could act as a barrier to tenants meeting modern statutory requirements and, in England, accessing future farming schemes that we are setting out.

This is a complicated set of issues, and I seek clarification. Some lack of clarity about post-1995 holdings has been raised with me. The question is, going back to the financial assistance schemes, who would make the decision to de-link? Who would get the lump sum? Is it the tenant in post-1995 cases?

The hon. Gentleman and I have undertaken to have a specific conversation later about de-linking and lump sum payments. I tried to set out the position this morning. Once a decision has been made to de-link payments, they may continue to be paid to the tenant. Indeed, the person farming the land—so the tenant—would apply for any lump sum. However, the two are separate, as I set out this morning. I hope that answers his question.

The provisions in schedule 3 had broad support in the public consultations in England and Wales. They have been shaped to ensure that the interests of tenants and landlords are considered. We will continue to consult industry widely, including members of the Tenancy Reform Industry Group, as we develop future regulations. I therefore ask the hon. Member for Newport West to withdraw her amendment.

I welcome the Minister’s commitment to a thriving tenancy sector—that is great news. I thank her for the explanation and for her commitment to have an ongoing dialogue with my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge. I look forward to the outcome of those discussions. We still have reservations about this important area, but we will not press the amendment to a vote. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 3, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 35

Marketing standards

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

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

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

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

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

Of course. Last week, we had an interesting discussion about labelling. I take Members back to that because on page 16 of the document is a theoretical discussion of the effect of labelling. The Government tell us:

“Tapping into the consumer willingness to pay begins with understanding the value-action gap”—

which I am sure is being discussed on every omnibus around the country—and that

“it is possible for someone to derive positive value from the fact that animals are being well cared for as a result of another’s purchasing decision. Those not buying animal products should be included in any assessment of public value, one person’s holding of this value does not detract from another’s.”

I find that a puzzling suggestion. I tried it out on my partner—I will not say what she said, but she was not convinced that, basically, other people buying poorly produced food somehow does not detract from the wider public good. That is a theoretical discussion the Government may want to go back to. The following page states:

“Addressing consumer understanding, and understanding how purchasing decisions are made in practice in the retail environment and online, are also key elements…It is important to note that improved transparency alone can only address information asymmetry, and does not capture the public value held by non-consumers.”

I am not sure what any of that means, and I am sure that the public have little idea of what it means. I think it shows that labelling is not simple; there is a big discussion to be had. Is it enough to use labelling? The right hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby and I had an exchange on that last week; there are sincerely held differences of opinion about it.

Back in the simpler, empirical world, we have seen the positive impact that labelling can have on eggs. Since 2004, when EU law began to require eggs and egg packs to be labelled to highlight production method, there has been a considerable move in the market towards free-range eggs and away from caged egg sales. I am told that around 52% of all UK eggs come from cage-free systems, which is welcome.

It is not the same in other sectors. Consumers are still very much in the dark about the production of meat and milk. It is hard to find meat or dairy products that have a labelled method of production. For meat, there is some labelling of free range and organic, but not much else. There is even less information about the farming methods of milk. Most milk is pooled together, making it difficult to distinguish between pasture-based and intensively produced milk. From personal experience perusing the supermarket shelves, it seems the world is becoming more complicated these days; there is a greater range, but we need to go further. I find it confusing. It is confusing for consumers and it does a disservice to farmers who are already producing to higher standards but do not have any means of distinguishing their products because of labelling ambiguities.

A lot of marketing and packaging borders on the misleading. Intensively produced meat and dairy products, where animals may have seen very little of the outside world, are packaged in pretty green packets featuring rolling hills and what looks like a welfare-friendly world. That does not help consumers make informed choices, and it does not help producers extract the higher value that they deserve from their products. Proper labelling would work in everyone’s interests.

The production methods highlighted would differ for different products, but mandatory labelling could be used to indicate on the packet whether the product has been produced intensively indoors or extensively outdoors, with the full range of production methods in between, so that consumers can make a decision in the shop about what they want. That is something that the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee recommended twice to the Government in 2018, and it makes a lot of sense.

At the moment, any consumer demand for less intensively produced meat and dairy is impeded by the lack of clear information at the point of sale about how the products have been produced. Informing consumers about methods of production allows them to make that choice. We could see important shifts in the market towards the production of food that is less intensive, more environmentally sustainable and based on higher animal welfare.

A good labelling system could also play an important role in further incentivising farmers to take up environmental land management schemes and deliver the public goods that we discussed last week under clause 1, particularly those who seek to promote higher animal welfare measures, by giving them the recognition they deserve for using less intensive production methods. If the consumer has no idea what farmers are doing, it stands to reason that farmers will see the benefits of making positive changes only in the direct payments they receive, rather than in any changes in consumer demand. There needs to be a way for farmers to demonstrate that they are delivering food in a way that consumers may choose to pay for.

