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House of Commons Hansard
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Public Bill Committees
01 November 2018

Agriculture Bill (Seventh sitting)

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairs: †Sir Roger Gale, Phil Wilson

† Antoniazzi, Tonia (Gower) (Lab)

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

† Chapman, Jenny (Darlington) (Lab)

† Clark, Colin (Gordon) (Con)

† Davies, Chris (Brecon and Radnorshire) (Con)

† Debbonaire, Thangam (Bristol West) (Lab)

† Drew, Dr David (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op)

† Dunne, Mr Philip (Ludlow) (Con)

† Eustice, George (Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

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

† Harrison, Trudy (Copeland) (Con)

† Hoare, Simon (North Dorset) (Con)

† Huddleston, Nigel (Mid Worcestershire) (Con)

† Lake, Ben (Ceredigion) (PC)

† McCarthy, Kerry (Bristol East) (Lab)

† Martin, Sandy (Ipswich) (Lab)

† Stewart, Iain (Milton Keynes South) (Con)

† Tracey, Craig (North Warwickshire) (Con)

† Whitfield, Martin (East Lothian) (Lab)

Kenneth Fox, Anwen Rees, Committee Clerks

† attended the Committee

Public Bill Committee

Thursday 1 November 2018

(Morning)

[Sir Roger Gale in the Chair]

Agriculture Bill

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Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. I apologise: some colleagues seem to think that the room is rather cold. We have asked to have it warmed up, but the problem is that that takes about four days, by which time we shall be in a heatwave and you will all want it cooled down. Any brave Member who wishes to may remove their jacket, or put on an overcoat.

More importantly, will you please be kind enough to ensure that all your electronic bits and pieces are turned off? The wrath of God will descend upon you if any go off—the wrath of the Chair, anyway. Other than that, we are ready to commence line-by-line consideration of the Bill.

Clause 2

Financial assistance: forms, conditions, delegation and publication of information

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I beg to move amendment 84, in clause 2, page 2, line 27, at end insert—

‘(3A) It shall be a condition for receipt of financial assistance under section 1 that the person in receipt can demonstrate that—

(a) their existing and proposed land or livestock management practices, or

(b) their proposed land or livestock management practices;

meet any regulatory standards specified by the Secretary of State and which are in force at the time that the management practices are carried on.

(3B) The regulatory standards specified by the Secretary of State under subsection (3A) may (among other things) include standards relating to—

(a) health or welfare of humans, livestock or wild creatures,

(b) soil health,

(c) air quality,

(d) quality of water in any inland waterway.’

This amendment would require the recipients of financial assistance for the purposes in clause 1 of the Bill to demonstrate that their existing and proposed land or livestock management practices meet minimum regulatory standards.

I am pleased to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. We shall try to make more speedy progress today, but a number of issues are important, and I hope that the Government will be able to respond and at least put our minds at rest. If not, we shall do the obvious and force the Committee to Divisions.

This amendment is in many respects wider than amendment 71, which we have already discussed, so I shall not go through a lot of the same arguments. The amendment looks at an issue that we feel strongly about in the Opposition: the regulatory framework, and how and why people will be paid for what they do. It involves the health and welfare of people and animals, wildlife, and how we look after the land—soil health, and air and water quality.

From the point of view both of proper management of public money and of ensuring the environmental benefits, it is important for us to establish what we mean by bad baseline practice. In our own minds, we might know that it is when we go to farms or to visit others who look after the land and see things that we would not want to see, but we need to say something about it in this legislation.

On Tuesday, the Minister talked about some of the things that will inevitably follow, such as how we move from existing cross-compliance in the common agricultural policy into environmental land management contracts, but we were a little surprised by how open-ended those were. More particularly, we are not sure who these countless individuals going out to advise are, or where they will come from. Furthermore, if farmers or—dare I say it—people in general are left to their own devices and self-regulate, who checks the self-regulation? We want to tease out some of those big issues.

The Minister tried to reassure us about some of the checks and balances, but we are still not sure about how things will work in practice. That will be a continual theme in what we say today. What do the measures mean to the people to whom we are potentially giving money, and what do we expect them to do for that? If they do not do it, what happens? Clearly, some people will use bad practice or fail to meet minimum standards.

The Government said in their policy statement that they intend to be “firm and fair” in their approach to regulation. We await the final report of Dame Glenys Stacey—we have the interim report—but some of us would have liked to have heard from her in the evidence sessions, because it is important to know what she has in mind for recommendations on how regulation will work. Perhaps the Minister will give us some insight about where Dame Glenys is going.

More particularly, on animal welfare, we need to know a bit about safety records: who keeps them? How will those records be accessible and by whom? Otherwise there will be no real clarity. The point also applies to air and water quality and to soil health.

From the Government, as a result of “Health and Harmony”, we have the policy statement—I will not read it all out, but it is quite revealing. It talks about a “changed regulatory culture” and says:

“We will maintain strong regulatory standards and introduce a new approach to monitoring compliance and enforcement. We will adopt a more streamlined and focused regime, with more data sharing, reduced duplication and greater use of ‘earned recognition’,”—

I will ask the Minister to tell me what he thinks “earned recognition” is, because I am not completely sure—

“which received strong support in the consultation. ‘Earned recognition’ may take account of historic compliance and membership of industry assurance schemes, where there is confidence that the scheme enforces regulatory standards.”

It goes on about the idea of “firm but fair” and the fact that it will be reliant on what comes out of the Stacey review.

Our problem is that a lot of these things are in play—the Bill is also being scrutinised by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee and the Scottish Affairs Committee—but we are doing the legislation. There is a degree of, “Which comes first?”, and it would be helpful if we had had some of that evidence so that we could make a better job of holding the Government to account. How will it all work, particularly the idea of earned recognition? Who will achieve that? Who will monitor it, and when it is not acceptable, what do we do about it?

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It is a pleasure to begin the day by responding to this particular amendment. At its heart is an attempt to put into the Bill a requirement to have something akin to the existing cross-compliance regime. I will come back to that later.

There are two key points I would make about the amendment. Clause 2 and clause 3, which we will come to later, as already drafted, make allowance and provision for a Government to create such conditions through an affirmative statutory instrument should they feel that that is the right thing to do. Under clause 2(2) it is open to the Government to say that there are conditions attached to entry into these schemes and that there may be, under clause 3(2)(g), penalties for breaches of the regulatory baseline.

There is already an option, given how the Bill is drafted, for a Government to bring forward proposals of that sort through an SI. My argument is that the detail spelled out in amendment 84 would be the appropriate level of detail that might be in a particular SI brought in under, for instance, clause 2, and probably addressed through anything brought in under clause 3 as well. We could do that, if we wanted, through the SI and that would be the appropriate place to do it.

However, my general view is that we should separate out as far as we can the regulatory baseline, which should apply to everyone equally whether they are in or out of a scheme, and conditions that we attach to financial schemes to support farmers to go above and beyond that regulatory baseline. The danger of the amendment here, as I see it, is that the very first thing it says, in 3A, is:

“It shall be a condition for receipt of financial assistance…that the person in receipt can demonstrate”,

that they abide by all those things.

We want people to feel good about entering these schemes. When a farmer phones up the Government, Natural England or whichever agency is administering the scheme to say, “I am really keen to enter your new agri-environment scheme,” if the first thing that happens is that they say, “Well, we’ll send out an inspector from the Rural Payments Agency with a clipboard to try to find fault and see whether your ear tags are wrong, or there is a trivial problem of that sort that will disqualify you,” it will put people off entering the scheme.

We already have this problem with the cross-compliance regime. I explained on Tuesday that, having wrestled with the cross-compliance regime as a Minister for five years, I can confirm that it is completely dysfunctional. The regulations set out in EU law and the penalty matrix mean that incredibly disproportionate penalties are sometimes applied to farmers that have no bearing whatever to the scale of the breach in question.

We already have problems with, for instance, large arable farms that might have a small pedigree herd of cattle that they keep going as a labour of love. If they have some trivial ear tag problem—an ear tag goes missing and they have not managed to replace it yet—and are unlucky enough to be inspected, they can end up with penalties of £40,000 or £50,000 for such small things. I remember many cases in this area. I remember a farmer who once had a dispute with his neighbour. The neighbour padlocked the gate on the footpath, and the farmer ended up with a £45,000 penalty, such is the nonsense of the existing scheme.

We do not want to replicate that. The danger of accepting the amendment is that a trivial error or mistake on something like an ear tag could lead to somebody’s complete disqualification from entering a scheme, or to an onerous financial penalty that would not fit the breach incurred. Something of this type could be introduced through an SI under the Bill’s provisions, should someone wish to. We should abide by the principle that regulations apply to everyone, that we should not have more inspection on people who enter schemes than those who do not, and that inspection regimes should be consistent and apply to people across the board, whether or not they are in a scheme. For those reasons, the amendment is not appropriate.

The hon. Member for Stroud asked about the Dame Glenys Stacey review. That is now well under way. She is keen to move to what she terms a better, more modern approach to regulation, in which things are better joined up and there is less reliance on an arbitrary rulebook, with people coming around with clipboards and ticking boxes. She wants a more holistic approach to the way we manage compliance on farms and a better understanding of, as I explained on Tuesday, the grey area between incentivising better husbandry and good practice, which can go a long way to achieving environmental and animal welfare outcomes, and accepting that a clear regulatory baseline must be enforced.

We are keen to start moving towards a different culture around regulation that is less about a complex rulebook, which often has lots of unintended consequences and disproportionate penalties, as characterised in our current scheme. We want it to be more about discretion for officers on the ground, whether they be from Natural England, the Rural Payments Agency or the Animal and Plant Health Agency, to exercise judgment in respect of a given farm, and about having a better understanding of the linkage between things that we can incentivise to get better outcomes and the need to adhere to the regulatory baseline.

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I am interested in what the Minister says, and he makes a fair point. However, my concern is that this scheme needs to be transparent, fair and rigorous in the eyes of taxpayers. As we said on Tuesday, the closeness of these decisions will change, and taxpayers will want to know that their money that goes to this scheme, and so not on policing, health or other important issues, is carefully spent, and that the scheme is robustly inspected and monitored. We need to be careful about where that balance lies.

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I understand that. As I said on Tuesday, we accept the “polluter pays” principle. It is important that we have a clear regulatory baseline. At the moment, in areas such as livestock ID, we have a hotch-potch of different regulations that have come from the EU, and there is lots of inconsistency. We have an opportunity as we leave the EU to tidy up the rulebook and to have a clear and consistent regulatory baseline, and to then build on that with financial incentives.

I absolutely agree with the hon. Lady that if we are going to make payments of public money for the delivery of public goods, we need to see action on that. Clauses 2 and 3 give us the powers that we need to place conditions on the schemes that we design and on the contracts that we enter into with farmers. The condition of that contract with farmers could be that if they breach a regulatory baseline there could be a penalty, for instance. So we could recreate something akin to the cross-compliance, if that was deemed the right thing. Of course we could say that if a farmer enters a scheme and does not deliver any of the things that he is supposed to deliver under the contract, then there will be clawback provisions and monetary penalties.

One of the things that we are interested in as a way of dealing with minor breaches, such as some of the smaller problems of ear tags going missing or minor administrative issues, is that rather than have a percentage deduction, as we have now with the basic payments scheme, we could try to develop a system more akin to fixed penalty notices. There could be improvement notices to farmers and if there are still problems there could be fixed penalty notices, so that we can have much more proportionate penalties that fit the nature of the breach.

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My hon. Friend the Minister has mentioned the issue of ear tags, but we also potentially have the problem of sprayers that may have missed their annual MOT. When the sprayer ultimately comes for its test, it may well have been compliant all the time, but according to this amendment that farmer could be ineligible for payments. Perhaps the guy who was going to do the test was ill that day and the farmer ran out of time.

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There can be lots of issues like that.

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That is a completely wrong analogy. The right analogy is perhaps with the financial support given to parents. If parents do not comply with the rules and the terms of that agreement with the Government, then the finances are removed and they might even find themselves going to prison. It is a completely different situation and it appears to me that the Minister—with the best will in the world—is making this up as he goes along. It is like, “We could do this, we could do that, we might do something else”. I do not get the impression that the Government have properly thought this through.

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I disagree; I have thought it through. If the hon. Lady and a future Labour Government want to do precisely what they set out in amendment 84, the right place to do it would be under an affirmative resolution under sections 2 or 3.

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Perhaps I should clarify something for the benefit of the Opposition. I am not talking about the Ministry of Transport MOT, where people take their car to the garage; I am talking about the annual testing that sprayers must undertake as part of cross-compliance and as part of the schemes that farmers engage in. Indeed, slug pellet applicators need to be tested every five years, so it is quite possible that a farmer would forget when that five years was up.

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My hon. Friend makes a good point. There is a complex issue around sprayer MOTs, as he knows, because there is a voluntary industry scheme underpinned by Red Tractor. The vast majority of farmers are required to do that as a condition of their Red Tractor membership.

I have come across examples. For instance, we have a cross-compliance rule that there needs to be a 2-metre buffer strip around fields. I have come across examples where in one small corner of the field the person doing the rotavating or operating the plough drifted slightly in, so that the width went to 1.80 metres instead of 2 metres. A farmer in that particular case received a fine of £10,000. That is clearly disproportionate to the scale of the offence and it is the kind of nonsense that we now have an opportunity to sweep away.

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Clearly, we need sensible regulations and sensible compliance arrangements. However, is it not part of the problem here that if we have a regulatory regime that relies solely on inspectors rather than on incentivising farmers through the financial payment system, there will never be enough inspectors? Regulation is not as effective as affirmative action and that is what the whole support system is meant to be; it is meant to be affirmative action. In which case, surely we should expect people to meet the regulations, to gain the benefit of the affirmative action.

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Order. Just before we proceed, I must say that I am rather hoping to be home for Christmas. I would really like interventions to be interventions and not speeches.

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I thought for a moment that the hon. Member for Ipswich was going to support me. I agree with the first part of his intervention: we want to recognise that there is a limit to what can be achieved by a regulatory base. What we are trying to do through clause 1 is to create schemes that incentivise farmers to go above and beyond that, while clauses 2 and 3 will put in place the enforcement regime to support those areas.

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. Under the cross-compliance regime, the average inspection level is about 3%, so let us not exaggerate the extent of it. It is something of a lottery whether a farmer gets a visit from the RPA; one visit in 33 years is fairly typical. My disagreement with him is on the basis that if we have a regulatory baseline, we should enforce it consistently on everyone, whether or not they are in a scheme. Under his amendment, the inspection rate would be 100% for anyone in a scheme, while anyone who chose not to be in a scheme would not receive the same level of inspection. In my view, that would be inconsistent.

I hope that I have reassured the hon. Member for Stroud that the objectives of his amendment could be achieved under clauses 2 and 3 through an affirmative statutory instrument, or through the terms of any contract entered into under clause 2. Agreeing to his amendment would be unnecessary and counterproductive, so I hope he will withdraw it.

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I will not press the amendment to a vote, but only because I am even more confused now than when I moved it. Notwithstanding the issues that we have raised and that the House of Lords has already waxed lyrical about, the Bill relies far too much on SIs to underpin it. The Bill may be a scaffold rather than a building, but at the moment we do not even have the bits of the Meccano set in the right place.

We need more detail on how the Bill will work in practice. The Minister is saying that we will be doing other things, but all the examples that he falls back on are effectively about cross-compliance. If Dame Glenys Stacey comes up with a better way of doing things, let us hear about it, but the problem is that we are passing legislation on the basis that she will. We do not know that, so we are giving a hostage to fortune.

Notwithstanding our unhappiness with the Rural Payments Agency—as the Minister says, it does not go on to farms very often, and when it does it sometimes goes over the top, which can be very unfair—who is going to do this? Who is going to carry out this affirmative action, to use the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich?

The Minister did not explain what earned recognition was. I think it needs to be defined in the Bill, because it is a central point.

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I apologise for missing that point; I was taking a steer from Sir Roger that he wanted to make some progress.

We already have a concept of earned recognition. It is already provided for in EU regulations, and we already have an approach whereby somebody who has signed up to the Red Tractor scheme is put into a low-risk category when the selections for inspection are run. That follows a principle that we have advanced for many years, which is simply that if somebody goes to the effort of signing up to an accredited scheme, it shows that they are already abiding by higher standards. If they are already subject to inspection by the Red Tractor accreditation scheme, for instance, it is less necessary for the Government to inspect them. It is a good principle and we want it to continue.

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That is very good, but why is it not in the Bill? The Bill needs to spell out very clearly the process by which this will operate. I would be happy to agree to a Government amendment or new clause that spelled out what earned recognition is, because it is fundamental. If it is going to bolster the way in which environmental land payment contracts are made operative, let us put it in the Bill so that everybody knows what they are dealing with. We would have to be careful about the wording and how it operates in practice, but that is what legislation is about. If we are using a term that—dare I say it—is being taken from the EU, why is that not in the Bill?

I shall not press this amendment to a vote, but the Government need to do some real thinking about what needs to be in the Bill to give the people who have to operate under it—farmers and others—knowledge of how they will be able to earn support payments and, if they do not do things as we want them to, what action the state will have to take. At the moment, I am none the wiser. The Government need to go back and define the terms, to say how the different mechanisms will work. We would then be much happier. The Government need to do some thinking. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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I beg to move amendment 98, in clause 2, page 2, line 31, after “delegate” insert “administrative”.

This amendment would ensure that the actual design and purpose of schemes is not delegated to non-governmental bodies or organisations.

I hope to make quicker progress on this amendment, which is in my name and that of other hon. Friends. It is meant to tease out who will benefit from the new delegated functions. As drafted, Ministers may delegate functions to any other person. In theory, therefore, the design and process could be delegated to anyone. Although this will be a short speech, we feel strongly that the clause could lead to distortions across the country and result in a postcode lottery.

These advisers, who are going to be invented—we hope they become a reality sooner rather than later—will have to interpret the Bill and decide who is, in effect, there to work with the people who want to receive the payments. The idea is that only those administrative functions can be delegated, but will the Minister spell out more clearly what is meant by the delegating process? For example, which Government agencies are involved? I keep going on about this, but we did not have the opportunity to hear evidence from such agencies, and one of the questions that we would have asked was about where they see themselves playing a role. We tried that with the Food Standards Agency, which basically said, “Nothing to do with us, guv.” Other agencies must therefore be more responsible for the operation of the Bill.

Will the Minister simply set out the process for delegation to those agencies? Will he name the agencies? That would be helpful, given that they will inevitably have to overlap. At the moment, Natural England’s functions have been subsumed into the Rural Payments Agency, but there are other agencies—trading standards still go to farms and look at various animal health issues. It would be useful to know from the Minister how he sees all that working.

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I am grateful for the opportunity to explain what we intend to do under clause 2(5) and also under clause 2(4), which is of relevance as a linked power. The issue is connected with something the hon. Gentleman highlighted earlier in our debates on clause 1: how we intend to administer a scheme in which we might have individual-level farm contracts. He has often expressed scepticism about the Rural Payments Agency and its suitability for the task. As the Committee knows, I have always defended that agency, because I know what a hideously dysfunctional EU system it has to operate in.

That said, what we seek to achieve with subsections (4) and (5) is as follows. We want to move to a new system with these contracts, so that a human being—an individual expert agronomist or an expert in ecology and environment—can visit a farm, walk it with the farmer and help him put together an environmental plan for his own individual holding, taking account of soil type, farming practices, the water catchment area he is in and so on. Once they have helped the farmer put together the scheme—perhaps sat around the kitchen table—the agreement can then be passed to a Government agency for approval.

What we seek to achieve with subsection (5), therefore, is the possibility of UKAS-accredited organisations operating UKAS-accredited schemes to assist us in this process and to help with the administration of a future scheme so that it works in a more sensible way. For instance, that could involve the Soil Association being empowered, as it is now, to accredit an individual farm to say that it is indeed organic. That happens now, and we have the power to do that. It could also involve empowering the RPSCA to run an accredited scheme on animal welfare, against which we might pay out an incentive. It could involve schemes with the RSPB, which might accredit a farmland birds package. I might add that an agronomist whom a farmer really trusts and works with could seek to become accredited by the Government to give advice in the design of an on-farm contract and scheme. He could work that up with the farmer and then submit it to get approval from the Government.

We seek to achieve something altogether more tailored and more local, where local knowledge can be brought to bear to help design these schemes. That is a far cry from what we have now, where it is all about clunky mapping, digital maps and onerous application forms sent into some office somewhere, with people then having to sift through information and enter it all on to a computer system, with all the problems inherent to that. If we want to get much more local knowledge and much more tailored schemes, we should engage partners locally, where they are able to benefit. That is what we intend to achieve through subsection (5).

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On a point of clarity, and more to put it on the record than anything else: there is no intention for any of the delegation to go beyond England and affect any of the devolved nations, is there?

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No, this is a power for England only, and it will be for each of the devolved Administrations to decide how they want to design their enforcement and management process.

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I thank my hon. Friend for the clarity with which he has laid out for the Committee the Government’s intent regarding the implementation of the new scheme through accrediting bodies, and that is extremely helpful for the Committee to understand. While I recognise that this will be a new scheme with much more streamlined implementation and systems, we have significant problems with the existing countryside stewardship and environmental stewardship schemes administered by the Rural Payments Agency. If we are to persuade farmers to enter into new schemes, they must have confidence that the current schemes, where we have outstanding disputes and a lack of full payments being made under many of them, will be ironed out. If they are not, farmers will be increasingly sceptical about the prospects of a new scheme being introduced under these powers.

I am straying slightly beyond the purpose of the amendment, but I urge my hon. Friend to encourage the Rural Payments Agency to get existing schemes fully paid up. As at the middle of October, DEFRA’s statistics show that 751 countryside stewardship agreement holders, or 15%, have not been paid their final 2017 payment, while 8,116 environmental stewardship agreement holders, or 33%, have yet to receive their final payment. Please could he help to get a welly on?

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I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. I intend to address those issues in more detail when we get to part 2, because clause 11, in particular, gives us the power to modify the existing EU schemes. As I pointed out earlier, the difficulty that both the RPA and Natural England have with these schemes is the dysfunctional nature of the enforcement regime designed by the EU that sits behind them. We have an opportunity to clean that up once we leave the EU.

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My hon. Friend mentioned national organisations such as the RSPB. Does he see a role for local wildlife trusts? There are 47 up and down the country, including the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, which currently not only manages 100 wildlife reserves but works closely with farmers to help them manage their land, and would, I think, like to work more closely with more farmers.

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Absolutely. I am a huge supporter of the work of the wildlife trusts; we have one in Cornwall that does some good work. They often have local knowledge and very good working relationships with farmers because they are less of a campaigning organisation and more on the ground. There could well be a role for them. The purpose of clause 2(5) is to make provision for us to be able to engage some of those third sector organisations, and even independent agronomists farmers trust, so that we can design tailored local schemes.

Although the amendment is not pertinent here, I will briefly touch on clause 2(4) because it is a linked issue. It gives us the power to give financial assistance to an organisation that would administer a scheme directly. To be clear about the type of thing we have in mind, because it is a similar provision, the national parks have said that they would quite like to run a scheme for their members and administer the financing of that by delegating it down. There are some good examples, such as the Dartmoor hill project, where we have that kind of landscape-scale working around organisations such as national parks.

Local enterprise partnerships have expressed an interest in being involved in the administration of productivity grants. We want to have the option to subcontract some of that work, where it is appropriate, to bodies such as local enterprise partnerships or national parks. Again, that could assist in ensuring that these schemes run smoothly.

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Can the Minister rule out management consultants, accountancy firms or generalist companies such as Carillion from administering any such scheme?

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That is not our intention at all. Anyone who knows me knows that I am not a big fan of management consultants. I often come across very talented local agronomists who really understand the landscape and the soil type. If we set them free and gave them the opportunity to work in partnership with farmers, the schemes would work far more smoothly than in the central, bureaucratised system that we have now.

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The Minister is asking us to believe that a scheme will administer substantial amounts of public money and will be run by some very impressive and worthy organisations—LEPs, national park authorities and the RSPB. Can he point to any other area of public policy or significant Government spending where that kind of approach is permitted?

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It is permitted now. The Soil Association can authorise organic farmers, and there are a number of other accreditation bodies.

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They are not spending £3 billion.

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If someone is accredited as a member of the Soil Association, they are able to claim a top-up to their basic payments scheme. So, yes, there are areas. In terms of clause 2(5), there is already precedent for that in the way that the EU schemes operate—EU regulations create the power for that to happen. We think it is a good model. Engaging people such as the Soil Association in some schemes could be really powerful.

Likewise, if we are to move to a system where we may want to pay farmers who sign up to something like an RSPCA-assured scheme or another scheme, it is important that we have a legal basis to be able to recognise those schemes. They will have to be UKAS accredited—we must have confidence in those schemes. UKAS has existed for many years. The last Labour Government introduced UKAS-accredited schemes in many areas. It is a successful model.

On that basis, I hope I have been able to reassure hon. Members that our intention in clause 2 is to address a concern that the shadow Minister raised earlier in the debate about how we will administer these schemes. I hope, therefore, that having put down this probing amendment, he will withdraw it.

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We will not push the amendment to a vote. I go back to what the Minister said. Who pays? Agronomists do not come cheap. I have a love for the Soil Association, which is down the road from me in Bristol, and for the RSPB, and I am a member of the Wildlife Trusts—I suppose I should have said that some time ago. They are very good organisations and they do very worthy work, but we are shoehorning them into the process. If this is the advisory role, with the best will in the world they will need to be paid for that. We could say, “Okay, we are taking the basic payment away, and we have therefore got something of the order of £2 billion to play with,” but that money will go very quickly when farmers sitting round the table are talking to the people in question. They will be charged quite large sums of money to get the environmental land management contracts together in order to get their earned recognition.

I ask the Minister to think a little bit. Yes, there is good practice out there—of course there is; but that is good practice working within an existing, well-known and well-regulated scheme. What we are considering is going into the unknown. I ask the Minister to dwell on the thought that we need a pilot operation. We need to know that the Soil Association is willing and able to take the role on. It is additional to what the association undertakes at the moment. It deals with farmers who come to it, who get a sum of money to become organic. The proposal before us is really asking it to be part of the regulatory regime. It might not be a regulator as I would normally see it, being in more of an advisory role. Will the Minister commit to doing some pilot work, so that we know how things will work in practice?

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If the concern is that we would not pilot, and that we are just going to make a leap of faith on this, I can give an absolute reassurance that we will not. There will be pilots, obviously. Using some of the third sector organisations in the way we envisage will obviously require them to have the capacity to do it. Organisations such as the RSPCA and LEAF—Linking Environment And Farming—run existing accreditation schemes and have commercial wings set up to help to do that. We would not be making a big departure, in a way, from what already exists; but it would be on a different scale, potentially.

Also, what is proposed could be part of the mix. It does not have to be the entire thing. It could be an option to be used in some areas, particularly where there were more holistic accreditation schemes; but, alongside that, other components of the scheme might be administered in a more conventional way.

Most farmers already have to spend a fortune on land agents to fill out EU forms and pieces of paper, and bits of mapping and RLE1 forms, and whatever other nonsense is required under the current system, in order to get any payment at all. So the vast majority of them already have to pay land agents to do a lot of work, and the feedback that I get from farmers is that they would far rather work with an agronomist to get things right than have to pay someone to fill out paper endlessly.

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I hear what the Minister says. That is a wonderful world. I am not sure whether it quite exists, the way I see it. I have talked to some land agents who are sceptical about whether their income-earning possibilities on the land are anything to really keep them there. There is a lot more money to be made in urban activity, so I urge some caution there.

To return to what the hon. Member for Ludlow said, it is interesting to consider the proposal working, but at the moment the countryside stewardship scheme is under a big cloud. LEAF is suffering at the moment because farmers are not coming forward. It will be a big job for the Government to convince them, so that they are willing to go through the process. Otherwise some will say, “We will just try to make money out of what we have always done”—which is farming. Whether they will or not is another matter. Obviously some sectors will do well and others less well.

Again, I shall be interested. At least we have an assurance from the Minister that there will be pilots. I hope that he will discuss them with us and make them accessible, so that we can see exactly what is going on. However, there are question marks. I shall not press the matter to a vote, but the Government need to think about which organisations should be involved, how those on the land are to be encouraged to go through those organisations, and who will pay.

It will be very expensive, at least in the early days, because it is going into the unknown. We are ditching the EU regulation and coming up with a new regulatory framework, but it is not there now, and it will involve an awful lot of people working together to make it possible. With that proviso, and a request that the Government will come back to us to explain how the proposal will work in practice, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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I beg to move amendment 85, in clause 2, page 2, line 35, at end insert—

“(6A) The Secretary of State must set targets for the reduction of waste food and food products and must by regulations require recipients of financial assistance under section 1 to take steps to avoid and reduce waste of food and food products.”

This amendment would require the Secretary of State to set targets for reducing food waste and to make regulations requiring recipients of financial assistance to avoid and reduce food waste.

This amendment is a bit more substantive. It addresses how serious the Government are about reducing food waste, which we would argue is a real problem in terms of recycling and waste removal. Ideally, everyone would support FareShare and food would be redistributed so that we did not have to talk about food waste. Certainly, organic food waste should never be burned or put into landfill. Either people should not create the problem in the first place or they should find other ways to dispose of the waste.

The Minister has spoken a lot about the food strategy. We now know that it is coming, although not quite as quickly as some of us would have wanted it to. It would have been very helpful if it had come in advance of the Bill so that we knew where agriculture fitted into the food strategy. Will food waste be in the food strategy, or will it be left in limbo?

We need to commit to some targets for the reduction of food waste. That may sound somewhat tangential to the Bill, but at the end of the day, as we argued on Tuesday, if the Bill does not cover food—particularly food that is not wanted—it is a very strange Bill. We should be thinking about food waste. It relates to climate change and to all our waste regulations, so it should be central. Indeed, we interpret UN sustainable development goal 12.3 as saying that it should be central to how the Government are thinking. They signed up to the sustainable development goals, so how will we put them into practice? Will the Minister recognise that food waste should play some part in the Bill?

The waste hierarchy, which the previous Labour Government created but which this Government have signed up to, is about how this all fits into what really happens on the ground. It is to do with livestock feed, anaerobic digestion, composting, conversion to biofuel and, as a last resort, landfill. Sadly, as I say, too much organic waste is burned, which is a terrible waste.

It is all about how the Bill will fit into the wider food chain. We have not really discussed that, but it is important. The Government should get the food strategy in place first; then we would have a much easier role in scrutinising the Agriculture Bill. I am keen to look at some of the work done by Sustain, which the Minister will know is a very credible non-governmental organisation. It has done a lot of work on the problem.

We need a much more robust approach and create a level playing field between all the different elements—business, Government, local authorities and consumers. We need to ensure that we create food sustainably and do not create food that we do not need or, if we do, that it goes to people who need it. At the moment, it just gets taken off supermarket shelves and disposed of. The amendment is about making the legislation much more user-friendly and much more about the real world. It is also about putting in some legal targets, and making them legally enforceable and sustaining them.

In their feedback to “Health and Harmony”, the Government have made some good noises. As we identified on Tuesday, they have said that the food strategy will be pretty important alongside the Environment Bill, this Bill and, dare I say, the Fishing (Access to Territorial Waters) Bill, all of which we hope will be enacted; otherwise, we will have no legislation to move forward with post Brexit.

All these things really matter, but unless we put them in the Bill, given that so much will be down to the powers of the Government, the Government will be able to do them or not do them. That is why the amendment is so important. Partly its purpose is to start a debate, but it is also important in terms of the way in which this needs to be laid out. The Government need to make their real intentions clear to all parties. I make no apology for saying that this is an important issue; it may not necessarily be as important as the regulatory framework or powers and duties, but we need to know the Government’s intentions for food waste with respect to the Bill. I hope that the Minister will give us some clarity on the Government’s thinking and on whether future legislation might have food waste reduction embedded in it. If not, let us embed it in the Bill.

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Order. There are two ways of doing this, so let us establish a precedent now and then follow it. The Minister may respond now before I call Back Benchers or, if he prefers, I can call the Back Benchers first and he can then respond to the entire debate.

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I will come in at the end.

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We welcome a method of incentivising farmers to do the right thing—I would argue that that is the thrust of the Bill—but it is entirely proper to include conditions for the receipt of any financial support. Otherwise, how can that incentive be effective?

Amendment 85 on waste food fits very well with our amendment 50 on greenhouse gas emissions, which was rejected on Tuesday. Methane is 23 times more potent a greenhouse gas than CO2 and is the biggest contributor to climate change after CO2. By ensuring that we deal with the issue of food waste, the amendment would help to ensure that we meet our climate change goals. There is no sense in targets that do not include methane.

Every part of the food production, consumption and waste stream needs to be part of any effective solution. If we do not include production in our food waste reduction strategy, it will not be effective. A strategy that includes targets and regulations to ensure that the incentives—the carrots—go to the right people at the right time is one that the hon. Member for Gordon will appreciate.

The reduction of food waste will help people to think more carefully about the food that they eat and therefore to move towards foods of higher quality and nutritional value. Indeed, in the Which? survey, 71% of people said that they preferred higher-quality food to price reductions. Reducing food waste will help food production in this country because it will produce greater profitability for better-quality foods in the long run. The totality of the funds available for buying food will go towards the production of food that people actually consume, rather than food that is wasted along the way.

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The shadow Minister rather let the cat out of the bag when he said that this issue was somewhat tangential to the Bill. We all subscribe to the idea of reducing food waste and ensuring that the scarce resource and the high-quality food that we have in this country is consumed, rather than being thrown in the bin and contributing to methane production on landfill sites or to the expense of incineration.

I suggest that farmers are probably the people most angry that the food they produce ends up in the bin and not in somebody’s stomach, but the decision whether food is wasted is out of their hands; it is in the hands of the consumers, the supermarkets and the catering industry. How much food in fridges is thrown away because it goes past its sell-by date? How many pensioners in the supermarket will be tempted by a “buy one, get one free” offer, only to find that it gives them more than they can manage to eat?

We probably need to look at the catering and food service industry more closely, but it is not within the scope of the Bill. For example, I was in a hotel in Belfast last week where a marvellous breakfast buffet was laid out; I was there at the beginning of service, but the full range of food would have needed to be available until the end, so a lot of it would have had to be thrown away. Indeed, on Friday I was at a meeting of farmers in my constituency. Some of them had had a pub meal before I arrived, and even they could not eat the large amounts of chips that were put on their plates, so no doubt the leftovers went into the waste stream. Historically, a lot of waste used to go into the animal food chain, but because of mad cow disease, that is now much more controlled. Pig swill is not something that can be used in that way because of disease problems.

While I understand the feelings and the motivation behind the amendment, it should not be in this part of the Bill. Perhaps supermarkets could do more than they have so far with respect to what they call “ugly vegetables”. How often has a strangely shaped carrot been thrown away rather than put on the shelves because it is not of the right specifications? Indeed, we could go to the EU and talk about straight bananas and cucumbers, which was something that was often covered in the media during the referendum campaigns.

We also need to consider what waste actually is. A lot of the so-called agricultural waste—stock feed potatoes or stock feed carrots—can actually be used as a viable feed, so reducing waste per se is not always the way to go. I hope that the Opposition will understand that, while everybody agrees with what they want to achieve, this amendment is not the way to do it.

A part of the Bill that does not need amending relates to grants that could be made available to farmers for improving their storage. Farmers get very annoyed about the deterioration of crops in storage—particularly potatoes—over winter. The very best storage conditions mean that more of a crop can be marketed the following year. The Bill already includes provisions for capital grants for farmers to improve that situation. I hope that the hon. Member for Stroud understands that, although we can get behind what he says, this is not the right place to do it.

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I am chair of the all-party group on food waste. I will speak to the amendment briefly because I hope to table amendments to the provisions on data and transparency in the supply chain. That is probably the most important angle for tackling food waste because, as other hon. Members have said, in most cases farmers are not really responsible for the amount of wasted food. There is far too much focus on household food waste, and many people in the food supply chain have a vested interest in making it all about whether people throw out their salads or know what to do with their leftovers. In some ways, that lets people in the food supply chain off the hook.

A reason why farmers are forced to waste so much food to the extent that occurs on farms is that it is rejected by supermarkets. Although the Groceries Code Adjudicator has gone some way to addressing that, supermarkets now use spurious cosmetic reasons to reject fruit and veg. Vegetables might be accepted on one day and rejected on another. That is simply to do with the logistics of supermarket sales and the quantities that they need. We need to tighten up the Groceries Code Adjudicator, but we will come to that later in the Bill.

I put two questions about the amendment to the Minister. If food waste were a country, it would have the third-largest carbon emissions in the world, after China and the US. Clearly, from that point of view, food waste is a significant issue. There are measures in the Bill to support farmers who reduce their carbon footprint, and I wonder how the Minister sees food waste fitting in to that?

Measuring food waste on farms can be quite difficult, particularly when a lot of it is ploughed back into the land—would that be classed as wasted? Is using food waste for anaerobic digestion considered a waste or a good use? Farmers using food waste is a good thing—I have been to farms in Somerset where they use waste from local cider mills and bread factories for anaerobic digestion; that is absolutely fine—but how do we address the increasing amount of land being used to grow crops for anaerobic digestion? Fields should be used to grow crops for people to eat, but there is a prevalence of maize being grown for AD. I am not sure where that fits into the Bill, but I want to see farmers rewarded for doing the right thing with food waste, given what I said about it not being their fault. How can we do that while we also incentivise them to grow crops for AD?

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The amendment deals with an incredibly important issue. As the hon. Member for Bristol East said, if we want to feed a growing population and tackle issues such as climate change, doing all we can to bear down on and reduce food waste is essential. I remember being at an OECD event where there was discussion around some of the African countries that have big problems with a lack of chill chain distribution, which can really affect food waste in their countries. It is a very important issue and I am going to explain what the Government are doing about it, but I hope that the shadow Minister will understand that I do not think the Bill is the right place to address it.

The UK is already leading the way in the EU and internationally on food waste. Food waste in the UK reduced by 14% per person between 2007 and 2015. We have seen a 19% reduction per person in the amount of food thrown away that could have been eaten. There have been some important changes. Food labels used to give the advice “freeze on day of purchase”, which made no sense and meant that people threw away food that could have been frozen instead. There has been a growing and better understanding of the difference between use by dates and best before dates, which means that people are willing to eat food that goes past its best before date because it is still perfectly good to eat.

At the Conservative conference, the Secretary of State announced a new pilot scheme aimed at reducing food waste further from retail and manufacturing, backed by a £15-million fund. The scheme will be developed over the coming months in collaboration with businesses and charities and will launch in 2019-20.

As hon. Members will know, the Waste and Resources Action Programme works closely with DEFRA. The Institute of Grocery Distribution also does some very good work in this area. Working with them, we have published a food waste reduction road map, which lays out ambitious milestones for food waste measurement that will be vital in achieving national policy objectives and targets on food waste reduction, including Courtauld 2025 and sustainable development goal 12.3. The Courtauld commitment, launched by WRAP and supported by DEFRA in 2016, is a commitment out to 2025 to see an ambitious reduction of 20% per capita in food and drink waste in the UK. The target already exists—it was set in 2016 by WRAP—and, as I have explained, we have made good progress already in the last 10 years.

Because we take the issue so seriously, further initiatives will be included in DEFRA’s forthcoming resources and waste strategy, which will be published later this year. The hon. Member for Stroud asked whether the food strategy will cover this issue. I can reassure him that before we get to the publication of the food strategy, we will have the publication of the resources and waste strategy, which will include a great deal of consideration of the issue of food waste.

Apart from the fact that the amendment is unnecessary because these important issues are being picked up through other Government initiatives, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby pointed out, there is a problem in requiring the recipients of financial assistance to take steps to avoid food waste and the waste of food products. Food waste is often out of the hands of farmers. In evidence, George Dunn of the Tenant Farmers Association gave an example of a lettuce grower who had grown a crop in good faith, had cut the crop and was ready to sell it, and then the purchaser changed their mind at the last minute. He was left with a perishable good for which he had no market.

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The Minister reminded me of my carrot production—we grow them. It is not a carrot factory; we do not make them in a machine. If carrots get carrot fly or another disease, they have to be ploughed back in. If someone grows broccoli, they will grow various stages of broccoli, and some of those stages of broccoli will have to be ploughed back in. That is a decision the farmer makes—it is not because the supermarket rejects it. The food industry is a very advanced industry and for 30 years, we have been making use of the by-products. Putting this point in the Bill underestimates the fact that, particularly in vegetable farming, we grow a whole programme of vegetables and we may plough some back in. It is a by-product; it is not waste.

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My hon. Friend makes an important point. I was going to turn to waste in the primary production area later.

To finish the point about contracts and fair dealing, we will deal with that at a later stage in the Bill and debate it. We will try to address some of the problems in the supply chain where perfectly good food goes to waste because it has the wrong label or a purchaser has changed their mind at the eleventh hour. There is a limit to what farmers can do to control such food waste in the supply chain. That leaves us with the question: where could they control waste? The answer, of course, is at the primary production stage.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Gordon pointed out, if a farmer grows carrots and has the great misfortune to get carrot fly, there is already quite a financial penalty without then having somebody come along and say, “Now we are going to take all of your financial assistance away as well, because you have had a problem with your crop and there is some waste.”

As some Members know, I worked in the farming industry for 10 years before going into politics. We used to grow winter cauliflowers in Cornwall. We used to pray for frost in Kent to kill the cauliflowers there and hope that we did not get frost in Cornwall. However, there were times when we had severe weather in Cornwall that devastated the crop, and we would have to rotavate the cauliflowers into the ground and plough them in. The financial penalty was considerable. I can assure hon. Members we never wanted that to happen, but occasionally it does.

Nevertheless, we have commissioned WRAP to do a study of waste rates in primary production. It will report on that later this year. The area is complex, as I said, because of the weather, pests and disease, which tend to be the main contributors to the waste, but WRAP is looking into that.

I hope I have reassured the hon. Member for Stroud that the Government take the issue incredibly seriously. We have made some progress in the past decade. We have targets already out until 2025, and we will publish an updated resources and waste strategy that will include food waste later this year.

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We will not press the amendment to a vote, so the Minister can breathe a sigh of relief. However, there are some reasons why we have identified the issue of waste here. If we do not identify it here, where do we identify it? Perhaps in time there might be a food strategy, which is a more appropriate place to put it, but it needs to be legislated on.

The Courtauld commitment is voluntary, so there is no real traction from Government. The problem is significant. It is estimated that 10% to 60% of production—equivalent to £0.8 billion—is on-farm food waste. It might get ploughed back into the ground, which might benefit soil nutrition and so on, but one hopes to see the food that we grow on people’s plates, otherwise it is not a good use of farmers’ time and it does not meet the consumer demand for the availability of plentiful food. There is a lot of work to be done in this area and we make no apology for saying that we will come back to it, whether that is in debates on this Bill or not. We will push for a food strategy, because we believe it is right for the Government to have one, and it must include a strong section on food waste. Without more ado, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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I beg to move amendment 99, in clause 2, page 2, line 38, after “given” insert

“, provided that the information is collected and processed in accordance with the relevant data protection legislation.

(7A) For the purposes of this subsection ‘relevant data protection legislation’ means Regulation (EU) of the European Parliament and of the Council (General Data Protection Regulation) and the Data Protection Act 2018.”

This amendment would make it explicit that any regulations must comply with data protection principles.

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With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment 100, in clause 2, page 2, line 42, at end insert—

“(8A) Information specified under subsection (8) must be proportionate and limited to protect the interests of the individuals and businesses concerned.”

This amendment would ensure that no more information is published about recipients of financial assistance than is absolutely necessary in the circumstances.

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This will be quick. The amendment is about transparency and data protection. Of course, farming systems are currently entirely within the domain of the EU. It would be interesting to hear what the Minister has to say about what the new regime will look like, what data protection principles will be in place, what those who receive payments will be expected to do and what protections they will receive from the methodology that will be in place.

Amendment 100 would insert a new subsection requiring information specified under subsection (8) to be

“proportionate and limited to protect the interests of the individuals and businesses concerned.”

The NFU in particular wants to test that to ensure that farmers are not subjected to additional requirements and are assured that, if and when they partake in the schemes the Minister wants them to partake in, they will have additional protection in terms of the general data principles.

In some respects, the amendments just look at how the General Data Protection Regulation applies to the Bill. I am asking the Minister to say that it applies, but that it will not in any way be a more onerous set of tests, and that those who have to provide information about what moneys they receive can do so in the knowledge that that information will not always be made available to everyone and that its provision will not undermine their business. Will the Minister say something about that? Again, we will not necessarily press the amendment to a vote at this stage, but it is important that we know the Government’s position.

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We seek to roll over a power and a practice that exists under the common agricultural policy. As many hon. Members know, there is already complete transparency about the recipients of payments under the CAP. That information is already publicly available, and there may be such information that we want to continue to publish. The public would not understand if we continued to make public payments but a veil of secrecy suddenly surrounded them.

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Will the Minister publish data for the devolved nations, too? A number of cross-border farms will be required to provide information.

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I think this function relates to England, but it is underpinned by the GDPR and the Data Protection Act 2018, so there will be similar provisions for Wales. Perhaps I can clarify that later. If someone has the wherewithal to read schedule 3, I think they will find that it contains similar powers for Wales. I am sure I will be able to clarify that before I finish speaking.

I reassure the hon. Member for Stroud that the GDPR will apply. In response to that European directive, the UK Government passed the Data Protection Act 2018, which implemented the requirements of the GDPR. Under that Act, it is already the case that we would need to demonstrate when laying the statutory instrument that established powers to publish such data that its publication was necessary and proportionate. The requirements of the Data Protection Act will apply as they do now to the data we publish under the common agricultural policy. Amendment 99 is therefore unnecessary.

To publish any data at all, we would need the legal power to do so, but before we could pass the statutory instrument and publish such data, we would need to demonstrate that its publication complied with the Data Protection Act, which implements the GDPR. I reassure the hon. Gentleman that any data we publish will be fully compliant with the requirements of the Data Protection Act 2018.

Amendment 100 is a linked amendment—as I said, it asks that any data published should be proportionate and limited to protect the interests of individuals and the businesses concerned. Under the GDPR and the Data Protection Act that implemented it, there is a requirement to use data in a way that is adequate, relevant and limited to only that which is necessary. As the Committee knows, we publish data on beneficiaries of money under the rural development and direct payments schemes. We publish online the names of those who receive more than €1,250. Those who receive less than that have a de minimis exemption—they are published but their name is replaced with a code. This is a power—I was right—to publish in England, and similar powers are in the Welsh schedule.

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A similar power is contained in the Northern Ireland schedule. What is the position with regard to Scotland for the chains crossing the border?

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Scotland has no plan for its future agricultural policy. It will be for Scotland to ask us to add a schedule on its behalf or to bring forward its own legislation. A point was raised on Tuesday in a discussion on clause 1 whether we will make available details of how much money had been spent on delivering certain purposes. The answer is that, as well as publishing the recipients of support, this power would also enable us to publish the purposes and the broad intention of what we are delivering with that power.

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Representing a constituency in the north-east, I am mindful of the situation of businesses and farms that cross the Scottish border. Will the Minister help the Committee to understand what would happen if Scotland failed to ask for a schedule or do anything between now and exit day? What would be the situation of support for farmers in Scotland in those circumstances?

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Scotland has one of three options: it can bring forward its own primary legislation or it could add a schedule. Its content could range from something similar to what Wales has done, which is a full suite of powers, or it could take the approach of Northern Ireland, which is broadly the powers to roll-over the existing scheme and make modifications but not to make changes beyond that. Finally, it could pass legislation or ask us to add a schedule that gave it the power to continue to make payments but nothing else—not even to modify. There is a range of options, but Scotland needs to do something and have primary legislation or its power to make payments will fall down at the end of 2020.

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To be absolutely clear, is there any legal framework in the EU (Withdrawal) Act that would cover Scotland to carry on make payments beyond a date? Would there have to be primary legislation?

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Yes, that is correct. We may be straying into an issue that I will explain in more detail later under Government new clause 3. Although the basic payment scheme regulations come across through retained EU law, there is a natural sunset clause on the financial ceiling—the payment powers underneath it. Unless an amendment is put down to extend the financial ceiling, that power falls away. That is not addressed in the EU (Withdrawal) Act. At the very least, a single clause is needed to create a financial ceiling beyond 2020.

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The Minister will accept that Scotland Ministers and Scottish Government officials dispute that fact and say that there is no problem at all with making payments after those dates, and that that will not be affected by this Bill.

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That is what the Minister said. I am not sure that that position is shared by Scottish Government officials. It is a recognition that yes, they could bring forward some primary legislation, but they would need something. It could be quite a simple clause along the lines of what we will propose later, but they would need something in order to have the power to make payments.

We have strayed slightly from the purpose of the amendment, as is often the case when we discuss such issues. In conclusion, I want to reassure the hon. Member for Stroud that we shall seek to use the powers in a proportionate way, as we are legally bound to anyway under the Data Protection Act 2018. On that basis, I hope he withdraws the amendment.

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On that basis, I am happy to beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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

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I am satisfied personally that matters arising in stand part have been debated adequately during the course of the morning. However, we are taking this with new clause 10, tabled in the name of the Opposition, so I would be grateful if hon. Members confined their remarks to the new clause. We are also considering:

New clause 10—Annual assessment of funding for purposes

“(1) The Secretary of State must report on funding for each purpose listed in section 1.

(2) A report under subsection (1) must be made for each financial year and must be laid before both Houses of Parliament no later than 31 October in the financial year following the financial year to which the report relates.

(3) The first report shall be made by 31 October 2019 and shall relate to funding in the 2018-19 financial year.

(4) A report under this section must record, on the basis of best data available—

(a) the total sum of funding allocated to each purpose in section 1,

(b) the source of any element of funding under subparagraph (a) which comes from public funds, and

(c) the sums from each source under subparagraph (b).

(5) The Secretary of State must include in each report under this section—

(a) a statement of their opinion on whether any sum recorded under subsection (4) is sufficient to meet their policy objectives in relation to each purpose; and

(b) a statement of the Secretary of State’s intentions if, in their opinion, a sum recorded under subsection (4) was not sufficient to meet their policy objectives in relation to a purpose.

(6) For the purposes of this section, “funding” includes any payment, grant, loan or guarantee.”

This new clause would require the Secretary of State to report annually on the funding allocated to each of the purposes of the Bill, on its sufficiency to meet policy objectives and on the Secretary of State’s intentions if in their opinion funding for any purpose was not sufficient.

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We have made good progress on an important clause, but we now come to one of the central points of the Bill: where is the money? When will the money be paid and over what period?

The Government are clear that the commitment to fund agriculture in its existing form will remain in place until 2022, or whenever the general election comes, when things may change. The scheme starts only in 2021, so there is a dislocation, which will be important. No Government can fetter their successor, but they can—this is what our new clause seeks to do—put in place a mechanism so that any successor Government know what is implied on how the money should be forthcoming. That is an important part of the Bill. Alongside our argument about powers requiring duties —we lost that one, but we might revisit it—the financial arrangements are crucial. I make no apology for saying that we shall spend a little time on this.

Interestingly, there is unanimity among all the organisations, whether farming ones or green groups, that they want new clause 10. They want a clear mechanism in the Bill so that, whatever happens after 2022, or before that, when the new arrangement comes into place, there is an understanding that future Governments know exactly what is required of them. That is important.

The Minister probably has his 1947 Act in front of him on his table—look how long that lasted, and it was cross-party. There was no attempt to interfere with the 1947 Act. The Conservatives agreed when they came back in 1950 or 1951 that they would continue on the basis of that farm system payment. We are asking the same and we expect this piece of legislation to last 60 years. That might be ambitious, but if we get it right, that is the period we are talking about.

We know and support the direction of travel, but we want to know how it will be funded in due course in terms of a mechanism. That is crucial to the industry. It needs to know the longer-term requirements for food production, forestry, heritage and landscape. They will change dramatically over the next 60 years as they have done over the past 60 years. We hope they will change for the better because we would argue that we have done enormous damage. The problem is that the Bill is silent and has no mechanism.

Those of us who went to the lobby last Tuesday saw many organisations—there are too many logos on my bit of paper to fit any more on there—but they are as one in support of new clause 10. I hope the Government treat it with enormous seriousness. If they are not willing to accept it, there will be a lot of disappointed organisations and I would argue that the Bill will lack its central tenet, which is, as always, where and how the finance will be locked into place.

The new clause is about certainty and the predictability of the Bill. There is a degree of understanding that no Government can say how much money there will be and where it will come from, but we can have a mechanism to be reviewed every year. The Government could then say: “There will be money available to do all the wonderful things we have all signed up to.” That is why it is so important. Although the new clause is being debated early, it has to be debated at considerable length.

We ask the Government to consider the new clause very seriously. They have obviously been lobbied by all those different organisations, which effectively are the countryside—no organisation would not sign up to it. NC10 sets a duty on future Governments to report annually on how much money has been spent to meet the policy objectives set out in the purposes of clause 1(1), and whether this was sufficient to meet these objectives. Again, we support this important direction of travel, but it must say how it will work, which is entirely dependent on where the money comes from. There must be a mechanism in place to say how it will operate in future. No, we cannot say what money, but we can say how any future Government goes about trying to report on what the money should be available for and where it should go.

Greener UK, an interesting amalgam that spent a lot of time talking to the Government, is largely very pleased with the Bill, but pointed to an independent assessment commissioned in 2017 that estimated the minimum costs of the environmental land management commitments at £2.3 billion. That is down on the current £3.2 billion, but it is the minimum—the baseline. Some of us would argue that it must be higher than that, at least at the current level, certainly in the early days because we do not know how it will work.

If the Minister does not accept the approach set out in new clause 10, what approach will the Government take given that they have won over a lot of the green organisations on the basis that this is what could and should be happening? It is about making a commitment. As I say, a Government cannot commit to money future Governments will spend, but they can commit to the mechanism. We ask the Government to look very closely at the new clause and hope they listen to us and all those organisations.

I could tell the Committee of countless organisations—I will not because we are short of time and I would rather finish before the 1 o’clock break. The Minister has received the same words. I hope they meant something and that he is willing to respond. Otherwise, there will be an awful lot of very disappointed organisations.

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The organisations to which my hon. Friend refers are probably the same organisations the Minister mentioned. If they are willing to be held to account to ensure that this is done well, it makes sense to us that the Government ought similarly to be willing to have that security and accountability as we implement the scheme.

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My hon. Friend is right. Again, that is the basis on which this Bill has been brought forward. There has been a degree of consensus—we have tabled probing amendments that have not necessarily gone with that consensus, but at this stage there is unanimity. The organisations want to know what the mechanism will be and want it in the Bill. Otherwise, it is all just promises. I am afraid the Government will have to listen and either accept the new clause or come up with a better alternative. We will be listening very carefully, presumably this afternoon, to what they say. Otherwise, it will be impossible to believe that the Government can deliver on their commitments.

Ordered,

That the debate be now adjourned.—(Iain Stewart)

Adjourned till this day at Two o’clock.

Agriculture Bill (Eighth sitting)

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairs: † Sir Roger Gale, Phil Wilson

† Antoniazzi, Tonia (Gower) (Lab)

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

† Chapman, Jenny (Darlington) (Lab)

† Clark, Colin (Gordon) (Con)

† Davies, Chris (Brecon and Radnorshire) (Con)

† Debbonaire, Thangam (Bristol West) (Lab)

† Drew, Dr David (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op)

† Dunne, Mr Philip (Ludlow) (Con)

† Eustice, George (Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

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

† Harrison, Trudy (Copeland) (Con)

† Hoare, Simon (North Dorset) (Con)

† Huddleston, Nigel (Mid Worcestershire) (Con)

† Lake, Ben (Ceredigion) (PC)

† McCarthy, Kerry (Bristol East) (Lab)

† Martin, Sandy (Ipswich) (Lab)

† Stewart, Iain (Milton Keynes South) (Con)

† Tracey, Craig (North Warwickshire) (Con)

† Whitfield, Martin (East Lothian) (Lab)

Kenneth Fox, Anwen Rees, Committee Clerks

† attended the Committee

Public Bill Committee

Thursday 1 November 2018

(Afternoon)

[Sir Roger Gale in the Chair]

Agriculture Bill

Clause 2

Financial assistance: forms, conditions, delegation and publication of information

Question (this day) again proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

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I remind the Committee that with this we are considering new clause 10—Annual assessment of funding for purposes—

“(1) The Secretary of State must report on funding for each purpose listed in section 1.

(2) A report under subsection (1) must be made for each financial year and must be laid before both Houses of Parliament no later than 31 October in the financial year following the financial year to which the report relates.

(3) The first report shall be made by 31 October 2019 and shall relate to funding in the 2018-19 financial year.

(4) A report under this section must record, on the basis of best data available—

(a) the total sum of funding allocated to each purpose in section 1,

(b) the source of any element of funding under subparagraph (a) which comes from public funds, and

(c) the sums from each source under subparagraph (b).

(5) The Secretary of State must include in each report under this section—

(a) a statement of their opinion on whether any sum recorded under subsection (4) is sufficient to meet their policy objectives in relation to each purpose; and

(b) a statement of the Secretary of State’s intentions if, in their opinion, a sum recorded under subsection (4) was not sufficient to meet their policy objectives in relation to a purpose.

(6) For the purposes of this section, ‘funding’ includes any payment, grant, loan or guarantee.”

This new clause would require the Secretary of State to report annually on the funding allocated to each of the purposes of the Bill, on its sufficiency to meet policy objectives and on the Secretary of State’s intentions if in their opinion funding for any purpose was not sufficient.

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I turn my attention now to Opposition new clause 10. I recognise that there is a very big issue behind the new clause—funding. We completely understand that. We need to ensure that we have the funding in place to support the purposes we outline in clause 1 in particular. We are absolutely clear about the importance of that. That is why we made a manifesto commitment, which we will honour, to keep the cash totals we spend on agriculture policy the same for the duration of this Parliament—we hope until 2022.

There is also provision in the Bill for a long, seven-year transition. Although we have given no concrete undertaking about the exact quantum of funding after 2022, it is implicit in the Bill and in the nature of the transition that there will be ongoing funding thereafter. We also made a manifesto commitment to introduce new schemes to replace the current common agricultural policy, and that is what the Bill is all about. On 16 October, the Government announced that they will review the intra-UK allocation for domestic support, which will go some way to giving consideration to how we allocate funds within the UK and set the ground rules for allocations after 2022.

At the moment, we spend around £3 billion a year on the CAP. In the scheme of things, compared with the spending of many other Departments, that is a relatively modest sum, particularly if we refocus those resources to delivering public goods—improving the quality of our soils and water, enhancing the beauty of our landscapes, and supporting key Government objectives, such as promoting biodiversity and wildlife on farmland and reducing our climate change emissions to mitigate the impact of climate change.

However, new clause 10 is less about the size of the budget—no doubt we will discuss that later—than about annual reporting on the budget. There are two reasons why it is unnecessary. The first is technical. The new clause would create a legal requirement to list the total funding for each of the purposes outlined in clause 1. As I made clear on Tuesday, the difficulty with that is that many of the interventions we seek will cross multiple purposes. We may have schemes that enhance animal welfare but also the environment, or that enhance the environment but also mitigate the impacts of climate change. It would be difficult to separate those things out and report on the basis of individual purposes.

Strangely enough, it would be far easier to report even more granularly—to report how much money we spent on integrated pest management schemes, catchment-sensitive farming schemes or schemes to enhance farmland birds or pollinators, for instance. We would probably be able to extract that information from individual agreements and aggregate it for reporting purposes far more readily than we would be able to pigeonhole expenditure within the purposes outlined in clause 1.

The second reason—the hon. Member for Stroud may have forgotten this, but he was in the House at the time—is that the last Labour Government introduced the Government Resources and Accounts Act 2000, under which the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs already has a statutory duty to present an annual report and accounts to Parliament, detailing all our expenditure. These days that includes quite a comprehensive list, as well as reporting of the Department’s priorities and how it is delivering, for example, on its business plan.

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Is it not also the case that hon. Members who might have an interest in such things may table parliamentary questions and need not wait for the publication of an annual report?

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That is absolutely the case, as my right hon. Friend points out. We have scrutiny by the National Audit Office, the Environmental Audit Committee and the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, for example, and I always enjoy the many parliamentary questions I receive on every piece of detail about DEFRA’s spending priorities.

A statutory requirement to do annual reporting on DEFRA is in place already. However, this is an important point, so at a later stage of the Bill—perhaps on Report—I might be willing to explain to the House in a bit more detail what information we would envisage publishing as part of our requirements under the Government Resources and Accounts Act. In a world in which we want transparency about how we spend money in this area and what it is delivering, it may well be possible for us to decide to adopt a convention on the particular format of these annual accounts. I am more than happy to return to the House on Report to say a little more about that. On that basis, I hope the hon. Gentleman will not press new clause 10.

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That is all very interesting, and I largely concur with what the Minister says. The academic Steven Lukes, in his wonderful little book “Power”, always draws a distinction between the “power to” and “power over”. The problem with Government and that piece of legislation in 2000 is that it was all about how Government decide to report and to defray their financial considerations. To me, this is “power to”; it is a more consultative arrangement—there is a need to have a reporting mechanism whereby the Government say what they intend to spend.

That is nothing new, and it is exactly what happens every year under the CAP, which has a mechanism whereby the Council of Ministers signs off the budget, which is then reported to not only Parliament but all the farming organisations. The reality of that is that the farmers are either well pleased or start burning their tyres. That is where we are with agricultural politics, which is big on the continent, if not so big here, because our farmer organisations tend to work through the system. That, however, is the point: they are asking for a system to be put in place.

Farmers are very worried that if such a mechanism is not in place, a future Government of whatever colour or persuasion could, in effect, just say, “Well, there isn’t enough money, so we’re making large cuts, including to all these wonderful schemes that we’ve talked about.” The Minister is very lucid about how all these different organisations could be brought in, but it will not make a jot of difference if there is not any money to run the schemes.

In a sense, the new clause would protect any organisation or any person who clearly wants to obtain funding through the system available. It would give them some security, and all people are asking for is security and certainty. Although we shall not have a vote on the new clause at this stage, I hope that the Minister will reflect on it. It will come back in the Lords, but it is always nice if we can do things in the Commons.

There needs to be some mechanism to say not what the money is but how it will be defrayed. That is important under the CAP, where we had not just pillar 1 but pillar 2. For some of us in rural areas, that pillar 2 money was very important. There is security in knowing in what ways we can go on to make future plans. Otherwise we are subject to the whim of the Government. As has been pointed out before, an urban-centred Government might decide they did not want to farm the country, but wanted to use it for all sorts of other things. I would not want that, and neither, I am sure, would anyone on the Committee. However, it is the danger.

At least there could be a requirement to go on the record and state what was to be spent and how it was intended to keep the different provisions going. We shall not press the matter to a vote at this stage, but we shall keep the right to return to the matter for a vote at an appropriate time.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 2 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

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I suspect that most Members understand the process, but to refresh memories, if anyone is thinking, “Hang on, why are we not voting on new clause 10,” the answer is that we vote on all new clauses right at the end of the Committee’s proceedings. That is where new clauses are taken. Where amendments are grouped—I should like to be able to say, “By the skill of the Chairman,” but actually it is through the skill of the Clerks—some of them, which occur later in the Bill, are taken at that point in the Bill. The fact that something is not voted on now does not necessarily mean it will not be voted on at all. That is not in my gift. It is in the gift of those on the two Front Benches.

Clause 3

Financial assistance: checking, enforcing and monitoring

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I beg to move amendment 101, in clause 3, page 3, line 25, leave out subsection (h).

It is disproportionate to create criminal offences for failing to meet the rules of a financial assistance scheme. There are no specific offences for breach of the current CAP scheme rules. Breaches could be sanctioned through the application of penalties without the need for new criminal offences.

I hope that we shall begin to speed up now, Sir Roger. The amendment relates to the fact that there are certain offences in connection with the Bill. It is more of a probing amendment than one that we intend to press to a vote, and its purpose is to consider the mechanism and methodology by which the Government, through their Ministers, will decide whether funding has been used inappropriately. There is a question as to whether it is proportionate for Ministers to have the power to create a criminal offence for breaching a financial assistance scheme. That is quite an onerous responsibility on the Government.

Under the common agricultural policy there are currently regulations about obstruction of people who come to do inspections, and failure to give appropriate information. Is it intended that the Bill should include such provisions, or are the Government approaching the matter differently? As the Minister said in a previous debate, the Rural Payments Agency and, indeed, trading standards can operate in a quite draconian way when they feel there has been malpractice. Will the powers in question continue? In tabling an amendment that enables us to debate omitting the creation of offences, we are trying to identify the answers to those questions.

Obstruction might also happen in the case of someone from the Environment Agency, for example, who wanted to go on to a farm or holding, and who was prevented from carrying out their work. A number of us in the Committee will have had experiences of that happening—landowners barring the Environment Agency in the belief that it intended to do inappropriate work. We want clarity as to whether the approach under the Bill will be the existing one or a different one.

Clause 3(2)(h) gives the Secretary of State the power to create offences in relation to breach of the rules of the financial assistance scheme. There is a view that that may be disproportionate. As always, the matter is subject to interpretation, and one person’s breach is another’s poor practice, and not necessarily deliberate. Will the Minister give some clarity on paragraph (h) and on some of the repercussions if it goes through as it is?

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I echo what the hon. Gentleman said from the Opposition Front Bench. Some farmers and others involved in the management of land have been a little worried that there may be new offences for which very large penalties would be incurred through the money not being made available for support. Having said that, I understand that elsewhere in the European Union over the years, we have had some egregious criminal offences, and the system has been milked by those with criminal intent. We need to be sure that we are not talking about that here in the UK.

For example, in Spain and across a number of southern European countries, the EU ruled that any olive trees planted after 1998 were not eligible for support. The subsidy was based on the amount of olives delivered to the mills, but there was no way of testing those olives to know when trees were planted. That resulted in 40 million new olive trees being planted in 2001 alone, and the widespread criminalisation of the system. Between 1985 and 1998, only 6% of the money that had been unfairly claimed was recovered. That example shows how, when a system is out of control, it can be open to widespread fraud.

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Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that where such widespread criminal activity takes place, it would be appropriate for it to be dealt with through existing criminal law or for new criminal law to be created? It would not be appropriate for it to be adjudicated by the Secretary of State in the same way that the Minister said that regulations should be done through existing law.

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That is precisely the point I was coming to. The European Union instructed OLAF, its own anti-fraud body, to look at that sort of thing. Even this year, in Slovakia, journalist Ján Kuciak was murdered along with his fiancée after he exposed widespread fraud involving the Italian mafia, Slovak business and politicians in Slovakia. That resulted in the fall of that Government, so widespread was that fraud. We have seen similar problems in Bulgaria, where, rather surprisingly, a farmer wanting to get agricultural support must first register to pay health and pension insurance, so the very smallest farmers, who we would want to help in this country, do not get help in that country.

If we have that type of fraud in this country, even though there has been no evidence and no cases of widespread manipulation and fraud in the system, there is already criminal and environmental law under which farmers could be prosecuted. The worry among many farmers—I hope the Minister will reassure us and perhaps even clarify this on Report—is that this could be an opportunity to create lots of new criminal offences and punitive financial penalties for farmers who are trying their best. The Minister mentioned the farmer who accidently ploughed an extra 20 cm on his headland margin. Indeed, when I spoke to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, I was told that if my daughter rode her pony on the field margin strip, that would be against the rules and, therefore, that we could have been penalised.

We have no similar cases of widespread fraud in the UK. This type of offence is already covered by existing anti-fraud or environmental legislation. There is some worry that trivial offences or mistakes could be penalised and that farmers could be unnecessarily criminalised. I hope that the Minister will give us some reassurance that that is not the intention of clause 3(2)(h), and that he will give further clarification to ensure that some future Government could not use the clause in a way that was not intended.

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I will not detain the Committee for long. I endorse the comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby. I note that the hon. Member for Stroud does not intend to press the amendment at this stage, but it is important to reflect on the spirit of what my hon. Friend the Minister said in this morning’s debate when he outlined the Government’s intent in devising the new schemes: they are intended to be less onerous on the recipients of financial support than the schemes that they replace under the CAP.

In the same spirit, I hope my hon. Friend the Minister will be able to enlighten the Committee that this power to create offences is designed primarily not to create a mass of further offences that would allow people to be criminalised if they made inadvertent errors in the receipt of their financial assistance, but to—as I understand it—replicate existing Government powers. Anything he can do to reassure us that there will not be an extension of the kind we have described will be very helpful.

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I think there are two things that taxpayers would presume to be inherent to this, and which they would require. First, the hon. Member for Stroud alluded to the need for transparency and to know that moneys being provided by the Exchequer through DEFRA to support any public good or food production scheme are being spent wisely. There must be public confidence in this, and I go back to a point I made in Tuesday’s debates: in the increasingly urbanised country we live in, which is less interested in rural life, it is imperative that the public know that, just as we insist on transparency, fairness and rectitude in, for example, the welfare system or other things.

The balance that I detect, certainly from my right hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby and my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow, and which I echo, is that while we must have these powers to allow public confidence to set in, be fostered and flourish, we must also have proportionality and discretion. It would be frankly bonkers to trot somebody off to the magistrates court, the Crown court or indeed the High Court over somebody’s daughter riding a pony on a bit of set-aside, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby has said, or other such small things.

We need within the Bill—I think it is referred to in other subsections of the clause—the discretion to say, “Right, we have overpaid you for that, or you haven’t done this in-year, so we will roll over,” and so on, which provides the transparency and accountability.

However, we must remember that a lot of our farms and farmers are small businesses, where people do not have time and space to go off and instruct a solicitor, get their defence ready and take those two or three days off to go to court—only to find that the court hearing has been adjourned because the judge is not available or the chief usher has a heavy head cold. In many of our smaller courts, which are also constrained in terms of manpower, there is a huge delay in the delivery of justice.

I hope my hon. Friend the Minister will reflect on what I appreciate are often competing demands, namely for transparency and discretion. The heavy hand can often fall on, “Let’s go really big on the criminal stuff,” and we have a pretty crowded statute book at the moment. I think that is why lawyers are able to charge so much money, because there is a hell of a lot of reading involved even in making a case for a minor or small point.

Let us not overcrowd the statute book with statute law and criminal offences if we do not need to. We should ensure that the robustness is there, as in those other clauses, but I urge my hon. Friend the Minister—not today, but either in the other place or on Report—to reflect on the considered and informed remarks of my right hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby and my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow, and on my small and amateurish contribution.

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I confess that when the Bill was drafted that particular bit about creating offences jumped out at me too, and I discussed it at some length with our legal advisers and officials. I can confirm that we seek only to replicate powers that already exist.

The Common Agricultural Policy (Control and Enforcement, Cross-Compliance, Scrutiny of Transactions and Appeals) Regulations 2014 already provide for offences, and there has always been the ability to provide for criminal offences under EU regulation and the enforcement regulations, which are in secondary legislation.

The idea was always that those offences could include such things as intentional obstruction, the deliberate failure to give required assistance or information or knowingly to provide false or misleading information. I reassure the Committee that, during the time we have had those powers, the RPA has never brought criminal sanctions. It has never needed to, because other interventions have been sufficient.

A number of important points have been made, and I listened carefully to those raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby and my hon. Friends the Members for Ludlow and for North Dorset. The hon. Member for Ipswich also raised the legitimate point that there is already alternative legislation to deal with fraud. I am grateful to the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Stroud, for not pushing the amendment to a Division today.

Given the representations from my hon. Friends behind me and from others, I am certainly willing further to discuss this issue with Government colleagues, and perhaps to come back to Parliament on Report to give it further consideration. We are clearly going into a changing world and a changing situation, and it might not be necessary to bring across all the sanctions available to us under the CAP scheme. It might be that the many other provisions—including being able to disqualify people from entering schemes in the future, penalties, an ability to recover or withhold moneys and so on—alongside existing criminal powers, are sufficient. We will undertake to look at that.

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On that point, will the Minister clarify, either today or on Report, the status of the power to create offences granted to Welsh Ministers under paragraph 3(2)(h) of schedule 3? Does that also mean amending criminal offences and creating new ones?

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The power to create new offences is in the Welsh schedule. It is a decision for the Welsh Government whether they wish to change that as the Bill progresses. That is clearly a decision for them, and I will not give any indication about what they might do.

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I find it quite strange to be in great sympathy with the hon. Member for Stroud, but, after that direct answer from the Minister, which I thank him for, I urge him to have another look at the clause. We look forward to discussing it on Report. We have concerns.

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I very much look forward to discussing the issue further on Report. As I said, in considering the mood and sentiment of the Committee, I undertake further to discuss the issue with Government colleagues and to report back to the House on Report. I hope that, on that basis, the hon. Member for Stroud will agree to withdraw his amendment and keep his powder dry for another day.

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I certainly agree. A report by the House of Lords Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee identified some concerning inconsistency between clause 16, which contains an extended treatment in respect of monetary penalties, and clause 3, which does not. However, so long as the Minister looks at that, I will withdraw the amendment without further ado. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 3 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 4 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 5

The agricultural transition period for England

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I beg to move amendment 102, in clause 5, page 4, line 41, at end insert—

“(5) The power under subsection (2) includes the power to vary and increase direct payments during the agricultural transition period.”.

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With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment 104, in clause 7, page 5, line 18, at end insert—

“(c) increasing or varying direct payments in relation to England over the whole or part of the agricultural transition period for England.”.

This amendment would ensure that the Secretary of State is empowered to increase payments during the transition period if that is necessary in the circumstances, for example to utilise any unspent monies or to protect the industry from harm.

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Again, I do not intend to delay the Committee for long. There are some concerns—dare I say, on both sides—about whether this is the appropriate way to look at the powers. Greener UK feels that there are some issues with what the provision might mean for the direct payment system. The amendment in effect looks at the ability of the Minister to pause or delay the scheme, as operated. The question is, what happens after the agricultural transition period, because it relates to the end of one scheme—the direct payment one—and the introduction of another, the environmental payment?

Amendment 104 is about how to manage the agricultural transition. If things are not working as we want them to, what do the Government do? Do they pause, extend or even reverse the reduction in the direct payments? We know what the Government intend, which is, come 2021, the percentage reduction in the direct payment. That sounds straightforward, but such things are never as straightforward as they sound. Will the Minister tell us exactly how the scheme will come into operation? It needs to be about certainty and fairness.

The danger of uncertainty for, or the potential removal of important sums of money from, farms that are already struggling could have a very deleterious effect on their ability to continue. That matters because we are, potentially, changing the landscape dramatically. If certain small farms go out of business, tenant farms in particular, that will have a major impact on what our landscape looks like.

I accept that the amendment is probing, but were it adopted some people might worry that we could say, “Okay, let’s just go back to direct payments, delay it a few more years.” On the one hand, we need to know for those who are losing payments what happens if the system does not quite work out, and, on the other hand, we need to see for those who are very inclined to see the changes what confidence they can have in the Government that those changes will happen as they should. There is concern on both sides: one wants the certainty that some payment system will be in place while the other believes that this is the wrong system, which is the reason for supporting the move towards environmental payments. I am interested to hear the Minister’s thoughts.

We are discussing everything to do with delinking the payments, moving from a system in which, in effect, we pay farmers to do what they have done to a system in which we pay farmers and others to do things that we want them to do. It is important for the Minister to identify how that is going to work.

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I oppose this probing amendment for reasons that I shall set out. The shadow Minister made the good point that people want certainty. In the Bill, we have tried to give a clear direction of travel—that is to say, we believe that the end state should be a system in which we reward farmers based on the delivery of public goods, be that animal welfare or higher environmental outcomes, and in which we tackle the causes of low profitability in farming by improving transparency and fairness in the supply chain and making grant support available to farmers to invest in the future.

The difficulty I have with this amendment is that it would largely undermine the purpose of a transition, if the idea is that we would increase direct payments during the transition. If there were a particular problem that meant that a future Government decided they had to pause the transition, it would be open to them under clause 5(2) to extend the transition period. Provided that they brought those regulations in during the transition period, they could extend it for as many years as they liked, and if a future Government so decided, they would have the ability to say that they would not pursue what we have outlined, which is a phasing down of direct payments. It would be open to a future Government, if they deemed it the right thing, to pause that process, extend the transition and slow or halt the rate of decline. That option and that power are already in the Bill.

The issue I have with saying that a future Government could also increase direct payments during that time is that that would effectively undermine the direction of travel we have set out. It would mean that there was less money—potentially no money—to do the pilots we talked about earlier for the new environmental land management scheme that we want to roll out. It would mean that there could be less money, or no money, to make available to support new entrants to the industry or to help farm enterprises to invest for the future.

Of course, in addition to having the power already to pause and slow the taper on the single farm payment and to extend the transition period, later parts of the Bill, which we will come to at a future date, also contain intervention powers. Those are powers, in a severe market disruption, for the Secretary of State to declare exceptional circumstances in the market and intervene directly at that point to provide income support or market stabilisation measures. I believe the Bill strikes the right balance and sets a clear direction of travel, and my objection to this amendment is that it would largely undermine the purpose of the transition period.

If people want certainty, they need the certainty of a seven-year transition, but also an understanding that in all normal circumstances it is the Government’s intention to reach an end state at the end of those seven years. If we introduced the uncertainty that it might all be changed and that we might pay even more via direct payments, people frankly would not know where they stood, and I think that would send a mixed message. I hope that, on that basis, the hon. Member for Stroud will withdraw amendment 102 and not press amendment 104.

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I am happy to do so. Again, these amendments are just teasing out how the process will work in practice. It will be a difficult process; we are, in effect, asking people to change their business orientation completely in a relatively short time. They will have to learn to do very different things. That is why it is important to know, if those things do not work out, what the Government’s response will be. I think the Minister has said what the Government’s intention is. Only time will tell whether it works in practice. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 5 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 6

Power to modify legislation governing the basic payment scheme

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I beg to move amendment 105, in clause 6, page 5, line 6, leave out subsection (2).

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With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment 106, in clause 7, page 6, line 13, leave out subsection (8).

This is unnecessary as it can be done as part of the phasing out under Clause 7, the greening rules can be simplified but the payment itself can continue. If this clause remains then there is nothing to prevent the ceasing of greening payments altogether, even though the explanatory notes suggest that the intention is to remove greening requirements but pay the greening monies as part of the direct payment.

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I should say in passing that there was a Henry VIII power in clause 5 that we allowed to slip through. It is one of the powers that no doubt the House of Lords will have great joy in pointing out to the Government, when and if the Bill gets there.

We are now considering clause 6 and two straightforward amendments, looking at the powers to modify from one system to another. The question is what the clause really adds to the Bill, given that clause 7 tells us that it will phase out direct payments and de-linked payments. One wonders why this power is in there at all and what the Government are doing by keeping the clause there. We would question why clause 6(2) and clause 7(8) are there and whether they are necessary. As the Minister has just said, either we have the strength of our convictions and we are going towards the greening of the farm, food and environmental system, or we will always be thinking that we could go back to a basic payment arrangement if all else fails.

Will the Minister explain what the clause does? The reality is that, if it remains, in extremis there is nothing to stop the Government going away from a greening payments system altogether and looking at other arrangements, as the explanatory notes highlight. Although we question whether the clause adds anything, if it was used inappropriately it could be quite dangerous.

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I am grateful for the opportunity to address why there is a need for this subsection of clause 6. The greening provisions in the CAP, by the admission of the European Commission and the EU auditors, have achieved next to nothing in environmental outcomes.

The genesis of the subsection was the fact that in the last CAP reform voices in the European Parliament pressed for a move away from pillar 1 direct payments and for greater emphasis to be placed on pillar 2 agri-environmental schemes, while the Council of Ministers and member states resisted that and clung to the idea of direct payments. The outcome was a classic EU fudge, which attempted to put greening conditions on to the direct payments in a way that has not been effective.

We have ended up with rather ludicrous rules, such as there being one window in which land must be made fallow for the purposes of the ecological focus area rule and a separate window for the purposes of the three-crop rule. There is all sorts of confusion because people have fallow land and they have to work out whether it is fallow for the purposes of the EFA rule or for the purposes of the three-crop rule.

There are also lots of unintended consequences of the three-crop rule and problems with different species being treated as the same. I remember having a long argument with our officials some years ago about whether a cabbage and a cauliflower were the same or a different species, whether a winter cauliflower was different from a summer cauliflower, and whether spring wheat was different from winter wheat. Our contention is that introducing rules of that sort to the direct payment scheme has ultimately failed, as even the EU admits.

The inclusion of these powers gives us the ability to switch off the greening provisions. As things stand, 30% of the single farm payment is linked to the greening conditions. One of the National Farmers Union’s concerns is that we have a secret plan to remove the greening conditions and take 30% of the single farm payment at the same time. I reassure the NFU that that will not happen, because the way the wiring of the scheme’s funding works means that if we remove the greening requirements, the payments linked to them automatically go back into what is called the national ceiling—the budget allocation—and are reflected in the remainder of the basic payment scheme payments. This will not affect farmers’ payments, but it will enable us to remove a lot of the unnecessary administration and checking around the greening requirements, which have achieved very little.

My point about the clause on the power to modify legislation governing the basic payment scheme, and about many other clauses in this part, is that the transition period will be seven years. The hon. Member for Stroud is right that there is a provision here for us to de-link payments altogether, but there is not an obligation to do that and we may de-link payments in the later years of the transition; we may not de-link payments for the entire period of the transition.

I want farmers to feel early benefits and gains as a result of the fact that, because we are leaving the EU, we will be able to sweep away some of the pointless rules and unnecessary administration, and make the scheme we have work that little bit better. In that way, they will feel a difference from year one of the transition period and will not have to wait all the way to the end of the transition period before we can get rid of some of the legacy of the CAP.

This provision is important for us to be able to tackle some of the inadequacies in the retained scheme for the period that it might last, which could indeed be the full length of the transition period. It is not inevitable that we would use the de-linked payments, but we want the option to be able to do so, because we think that in some circumstances it would be powerful.

I hope I have been able to reassure the hon. Gentleman about the intention and purpose, and the need for us to be able to do this and to have this power. I hope I can also reassure stakeholders such as the NFU, which is concerned about whether it would have a knock-on impact on its members’ payments. It will not.

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I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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I beg to move amendment 76, in clause 6, page 5, line 9, leave out “negative” and insert “affirmative”.

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With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following Government amendments: 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 18, 12, 13 and 14.

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It is a real pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. We have heard so much from my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud this morning and afternoon: I will now give him a break. Part of the reason for that is that my hon. Friend deals with the pure farming and agriculture issues, while I seem to be doing the really boring “techy” and legalistic stuff. [Interruption.] I will try not to make it boring.

However, when it comes to the text of amendment 76—leave out “negative” and insert “affirmative”—I would forgive Committee members for returning to their online shopping or whatever it is they are doing. Nevertheless, this is quite an important issue. It occurs in several places throughout the Bill. We were concerned about it during the passage of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill and we have not stopped being worried about it now.

I notice that the Minister has a series of amendments in the same grouping. I hope that he will confirm that they deal with the concerns that I have raised by tabling amendment 76 and various other amendments to later parts of the Bill; it seems to me that the Government may have taken our point. However, I need to hear the Minister confirm that.

Amendment 76 is to clause 6. As my hon. Friend explained, under clause 6 the Secretary of State would have the power to modify the legislation governing the basic payment scheme. The problem for us is twofold. First, the Secretary of State has that power by regulation. I will expand on these arguments now, because they relate to other parts of the Bill; if I explain them fully this time, that might avert the need to do so on absolutely every occasion when this issue arises. I see that the hon. Member for Gordon is nodding furiously.

The problem is that the Secretary of State is attempting to give himself the power to change the legislation by regulation, but he seeks to do that—as the Bill is currently drafted—through the negative procedure. I will forgive Members for not being entirely au fait with the difference between the negative and the affirmative procedure, although Sir Roger and I served together on the Select Committee on Procedure for about five years. [Interruption.] And the hon. Member for North Dorset serves on it now, so I expect he will know exactly what I am talking about. The Procedure Committee spent a great deal of time bending its head around that matter, but Members can be here for a large number of years and still have no clue what the difference is. In the interest of teaching grannies to suck eggs, I will attempt to explain what the difference is and why it matters.

Members will have heard the power that the Secretary of State wishes to have referred to as “Henry VIII clauses”. That phrase came up a lot during the passage of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018: the Opposition were concerned about the extent of the use of Henry VIII powers. Those powers are not unheard of, but it is very concerning when Bills have so many. We are equally concerned that this Bill contains a large number of those powers. A Henry VIII clause enables Ministers to amend or repeal provisions in an Act of Parliament using secondary legislation that is subject to varying degrees of parliamentary scrutiny. We need to pay particular attention to those clauses, because they enable a law to be changed without what most of us would understand as a normal level of scrutiny in this House. A helpful guide about the use of statutory instruments has been produced by the House of Commons Library, if Members are sufficiently interested: it is factsheet L7—“Statutory Instruments”.

The most important thing to understand is the difference between the negative and the affirmative procedure. The negative procedure is what, in this Bill, the Government say they wish the Secretary of State to be able to use when modifying the law. What happens is this:

“The instrument is laid in draft and cannot be made if the draft is disapproved within 40 days (draft instruments subject to the negative resolution are few and far between)…The instrument is laid after making, subject to annulment if a motion to annul (known as a ‘prayer’) is passed within 40 days.”

Unless something happens—it is usually the Opposition who make that prayer, which nowadays often takes the form of an early-day motion—that change to legislation will happen. That is the negative procedure.

Under the affirmative procedure, however, an instrument cannot become law unless it is approved by both Houses. Should the Secretary of State feel that he needs all these powers—although it is regrettable that he feels he needs them, in the absence of being able to put into the Bill the schemes and schedules that we would like to see—it is far better for them to be exercised according to the affirmative procedure. Under that procedure, the instrument is laid after making, but cannot come into force unless and until it is approved, so there is a far stronger role for Parliament.

When a Bill seeks to confer so much power on the Executive, we as parliamentarians have to be very careful about giving that power away. We would be enabling the Secretary of State to make substantial changes to the measures that we are being asked to agree—and this comes up throughout the Bill, not just in this clause. That is not something we can do lightly. Parliament needs to consider the issue carefully, because we are talking about an awful lot of power in the hands of one individual, subject to precious little scrutiny. That is not something that we can be relaxed about.

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The hon. Lady is making a point that is incredibly important for us all, as parliamentarians. Does she agree that the nub is not whether it is by the positive or negative procedure that these changes could be made, but to have the discretion of Ministers —I appreciate for some that might be a leap of faith—to opine on the scale of the change? Thus, for big changes the affirmative procedure could be used, and for small, housekeeping, tidying-up exercises, the negative could be used. One would not want to go through the whole of the positive SI procedure to change a word or a letter here or there. Might that be a way of addressing the perfectly legitimate concern that she raises?

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The hon. Gentleman makes perfect sense. Our concern, though, is that the changes that Ministers seek the power to make are not small or technical—they are quite significant, and go to the heart of what the Bill is about. For that reason, we are not inclined to allow the issue just to go through unchallenged.

At the time of the withdrawal Act, we were assured that the negative procedure would be used only in such circumstances as the hon. Member for North Dorset describes, but many would agree that with all the SIs, and there will be a lot, there is a danger that Ministers—through a desire to get things done, perhaps, or just to get to the next stage of the process—will overuse that negative procedure. I am sure there is no ill intent here and that they are not trying to do things behind Parliament’s back, but we need to be incredibly cautious about the extent of the power being held by the Secretary of State.

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I ask this sincerely, to try to get to the answer: what I do not know, but the hon. Lady might, is whether we are aware of a trigger, either in the committee chaired by, I think, the Leader of the House or in inter-ministerial discussions, where somebody turns around and says, “No, that is an affirmative; no, that is a negative.” Is it the usual channels who say that? Or is it purely at the discretion of the individual Minister of the Crown charged with the powers in a statute? Is there some offline discussion of, or weighing of the balance of, the argument? I do not know the answer.

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Unfortunately not. In the case we are looking at now, it is laid down in the Bill—well, it is at the moment, but I am optimistic that the Minister will reassure me—that it will be the negative procedure. Most often, when a Minister has these powers, it is specified, alongside where that power lies in the Act, how it should be exercised. I do not know whether that is challengeable later, although I am happy to take advice on that; I am not sure that it is, and I cannot think off the top of my head of any occasions when that has happened.

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The sorts of policies we are talking about have previously been EU policies, and the decision on whether to scrutinise them has been down to the European Scrutiny Committee. However, I cannot think of a single case where the Committee has called one in for debate and it was not all done and dusted and agreed before it even got to this place.

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That is an argument we often hear. The challenge to me is, “Why are you so worried about this now? This was all done in Brussels before.” To an extent, I take that point, but the point of this exercise is that we now, for the first time in a very long time, have the opportunity to develop our own agricultural policy. If we are going to do that, let us do it right. Let us do it really well. Let us ensure that, just because Ministers cannot quite decide exactly what they want to do at this stage—I think that is what underlies a lot of the vagaries of the Bill—we do not give them too many powers or give them those powers in a way that does not enable the fullest scrutiny by Parliament.

These are important issues that are subject to amendment by Ministers, and it would be much better if today we were debating exactly what they intended to do with the powers, rather than which mechanism should apply and whether they should have the powers at all, because what people are really interested in is what will happen. What support will be available? How will it be administered? What is their right to challenge? It would be better for us to be debating that, but insufficient work of that nature seems to have been done as yet. That is a theme that we keep coming back to.

To return to discussing the negative procedure, what happens is that in the House of Commons any Member can table a motion to annul a statutory instrument subject to the negative procedure. That sounds quite open, but in practice such motions are now pretty rarely tabled by any Member. They are generally tabled as early-day motions, and those are motions for which, as we all know, no time has been fixed and, in the vast majority of cases, no time ever becomes available. It is true that a motion tabled by the official Opposition will often be accommodated, although there is no certainty of that, because as we also know the Government essentially control the time in the House of Commons and are able to control, to a very large extent, what we spend our time debating.

We really get only one chance to get this right, because, as we just discussed, what is referred to as the parent Act—in this case, the Agriculture Act, as I hope it will become—is the enabling Act. That indicates which procedure will apply to an SI, so unless anyone knows better than me and thinks that there is an opportunity to challenge that in the future and apply a different procedure, I think that this is our only opportunity to determine whether a negative or an affirmative procedure applies to these powers.

I cannot repeat it often enough that the powers under discussion are not minor. They are significant powers to create offences, as we were just discussing. I feel very uncomfortable about giving a Secretary of State the power to create an offence, determine the appeal procedure and determine fines.

I notice that in relation to the other clause, the Government have said that the affirmative procedure will apply. That does not make it okay; it does not make us relaxed about this. It is still a problem, but at least in that instance the Government have accepted that, at the very least, there should be some availability of scrutiny by Parliament, and, to that extent, it is welcome. But I say again that what ought to be happening here is this: if the Government want to create an offence, they need to say what that offence is and what the consequences of the offence will be. The provision is so vague that it is very difficult to see any Opposition waving it through and not challenging it. I think that after this measure gets to the Lords, it will probably return here pretty much unrecognisable, hence the Minister’s comments, because I think he does take the points that have been made.

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I defer to the hon. Lady’s knowledge of parliamentary process, which is far superior to mine. I have heard many such debates before and I have a lot of sympathy with them, because as Back Benchers, it is really important that we ensure we respect parliamentary scrutiny. However, I am also the kind of person who likes to see speed, and I have also seen a lot of parliamentary scrutiny become parliamentary process that has bogged things down and meant that we have taken much longer to come to a decision that we could have made very quickly. That worries me as well, so does she not think that we have to strike the right balance?

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Absolutely; I completely agree. I have sat through some of these so-called line-by-line considerations, and that can be a very underwhelming experience. The feeling is that the scrutiny of the legislation is—well, where is it? It is just a to-and-fro across the room. But if I may say so, I think that this Committee is doing a reasonable job. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”]

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No self-congratulation there, then.

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We are excellent, aren’t we? We seem to have a Minister who is willing to accept that there are problems with his Bill, and we do not always get that. I hope that this will be a rather better experience than the one that the hon. Member for Mid Worcestershire and I had previously.

In reply to the hon. Gentleman’s point about balancing speed with being thorough, I would say that the Government have had quite a long time to come up with something fuller than this. The Bill is rather empty, and there is lots of detail that could have been included. The Government have had sufficient time to do that, so to turn up and say, “Actually, we just want some powers and we’ll decide what to do with them at a later date,” is not good enough. We will continue to make that point.

Some people get very anxious about the overuse of delegated legislation. I have never been a Minister, and probably never will be, but I understand the attraction of it.

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Cross the Floor!

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I didn’t catch what the hon. Gentleman said. [Laughter.]

I understand that Ministers will want, as the hon. Member for Mid Worcestershire said, the ease to get on with things and not have to bother with troublesome MPs, and subject themselves to hours and hours of process. However, sometimes Parliament needs to say to Ministers, “Sorry, but in the kind of democracy that we have we can’t allow you to proceed in a way that does not allow parliamentary scrutiny.” Some people get very anxious about the overuse of delegated legislation. I used to feel that they were sometimes over-fixating on it, but having looked at the Bill more closely and gone through the withdrawal Act process, I am becoming one of those people who is inclined to worry about the extent to which Ministers are gathering up powers, and how they could be used in future.

This is not just about the current Secretary of State and Minister; it is about the future. I do not think that whether people are urban or not is the point. Governments will have competing priorities in the future, and they will not be the same ones that we have now, but I want to ensure that farming and agriculture are properly supported in a stable way that allows for certainty, long-term planning, greater food security and all the good things that we have discussed.

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I am interested in what the hon. Lady is saying about the affirmative procedure. I wonder whether she thinks that in at least some cases the super-affirmative procedure would be appropriate.

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We need to have a procedure that is appropriate for what we are trying to do. I think the best procedure on this issue would be to put something in the Bill—I do not know how much more super-affirmative we can get than that. We want to see what Ministers will do with the powers. That is all we are asking for. At the moment, the Government are asking us to take a leap of faith, and we are not prepared to do that.

We were told during the passage of the withdrawal Act that statutory instruments will not be used to make policy, but I would argue that that is exactly what they are being used to do in the Bill. Joelle Grogan from the London School of Economics puts it quite well. She said that delegated powers should not be used for policy-making, and that the former Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis), during the withdrawal Act process, explicitly mentioned in the foreword to his White Paper that they will not be used as

“a vehicle for policy changes—but…will give the Government the necessary power to correct or remove the laws that would otherwise not function properly once we have left the EU.”

The measures in the Bill clearly exceed that commitment, which was made by the former Secretary of State as we considered the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. This is serious. We did not really believe that assurance—I think we have been proved right—and I am not inclined to believe the assurances being given now either. Parliament needs to hold the Government to account much better.

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Is not one of the issues that the negative procedure gives very little opportunity for people outside the House to raise concerns with us? A lot of issues we have been able to raise during this process have actually been fed to us by people who know about them and have faced them on the ground.

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That is a good point. If there is any purpose to our being in Committee two days a week for however many weeks is necessary, it is that we want to improve the Bill.

The process we have followed, including our taking evidence, has enabled us to make suggestions, many of which—although not all—came from third-sector organisations, interest groups or the National Farmers Union, for example. We have really gained from their expertise. The Bill will clearly be amended—it will not be the same as it is now by the end of the process—and I genuinely think that we have benefited from that input. Input is welcome, and it ought to be available to the Government if they intend to make substantive changes to any other measures as well.

The only other thing I say to that is that we will come later to amendments that address consultation and how we might better involve other organisations in shaping our future policy. It is important to note that, by using these affirmative or negative procedures, we cut out from the process not only expertise from organisations but most MPs as well. Let us not forget that Members do not just stick their hand up and get on one of those Committees. There are filters that sometimes enable and sometimes prevent Members from exercising the privilege of taking part in the consideration of measures.

There are many reasons to be concerned about the extensive use of regulations to amend the very legislation in which those regulations are contained. I have deep reservations about the overuse of the negative procedure. I hope that the Minister will confirm that his amendments, which are grouped with my amendment 76, have been tabled to address some of those concerns. Although they will not address my concerns about the use of regulations, he might at least assure me that he intends to use the affirmative procedure, rather than the negative.

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I will also speak to a large clutch of Government amendment—amendments 2 to 5, 7, 8 and 12 to 14—in this group. To reassure Committee members, most of them are identical, so I can deal with them quite quickly.

I begin by addressing the points raised by the hon. Member for Darlington regarding her amendment 76. The amendments we have tabled will not achieve exactly what she is trying to achieve with her amendment. However, they will achieve something important, which is to establish that the affirmative procedure will be used if consequential amendments need to be made to primary legislation. I will explain that in more detail later. It is a technical point, but having been on certain Committees, she is clearly familiar with it.

On the hon. Lady’s amendment, we believe that the appropriate procedure under clause 6 is the negative procedure, for a number of reasons. We are not altering any primary legislation; we are modifying a legacy scheme that will expire during the transition period anyway. The clause relates to the exercise of powers to remove certain requirements, simplify the schemes and switch off certain bits that are not working, but that is all in the context of the fact that the schemes will end anyway during the transition period. That is where clause 6 is fundamentally different from clause 3, which is about enforcement powers, checking powers and a scheme that has a long-term future, and that will be dealt with under the affirmative procedure.

Clause 6 is also different from clause 7, which is about powers to modify and change the way payments are made, and more substantive things such as changes to the scale of payments and decisions on de-linking. We recognise that they are a different order of magnitude, which is why we have chosen to make that clause subject to the affirmative procedure. For the powers in clause 6, however, which are simply about modifying and simplifying a legacy scheme, the negative procedure is the appropriate tool.

The hon. Lady asked about comments made during the passage of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 through Parliament that statutory instruments would not be used to make policy. That is true, and I think she has perhaps confused two things. That Act will not use secondary legislation to make policy, but this is not that Act—this will be the Agriculture Act. In common with pretty much every other Act of Parliament, the Bill will create powers to change policy through secondary legislation. We do that all the time. A few months ago, with support from both sides of the House, we introduced new policies and regulations on CCTV in slaughterhouses by an affirmative resolution under the Animal Welfare Act 2006. It is very common to introduce Acts of Parliament that give us powers in secondary legislation to implement policy changes, and the Bill is no different in that regard. As I said, for clause 6, the negative procedure is appropriate.

I turn now to the Government amendments 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 12 and 13, which simply insert a pointer to new subsection (4A) in clause 29. That new subsection is introduced by amendment 14, which is the critical one. It states that regulations that modify primary legislation are now subject to the affirmative procedure. That is a technical issue. Subsection (4A) sets a further constraint on regulation-making powers by requiring the affirmative procedure to be used in cases where the power in clause 29(3)(c) is used as a Henry VIII power to modify primary legislation. We do not believe that that will be needed very often, but let me give hon. Members some examples.

Clause 29(3)(c) extends the powers in the Bill so that, where required, we can make all the necessary provisions when we exercise those powers. Those provisions may cover matters that are consequential, supplementary, incidental or transitional in terms of the main exercise of the powers, or may be savings provisions. For example, if we exercise the power in clause 6(2) to terminate greening payments from a particular scheme year, we may use the savings power in clause 29 to ensure that we can still make any remaining payments to farmers who claimed in the preceding year. It is a narrow, technical point, but if we were to simply strike down the greening payments and there was an outstanding payment, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow pointed out happens quite often, we would need to ensure that we had the savings provisions to be able to tie off the loose ends on those existing payments. There may also be a need to use this power to modify primary legislation—for example, to correct cross-references, although we do not expect that to happen very often either.

The Government are proposing the amendment to enhance parliamentary scrutiny—if we need to use the power in that way—and for reasons I think the hon. Member for Darlington will support. It does not deliver everything that she sought to achieve with amendment 76, because we believe that the negative resolution procedure is the correct one, but it does mean that if any other consequential amendments require changes to primary legislation, the affirmative resolution procedure would kick in. That is what amendment 14 delivers.

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I am not as reassured as I was hoping to be, I am afraid. I was ready to withdraw amendment 76, but I have to disagree with the Minister about the appropriateness of the use of the negative procedure in clause 6. Although he says that it is not really that important and that this is a legacy scheme, we could end up with this legacy scheme for quite a while, and it is very important to the livelihoods of many people. We cannot accept that procedure, and I would like to test the view of the Committee.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Division 6

1 November 2018

The Committee divided:

Ayes: 7
Noes: 10

Question accordingly negatived.

View Details

Amendment made: 2, in clause 6, page 5, line 9, at end insert “(unless section 29(4A) applies)”.—(George Eustice.)

This amendment and Amendments 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 12, 13, 18, 19, 22, 23, 26, 27, 39 and 40 insert pointers into provisions of the Bill which require regulations to be made using the negative resolution procedure. The pointers are to the requirement (as inserted by Amendment 14) to use the affirmative resolution procedure instead, if the regulations make (by virtue of Clause 29(3)(c)) supplementary, incidental, consequential, transitional or saving provision modifying primary legislation.

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

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With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Government new clause 2—Power to reduce the direct payments ceilings for England in 2020 by up to 15%.

Government new clause 3—Power to provide for the continuation of the basic payment scheme beyond 2020.

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I will speak to new clauses 2 and 3, which are largely technical amendments. New clause 2 relates to the ability to have an inter-pillar transfer. It allows us to modify retained EU regulations to provide for a smooth transition from the current direct payments scheme to our future arrangement, in line with our stated plans. We have said that we plan to allocate the money paid in direct payments for 2020 in England in much the same way as we do now. We have also committed to uphold the current level of agricultural funding under pillar 2 until 2020, as part of the transition to new domestic arrangements.

The new clause will allow the UK Government to maintain the direct payments budget in England in line with preceding years. It is modelled on existing powers to reduce the direct payments budget, which allows member states to make a reduction of up to 15% in each year up to 2019. Up to and including 2019, we have chosen to redirect 12% of the overall pillar 1 budget to rural development schemes in England. The direct payments regulation does not allow for a similar reduction in the direct payments budget for 2020, but the new clause will correct that and allow us to make that reduction. Without the new clause, the direct payments budget would increase in 2020, which would not be in line with our stated commitment and would go against our aims for a smooth transition.

Regulations made under new clause 2 will be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. They will affect a large number of recipients and entail a significant spending decision, so we feel it is right that they receive full parliamentary scrutiny. However, our intention is ultimately to maintain the status quo in terms of the current arrangements for inter-pillar transfer.

New clause 3, which is also a technical amendment, will ensure that we are ready for all eventualities. It has been tabled with due concern for providing a smooth transition for farmers from direct payments to the future scheme. As I said, it is our intention to de-link direct payments at some point during the transition period, but first we will stop making payments under the basic payment scheme. In other words, the basic payment scheme will not operate after we have begun making de-linked payments.

Clause 7 provides the powers to de-link payments, either at the start of the transition period in 2021 or part of the way through the transition period. However, the CAP regulations, as retained, do not allow us to make basic payment scheme direct payments beyond 2020. Financial amounts are specified in the annexes only up to and including 2020; to continue making basic payments after that, it is necessary to provide a means to determine a financial amount beyond 2020. New clause 3 does not change our intentions for de-linking, but it gives us the powers that we need to set a national ceiling to enable payments to take place.

The hon. Member for Darlington will be pleased to know that regulations made under new clause 3 will be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. The regulations may specify the method of calculation for a ceiling, rather than an actual financial amount. We have chosen that approach because the regulations will have an effect on a large number of farmers. I beg to move the two new clauses in the name of the Government.

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You cannot move them yet.

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I will move them later.

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We all make slight errors from time to time.

I have some questions for the Minister. I agree that the new clauses look like technical amendments, but I do not quite understand how new clause 2 relates to the Government’s policy document “Health and Harmony”, which sets out very different percentages for the gradual reduction of the basic payment. I presume that the new clause supersedes that document—or does it?

The policy document gives very clear figures for the direct payment bands: a 5% reduction for up to £30,000, a 10% reduction between £30,000 and £50,000, a 20% reduction between £50,000 and £150,000, and a 25% reduction for more than £150,000. That clearly implies that larger holdings would have more than 15%, so I do not understand how that relates to the figure of “up to 15%” in new clause 2. Does the new clause supersede the policy document? If not, what is the status of the policy document? Perhaps the Minister might like to start by answering that point.

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May I intervene to point out the policy context? The UK Government took a decision in 2014, under the powers available to us under EU law, to modulate up to 12%—in other words, to take 12% out of the pillar 1 budget, reducing farmers’ overall BPS payment, and move it into the pillar 2 budget to support agro-environment schemes or the rural development programme. All we seek to achieve with this power is the roll-over of the legal underpinning that supported that modulation rate. Our proposed taper on the basic payment scheme will be on the existing payment; it is a taper on the payment after 12% has been modulated to pillar 2.

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I think I understand that, but I will clearly have to read it back quite carefully, because I am not sure that I totally understand it. I will see if I can get this right: we have taken 12.5% out, which might well have been the pillar 2 moneys, and we are now looking at a scheme, for what remains, that moves from the basic payment, through a de-linked mechanism, to some environmental payments. Is that largely right?

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That is broadly right. Farmers currently receive a BPS payment, which is an allocation from the pillar 1 budget minus the 12% that was moved across in 2014. We reviewed that decision in 2016 and said that we would keep it the same until 2019. All we want is continuity for 2020, and this gives us the legal underpinning that we need to maintain the modulation decision taken in 2014. Any future taper and phasing down of the single farm payment, as outlined here, will be based on the BPS payment that farmers have become accustomed to receiving since 2014.

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I will read this interchange back very carefully to see whether it has been about what I think or whether I have misunderstood. This matters because, at the end of the day, farmers need to plan ahead, and 2021 is not that far in the future. Some farmers will lose a considerable amount of money, which they will have to replenish by moving into the new scheme, which we do not quite have yet.

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Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

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I give way to the right hon. Gentleman, who will help me out.

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The hon. Gentleman will be aware that many farmers have already entered into multi-annual environmental schemes. They need the security that the support will be there for them to deliver the plans they already have.

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That is very helpful. A lot of farmers have obviously entered the countryside stewardship scheme, but a lot of farmers have chosen to come out of it because they are very unhappy with it. We have to put that right very quickly, because if farmers are to have any certainty in the payment system, they have to know that the scheme to which they are applying exists, is capable of doing what they think and rewards them appropriately, otherwise they will feel short-changed.

I see this as largely technical, but again, it is very complicated. We are moving from a scheme that pays farmers for being farmers to not paying them at all. We will pay people—they may not be farmers—to do things with the land. We therefore have to be very clear that they will not be paid anymore for being farmers; the basic payment is going. Yes, there is a taper, as the Minister says, but it rolls through quite quickly. People need to understand that they will no longer be able to do what they were used to doing and be paid for.

We will not vote against this measure, because it is a technical change. However, I ask the Minister to communicate what is involved to as many people as possible. There will be a modulation, and it was never going to be a straightforward process—when I was on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, we struggled to understand exactly how it worked in practice. The Minister will need a proper communication strategy, so people know that, when their money goes, on the one hand, they will have other ways in which to earn it, on the other.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 6, as amended, accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 7

Power to provide for phasing out direct payments and delinked payments

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I beg to move amendment 103, in clause 7, page 5, line 12, leave out “either or both of”.

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With this it will be convenient to discuss Government amendment 91.

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Again, this is fairly technical stuff, but there will be some genuine repercussions if we do not get it right. I spoke previously, and I might say more about it when we get to the next group, about this relationship between the current system and what we are moving towards. It makes eminent sense that the de-linking happens pretty speedily through the transition process. Again, it has to happen in an ordered manner, with the regulations that the Secretary of State may make—we want that to be as clear as possible—fully understood by those upon whom the new system will be imposed.

Our amendment, which would clarify things by leaving out “either or both of”, is probing. The Minister has his own amendment, which will rephrase paragraph (b), but will he explain clearly how he understands the de-linked payments will be introduced in place of the direct payments? How will things operate over time?

The worry is that the new scheme will not necessarily be as accessible as the basic payments scheme. There will understandably be some losers, and the earlier they know that they will have to try to save some of the money, the better. The Government have made a big play of the advice that will be made available, but we still question who that advice will come from and who will pay for it. The more the situation is clarified at this stage, the better it will be for those who are being asked to pay an enormous amount.

The Minister has made a point about lots of people already having environmental schemes, but many do not. Those who have not got those schemes will have to quickly get someone to advise them on how they can fundamentally change their business operation. That is going to test smaller and tenant farmers.

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This debate links to a discussion we had earlier about setting a clear direction during the transition period. I understand that the purpose behind the amendment is to try to tease out a bit more what we have in mind when it comes to the de-linking of payments.

We believe that many farmers—sometimes they are in upland areas, sometimes they are on tenancies; often they are in their 70s, sometimes they are even older—who probably should face the decision to retire should have support in doing so, but it is not always easy for them. Sometimes they will have some residual debt or an overdraft and always be hoping that next year might be the good year that will put them in a better position.

If we want to have a vibrant, profitable farming industry in the future, we think it is right to support new entrants and put in place the right schemes that will help some farmers retire with dignity. We will de-link the payment from the need to farm the land and for it to be connected to the land. There is provision in a separate part of the Bill for us to bundle up several years of payments into one lump sum. Through those measures, that 70-something farmer who probably should retire, or would retire if he felt he was financially able to, may take a lump sum as a voluntary exit package to sort out some of his liabilities, pay off his creditors and take that decision to retire with dignity. In doing that, we will create an opportunity for new entrants who are coming in while, equally, helping to safeguard good retirements for those farmers for whom it is right to step back. That is one of the thoughts behind de-linking.

Also, in the final stages of the transition period it might be the right thing to de-link everyone’s payments from needing to be linked to the land. Through that, people can have complete freedom over what they do with that money, whether they invest it in new equipment, choose to retire or put it into some crisis reserve to give them a buffer. We want to free them up to do that as we prepare for the move to a new system.

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On the point the Minister raised regarding the farmer who might want to retire and take three years’ payments, one question we tried to explore during the evidence sessions was what would happen to the new entrant coming on to that farm, who perhaps for the first two years on that farm would not receive any support, which might make it difficult for him to establish that business.

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I understand my right hon. Friend’s point, but of course we must view all this in the context of a seven-year transition period, at the end of which it is our objective and our vision that there will be no basic payment scheme as it is known today. What we would envisage happening in those scenarios is that we would free up land for new entrants to come in, who would get used to working in a different way from the start.

It would be quite possible, for instance, to prioritise the roll-out of a new scheme to those new entrants coming on to land that had been exited and was no longer eligible for the BPS payment. I would also envisage that some of those new entrants coming on to that land would also be likely to qualify for the productivity support. We have to see all this in the context of the fact that we do not want a single farm payment to be carrying on forever. We have set a clear pathway to move to a different approach over a seven-year transition period.

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Is not the situation that the Government envisaged one where, by using this de-linking, some farmers may release themselves from land that they see as being less profitable in the future, take advantage of the de-linking, retain land that is more profitable and then continue to claim for that—in other words, make a profit by reducing their business to shape it for what will make money for them again in the future?

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Broadly speaking, although, as I said, one of our key thoughts behind the concept of de-linking is that it will be a tool to assist people with retirement. Because we do not want multiple systems—a new system emerging, a legacy system and a de-linked system—we have drafted this in such a way that, once someone takes the decision to de-link, it will apply to everyone and we will not have that problem. It will be a bold policy to help to support structural change and give farmers the freedom to invest that money as they deem right.

Government amendment 91 is another technical amendment that simply reflects the way the current direct payment regulations operate. There has been no change to our policy of trying to de-link payments, but the current direct payment regulation only contains financial provisions known as “ceilings” until the end of the 2020 scheme year. Introducing de-linking in 2021 means that ceilings under the direct payments will not be set for 2021. The existing basic payments will therefore automatically end in 2020 and we will not need to terminate such payments. The amendment reflects that. Other than that, the intent is exactly the same as originally drafted, but the amendment makes it clear, crucially, that de-linked payments cannot be made alongside the direct payments under the basic payment scheme, in line with clause 7(3)(b).

This is a technical amendment simply to deal with a similar point to the one I addressed with respect to one of the new clauses, which is that the ceilings expire and we might want to be able to make those de-linked payments based on a direct payment and not necessarily on the old BPS payment. Again, this is a technical issue that has its genesis in the way that EU payment ceilings and budgets are wired. I hope I have given the Committee a good explanation of what we seek to achieve through the amendment.

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I do not think farmers need agronomists; they need lawyers to go through some of this and work out whether they are entitled to various payments. It is a wee bit complicated, but maybe it will all be clearer when it comes out in the wash. As I have said to the Minister, I have always supported a retirement scheme for farmers. For too long, too many people have tried to stay farming when it is really not good for them or for their holdings. I welcome the fact that there is now a mechanism by which they can leave the land, by managing to take the payments over time.

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The mechanism might exist for farmers who have been in farming for a long time and own their own land and want to come out of it, but how will that operate for tenant farmers? Will there be any complications for the relationship between the tenant farmer and landowner?

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That is a very pertinent point. In a sense, we are talking about trying to balance what the state might provide in support payments against the farm business tenancy. For a lot of farmers, trying to make that judgment is going to be quite difficult. One wants people to go out with dignity, and that means that we want them to go out with a sum that they can invest, which may be in other uses of the land or may be to buy themselves a cottage, or more probably, to rent a cottage in view of their impecunious state. These are real personal stories and we have to be careful that we are not just rushing through and making things unduly complicated, so that people do not really understand what they are entitled to.

I understand where the Minister is trying to get to, but I think this will have to be explained in a much more simplistic way, so that people can take advantage of it. There is no point having a de-linking scheme to enable people to leave the land and get new entrants if people do not see that it is appropriate for them, or do not understand it or think that they will lose out financially. My hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich is absolutely right about the farm business tenancies. We need to look at the links and we have to have a debate on some of the Tenant Reform Industry Group recommendations, which sadly do not feature in this legislation. We very strongly think that they should, given that a third of our farms are tenant farms. It is an important part of our farm economy, yet it does not feature in the Bill, which we think is a lacuna.

I worry that there is potential for policy drift here. We start with the de-linking process for one reason, but it ends up doing something that is not intended—it is the law of unintended consequences. I can see people wanting to access the money without necessarily pursuing what we want them to do, which is to improve their land; the danger is that they will take the money and then new entrants will not be able to take over the holding because it is in a poor state.

These are real-life questions, and I worry about some of my tenant farmers. The quality of the farms they are holding is not good due to generations of underinvestment. This is all well and good, and we are potentially paying less money to do the things that we used to pay out to do, yet farmers are expected to make good with other environmental schemes, which is obviously going to be difficult given that they have limited time, and we are expecting them to improve the quality of the land. There is a bit of a question mark against that.

This is a probing amendment. I am sure will we have more definitive things to say in the next stage. The Minister needs to be aware that this debate is fine at one level, but when the schemes get out there and are interpreted by people, there could be some difficulties. I put him on notice that we will look at this again, and I hope he will reflect on some of the things that have been said. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment made: 91, in clause 7, page 5, line 16, leave out paragraph (b) and insert—

“(b) making delinked payments in relation to England with respect to the whole or part of that period (in place of direct payments under the basic payment scheme in relation to England).”—(George Eustice.)

Clause 7(1)(b) enables regulations to introduce delinked payments in place of direct payments under the basic payment scheme for the whole or part of the agricultural transition period for England. This drafting amendment ensures that clause 7(1)(b) works as intended even if those direct payments have terminated otherwise than by virtue of the regulations introducing delinked payments. In that case the regulations would not need to make provision for the termination of those direct payments, as suggested by the current text. They would however be able to revoke the spent legislation about the basic payment scheme.

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I beg to move amendment 107, in clause 7, page 5, line 36, at end insert—

“(e) make provision setting out rules for determining the status in relation to those persons who have received delinked payments where the agricultural transition period has been extended in accordance with section 5(2).”.

This amendment would clarify the status of claimants (in terms of whether they would be entitled to return to receiving direct payment) if the direct payments scheme is extended and therefore creating the possibility (under such regulation) to enable those who have opted to take de/inked payments to return, or otherwise.

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With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment 108, in clause 7, page 6, line 16, at end insert—

“(8A) Regulations under this section must set out explicit timescales for the payment of the direct payments or delinked payments that are due to entitled persons.”.

This amendment would ensure that those entitled to payments received those payments within guaranteed timescales to help ensure certainty of cash flow.

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With your forbearance, Sir Roger, I will link this discussion to the clause stand part debate. They are contingent and, with your agreement, I will talk to clause stand part as well.

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The amendment is really a probing amendment, to consider where we are in relation to setting rules for the de-linking process. The Minister has already talked about that. I have just asked how this will work in practice. It is unclear, at least in my mind; maybe people are ahead of me on that. However, I think there is a need for further work in that regard.

What would happen if the Minister introduced a de-linked payment, but then made use of the powers to extend the transition period in accordance with clause 5(2)? The status of the farmer who has taken a de-linked payment is uncertain—we have identified that. He may be locked out of the system for longer than envisaged. This is really contingent on our previous debate. So, in taking the money—what? They then can use their opportunity on the land? The status of the person will be defined in law, but again it is a matter of how the process works in practice.

Under the CAP, there are payment windows, and—dare I say it?—this is all laid down for those who receive payments for work they have done. So things are not as clear in this new proposal. All of us who have rural constituencies know that the Rural Payments Agency is not very good at making the payments on time, for the right reasons or in the right amounts. So there are some question marks about the extant process and where we are now going to. If anything, it is going to be quite a complicated change. So it is really about whether farmers will be entitled to payments on guaranteed timescales, because again—dare I say it?—we do not have a good history.

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It strikes me as well, of course, that the farmer could take the payment but then his wife could establish a new business, in which case perhaps there would not really be a fundamental change; it was just a mechanism. I wonder if the hon. Gentleman shares my concerns and whether the Minister could comment on that situation.

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This did come up quite a lot on Second Reading. I think my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East had something to say on it, or somebody else referred to succession planning. Farmers could take the money and then another member of the family could decide to carry on with the holding.

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It is an irritant for me that every time farmers have been referred to in this Committee so far—I have not mentioned this so far—they have been referred to as “he”. But the right hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby went an extra stage and said, “The farmer and his wife”—[Laughter.] There is a line. I just think we can do a little bit better than that.

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I stand suitably admonished and we will be hit by the towels later.

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rose

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The right hon. Gentleman can dig himself out of that hole now.

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It is particularly difficult, because as I am down here doing this job, my wife is minding the farm, although I am the one who signs the forms when I make claims, so it is often difficult to distinguish the person who is farming from the person who signs the form—[Interruption.]

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I am not sure whether that helped or hindered. [Laughter.] We will move on.

Amendments 107 and 108 really try to tease out how this process is going to work in practice. I do want to say some things that are effectively for the stand part debate, but they link in directly with the clause. The issue is the way in which this phasing-out of direct payments and the de-linked payments will work. This is the clause that, if you like, executes that, so we need to look at it quite carefully.

A number of important issues arise, some of which have already been identified through the EFRA Committee, where I gather the Minister had quite a difficult time in answering questions about exactly how this process was going to work. It is important that he puts on the record again how he thinks it is going to work.

We are talking about considerable sums of money. If three years’ worth of payments for a reasonably sized holding are wrapped up into one, we are talking about tens of thousands of pounds, so we have to get the accountability of the process right. The average direct payment in 2016 was £20,000, but 10% of recipients received something in the order of £6.5 billion. The bigger landholders have traditionally received quite large sums of money through the single area payment scheme, so the mechanism through which we make that change is very important. Multiplying that over seven years, which is what the transition period will be, we are talking about large sums of money. It would be useful to know that in accepting this use of public money, the Minister can justify the larger sums involved.

As I referred to, the policy statement explains how the tapering down will operate. It would be good to know that there will be some further explanation of what that means for particular holdings. Let us look at some figures from real holdings, rather than the rather abstract figure that we have at the moment. What can those lump sum payments be used for? One can understand a tenant needing to acquire property, or to have sufficient money to pay the rent. Will recipients be limited to some use or reuse of the land, or will they basically have a free choice about what they do with that money? My notes refer to Lib Dem pensions Ministers and Maseratis; I think Steve Webb will always regret having made that point.

I have quite a lot of interesting evidence from the Landworkers Alliance and from the Tenant Farmers Association. Those are the people who represent smaller farmers and new entrants. The Landworkers Alliance is keen to know what that lump sum can be used for, how much flexibility there will be in the purposes outlined in clause 1(1), and whether—dare I say it?—the payments will be linked to the productivity of the farm or farmland. Could farmers, for example, put that money into a community land trust and collectivise those payments? That is an interesting point, because there are those who do not want to farm a holding in isolation, but want to do so on a more collective basis. Is the scheme flexible enough to allow that to take place?

The Tenant Farmers Association has written to me to support the concept of de-linking, because it thinks that farmers should be able to retire. However, although the money is of significant assistance to farmers who wish to retire, the question of what subsequently happens to that money, and any bar on what they can do if they have taken the money, are of keen interest. Those farmers might want to re-invest that money in another holding, or enable another member of the family to take that money and start a new holding. These things matter, because people have to start planning their businesses now. I know that I have stretched the Chair’s patience by moving away from the amendments, but my comments are part of our stand part contribution. We are asking the Minister to spell out in a little more detail what, in practice, these de-linked payments are and are not available for, because people are going to have to plan for that.

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Before we continue, let me make it clear that I am very relaxed about the manner in which stand part debates are conducted. They can be contained within the debate, or they can take place at the end of the debate. I am also clear that Members cannot have both.

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Thank you for the clarity of your guidance, Sir Roger. I rise to speak to clause stand part and to pose some questions to the Minister following the comments of the hon. Member for Stroud. The proposal is very complex and the explanatory notes make it clear that this is a novel system. The concept of de-linking payments is welcome, but because it does not exist at the moment, it is hard for us to get our minds around it, so when the Minister responds, I encourage him to give us as much clarity as he can about the intent of how the de-linking scheme might work.

First, hon. Members have raised several challenges about how the structure of ownership and tenure of land might be affected by such a de-linking payment, which is designed to facilitate the transfer between one generation of a farming family or of a farming business and another. Farming businesses are very diverse, however, as is the nature of all businesses in this country, so it is difficult to assume that they will all fit in a neatly prescribed and, dare I say, bureaucratically designed structure.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby referred to his farming business with his wife. My farming business is in partnership with my wife too, but I was previously a partner with my father. The advantage of a partnership structure is that it allows generations to come in and to retire in the same business. If the scheme is not capable of coping with that kind of structure, it will not apply to several family-run farming businesses. We need clarity about how the scheme will be designed to cope with the business structure.

Secondly, it is unclear to me, although I might not have picked it up in the drafting, whether the de-linking payments will cover the entire transitionary period or just a number of years that are yet to be determined and spelt out through the regulations. Any clarity about whether they are likely to be for a limited number of years or the entire period would be helpful.

Thirdly, it would be helpful to understand whether, when the regulations are proposed, the way the transition payments are reduced over the period will be determined through regulation and fixed, or whether they will be capable of adjustment. If they are adjustable payments, that will not provide the clarity that would help somebody to make a decision about whether to accept the de-linking payment at the beginning of the period, or whenever it is first allowable, because they will not know whether that is the right judgment to make.

Fourthly, if a payment is made in relation to a farming business, does that make the land to which it relates sterile in relation to other payments in future? Does that land become eligible only for public goods payments under the new scheme, or is there flexibility? If a business is sold, and the land is sold to an existing or neighbouring farmer, will that preclude them having any access to the transition payments? Those are my main points and I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say.

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I do not particularly want to address the amendments or the whole de-linking scheme in detail, but we need to bear in mind one or two basic principles. Obviously, if we support the movement to payment for public goods, and a tricky transition, people who have farm businesses that will be involved in that transition need to understand what will happen to them before they get there.

We do not want large numbers of farmers to move out of the business involuntarily. Subsection (7) provides the opportunity for support for somebody who has voluntarily decided to leave the business. However, there is a problem with small farmers in particular, who might have extremely delicate finances. They need to know before they get to the year in which they might find themselves unable to continue financially—indeed, they would need to know three or four years before—whether they are going to get there. They need to know that before deciding whether to take the lump sum payments under subsection (7). If they do not know whether they will be financially viable under the new payments regime more than three years before, that might become a fatal position for them. They might take the payment and go anyway, even though it might turn out that they would have been better off and happier continuing to farm under the new payment for public goods system, rather than the current system.

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To return to a point mentioned in evidence that we have raised a number of times, this is very much a situation where we see scaffolding but nothing underneath it. The problem for the farmers is that they have no certainty about what is coming down the line. We are approaching the transition period very quickly and they need the time to decide.

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I totally agree. Whether or not we can see what will go around the scaffolding might be annoying to us, or it might feed our fears that an awful lot of work will be done without any democratic control or oversight, but it is far more important for those involved in farming to know what will be put on that scaffolding, because they might well be making decisions without knowing.

Subsection (7) is like an offer that those farmers cannot refuse—not because they know that the consequences of refusal will be dire, but because they do not know and will therefore just go for the easy option. We do not want large numbers of smaller farmers to face going out of business or choosing to take payments under subsection (7), leaving the field clear for those with more money and resources and a better understanding of the complicated regime that the Government are thinking of introducing.

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I want to raise one point with the Minister, which I hope he will be able to cover. We have heard already that about a third of the farm land in this country is farmed through tenancies. Indeed, a tenancy is probably the only way that many new applicants can get into the industry, other than marrying into money or winning the lottery. However, there may be situations where taking these payments is attractive to the tenant, but where the landlord is unwilling for that to happen, particularly as the basic payments underwrote the rent in many cases, as we heard in evidence. Indeed, we heard that in many cases the rent was basically dictated by the basic payments.

My question for the Minister is, will the consent of the landlord be required before a tenant can take one of these multi-annual exit schemes? If not, might we then have the landlord looking at the small print of the tenancy agreement and going into the whole dilapidations situation? Many people leaving a tenancy can find clauses requiring the guttering to be painted or the gateposts to be straightened. Often, tenants find that they cannot leave because of the dilapidations. Where the landlord wants a tenant to leave, he will waive the dilapidations, so a lot of these payments might get mopped up by angry landlords demanding dilapidations at the end of tenancies.

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I have a query, which I am sure the Minister will be able to answer easily, relating to the decoupling of cross-border farms. There are many on the Welsh-English border, as there are on the English-Scottish border, that will own land in both England and Wales, or both England and Scotland. I can give many examples of farmers in my constituency who own land in Herefordshire or Shropshire—well, not much of Shropshire, because my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow owns most of Shropshire.

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None in Shropshire.

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None in Shropshire, all in Herefordshire—all in Wales.

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He just owns Wales.

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There are many farmers in Herefordshire and Shropshire who will own land 30, 40 or 50 miles into Wales, so does Minister foresee any difficulty with decoupling in cross-border schemes if both devolved areas end up with different schemes?

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We have had a comprehensive debate, and I want to pick up on some of the points that were made.

The Opposition’s amendment 107 is about making provisions for determining the status of those persons who have received de-linked payments where the agricultural transition period has been extended. That links to the point that I addressed earlier. We are setting a clear course here, and if a decision is made under clause 7 to de-link all payments, as far as we are concerned there will be no turning back at that point. It will be possible, under subsection (1)(a), to continue with the basic payment scheme and make a decision to extend, but if at a later stage of the transition period a decision is taken to de-link all payments, from our point of view it is not possible at that point to turn back, nor would we want to do so. If at that point we decided that we still wanted an old-style subsidy system, the right thing to do would be to pass new primary legislation because that would be a major departure from what we envisage in the Bill.

I was asked about de-linking and about what will happen at the end and whether we will put conditions on what people can spend the payment on. During the transition, we envisage there being a progressive, year-on-year phasing down of the BPS payment. Alongside that, we will roll out new grants for such things as productivity, and we will roll out the new environmental land management scheme.

There is already a huge amount of bureaucracy, inspection and tedious form filling behind the BPS payment. If in year three, four or five the BPS payment is considerably smaller than it is now, farmers will rightly say, “Isn’t this a sledgehammer to crack a nut? Our BPS payment is much smaller, yet we still have this extraordinary inspection regime, we still have to employ agents to fill out all the forms, and we still have to have someone from the Rural Payments Agency come to walk our fields and inspect everything.” At that point, people will rightly ask whether the enforcement architecture surrounding the BPS payment fits the size of the payment, given that it is necessarily being phased out.

That is why our view is that if we de-link the payment we will not attempt to put conditions on that, because it will be a diminishing sum of money anyway towards the latter part of transition. We have not decided when to de-link. That might come later; it could be at the beginning—that is provided for. We would consult on that, but my expectation is that for a period we would phase down the existing BPS payment. A point would then come when, frankly, having all the architecture that we have now to enforce it would cease to be justifiable, and simply de-linking to get the system closed down would be the right thing to do.

The answer to the Landworkers Alliance, the members of which generally complain to me that they are ineligible for the BPS payment at the moment anyway, is that in so far as some of them might be eligible, if they took a de-linked payment they would be able to spend it on anything they wanted, as would any other farm.

A slightly separate provision—although it is linked, and they overlap in some respects—is clause 7(7), which creates a parallel power for us effectively to do what I described earlier: make a rolled-up payment of several years to a farmer who might be deciding to leave the land. We may exercise that whether or not we had de-linked. It will be open to us to run a scheme basically to make an exit payment to farmers, with several years rolled up in one, even if we are proceeding on the basis of clause 7(1)(a)—that is the phase-down. It will also be open to us to do it under subsection (1)(b), but if we were using subsection (1)(b) towards the end of the process to free everyone from the need to have their payment linked to the land, it might be less attractive at that point as an exit package.

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I have some fairly basic questions. Who makes the decision, and is it capped? Lots of farmers might say, “Great—we’ll take the money now. We’ve always wanted to retire.” The average age is somewhere between 60 and 65. Is the figure capped or could, effectively, thousands of farmers decide that now is the time to go?

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Any regulations will be under the affirmative resolution procedure. We will work with industry and others on the precise scheme designs. We will not do it in a hurry. We think there is a great logic to de-linking payments towards the end of the scheme. We also think that having a scheme that supports retirement with dignity and voluntary exit is useful. That is why we have provided for that to be done under subsection 7(7).

I turn to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow, who also asked about the timing of de-linking. The Bill provides for us to de-link at any point during the transition period. As I have said, my expectation is that it would be run under subsection 1(a) in a phasing down of the basic payment scheme in the early years, but we would probably deploy de-linking in the closing stages once we were confident that all the successor policies were in place and we were ready to go for the try line, as it were, and reach the end of that transition. We have the option and the flexibility to do both—to go early or to go late—and that will be determined in future regulations.

My hon. Friend also asked who would be eligible for the new scheme. Again, that could be defined in the regulations. To answer the shadow Minister’s point, if we were worried that every single farmer in the country was going to retire, we could impose some conditionality to ensure that we targeted that option to people over retirement age for whom it made most sense, in order to keep a dynamic flow of new entrants coming into the land.

My hon. Friend and my right hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby raised a concern, which the NFU and the Tenant Farmers Association have also raised, about tenants. There are sometimes agreements—somewhat extraordinarily—that require the tenant to pay their BPS payment direct to the landlord as a condition of their tenancy. One concern is this: if somebody were to take either a lump sum payment or a de-linked payment, would it have to go to the landlord? Under subsection 3(c), we will be able to specify who is entitled to the de-linked payment, and we can specify that it would be a tenant. In so far as there are some tenancy agreements that require the BPS payment to go to the landlord, they would not apply in these situations, since the payments would be in lieu of the BPS payment; they would not be the BPS payment. Therefore, we can design the regulations in such a way as to ensure that the payment goes to the intended recipient.

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I think the Minister has answered the hon. Member for Ludlow well, but the trouble is that that is just the theory. My tenant may suddenly get tens of thousands of pounds. If he has left the farm in a very poor state, he may leave the holding. That is a potential legal minefield, which the Government need to look at. The general view is that rents will decrease after the area payments scheme goes. I was at a farm on Friday, however, and the farmer I spoke to was very clear that once the area payments scheme goes, the landowner will want to put the rents up because they will believe that they are losing out and the tenant could pay more. There are some complications here.

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I would almost say the opposite. If the market is such that a number of people choose to retire and there is no longer the inflationary pressure of a BPS payment driving up rents, rents might decline in some areas. That is not necessarily a bad thing. If rents go down, it is not great for landlords, but it creates opportunities for new entrants to come in with lower overheads and produce food for the country. There is a problem with the BPS scheme, which has inflated rents and made it difficult for entrepreneurs to get on to the land and make a sensible living.

Amendment 108, which was also tabled by the shadow Minister, puts explicit timescales on payments. I understand the frustration of many hon. Members who have had farmers coming to them in recent years and complaining that they have been unable to get the payment. We address the issue in a number of ways. First, under retained EU law, the existing timescales already set out in EU law would come across. I know that farmers will generally take the view that unless they are paid in December their BPS payment is late. In fact, the payment window opens at the beginning of December and closes in June, so there is quite a wide payment window under EU law. That will come across through retained EU law, but we have made some improvements in recent years in terms of getting money to farmers as quickly as possible. Last year more than 90% got to farmers by the end of December.

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Of course, in the past when payments have been delayed, fines have been payable to the European Commission. Under the new scheme, presumably there would be nobody to pay a fine to.

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That is absolutely correct, but the scrutiny of Parliament will demand action. I was going to say that one of the strong features of the Bill is the fact that it gives the Government the power to act to sort out the dysfunctional EU auditing processes that create late payments.

Clause 9 gives us powers to sort out what is called the horizontal regulation. That is the regulation that sets out all the conditions on payment and the plethora of audit requirements, which often duplicate one another and are unnecessary. The primary cause of the problem we had last year in the BPS system was that under EU law we were forced to remap 2 million fields in one go, to try to get their area accurate to four decimal places. If we had not done, that we would have had a fine from the European Commission of more than £100 million, so we had to attempt the exercise. However, it inevitably caused problems on some farms. Many hon. Members will have had farmers reporting to them that fields had disappeared, or, in some cases, their neighbour’s fields had ended up on their holding. That is what happens when we try to remap 2 million fields. We would not have had to do that, had we had the powers to strike down those requirements.

Secondly, the issues we have at the moment with the countryside stewardship scheme are largely due to the fact that the EU, under horizontal regulation, introduced a new requirement that every single agreement must commence on the same date; so whereas we used to spread the burden of administration across the year, with people able to start in any month, everyone had to start in January. That meant a huge pile of application forms coming in at the same time. Our agencies had to employ lots of temps to try to process the work; and we all know what happens if there is a surge of temporary agency workers to process work. There were inevitably errors and problems. Again, we could remove those rather ludicrous requirements that the European Union imposes on us—in that case under clause 11.

I hope that I have been able to provide some further information about how we would intend to use the clause 7 powers, both to de-link and to make lump sum payments available. I hope I have also reassured hon. Members that the answer to the problem of late payments lies in clauses 9 and 11, not in an amendment to clause 7.

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I do not intend to press the amendment to a vote. I just urge the Minister yet again to look at how the measure will work in practice, and really deliberate on ways in which we can at least look at pilot schemes to see how it will work.

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As the Minister has had a very busy day and has overlooked answering my question, I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman—whose constituency is, of course, not far from the border—shares my concerns about cross-border land ownership, and areas where there are devolved Governments, where decoupling could cause a problem.

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We need some lawyers in England, but we will need some multilingual lawyers when it is a matter of England and Wales. That is an absolutely fair point, and perhaps the Minister will want to intervene on me to give clarity—or not, as the case may be.

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I must apologise for missing my hon. Friend’s important point, which links to a number of others that have been made about how we treat cross-border applications. In effect, what we will be doing is putting in place administrative agreements with Wales and the other devolved Administrations to ensure that where we have cross-border farms—we have similar arrangements in place now—we will have an agreement about how to approach these things to make sense of them and to ensure that things are done in a joined-up way.

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Whatever is happening with England and Wales, we have Scotland and Northern Ireland. This is going to be quite a complicated issue. There will be farmers in Northern Ireland who farm on both sides of the border; they will have whatever the common agricultural policy is and whatever the Northern Ireland policy is within the framework of the United Kingdom policy. That will greatly determine what they intend to farm, how they intend to farm and whether they wish to stay in farming.

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Obviously, in the schedule for Wales, de-linking is discussed, but we do not have a schedule for Scotland.

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That is absolutely true, but I am not sure that that helps me.

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I am sure the hon. Gentleman will be aware of the fact that different schemes already operate across the UK in the different jurisdictions, so I am sure that dealing with this is not beyond the wit of man or woman. I am assured by the Minister’s reference to administrative agreements. I am sure that something could be found along those lines to help to sort out the whole issue.

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I am now assured, I think.

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As a member of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, I can say that this is not just a problem in agriculture. There is no devolved Government there and it is very difficult for civil servants to second-guess what might be done, because it has been a long time since decisions were made on which they could base their activities. For those in Scotland, the policy seems to be to stick their fingers in their ears, sing “la la la la” and pretend that it is not going to happen.

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I will not go down that line. The Chairman will be relieved to hear that I am not going to get involved in devolved politics. I think this has been a very useful debate that has been far and wide in scope. It has not really been about the amendments, but the stand part has allowed us to look at some of the possibilities of what will happen—2021 is not very far in the future. People will be doing their planning now, particularly if they have it in mind to leave their holding, and they will need security, certainty and some very good advice on whether that is the right thing to do. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment, but I am grateful for the discretion of the Chair, which has allowed us to get through this issue.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 7, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 8 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 9

General provision connected with payments to farmers and other beneficiaries

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I beg to move amendment 77, in clause 9, page 7, line 10, leave out “negative” and insert “affirmative”.

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With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment 78, in clause 9, page 7, line 10, at end insert—

“(6) Before making regulations modifying legislation under this section, the Secretary of State must consult persons who, in his or her opinion, are representative of the sector to which the regulations will apply, or who may otherwise be affected.”

This amendment would ensure there are checks and balances on the use of Ministerial powers.

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Amendment 77 again raises the issue of the negative and affirmative procedures. I will not test the Committee’s patience by going through all of that again.

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I will resist the temptation of the Whip. If Members look at page 7 of the Bill and see where that is included, they can probably get the gist of what I am trying to achieve with amendment 77. It is worth asking the Government to consider this because clause 9(2)(b) says that the Secretary of State can by regulations make modifications.

To be fair to the Minister, he does attempt to put parameters on what the Secretary of State would be able to do, but he talks about simplifying or modifying the operation of any provision. “Simplifying” and “modifying” are quite subjective terms: what he considers a simplification of a measure, I might consider a drastic change or something that would do harm to those subject to it.

Again, the power in the clause is slightly wider than it ought to be to justify the negative procedure. I would be interested to hear the Minister’s response to that point and whether he might consider, at later stages, amending the “simplifying or improving” terminology to justify his desire for the negative procedure and, if not, whether he might consider making an alteration to allow use of the affirmative procedure.

I come now to amendment 78. What we are trying, in various ways, to do with the Bill is to get some grip on the Government’s intentions and to find ways of influencing what the Government might wish to do with the new powers that they are seeking to gain for themselves. We have tried to do that by asking them to use different procedures. My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud has asked whether the Government might be interested in using piloting, to get greater input into the new powers. It is quite undemocratic and worrying for many of us to see such power being retained by Ministers in the absence of sufficient scrutiny.

Another way in which we think that we might be able to have some oversight, grip and input is through the use of consultation. I tabled this amendment just to find out whether the Government are interested in that approach and whether it is something that they have already decided to do in relation to this clause, although similar arguments could be applied to many of the other clauses, which will have a very direct, severe and long-term impact on those people subject to the measures in the Bill.

We have just been discussing the huge life decisions that farmers will be making after the Bill becomes an Act. It seems to me that there is a need for consultation. When we look at some of the other consultations that the Government take it upon themselves to conduct, we see that there is a very strong argument for requiring the Secretary of State to engage in some sort of consultative process before some of these measures are implemented. I had a look at what kinds of issues the Government think are important enough to consult on at the moment, and it is quite a long list. I found that, this year alone, the Government have launched 774 consultations. That is rather a lot.

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Can the Minister name them all?

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I hope that the Minister can name at least 70 of them, because the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has launched 70 consultations in 2018 so far. They are all on really important things, of course, but I would say that this measure, in clause 9, is as important as some of the things.

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Does my hon. Friend agree that although a general consultation might be done on an area of Government policy, specific consultations about specific regulations can very often achieve far more and elicit very specific objections and reasons for modifying or, indeed, dropping those regulations?

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I think they can. There is no doubt that there are some very poor examples of consultation—consultations undertaken not just by the Government, but by councils and other public bodies—but consultation can also be an incredibly positive thing to do.

I think that I recall Jacqui Smith, a former Member for Redditch, saying, when she was a junior Health Minister, that she feared that consultation was regarded as just a period of time between having an idea and putting it into practice. That is certainly not what we advocate in any way, but as my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich says, if consultation is done correctly—if it is on the right issues and involves the right stakeholders—it can have a very beneficial impact.

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One of the purposes of consultation that is often overlooked, particularly when dealing with industries or sectors, is to allow input into the process of public policy. Failure to allow that input will often lead to judicial review, particularly if businesses or organisations face a significant loss or disadvantage in the marketplace. The power of the courts is often a stimulus for consultation, which is needed so that any Government can have something to rely on and rest their case on.

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I am not sure that I completely understand what the hon. Gentleman is getting at, but where there is a statutory duty to consult, the basis for challenge often rests on how well that consultation took place. To assist public bodies in carrying out consultations, the Cabinet Office has issued guidance on when they are appropriate, who ought to be consulted and how it all ought to be done, which is helpful in addressing that challenge.

My amendment is probing, and I do not necessarily seek to get it into the Bill, but we need to understand the Government’s intended approach to involving sector bodies. The Minister clearly intends to rely on the expertise of various sectors as he goes about implementing the measures in the Bill or—perhaps more accurately—deciding which measures he wishes to implement. He has signalled that there will be a role for third sector organisations in particular. I see that as a very good thing, but we need to better understand how, and on what basis, the Government intend to achieve it. These are not passive bystanders, but people who want to be actively engaged and make a difference to the areas that many of them have spent their whole lives championing.

It is important that we get this right. So far this year, the Government have seen fit to consult on some really important things. To read out a few at random, there has been a very broad consultation on the future of food, farming and the environment, as well as consultations on bovine tuberculosis, on banning third-party sales of pets in England, on air quality and on using cleaner fuels for domestic burning. The measures in clause 9, and indeed elsewhere in the Bill, are equally worthy of engagement with a wider range of voices than seems likely at the moment.

I have therefore tabled a consultation amendment to clause 9 and, I think, to one other clause in the Bill. I chose clause 9 in particular because, as the explanatory notes state, it

“empowers the Secretary of State to make regulations which modify the ‘horizontal basic act’”—

which the Minister has helpfully explained to us—

“as incorporated into domestic law carried forward and modified according to the EU (Withdrawal) Act 2018…in relation to England…The horizontal regulations…include rules on application procedures, calculation of aid and penalties, payment windows and payment recovery. They include rules on checks to be carried out, including databases used to check compliance, audits and farm checks and administrative checks. They also include rules for the implementation of the farm advisory system, calculating the funds for public intervention purchase and the establishment of a single beneficiary website”.

Those are all things on which the sector would like a say, because it will have opinions about them.

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We have already heard from the Minister on numerous occasions about how the Secretary of State will be speaking to various people in various sectors about what is going to happen, but does she agree that we need something statutory? People need to be certain that they will be consulted, when that will be and that they will be consulted on the precise details of the regulations coming in that will affect them, because they are the ones who know most about these sectors.

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I am persuaded by what my hon. Friend says, and he tempts me to insist further upon a duty to consult. I had not intended to do that at this stage, but it might be something that we return to. We need to listen to what the Minister has to say in response.

A lot of the problems rest with “improving”, “simplifying” and “modifying”, because who is to say what those things really mean? It is highly contestable, and challenge could come from a number of quarters. The Minister needs to be far clearer at this stage exactly what he means when he says, “We’ll be talking to—” or, “We’ll be involving—”. It seems very casual and quite loose. It is great that the Minister has good relationships with the sector—that is healthy, and I am in no way critical of it. However, I would like a way of ensuring that that good, healthy relationship can be enjoyed by his successors too. The Bill leaves things far too loose, with the potential for voices outside Government to be ignored entirely. Nowhere does it say that the Secretary of State must do many of the things in the Bill, as we have said at length.

I do not want to insist on that as a way of being burdensome to the Government. I understand that it means an extra process, that there is a cost attached and that it requires time; and, as we have discussed, there is a real desire to get on with this, which I share. However, the Cabinet Office guidance on consultations, which was revised only this year and which is therefore something that the Government have a commitment to more broadly—which is a good thing—says that consultations should

“Give enough information to ensure that those consulted understand the issues and can give informed responses”,

and should

“Include validated impact assessments of the costs and benefits of the options being considered when possible; this might be required where proposals have an impact on business.”

The measures we are discussing absolutely have an impact on business—a very direct and immediate one—so I see no justification for not having a way of ensuring that the needs of those who represent the various sectors can be heard.

The Cabinet Office guidance also says that

“Consultations should last for a proportionate amount of time”—

they do not have to take forever—and that

“Consulting for too long will unnecessarily delay policy development.”

Responses should be published quickly,

“within 12 weeks of the consultation or provide an explanation why this is not possible.”

The consultation continues:

“Where consultation concerns a statutory instrument”

the Government should

“publish responses before or at the same time as the instrument is laid, except in very exceptional circumstances.”

I would like to know what is so exceptional about what the Minister is doing that means it needs to be done so quickly that it leaves no time to undertake some form of consultation. The evidence sessions were great, but that is not the same thing, and the lobbying that is happening is not really adequate and is no replacement for a decent process.

It is slightly different when there is a duty to consult, which is why I am holding back, for the moment, from attempting to persuade the Government that they need to put a duty in the Bill. I wonder whether the Government ought to agree to a duty to consult, and that the Bill ought to say how that consultation should be done. At this stage, this is a probing amendment, but I wonder how aspects of our deliberations might develop, because we might find that there is a stronger desire as the Bill proceeds to hold the Government more firmly to any commitments that they might make.

I checked some legal advice on the duty to consult, because I was mindful of the issues raised by the hon. Member for North Dorset. We need to use these things sparingly, but it may be that it is appropriate in the Bill. That advice says:

“Where the duty to consult is imposed by statute, then the procedure to be adopted is also likely to be prescribed by the legislation.”

If we were to take the path advocated by my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich, we would need to consider exactly how that ought to be conducted. There are principles that need to be applied in the unlikely event that the Government should voluntarily seek to follow that path, although they may find themselves required to do so. The advice goes on:

“The demands of fairness are likely to be higher when the consultation relates to a decision which is likely to deprive someone of an existing benefit.”

It is quite easy to see how the measures in clause 9 could arguably deprive someone of a benefit that they have enjoyed.

It concerns me that the Government are proceeding in a way that lacks detail and is so vague and woolly that it is difficult for people to see exactly what their situation will be after the Bill comes into force. Better engagement and more interaction now could assist the Government in avoiding making unforeseen mistakes, as hinted at in our discussions on the Bill this week.

I think I have made the points I wanted to make at this stage. I will listen to what the Minister has to say. I do not anticipate that I will put amendment 78 to a vote, but I might want to put amendment 77—about the negative and affirmative procedure—to a vote.

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Before we proceed—I am entirely in the Committee’s hands on this—I should say that there may be multiple Divisions on the Budget resolutions. Once a Division is called, I have no power other than to recall the Committee 10 minutes after the last Division. [Hon. Members: “No!”] I think the expression is, “Those who have no stomach for this fight.” There we are. The Government Whip has the opportunity to move the Adjournment motion now or to take his chances, but he cannot move it in the middle of the Minister’s speech.

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I will try to be as brief as possible. Amendment 77 repeats the earlier debate on clause 6, which also proposes a negative resolution. For the same reasons, we believe that a negative resolution is appropriate in this case, because it deals with technical issues and the switching off of certain requirements that currently sit in the scheme to try to improve it, simplify it and remove some of the frustrations that we have at the moment. That should be seen in the context that this is a time-limited scheme anyway, which will expire at the end of the transition.

I note what the hon. Member for Darlington says about the term “simplifying” or “improving”; I know the Lords Committee that looked at this also raised that point. We have not quoted the Agricultural Act 1947 today, but I know many hon. Members like it, so let us look at section 1, which talks about the importance of

“a stable and efficient agricultural industry capable of producing such part of the nation’s food and other agricultural produce”,

as it is deemed “desirable to produce”. Now, if I had drafted a clause along those lines and put it in, everyone would have said, “What does ‘desirable’ mean? What does ‘stable’ mean? What does ‘efficient’ mean?” The truth is that we can have false precision on these things. It is clear what we mean by “simplifying” and “improving”.

We should also view this in the context of subsection (2)(a), which is simply the power to switch off certain provisions altogether. It is very clear in the context of subsection (2) that our preference will be to switch off things altogether where they serve no purpose or we think we can do without them, but where we think they serve some purpose we can simplify and improve them. That is understood.

I should also say that we have to understand that at the moment, the best that Parliament will get on things such as this is an explanatory memorandum, explaining the latest thing that the EU has done to us. Most of these sorts of decisions are made by EU delegated acts. There is literally no democratic input at all on some of those requirements, and often things get made up on the hoof by EU auditors working for the Commission, who create all sorts of new processes that have not been discussed or agreed at any level within the European Union.

This is an approach that I believe is right. To explain the types of things that we want to deal with here, I have to deal as Farming Minister with something called RPA appeals. Every month I get a bundle of cases in my box that are farmers who maybe missed a deadline because something got lost in the post or there was a problem with their application form. The system is hideous; I have spent hundreds and hundreds of hours wrestling with lawyers in our Department to try to find a way of doing what is just and fair and finding in favour of farmers, only to find, all too often, with deep frustration, that EU law does indeed require me to find against them. The system we have in the so-called horizontal regulation is manifestly unjust and unfair, and we must resolve to improve it.

I turn now to the hon. Lady’s amendment 78. She explained her approach in great detail, but let me just say that she rather undermined her own argument by pointing out that DEFRA, without any statutory requirement necessarily to do so, is quite capable of churning out a great many consultations. I can tell her that, more often than not, the conversation I have with our officials is, “Do we really need a consultation on something as small as this?” and the answer is invariably, “Yes, because that is what Cabinet Office guidelines require.”

I do not believe that we need a statutory requirement to have a consultation on this. The only area where we have a statutory requirement for a consultation in the DEFRA field is on issues of food safety, where there is a written statutory requirement always to consult, but that does not stop us consulting. We consult on everything, and if it would give the hon. Lady some reassurance, I can give her an assurance, here on the Floor of the Committee, that we would consult on the changes that we intended to make under clause 9.

I would envisage our having a single strike at improving the system and probably not changing it much beyond that. It is inevitable that we would issue a consultation on all the changes that we would seek to make, and we would try as far as possible to do everything in that one go. It might be the case that there was something we missed and at a later date we might want to do a less formal type of consultation, but I take the opportunity here in this Committee to give the hon. Lady an assurance that we would consult on that first major batch of changes that we would seek to make, but we do not need to be forced to do so by a statutory requirement—as I said, we are quite capable of doing that anyway. I hope on that basis that the hon. Lady will withdraw amendment 77 and we can prepare to adjourn.

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I have listened carefully to what the Minister has said on amendment 78 and I accept, I think, what he is trying to say. I think he has tried to assure the Committee that there will be some kind of process put in place, so I will ponder that. I might return to that, but what he said was very helpful. In the interest of consistency, I feel I need to press amendment 77.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Division 7

1 November 2018

The Committee divided:

Ayes: 7
Noes: 10

Question accordingly negatived.

View Details

Amendment made: 3, in clause 9, page 7, line 10, at end insert “(unless section 29(4A) applies)”.—(George Eustice.)

See the Explanatory Statement for Amendment 2.

Clause 9, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 10

Aid for fruit and vegetable producer organisations

Amendment made: 4, in clause 10, page 7, line 26, at end insert “(unless section 29(4A) applies)”.—(George Eustice.)

See the Explanatory Statement for Amendment 2.

Clause 10, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned. —(Iain Stewart.)

Adjourned till Tuesday 13 November at twenty-five minutes past Nine o’clock.

Written evidence to be reported to the House

AB44 City of London Corporation

AB45 EcoNexus

AB46 British Poultry Council