International debate is moving quickly in this area. We heard evidence of the number of schemes that are being looked into across Europe. The Government have talked big talk about using the new opportunity post Brexit to improve our animal welfare standards and modernise our farming processes. It is important that we do not miss key opportunities to adopt mechanisms that can help support that. A relatively simple change of wording would give this clause the strength it needs to deliver the Government’s aim of achieving an impact we all support.

I note that the amendment would substitute “must” for “may” in subsection (1), but all the other subsections contain the word “may” too. Has not the hon. Gentleman made an omission by not seeking to insert “must” in all the others? Surely having “must” in subsection (1) would be completely counteracted by all the “may”s in the rest of the clause.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, who unfortunately was out of the room this morning during one of my earlier attempts to bait him. He never fails to please. His deft and diligent examination of the wording may well have identified a minor drafting error from our point of view, but I am sure he gets the thrust of the argument. On that basis, I very much hope he supports us on this occasion.

Again, we broadly share the same values and principles, but—I am sorry to be tedious about the law and the drafting, not that I would ever accuse my right hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby of being tedious—it is important that we look at what the amendment would actually do.

I welcome this opportunity to further clarify the purpose of the clause. The proposed amendment seeks to change the wording of the clause to include “must” instead of “may”. We have been through this many times in the past week and I do not propose to do so again. There is no need to add a duty here, as regulations concerning the marketing standards already exist in EU law. Using powers in the withdrawal Act, we will retain the current EU marketing standards and roll them over into UK law, ensuring continuity for farmers and the farming industry.

The power in subsection (1) will provide an opportunity for the current standards to be amended when it is appropriate to do so, to ensure that they deliver domestic standards. It will also allow us to introduce new standards should that be deemed necessary. We anticipate that the power will be used to respond to developments in production. The amendment could create a situation in which new marketing standards regulations must be made, regardless of whether they were needed.

I should add that marketing standards do not apply to all food products and so would not be the appropriate vehicle for any general changes to food labelling rules, such as those about stating allergens on labels. That is already covered by existing food information and food safety laws.

I hope I have given some explanation of why the clause is drafted in the way it is. I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the amendment.

That is so disappointing. The Government should have more ambition to do these things. That is why we are pressing and encouraging them. This is such an opportunity; to us, it seems like a win-win.

I fully accept that there may be some points of drafting or direction—I do not blame the people who drafted the amendment—on which we could improve, but it would be wonderful if the Government accepted the thrust of the argument. This is a bit like hustings events during a general election campaign: by the time we come to the end, we all know one another’s lines. What the Minister said was not a surprise to me, and it will be no surprise to her to hear me say the same thing again.

This is partly a question of trust, I am afraid. It is also a question of wanting to move quickly to take up these opportunities. I think there is real desire out there among consumers to make informed choices, despite the slight difference of opinion expressed by the right hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby last week about the role of labelling in making the changes we want. If we are going to go down the labelling route as the driver for change, for goodness’ sake push on with it. Do it soon. The Government should tie themselves to it. If they accepted our amendment, they would be bound to do it and there would be no backsliding. My guess is that we will be discussing this in many months’ time and we will find it has not moved as quickly as many of us would have hoped. On that basis, I am not prepared to withdraw the amendment; we will press it to a vote.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Clause 35 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 4 agreed to.

Clause 36

Organic products

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

The clause will allow the Government to modernise organic regulations. I appreciate the opportunity to say a few brief words to clear up previous misunderstandings.

The Committee should note that the EU will bring in new organics regulation 848/2018 on 1 January 2021. Since that is after the end of the transition period, the current organics regulation, 834/2007, will form part of retained EU law. The clause allows us to amend organics regulations so that they work for our producers, exporters and consumers. The organics sector is at the forefront of sustainable agriculture. The powers in the clause will ensure that the sector can continue to thrive, while enhancing our precious environment.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 36 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 37

Organic products: supplementary

Amendments made: 52, in clause 37, page 35, line 15, leave out

“the National Assembly for Wales”

and insert “Senedd Cymru”.

See the explanatory statement for Amendment 51.

Amendment 53, in clause 37, page 35, line 16, leave out “that Assembly” and insert “the Senedd”.(Victoria Prentis.)

See the explanatory statement for Amendment 51.

Clause 37, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 38 and 39 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned. —(James Morris.)

Adjourned till Thursday 5 March at half-past Eleven o’clock.

Written evidence reported to the House

AB53 The Food Foundation

AB54 Essex Local Access Forum

AB55 Northern Ireland Environment Link

AB56 Feeding Britain

AB57 Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE)

AB58 The British Horse Society

AB59 Independent Food Aid Network

AB60 Soil surveyors - Former members of the Soil Survey of England and Wales and Soil Survey and Land Research Centre

AB61 National Farmers’ Union (NFU) Cymru

AB62 Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS)