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Public Bill Committees
20 November 2018

Agriculture Bill (Fourteenth 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

Tuesday 20 November 2018

(Afternoon)

[Sir Roger Gale in the Chair]

Agriculture Bill

New Clause 16

Environmental targets and objectives

“(1) The Secretary of State must, in exercising functions under this Act, take all reasonable steps to—

(a) further the purposes within section 1(1)(a) to (g), and

(b) following a public consultation, bring forward proposals for environmental targets and objectives for the achievement of the purposes in section 1(1)(a) to (g) to secure the maintenance, recovery and restoration of the environment, so that the environment is healthy, resilient and sustainable for the benefit of people and wildlife.”—(Kerry McCarthy.)

This new clause includes a requirement on ministers to introduce specific targets to ensure the bill meets its objectives.

Brought up, read the First time, and Question proposed this day, That the clause be read a Second time.

Question again proposed.

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I remind the Committee that with this we are considering the following:

New clause 17—Primacy of public purposes

“The Secretary of State must ensure the payment of public money delivers primarily the purposes in section 1(1) so that the natural environment is conserved, enhanced and managed for the benefit of present and future generations.”

This new clause is intended to ensure that the list of public purposes set out in Clause 1 are the primary objective for payments under the Bill.

New clause 19—Financial assistance: duty to provide advice

“(1) The Secretary of State must make regulations to secure the provision of training, guidance and advice to persons receiving financial assistance under this Act, for the purpose of enabling those persons to deliver the purpose or purposes for which the financial assistance is given.

(2) Regulations under subsection (1) may include provision for advice on matters which include but are not limited to—

(a) the impact of any practice upon the environment,

(b) business management, including the development of business plans,

(c) the health and welfare of livestock,

(d) the safety and health of workers in any agricultural sector,

(e) innovation, including alternative methods of pest, disease and weed control,

(f) food safety, insofar as it relates to the production of food or any activity in, or in close connection with, an agri-food supply chain,

(g) the operation of any mechanism for applying for, or receiving, financial assistance under this Act,

(h) marketing of any product falling within an agricultural sector under Part 2 of Schedule 1.

(3) Regulations under this section are subject to affirmative resolution procedure.”

This new clause would require the Secretary of State to make provision for training, guidance and advice to be made available to persons receiving financial assistance.

New clause 27—Smallholdings estates: land management

“(1) A smallholdings authority which immediately before the commencement of Part 1 of this Act holds any land for the purposes of smallholdings shall review the authority’s smallholdings estate and shall, before the end of the period of eighteen months beginning with the commencement of Part 1 of this Act, submit to the Secretary of State proposals with respect to the future management of that estate for the purposes of providing—

(a) opportunities for persons to be farmers on their own account;

(b) education or experience in environmental land management practices;

(c) opportunities for increasing public access to the natural environment and understanding of sustainable farming; and

(d) opportunities for innovation in sustainable land management practices.

(2) No land held by a smallholdings authority as a smallholding immediately before commencement of Part 1 of this Act is to be conveyed, transferred, leased or otherwise disposed of otherwise than—

(a) in connection with the purposes listed in subsection (1); and

(b) in accordance with proposals submitted under subsection (1).

(3) For the purposes of this section, ‘smallholdings authority’ has the same meaning as in section 38 of the Agriculture Act 1970.”

This new clause would limit the disposal of smallholdings (‘county farms’) by local authorities and would require local authorities to review their holding and submit proposals for future management to provide opportunities to extend access to farming, education, and innovation.

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Welcome back to the Chair, Sir Roger. I hope that this will be the final session of our deliberations, but anything is possible with this Government. We have already lost one Committee sitting, so let me plough on with new clauses 19 and 27.

The whole point of new clause 19 is that farmers and landowners are being asked to make a dramatic shift in how they perform their duties. I hope that all farmers are to some extent environmentalists—that is why they are on the land and why they care for it—but unless they are among the small minority in stewardship, they have principally been paid for being what they are: farmers or landowners. We are now going to pay them to do environmental things.

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Does the hon. Gentleman recognise the many environmental schemes that are in place? Farmers are already doing quite a lot of this stuff.

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I agree that there have been schemes such as Blue Flag, but the point is that that was not what farmers were principally paid for. Under the Bill, they will principally be paid to look after the environment in whatever way is deemed fit, and they will need an enormous amount of advice. New clause 19 would implement a mechanism for that.

The Committee has already discussed the areas in which farmers might need support. We have certainly discussed the idea of people advising on land management contracts, whether they come in from local government or whether farmers and landowners bring them in and pay for their advice. The difficulty is that this is all rather fluid and open-ended, so the new clause would give it some substance.

As the Minister says, the advice will be given on a one-to-one basis, but who is going to give it? At the moment there are not many people who can give such advice, and they are very expensive. One might have thought that land agents would be interested, but at a recent event I spoke to land agents who made it very clear that rural is not really where the money or—dare I say it?—the interest is, because they have moved much more into the urban sphere. That will no doubt cause some difficulties.

The new clause covers a range of areas in which there is a need for advice. We do not want to talk in an alarmist way, but this is really important. We are asking people to completely change their business organisation over a very short period. How they operate and, in a sense, their whole reason for being on the land will have to change. I am not implying that it will change completely for everyone, but for some people the change will be dramatic.

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Does my hon. Friend agree that if there is no duty to provide advice, there is a danger that smaller farms will be least likely to get the advice they need, since they cannot afford to pay for it? The ones that most need support are the most likely to lose out.

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Exactly. There may be less form filling than under the current arrangement, but it will involve some. It will also certainly involve inspection; otherwise, how can we guarantee that the public moneys are being used appropriately for those public goods?

That is the backcloth. As I say, I do not want to be alarmist but, sadly, as all those who have been involved with the land will know, the suicide rate among farmers and farm workers is very high. The rate is high because it is a very lonely occupation. It is also a very stressful occupation when people are losing money, which they often are. The arrangement will not necessarily solve that, because although it is transitionary they will lose money that in the past they have banked, guaranteeing that they can go forward.

On the suicide rate, we have all lost friends. I have particular regard for Gloucestershire Farming Friends, which my old friend Malcolm Whittaker set up many years ago. There are times when the organisation is inundated with phone calls, particularly when forms have to be filled in and people feel under incredible stress. We must be aware of that. I hope that the Minister will at least say something about what will be put in place, in a much more finite way than perhaps he has been able to so far. What people really want to know is, if they are going to make the changes, how they will be helped to do so.

On new clause 27, the Minister will not be surprised that I am going to say a little about smallholdings. He, like me, thinks that they are a wonderful part of British agriculture. The “Land for Heroes” scheme was put in place after the first world war, and people who had no other occupation were encouraged to take up smallholdings, organised largely, but not entirely, through county councils. Certainly over the past 20 years, we have sadly seen a decline in the smallholdings. They have been sold off, not necessarily in their entirety but in ever greater amounts of land. That matters because it is one of the few ways that younger people—certainly those without the means to buy land, or to rent it at the astronomical rents they are sometimes asked to pay—can get in.

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I fully agree with the hon. Gentleman on many of those points. In fact, my local authority, Powys County Council, is investing in the county farm structure, which is really positive. Is the hon. Gentleman proposing that county councils—national Government, in fact—invest in smallholdings? Does he agree with the shadow Chancellor that we should do away with all private farms and have community farms?

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That would be a very good thing in the sense that we would have much more access to the land. I do talk to the shadow Chancellor from time to time, and he is very keen on the idea that land is available, not by sequestration, but by taking it into public ownership to give people the chance to farm. That is what we are about here. This is very important.

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Following on from the shadow Chancellor’s background, the hon. Gentleman says, “taking farms into public ownership”. I am very interested in that definition.

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I will be very careful. I will reword what I said. The hon. Gentleman will no doubt read what I said when the Official Report is published. I am very clear that there has always been a role for some public ownership of land through local authorities, because that is an avenue by which people can come into farming. It is simply much more difficult—I talk from some experience here. A long time ago, I chaired the county farms estate in Gloucestershire when I was a county councillor. I saw people coming through, desperate to get on the land, and it was always really sad that we had to turn down very good people because never enough holdings became available for the numbers chasing them. Too often, it was not necessarily the farmers themselves but who their partners were that was a vital factor in who got the holdings, which I always thought was grossly unfair. That was the reality of trying to make good what is a difficult operation.

I am merely making the point that we ought to do more to protect county farms and smallholdings. I want to grow them but, at the moment, there should be an embargo on the future sale. The old acre for acre policy was always sensible; somebody sold a bit of land and invested in a new bit of land. The problem is a wholesale reduction of the county farms estate, which precludes many people from coming into farming.

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Does the hon. Gentleman agree that Government legislation must be clear about land ownership? The tenancy market is important; many young farmers get in through a tenancy. The experience in Scotland is that, if there is any doubt cast upon the ownership of land or the right to buy, the tenancy market dries up. Would he agree that the best entry is through tenancies?

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I do not know enough about Scotland, so I will take the hon. Gentleman’s judgment on that. One of the arguments about the Bill and the changes it implies, is that rents will possibly fall. I do not necessarily agree with that, but it has been put to me by more than one person. That is due to the removal of the area payment, which has pushed up rents because people have more value in the land that they possess. We will have to see; it might become apparent only some years down the line.

At the moment, I am clear that we should go back to the Agriculture Act 1970, which put an obligation on local authorities that had land to protect that land and make it available for those who wished to farm or do other things appropriate to the land that would be within the environmental catch-all we are pushing for in the Bill.

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Will the hon. Gentleman give an indication of the size of unit he believes would be viable? Currently, some of the very small smallholdings are not viable businesses.

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That is a problem. Traditionally, the Gloucestershire smallholdings were about 100 acres. I accept that would be very difficult because a great many of them were dairy farms, although we also had some horticulture. That is probably too small. To counterweight that, the Landworkers Alliance argue that they can make a living out of much smaller pieces of land, farmed in a slightly different way, through agroecology and so on, and maybe they would not do that full time. No one is implying that being a farmer has to be a full-time occupation. It is something that people want to do as part of their portfolio of operating.

We need to protect these bits of land initially. I would love to grow them and see local authorities encourage them. That is important, not just for opportunities for people on the land. It is about strategic ownership and the fact that we should always think ahead. If the state is not prepared to put in some effort, where is the direction coming from?

The good thing about county farms estates, as most of them are known, is that they provided education and opportunities for people to look at the front end of farming and see ways in which to do things differently, by collaboration among the tenants and so on. We will come later to tenancy reform but this is all bound up in it. A third of our farmers are tenant farmers and many of them are on land not just owned by local authorities but by charities. In my area there is the Henry Smith charity, which owns considerable areas of land and has been very good. The Church is an important landowner in the way it encourages agriculture.

I am talking here about the county farms estates and I know that the Minister shares my interest. If we do not get the chance to include the measure in the Bill, with local authorities as cash-strapped as they are, there is only one direction they are going. That is, sadly, to sell these holdings, which would mean that is it. Once it has gone, it has gone forever. It cannot be bought back under the current arrangements.

I hope that we can change that, but at least let us look at how to put an embargo on the wholesale sale of these holdings, because we want younger people and new people coming on to the land. Let us give this legislation something it will be remembered for. At the moment we are looking at things that cannot be done, but this is something that we can do in this legislation. I hope that the Minister will say that he is with us, and that he wants these county farm estates to be protected.

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I will start with new clause 16, tabled by the hon. Member for Bristol East, which seeks to add some environmental targets to the Bill. We discussed this topic earlier in the Committee’s deliberations. As I said earlier, the Government have clearly demonstrated our commitment to the environment through the 25-year environment plan. We are currently in the process of developing a detailed indicator framework so that we can accurately measure progress on those important environmental trends. Obviously, we have already consulted on the key element of our agriculture policy, which is to deliver payment for the delivery of public goods, but fundamentally I see this as an issue for the forthcoming environment Bill. We will be publishing a draft of that Bill later this year, which will deal with environmental governance and environmental principles. In the second Session of this Parliament there will be an environment Bill that will include some of these things.

I will address the point that the hon. Member for Bristol East made about whether there is some division between DEFRA and the Treasury.

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Before the Minister gets on to that, nearly a year ago—I think it was December last year—we were dealing with amendments to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, and there was quite a controversial amendment about animal sentience. We were told then that the amendment did not need to go in the Bill because the Government were bringing forward an animal sentience Bill. We do not have an animal sentience Bill; we had a draft one, but that all went haywire. I know that there will definitely be an environment Bill, but how can the Minister reassure us that it will deal with the issue of targets?

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There will definitely be a Bill dealing with animal sentience and sentencing. As I speak, we are considering where we might be able to fit those particular provisions into future legislation.

The hon. Lady asked whether there is a division between DEFRA and the Treasury. There is not. Within Government there are discussions, obviously, and then there is a consensus and an agreement. She kindly offered to protect the Secretary of State through the proposed new clause, but I can assure her that the Secretary of State needs no protecting; he is very good at making his case within Government. We already have some statutory targets through international agreements in areas such as climate change, but we believe that environmental targets and objectives should be picked up through the 25-year environment plan—there were some objectives in that plan—and are fundamentally a matter for the environment Bill. I am sure that she will be very engaged in discussions about that Bill when it comes forward.

I turn to new clause 19, tabled by the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Stroud, which concerns the importance of advice and guidance. The Government agree with him about the importance of advice and guidance, particularly as we roll out a new scheme, but clause 1 is absolutely clear that we can already pay for advice and guidance. Subsection (1) of that clause states:

“The Secretary of State may give financial assistance for or in connection with any of the following”.

The term “in connection with” enables us to make financial assistance available to support advice, and I want to spend a little bit of time explaining what the Government intend to do in this area.

As I touched on during an earlier debate on other clauses, we envision the new environmental land management scheme as effectively a covenant or contract between individual farmers and the Government. We intend to support a system in which farmers would be able to receive advice on the design of an environmental land management contract. That advice might come from an agronomist accredited by a UCAS Government scheme or from one of our employees from Natural England, or a third-party organisation like the Wildlife Trust might develop a cohort of people who could provide that advice. Having worked with the farmer, visited the farm, walked to the farm and not got too obsessed by maps, form-filling and all the rest of it, they can sit around the table with the farmer, help them put together the agreement, and then sign it off with the presumption that it will be supported and paid for.

We want to get back to a system in which there is much more human interaction, and in which trusted agronomists, trusted advisers who are accredited by the Government, and Government officers from agencies such as Natural England work directly with farmers. We do not want everyone to get bogged down in paperwork, form-filling, mapping and having to spend hours on a helpline, only to find that nobody can help them with their query. We have got a great opportunity to redesign the system.

The hon. Member for Stroud said that, as this is a new scheme, there will potentially be challenges in getting farmers used to it. I understand his point, but until a couple of years ago about 70% of farmers were in either an entry-level stewardship or a higher-level stewardship scheme, so by and large they are very familiar with these types of agri-environment schemes. They have run similar schemes previously, so I think they will be able to pick up these schemes and adapt to them.

The other thing we are doing is having a seven-year transition in which we gradually wind down the single farm payment. During that time we will be piloting the new system. That gives us plenty of time to familiarise farmers with the new system, and to perfect the system, so that when we roll it out fully we do not have problems along the way, and to ensure that we have the capacity to give advice in the area to which the hon. Gentleman alludes.

The other point I want to address is about the holistic advice to farmers. We have been looking at projects run by a number of organisations, including the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, which gives a lot of technical advice and has a network of what it calls monitor farms so that it can share good practice and knowledge transfer, and the Prince’s Countryside Fund, which runs very good peer-to-peer support groups to help farmers with their business management and help them address change. It has had some success with that. We are keen to learn from that as we roll out support for farmers. As the hon. Gentleman pointed out, farming can be a very lonely business. I grew up in a farming community, so I am familiar with the issues. There has always been the great tragedy of high levels of suicide in agriculture—usually about 50 a year. That figure has been fairly constant for a number of decades. We want to ensure that, as we go through this period of change, we give farmers all the support we can to help them adjust and move to a new system.

New clause 27 is all about county farms, about which the hon. Member for Stroud and I share a passion. This is the first time today I have been able to mention the 1947 Act. As he is aware, sections 47 onwards and part 4 of the Act established county farms and the right of local authorities to buy them. The new clause looks familiar because, although we often say that this is the first Agriculture Bill since 1947, that is not quite true. It is the first major Agriculture Bill since 1947, but of course there was the Agriculture Act 1970, which rolled forward some of the provisions from the 1947 Act and changed others. It created the requirement for local authorities to submit a plan to the Department and seek our agreement for any consolidation and reorganisation. That was a time-limited power, and I understand that new clause 27 is effectively attempting to replicate it. Earlier this year we laid before Parliament—I have to sign these off every year—the 67th annual smallholdings report, under section 5 of the 1970 Act, so there are still some requirements under that Act.

I want to explain what we intend to do about county farms. My view is that we should create a financial incentive for local authorities to invest in and commit to their county farms in the long term. The idea that I have in mind is to create, under clause 1(2), a fund for investment in county farms that is open to local authorities, subject to their submitting to us a clear plan demonstrating their long-term commitment to their county farm estate. I would like to see more emphasis placed on turning county farms into what might be called incubator holdings, to genuinely support new entrants. At the moment the problem is that once people get on to a county farm, they often get stuck there for 20 or 30 years and do not have the ability to progress.

Our idea is to look at what we can learn from other parts of the economy where there are, for instance, innovation centres offering mentoring for setting up new businesses; where the local enterprise partnership might be involved, working with the local authority to draw down additional funding; where it might be made a requirement for local authorities to have partnership agreements with private estates, so that they have farms to move farmers on to after five years; and where we might also support the development of peri-urban farms on other parts of local authority land.

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I am pleased to hear the Minister’s proposals. Can he confirm that they will apply UK-wide and not just to England?

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The scheme would be for England only, for the reasons I have outlined.

I hope that the hon. Member for Stroud understands that, rather than drafting a clause that requires that to be done, I believe that we can deliver the outcome we seek simply by establishing a fund to help local authorities invest in a county farm estate, subject to meeting conditions that demonstrate their long-term commitment to the scheme.

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

Division 25

20 November 2018

The Committee divided:

Ayes: 7
Noes: 9

Question accordingly negatived.

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I have had no indication that any of the other new clauses in this group are being pressed to a Division, so I will move on.

Before we come to new clause 18, I will clarify the procedure so that everyone understands. The Clerk left me a note saying that the lights go out at 5 o’clock, which is a polite way of saying that the knife comes down. At that point I have to put whatever is being debated to the vote—there is no choice and it cannot be withdrawn. After that, I will put the Question on any amendments that have already been discussed, of which there is one—it must be moved formally. Any other business then falls.

Let us do the maths: there are eight new clauses, with two and a half hours to go. Seven of the eight new clauses are in the name of the official Opposition, and one is in the name of the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith. It is up to you to prioritise, but bear in mind that any new clauses that we do not reach can be re-tabled on Report.

New Clause 18

Consultation on administration

‘(1) The Secretary of State must, within one calendar month of this Act being given Royal Assent, open a consultation on what body should administer—

(a) any payment of financial assistance under section 1,

(b) any payment under the basic payment scheme, within the meaning of section 4,

(c) any delinked payment within the meaning of section 7,

(d) any other form of financial assistance which may be given under this Act, and

(e) any environmental land management scheme established in connection with the provisions of this Act.

(2) The consultation shall seek views on whether an existing body should administer the functions under subsection (1) or whether a new body should be created for that purpose.

(3) The Secretary of State must, in any consultation under subsection (1), consult with persons or bodies representing persons who he or she considers are affected by the functions of the proposed administrative body, or who—

(a) are engaged in production of any product falling within an agricultural sector under Part 2 of Schedule 1, or

(b) manage land for a purpose other than production of any product falling within an agricultural sector under Part 2 of Schedule 1.

(4) The Secretary of State must lay before both Houses of Parliament—

(a) in summary form, the views expressed in the consultation held under subsection (1), and

(b) a statement of how the Secretary of State intends to proceed, with his or her reasons for doing so.’. (Dr Drew.)

This new clause would require the Secretary of State to hold a consultation on whether an existing agency (such as the Rural Payments Agency) or a new body should administer payments and other functions delivered under the Bill’s provisions

Brought up, and read the First time.

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

This is an important juncture in our consideration of the Bill, and it is probably going to be the most popular part, as we are giving the opportunity to those who wish to be consulted to get rid of the Rural Payments Agency.

It does not have to be that way. We could have a revitalised and reinvigorated payments agency, but a new agency this will have to be, because it will be doing fundamentally different things, and sadly the legacy that the RPA leaves is not necessarily a satisfactory one. That is nothing to do with this Government; previous Governments are responsible too. In my previous incarnation, we spent a lot of time on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee trying to sort out how the hell we got into such a mess over the area payments scheme involving Accenture and the computer system that was brought in. It was an unmitigated disaster, because it cost millions more and never did what it was supposed to do. We had to drag the chief executive, Johnston McNeill, back from Belfast, where he had managed to hide for a period of time, to get some clarity on why the agency got itself into such a mess. That is history. My dear late lamented friend David Taylor did an enormous amount of work on the computer system, and we were indebted to him for that work on the Select Committee. I just make the point that we are asking the new agency to do fundamentally different work.

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When it comes to who was to blame, the right hon. Member for Derby South (Margaret Beckett) might have had something to do with it, given that she chose such a complex way of enacting it under the previous Labour Government.

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I do not disagree that we were foolhardy. There should always be a de minimis and a de maximus in terms of how the payment system operated. As always, when the delightful EU Ministers came together they looked around the room for who was going to pilot this scheme, and somebody maybe put their hand up at the wrong time and said, “We’ll have a go at it.” It was not even a UK-driven scheme; it was England-driven. The other territorial Administrations went at their own pace, adding to the complexity and confusion.

I am merely making the point that we are asking for a consultation on the most appropriate agency to take forward this brand new scheme. It does not have to be rushed; it could be done over a period of time. It does not have to be just with farmers; it can be with the green groups, obviously, but also landowners, to get some clarity on what all those different parties expect from a payments agency. The Minister says that the way public moneys will be paid out will be more straightforward. We will only be able to tell that in due course.

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I have had concerns about the Rural Payments Agency. Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that opening up a consultation is just going to confuse and delay matters? Surely the Minister should just decide which organisation is going to administer it and then get on with it.

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If the Minister wants to say today that he has some brand spanking new agency in his back pocket that is going to take over and run this, we are more than happy to listen and give our support. I am merely the messenger saying that I still receive countless complaints about late payments, wrong payments and reasons unknown for people not receiving the moneys they thought they should have received. The field margins and the way in which the scheme was set up was unduly complicated, but this will potentially be as complicated, and some would say more complicated.

Why can we not just listen and learn from past mistakes and at least give people an opportunity to help frame what could replace the Rural Payments Agency? It has already taken on many Natural England employees, so it is ready for its new incarnation, but I am worried about skill levels, about the computer system and about how this will be perceived if we start on the back foot with an agency that has not been fit for purpose.

I will not cast aspersions on the people who work for the RPA—no doubt they work long hours to try to get things right—but there has been something integrally wrong with the way it has operated for a long time. I am giving the Minister an open goal to shoot at—a way for us to move forward across the party divide to try to get an agency that is fit for purpose for a very different type of agricultural scheme.

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I will describe in a moment what we are doing on future regulation, including the enforcement of this scheme. However, the hon. Gentleman gave me an opportunity—an “open goal”, as he said—to, for want of a better term, shoot at the RPA. I am not going to do that. As I have said many times, the RPA and agencies such as Natural England are currently grappling with a truly hideous body of European regulations and an unbearable administration process. That causes huge problems for farmers, who are required to fill out and submit endless forms and do lots of mapping, and for our administrators, including the RPA.

The problems we had last year, for instance, were caused because EU law required us to re-map 2 million fields in one go. We would not have chosen to do that—there was not really a need to re-map the fields—but we were forced to, just to ensure that there were no ineligible trees littered around the landscape. The sheer scale of that task caused administrative problems. The problems we have had with our countryside stewardship schemes were caused primarily because the European Union passed a rule that said every scheme must start on the same day of the year, which caused a massive spike in workload, required us to employ 500 temps and created all the contingent problems that come with that. In the design of the new scheme, we can learn lessons from the past and jettison some of the muddled thinking that is imposed on us by the European Union and EU auditors.

I should also point out that the RPA has taken on some of the payment functions related to the pillar two countryside stewardship schemes, precisely because not only the RPA has had challenges. Natural England has had horrendous problems trying to implement the countryside stewardship scheme. Indeed, one of the reasons we moved the RPA in to take over that space was that it has a stronger track record of managing complex EU processes.

Let me turn to what we intend to do in the future. The substance of new clause 18 is very much being addressed by the work currently being undertaken by Dame Glenys Stacey, who has given early indications of her direction of travel. She argues that we should move away from the clunky clipboard-and-rulebook approach inherent in the EU system and towards a much more modern way of regulating farms so there is more of what she calls social regulation, more incentives, fewer arbitrary rules and more whole-farm assessment. The work she has started is very interesting. She is also looking at the issue of our having multiple agencies and whether there could be consolidation, and at the establishment of a new type of body to perform some of these functions.

I do not believe there is a need to consult now, as the new clause would require us to. The first step is for us to see the final report from Dame Glenys Stacey. If the Government decided at a future date to implement some of the recommendations in that report, perhaps including the consideration of a new body, that would be the time to consult.

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I hear what the Minister says. Again, I make the point that that is why we would have liked to hear from Dame Glenys about the direction of travel in the evidence sessions. Perhaps we can pick that up subsequently. I am not aware whether she has yet given evidence to the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. I hope members of that Committee who are present heard that point, because it is important that we get an early idea of what the Government’s approach is likely to be.

I will not labour the point, because there are other new clauses that we want to get to before the bewitching hour, which you reminded us of, Sir Roger. However, it is crucial that whatever agency takes it on needs to be capable—I will not say “ of starting with a blank sheet of paper”, because the past cannot be washed away—of recognising the problems that there have been and still are with the way the current payment systems operate.

As much as new systems come with a certain élan and opportunity, the same people will operate the new system, so we have to ensure that training, empowerment and particularly a decent IT system that does what we want it to do are in place right at the start. That was what really damned the RPA when it took over the area payment scheme. It was trying to negotiate the system as it went along, and as we know that that was sadly an unmitigated failure. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 21

Agricultural co-operatives

“(1) The Secretary of State must promote agricultural co-operatives by—

(a) offering financial assistance for the creation or development of agricultural co-operatives, and

(b) establishing bodies to provide practical support and guidance for the development of new co-operatives.

(2) The Secretary of State shall examine any proposal for primary or secondary legislation to assess—

(a) its impact upon agricultural co-operatives, and

(b) whether that impact is disproportionate in relation to its impact upon other producer organisations or interbranch organisations.

(3) Financial assistance under subsection (1) may be given by way of grant, loan or guarantee, or in any other form.

(4) An organisation shall be recognised as an agricultural co-operative if it meets the conditions in subsections (5) and (6).

(5) Condition 1 is that the organisation—

(a) is registered with the Financial Conduct Authority as a co-operative, or

(b) is constituted under the Co-operatives and Community Benefit Societies Act 2014.

(6) Condition 2 is that the organisation—

(a) operates in a sector which is listed in Part 2 of Schedule 1 to this Act, and

(b) includes at least one member which is an agricultural or horticultural producer.

(7) The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision specifying the criteria under which financial assistance under subsection (1)(a) may be offered.

(8) Regulations under subsection (7) are subject to the negative resolution procedure.”—(Dr Drew.)

This new clause would require the Secretary of State to promote agricultural co-operatives.

Brought up, and read the First time.

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

I am speeding up—but might slow down again. We have already mentioned agricultural co-operatives. Again, this is more of a probing amendment—I will say that from the outset—so I will not press it to a vote. However, we would like to insert in the Bill something that runs alongside the competition that is clearly central to aspects of how the new legislation will operate.

Why agricultural co-operatives? First, so many parties within the farming and landowning industry already belong to co-operatives. They may not necessarily always see it that way, but NFU Mutual is, of course, a form of co-operative. Many of the buy-in rings for equipment, and much of the sharing of pesticides and other inputs in to how agriculture operates, are done by a form of co-operative, formal or otherwise. The difficulty with the Bill is that it does not explicitly mention co-operatives. We have had some interchange, and I welcome what the Minister did in relation to Co-operatives UK, because its members were much happier once he gave them some assurances.

New clause 21 gives the Secretary of State a new duty to promote agriculture co-operatives and the ability to provide grant and loan funding to new and existing co-operatives. It also requires all future legislation and regulations to be checked to ensure no disproportionate negative effect on co-operatives. We see co-operatives as a way in which the new environmental world can operate. Many environmental organisations are, of course, charities or social enterprise bodies, so in a sense they are co-operating if not co-operatives.

The new clause flies in the Bill’s apparent direction of travel. It is about fairness and resilience, and recognising that as new people come into the industry the best way to bind them in is to give them the opportunity to be part of a co-operative so that they do not have the lonely existence that we mentioned when discussing a previous clause that causes so much heartache and pressure on those individuals.

In many areas of agriculture, the supply chain already operates on a co-operative basis, but it needs to be enshrined within the legislation. Such a provision is sadly not in the Bill, so we want to insert one. The new clause would not mean that the private sector would not be the main operating vehicle for agriculture; the provision would just sit alongside it, and farmers and landowners would have that opportunity. Environmental organisations will certainly want to look at that way of operating. As the Minister rightly said, they could be the advice givers and supporters of the new direction of agriculture, and it is important to have that debate now. Opposition Members are always worried that we will be promised that things will come about through secondary legislation. That may be the case with future Administrations, if not with this one, but that is leaving things to chance.

We really want to ensure that there is an opportunity for primary legislation to reflect what is already happening in farming, and that this legislation is fit for purpose in the 21st century. The new clause draws on best practice in Scotland, which, dare I say is ahead of England in terms of its co-operative arrangements. We certainly would welcome that degree of cross-country collaboration and learning from each other. I hope that the Minister will make some nice noises about co-operatives, and that he will look at giving greater powers to such business organisation on Report.

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I am more than happy to take up the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion to say nice things about co-operatives. As I said in an earlier sitting, I am a supporter of collaborative working, joint working, joint ventures and co-operative approaches to help farmers deal with the fact that often they are fragmented and end up as price takers in the supply chain.

We have done a number of things already. Earlier this year, I announced a £10 million collaboration fund out of the rural development programme to support joint working and to support the formation of co-operatives. The hon. Member for Stroud will also remember from an earlier discussion on clause 22 and the recognition of producer organisations that we had meetings with the co-operatives’ representatives and have taken on board some of the suggestions that they made. We tabled a Government amendment to clause 22 to ensure that models other than that of a limited company, which is the requirement under current EU law, are recognised as producer organisations.

On the substance of new clause 21, which would ensure that there is financial assistance for co-operatives, I am happy to take the opportunity to confirm that, just like the existing rural development programme, clause 1(2) —the subsection on productivity—enables us to make available grant support, Government-backed loans or other guarantees to the co-operatives, should we want to support their endeavours. It is not only clauses 22 and 23, on exemption from competition law, that help certain co-operatives and recognised UK producer organisations; the very first clause of the Bill has provisions for our giving financial assistance to co-operatives. By establishing the £10 million collaboration fund earlier this year, I hope that I have demonstrated through my deeds rather than my words that I see this as important. Should the hon. Member for Stroud ever be in Government, I hope that he would do the same and continue to support these important organisations.

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Of course—I am a Co-operative MP. We would not see a conflict of interests; we would see a commonality of purpose, which we encourage. I find what the Minister said very encouraging, and I hope that he will continue his discussions with Co-operatives UK and other farming organisations to see how this can be developed. The UK farming and environmental sector will need to co-operate if we face Brexit, because it will be subject to many of the winds of change, some of which could be very turbulent. I hope that co-operation is one good thing that comes out of this. I beg leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 22

Import of foie gras

“(1) Foie gras may not be imported into the UK.

(2) “Foie gras”, for the purposes of this section, shall mean a product derived from the liver of any goose or duck which has been force-fed for the purpose of enlarging its liver.”—(Dr Drew.)

This new clause would prevent the import of foie gras into the UK.

Brought up, and read the First time.

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

This simple clause is designed to do what various Members have sought: to stop foie gras being sold in this country. I attended the recent debate initiated by, I think, the hon. Member for Crawley (Henry Smith) , who referred to foie gras as

“cruel to produce, unhealthy to eat and expensive to purchase”. —[Official Report, 13 June 2018; Vol. 642, c. 1050.]

It is about time that we banned this outdated practice. I am not going to go into how it is produced—the innards, and so on, particularly as the hon. Member for North Dorset has probably had a good lunch and I do not want to spoil that in any way—[Interruption.] I shouldn’t have said that, should I?

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It was a small slice of corned beef, some grated carrot and an apple today, if the hon. Gentleman is interested.

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It is always a mistake to lead with your chin, as they say. We will pass on from that very quickly.

The new clause covers something that, as far as I know, most MPs want to do. Hon. Members may say that it is somewhat incongruous to bring this forward with this Bill, but given that Agriculture Bills come round about every 50 years, we will not necessarily be around to see this carried through.

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Speak for yourself!

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Some of us might be very old if we were around in 50 years. I hope this is treated seriously.

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Does the hon. Gentleman intend it to be an offence for individuals to purchase the product while on holiday or does he merely mean the commercial importation of this product?

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Again, there are going to be commercial obligations, because the fact is that we are looking for a ban. As far as I know, both parties have talked about this quite openly. Certainly representatives of the parties have talked about it. We looked at it as regards the withdrawal agreement. From memory, and we will come on to live exports later, it is one of the things that certain people prayed in aid of the advantage of leaving the EU—that is, that we could bring about some of these animal welfare changes. It was a crucial argument. It was not quite as big an argument as the £350 million a week for the NHS, but it was nevertheless an argument.

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The hon. Gentleman mentions animal welfare. Is this an opportunity for Members on his side of the House to put animal rights views forward? Is this the place to be bringing this up?

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Again, I make the point that we have limited opportunity to consider legislative change. As far as I know, the hon. Member for Crawley is hardly some animal rights activist who has been out on demonstrations to demand that this practice ends. He is a Conservative MP whose constituents have no doubt written to him saying that it is not something that they wish to condone.

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I know where the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire is trying to come from. The fact is that we have already banned production in this country. All we are talking about is banning imports. We are not moving on to new radical territory. We are just trying to achieve a degree of consistency.

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That is the summation of the case. It is not something that we would say was anything other than a level playing field. Yes, we are stopping certain well-known establishments from selling foie gras.

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If any one of the amendments proposed earlier today that were so fulsomely supported by the hon. Member for North Dorset had been carried, we would not have needed this amendment.

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Of course, and that is something that we will no doubt have to revisit on Report. We are not doing anything other than what we have done in this place. We banned foie gras in the Houses of Parliament. That is a decision, and one might say that it is freedom of choice, but we banned the production of foie gras in this country, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East said, because we see it as inherently cruel.

All we are saying is: “Let’s have a level playing field”. If we ban production here, why are we still allowing imports to a very small number of establishments that still condone something that we would put at the extremes of animal cruelty? It is not about animal rights; it is purely about animal cruelty. It is a terrible process and I am not going to upset the hon. Member for North Dorset by going through what is involved. I do not think anybody would say that is an acceptable way to treat livestock. If it is, why is it banned in this country?

I hope we will get support from the Government. This is one thing they could do, through legislation on animal sentencing or even animal sentience, whichever comes first. We do not have many opportunities to pass this type of legislation. It could be done by a private Member’s Bill but we know how uncertain that can be. That is why the proposal has been brought forward at this stage, and why we hope there is support. If not, the Government could at least say what their intentions are. This will not affect farmers in this country, because we have banned this practice. We just want a level playing field and we can now ensure that because we will not necessarily be part of the EEA.

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This again highlights an important ethical issue, about which people in this country have strong views. However, in common with others, I do not think it fits in the Bill. This is not a trade Bill; it is an agriculture Bill about how we support agriculture and replace the common agricultural policy.

I do not think we have ever produced foie gras in this country. It has been illegal at least since the Protection of Animals Act 1911, and the Animal Welfare Act 2006 put it beyond doubt. There is no explicit ban on foie gras, in the way that there is on fur farming, which was introduced as a specific ban in Parliament, but it has always been understood that the production process involved in it, requiring as it does the force-feeding of ducks and geese, creates serious animal welfare concerns. If ever practised here, that would be in breach of our long-standing animal welfare legislation.

There is a small amount of production in some parts of the world, including France, of what is called “ethical foie gras”, where they use a particular breed of goose and do not force-feed them. They manage to get a product that is very similar to foie gras in a way that causes far less concern for the welfare of the animal.

Turning to the proposed new clause, the issue is important. If we leave the EU, depending on the nature of any agreement we have with the EU, a future Government would certainly be able to ban the import of foie gras. Some countries, notably India, do have ethical bans of this sort. India has one on fur and might already have one on foie gras.

We know that WTO case law means it is entirely in order to have bans on certain products of this sort, where there are ethical reasons to do so. There has been case law in the past regarding seal furs that has upheld that long-standing principle. It would be an option for a Government, depending on the nature of the agreement we finally have with the EU, to ban the import of foie gras, in much the same way as India does, but I do not believe the Bill is the right place for it.

It is the kind of thing that we would consider once we are clear about the type of trading relationship we will have with the EU and what concessions we might have to make as part of that settlement—until then we are not in a position to advance any policies of this sort.

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I hear what the Minister says but, given that the Bill looks to the future, it is entirely appropriate that we decide which animal welfare standards we believe should be in place to accommodate the type of agriculture and food chain we want. Although subject to whatever happens to our relationship with the EU, this is the sort of legislation, along with live exports, where we should draw a line in the sand. We do not accept this practice; we have banned it. It is inappropriate for agencies, shops and other retail establishments to be able to sell that product here. It is an entirely inappropriate method of force-feeding geese and ducks. This is a key animal welfare issue. It needs to be outlawed.

It is not just about what we do, but what we should expect our retail establishments to do as well. Dare I say that consumers have to recognise that if they buy this product they are investing in cruelty? It is the same with fur—sadly, we still have a problem with the importing of fur—but I will not go into that now; it is contingent on this issue, but is obviously not the same one.

If we really want good animal welfare standards, it is right and proper that we recognise that it is not just about what we do in terms of production, but what we expect consumers to do. The best way to do that, as we have done in a number of areas, is just to impose a ban.

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

Division 26

20 November 2018

The Committee divided:

Ayes: 8
Noes: 9

Question accordingly negatived.

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New Clause 25

Report on impact of Act upon agricultural workers

(1) The Secretary of State shall, within 18 months of Royal Assent being given to this Act, lay before Parliament a report containing an assessment of the impact of the provisions of this Act on agricultural workers in England.

(2) The report under subsection (1) shall include assessments of the impact of the Act upon each of the factors listed in subsection (3).

(3) The factors are agricultural workers’—

(a) living standards,

(b) pay,

(c) conditions of employment, and

(d) accommodation.

(4) The report under subsection (1) shall include an analysis of the impact on each factor under subsection (3)—

(a) in each region of England, and

(b) in each agricultural sector, within the meaning given in Part 2 of Schedule 1.

(5) The Secretary of State shall, no later than three months after the report under subsection (1) has been laid, open a public consultation on—

(a) the report laid under subsection (1) and any conclusions which it might draw or proposals which it might contain, and

(b) the merits of establishing a sector negotiating body to be responsible for setting on an annual basis minimum—

(i) living standards,

(ii) pay,

(iii) conditions of employment, and

(iv) standards and terms of accommodation for agricultural workers.

(6) “Agricultural worker” shall, for the purposes of this section, be taken to mean any person engaged in—

(a) agriculture, as defined in section 109 of the Agriculture Act 1947, or

(b) forestry.—(Dr Drew.)

This new clause would require the Secretary of State to report on the impact of the Act on agricultural workers in England, and to consult on the findings of that report and the merits of establishing a sector negotiating body.

Brought up, and read the First time.

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

We come now to the work clause. We make no apology for saying that this is our opportunity to pray in aid one of the things that the Government got completely wrong—the abolition of the Agricultural Wages Board. That happened under the coalition Government, and we hold the Liberal Democrats especially guilty.

I will not go into great detail. We know the issues, we know why we have tabled the new clause and I know why the Government are likely to oppose it, but we hope that they will at least think on this: there is a serious problem with the lack of labour in the agricultural sector.

A lot of agricultural labour is termed seasonal, although some aspects of what was the seasonal agricultural workers scheme was never seasonal—those who work in dairying or in aspects of the packing trade are not seasonal workers—and the reason why we rely so much on foreign migrant labour is because terms and conditions are not good. That is one of the reasons why we had the Agricultural Wages Board—to introduce a standard of terms and conditions that would encourage people to take that work—but it was not just about terms and conditions. The board also looked at future provision and training and investment in younger people to encourage them to come into the industry. Until one day when we are in power, we will carry on arguing that this is an important part of the way in which the agricultural sector could and should operate.

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As this Bill is looking holistically at the countryside, across the environment and workers, is it not exactly the right place for agricultural workers’ rights to be included?

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I agree entirely. In this brave new world, we are talking about supporting not just farmers and landowners, but the environmentalists who are going to come in and do some of the work. Again, this area is rife with exploitation. It is right that lots of people work as volunteers or are seconded from their companies, but there is the danger that that will become the norm. Unless we are careful, we have no regularity of employment structure.

The Government’s argument has always been, “Why is agriculture different? It is the same as any other sector.” Well, it is different. The nature of the work is different: it is hard and the hours are long. There is also the issue of loneliness, because most workers are by themselves. There will perhaps be only one or two of them if they work for a small holding. Larger holdings have more, of course, and are able to get protection through their numbers.

I understand the NFU’s position, but farmers tell me that one of the things they most regret is the loss of the negotiating apparatus. They say that quietly; they will not say it to a wider audience. There are those who believe strongly that losing the negotiating apparatus has taken agriculture backwards. When we lost it, we saw that agriculture was not valued enough for such a structure to be in place. If the Minister does not agree with this new clause, I hope he at least recognises that there is merit in putting in place a structure and systems to ensure stability in farm workers’ terms and conditions. Too often, they are not paid the going rate, which means that people are not attracted to the countryside, which we all accept is a tragedy.

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We had a similar discussion about an amendment earlier. I do not intend to speak for too long, but the hon. Gentleman will be aware that I disagree with him for reasons that I have set out. As he knows, the Agricultural Wages Board was established way back in 1948. There were lots of other boards around at that time, covering different sectors. Most of them were phased out during the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s; the Agricultural Wages Board was the last one standing.

Things changed fundamentally. There was a review of the Agricultural Wages Board in the mid-1990s, and in the end a decision was made not to take action. After the national minimum wage was introduced by the previous Labour Government and adopted by the Conservative Government, and, more importantly, after this Conservative Government introduced the new national living wage, the Agricultural Wages Board’s raison d’être was no longer there. It has been superseded by other pieces of legislation and minimum wage requirements. We currently have a national minimum wage of £7.83, and the national living wage is soon to go to £8.75. We therefore already have protections through the National Minimum Wage Act 1998, the Employment Rights Act 1996 and the Equality Act 2010. There is lots of legislation to protect agricultural wages.

I do not share the hon. Gentleman’s view that the negotiating apparatus that operated alongside the Agricultural Wages Board is necessary. There were problems with the way that it worked. It did not, for instance, allow the payment of annual salaries to some management staff so hours and payments could be averaged across the year. That would help people get mortgages to buy homes. There were reports that, because people received a weekly wage based only on the hourly rate, it was difficult for them to demonstrate to mortgage lenders that they satisfied their criteria.

More importantly, the very formulaic tiers of wages did not enable people who were doing particularly well and were on their way to progression or to a management role to be rewarded, unless they had the right craftsman qualification. It took away employers’ flexibility to reward their staff, because everything was set in a very formulaic way. I do not share the hon. Gentleman’s romantic view of the Agricultural Wages Board; it was restrictive and stopped more progressive approaches to payments, including salary development. Insofar as it gave protection for minimum wages, its role has been superseded.

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My wife would say I was never romantic, although I do not want to disillusion the Minister too much. This is not about going back. There would have to be a new body, but it would perhaps take account of sectoral organisations—that was what was probably wrong with the old Agricultural Wages Board. The NFU always saw it as a one-size-fits-all.

A modern Agricultural Wages Board must take account of the different sectors and regions. Its whole point is that it underpins wages and conditions. We feel very strongly about that. We talked to Unite, the main representative body that came out of the old National Union of Agricultural and Allied Workers. Historically, Unite has always been linked to the Labour party, although it has not always agreed with it. Although we look back in this sense, we also recognise the modern world.

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On the more highly paid work in appointment grades one and two, would that not in some way create a cartel for the farmers? They would not be able to outbid each other for the more skilled staff because they would say they were paying the going rate. That would not mean that the more skilled people could do better.

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I hear what the right hon. Gentleman says. There is always a danger with some form of proportionality—how different groups would be paid. Those groups would not necessarily be encompassed by the Agricultural Wages Board anyway, because it is looking at a minimum structure. That is something that a modern, forward-looking wage board will have to take account of.

We have no magic answer: the NFU asks us what form things would take and hopefully we can have sensible and serious discussion with it. We are making the point that the industry is completely short of labour—yet again this year, sadly, the fruit and veg was ploughed back into the ground. There is something wrong when what has been produced cannot be brought to market because there is no one to pick it. From talking to my dairy farmers, I know that there is always a problem in getting milkers. That transcends any dairy-producing region; it is a real issue. All we continue to argue for is one way in which that can be recognised.

I will press this amendment to a vote; we hope the Government will gradually recognise that they must put a structure in place that transcends the normal minimum wage standards or the living wage. This industry is different, and that must be recognised.

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

Division 27

20 November 2018

The Committee divided:

Ayes: 7
Noes: 9

Question accordingly negatived.

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I was asked whether we get injury time if there is a Division on the Floor of the House. I consulted the Clerk to ensure I had the procedure correct, and the answer is no. However, if a Division runs past 5 o’clock, I would ask all hon. Members to return, because I will have formally to go through the procedure of reporting the Bill; otherwise, we will be in the position, which I have been in only once before, of the Bill’s having to be deemed to be reported, which is not satisfactory. Let us press on.

New Clause 26

Prohibition of live export of livestock

‘(1) The live export of livestock for slaughter or fattening is prohibited from exit day, subject to subsection (2).

(2) The live export of livestock for slaughter or fattening is permitted after exit day if—

(a) the livestock is exported from Northern Ireland to the Republic of Ireland, and

(b) the condition in subsection (3) is satisfied.

(3) The condition is that a person selling livestock exported under subsection (2)(a) makes it a requirement of sale that the livestock shall not be re-exported by the buyer.

(4) In this section—

(a) “exit day” shall have the meaning given in section 20 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, and

(b) “livestock” shall have the meaning given in section 1(4) of this Act.’—(Dr Drew.)

This clause would prohibit the live export of livestock for slaughter or fattening from the date the UK leaves the EU, with certain exceptions for export from Northern Ireland to the Republic.

Brought up, and read the First time.

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

Thank you for that advice, Sir Roger. My Whip is busily looking at her information source to see whether anything is coming our way. We will carry on regardless for the time being.

This is the second part of the foie gras debate. Some people fundamentally believed that our leaving the EU would free us to do some of the things that many people across the country believe we should have done a long time ago—in this case, ban live exports. The noble Lord Rooker always used to say we should export on the hook, not on the hoof—I remember him saying that 20-odd years ago—but we have not yet done it. Admittedly, this is a marginal trade that affects certain parts of the country, where there have long been demonstrations because of what is deemed to be cruelty and what is seen to be the British industry losing control of what happens to animals subsequently. I know there are downsides to banning live exports—what do we do with young male calves if we do not have an export market? However, this is where animal welfare comes to the fore.

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As the hon. Gentleman is probably very aware, moving livestock from Orkney, Shetland and the other islands in Scotland involves long journeys of eight to 12 hours. He is not proposing to ban those movements, is he?

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This is where I would always take advice; I know there are views in Scotland that are not necessarily held in England about whether that is good or bad. I sat in on a recent debate where there was a difference of opinion within the political parties, and certainly between them, about whether a ban would ever be achievable, whether it was enforceable and, indeed, whether it was a good thing. We must have that debate, because this is an agriculture Bill. If we did not have it, if nothing else, those who feel strongly about this issue would say, “You had an agriculture Bill but you didn’t discuss live exports, which is one of the dominant arguments that we have.”

I remember talking to a lady on the doorstep—a lifelong Labour supporter. She had voted to leave on the basis that live exports would be banned. When she heard that the Conservative party was very keen on banning live exports, I could not persuade her to vote Labour. She felt that was something a Conservative Government would deliver. Sadly, I can now go back to her and say she was slightly misinformed. I accept that this is a minority issue, but for people who feel strongly about it, it is a very important moral point.

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I am sorry to press the hon. Gentleman. It is important that we understand that cattle moved from Orkney and Shetland are moving from one part of the United Kingdom to another that has the same approach to animal welfare. I invite him to come to the north-east of Scotland any time he likes—we will show him how we do it. What I think the general public are against is the idea that we no longer control animals when we export them outwith this country. Will he clarify that?

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We are still in the United Kingdom. The new clause does not deal with movements within the United Kingdom; it deals with live exports outside the United Kingdom. I took my holiday in Orkney and Shetland this year to add to the Scottish economy, and very enjoyable it was. I did not see many animals being moved about, but no doubt that happens.

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I had concerns about this issue in relation to the Irish border. Just in case colleagues are worried about that, I should say that the new clause would not ban the movement of livestock across the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, which is vital for agriculture there.

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I thank my hon. Friend for that clarification. It is important because, as I have said, animals move backwards and forwards over that border for fattening purposes or other reasons. We do not intend to ban that.

We are debating this issue here because this is an agriculture Bill. If we do not, whatever one’s opinion on the issues are, people will cast aspersions that we have not done our job as Opposition Members and that the Government have not put on the record their current thinking. Until recently, the Government were using banning live exports as one argument for leaving the EU. Is that still the Government’s case or not?

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rose

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Perhaps the hon. Gentleman can clarify that.

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People voted to leave the EU for many different reasons; I do not think the hon. Gentleman’s putting his hat on that one necessarily makes it the reason for Brexit.

I ask for clarity, because proposed subsection (2)(a) suggests that the Opposition are quite happy for livestock to be exported from Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. From what I remember of geography, it is about 50 miles across the Irish sea, whereas it is about 23 miles across the Bristol channel. It is interesting that the Opposition would allow animals to travel, say, 200 miles within the island of Ireland and to the Irish border, 50 miles across that sea and then to go on perhaps another 200 or 300 miles on the UK mainland, while seeming averse to allowing cattle or sheep from within the UK to go any further. The export of sheep is very important to Welsh farmers.

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I am not sure that I actually said that, but I re-emphasise that we would not stop any live exports within the United Kingdom, for so long as the United Kingdom exists. As my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington says, we would even allow live exports within the island of Ireland.

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rose—

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She will help me out again.

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I am going to help the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire by reading proposed subsection (2)(a):

“The live export of livestock for slaughter or fattening is permitted after exit day if—(a) the livestock is exported from Northern Ireland to the Republic of Ireland”.

There are farms that cross that border, so trying to prevent any livestock from crossing it would be pretty difficult to enforce.

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I thank my hon. Friend for clarifying that, so I do not need to—

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rose

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If you want to re-clarify that clarification, feel free.

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Order. I am getting closer to the Front Bench so I can rap you over the knuckles. “You” means me, and I do not have an opinion on this. Allow me to rephrase that: when I am in the Chair, I do not have an opinion—I am strictly impartial.

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Thank you, Sir Roger—and I am thanking “you”.

I just want clarity on the reasons for the ban, that is all. Why do Opposition Members think that it is cruel for animals to travel 23 miles across the Bristol channel but not cruel for them to travel all that distance across the Irish sea?

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I will pass on that, because I have lost the plot at the moment. We can have this argument outside the room. However, the fact is that I am not talking about banning live exports to anywhere within the United Kingdom. We are looking purely at the trade. An argument during the referendum debate was whether live exports would end because we would leave the EU. All I am saying is that this is the opportunity for people to make their minds up on whether they want that put into legislation. It has been the subject of numerous Adjournment debates. As I said, I was quite interested in the degree to which there have been splits within political parties, as well as between political parties.

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Will the hon. Gentleman clarify a remark he made before getting into this debate about the Bristol channel? If I heard him correctly, he said, “For as long as the United Kingdom continues to exist”. Is it now official Labour party policy to support the break-up of the United Kingdom?

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We really are getting away from the issue. I am making the point that the United Kingdom has a clear policy on allowing live exports. So long as that stays the case, it has nothing to do with what we are talking about here. We are talking about trade between the United Kingdom and other parts—principally Europe, of course, although livestock could be exported to various different parts of the world. We choose not to, because it would be very cruel and also probably economically illiterate to do so.

We are moving the new clause to allow the debate to take place for those who believe that the ban is going to happen as a matter of course when and if we leave the European Union, when we have the opportunity to do it under WTO rules. There is some debate about whether it is going to be that easy, but we will have to face up to that in due course.

The reality is that unless we have some legislation to enable us to implement the ban, we will never do it anyway. This is our opportunity to have a debate and to see whether this legislation can stand the test of time. Without the new clause or something like it, the ban will never happen. We can have as many Adjournment debates as we could possibly want: it will never take place until and unless we are able to put it into legislation.

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The fact is that this will not happen if we do not get the agreement voted through in the meaningful vote in Parliament. Will the hon. Gentleman make it clear that anyone who votes against the agreement is voting against our opportunity to ban live exports—and foie gras, for that matter?

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I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that. We are now back—

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When we were discussing foie gras, the Minister said that the ability to ban its import depended on the type of agreement we get with the EU. That is fascinating to me, because the type of agreement that would not allow us to ban foie gras, if my understanding is correct, would be one that kept us in the customs union and probably with a very close relationship to the single market. That sounds familiar.

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I will let the Minister respond to that in due course. We started with a fairly narrow subject and we have probably been round every other subject possible. I am not going to take any more interventions.

We have a policy on this issue. We argued 20 years ago that we wanted to bring it forward. It has not happened because of our relationship with the EU. If that relationship remained or got to the issue of the customs union, it might still be precluded. However, if we were to leave the EU, we would have the opportunity to do this. That is why the Opposition have upheld the policy and will press the matter to a vote: so that there is some clarity, which has not been forthcoming from the Government because Government MPs have been arguing for the ban on live exports for some time. No doubt, we will continue this discourse outside. I make no apology for saying that this is the opportunity for us to do this. We will be taking that opportunity and pressing for a formal vote on live exports.

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The Government have a policy on the issue as well. As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, in our manifesto we committed to control the export of live animals for slaughter. I will describe in a moment what we intend to do and what work we have already done.

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I do not understand why there is a difference between banning live exports for slaughter and not for fattening. Surely it is the journey—the live export—that is deemed to be unacceptable. Does it really matter whether the animals are going to be killed at the end of it or given a few more meals before they are slaughtered?

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I do not accept that. The hon. Lady has fallen into a counter-argument against the ban on live animals, which is that if you have the transport regulations right, or if you improve them, there is not necessarily a difference between a crossing by sea and a crossing by road. The reason why it particularly matters for slaughter is that we have the very clear principle that when you are moving animals for slaughter you should absolutely minimise the stress on those animals. It can be a stressful environment as it is, and having a long journey before slaughter is fundamentally different to transport for rearing.

Our position is that we want to control export for slaughter. We subsequently issued a call for evidence. We worked with the devolved Administrations on this because it obviously affects Northern Ireland and has implications for Scotland. Scotland exports live calves to Ireland, for instance. As my hon. Friend the Member for Gordon pointed out, there are also issues with some island communities, such as Shetland.

Addressing this issue is complex but we have had more than 366 responses to the call for evidence. They were overwhelmingly in favour of a ban on export for slaughter. A number of representations from industry groups and animal welfare non-governmental organisations raised some of the dimensions of the issue. We have referred those to the Farm Animal Welfare Committee that gives the Government advice on these matters, which is currently going through the responses and working up a series of recommendations for Government on how we can take new controls forward.

In addition, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has separately commissioned the University of Edinburgh and Scotland’s Rural University College to carry out a systemic review on welfare issues during transport. The report from those two academic institutions will feed into the work that FAWC is doing.

There are some technical problems with the wording of the proposed new clause, which I will point out to the hon. Member for Stroud. First, there is no clear definition of fattening. In law, we tend to talk about where animals were born, reared and slaughtered, so the rearing of animals would be the correct term. To have an exemption only for trade to the Republic of Ireland would be a breach of WTO rules and would not stand up to scrutiny in international law. There cannot be a discriminatory provision of that sort in an approach to trade.

The requirement in proposed subsection (3) that livestock sent to the Republic of Ireland by Northern Ireland shall not be re-exported is simply unenforceable. We do not have legislative competence in the Republic of Ireland, nor do we have the ability to enforce that provision. So, there are at least three quite serious technical problems with the drafting of the proposed new clause.

Broadly speaking, we have to be cognisant of some of the complexities. For instance, we export a large number of young chicks to be laying hens in Europe and to be raised as broiler chickens. The standards of hatcheries in this country are far superior to those in Europe. In the case of laying hens, all four of the hatcheries in the UK use anaesthetic gases to deal with unwanted male chicks. In some other European countries, that is not the case. They use old-fashioned techniques such as maceration. If we were to close our ability to export high-welfare chicks to Europe, we would not have done a clever day’s work if we are serious about animal welfare outcomes.

We must also bear it in mind that sometimes having an export market for calves, particularly from the dairy industry and for rose veal, where they are raised to be several months old, can be a welcome alternative to the abysmal and depressing practice of shooting calves at birth because there is no market for them. I know that issue is particularly sensitive in Scotland.

It is a complex area and I suspect the answer will lie with a combination of efforts, such as strengthening transport regulations and perhaps a ban on export by sea, whether to France or any other country. That would still enable exports to Northern Ireland. Finally, we could look at journey times as part of transport regulations. Through a combination of measures, we could curtail the type of live animal exports that cause most concern, while having a proportionate approach, ensuring that there are no unintended consequences and having regard for the views of other devolved Administrations as we consider this.

I hope the hon. Member for Stroud will recognise that we are doing a lot of work in this area, not least with that call for evidence, and that the Farm Animal Welfare Committee is looking at the issue right now. I hope, therefore, that he will not press this clause, but will await the outcome and the recommendations of the Farm Animal Welfare Committee, and will perhaps consider this issue again at a later point.

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I hear what the Minister says. The problem with this is the issue of how many bits of legislation will come around that can be includable in terms of this ban, or can be amended to allow this to carry through. I know this is complicated, and it is sad when newborn male calves are shot. Genetic modification might provide ways of dealing with the number of male calves at source. We would want to see improvements in many aspects of the dairy industry. This new clause is not a magical answer but live exports is a very political issue, and the general public felt—rightly or wrongly—that on our exit from the European Union, the UK would have much greater discretion on what it wanted to do with regard to live exports.

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I hear exactly what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but what he is saying in the amendment does not stack up with the second of the six Labour tests for the agreement, which asks:

“Does it deliver the ‘exact same benefits’ as we currently have as members of the Single Market and Customs Union?”

The hon. Gentleman is saying one thing here, but unfortunately the policy of the Labour party is to stay in the customs union and the single market, which would mean that we could not ban live exports.

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rose

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That test is very carefully worded and, as the hon. Gentleman knows, it was based on comments made by David Davis, the then Secretary of State, at the Dispatch Box. In case he thinks it a little bit rash to take the remarks of David Davis—sorry, the hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden—as the basis of the test, the Prime Minister did go on to say that she was determined to meet that test herself. That test did not just come out of thin air; it came from the mouth of the then Secretary of State and the Prime Minister, and it carefully refers to the “benefits” of, not to being a “member” of.

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I am not going to engage with that argument; I am not sure whether there are any angels dancing on pinheads yet. This is a matter of principle. I am in two minds as to whether to press the new clause. I understand what the Minister says, and this is not straightforward. Having sat through at least a couple of Adjournment debates, I realise that people come at this from different angles. There is not an easy humanitarian moral case for live exports, certainly in a practical way.

I am probably minded not to press the new clause to a vote at this stage, but my worry is: if not now, when? There will be very few opportunities to see such a ban come forward, as I said in my initial remarks. It may be that what we have drafted here is not good or right, and those who have helped us in drafting it have to think a bit more clearly about the different exemptions brought forward. I stress again that this is not about moving for a ban within the United Kingdom, because that would be wrong and lacking in any sense whatsoever. I will not press the clause to a vote at this stage, but I hope that on Report we get some clarity. The issue probably will come back, because somebody somewhere will see that this is an opportunity to move for a ban.

If the clause is wrong, what will the Government be prepared to do? I know they are waiting for the Farm Animal Welfare Council to come back, but that clearly has to be within a timeframe of what is permissible in terms of future legislative opportunities. The worry is that there will be some ongoing demand to put such a ban in place, in whatever form, and yet there will be no opportunity to do so. On that basis, while I hear what the Minister says now, I hope that on Report the Government will clarify whether such a ban needs to be put to bed completely because it is not enforceable, or whether it can be moved forward and there is an opportunity to move it forward in future legislation. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 28

Monitoring pesticide use and alternatives

(1) The Secretary of State must, within six months of Royal Assent being given to this Act, publish proposals—

(a) to monitor the use and effects of pesticides in the management of livestock or land, to conduct research into alternative methods of pest control and to promote their take-up, and

(b) to conduct research into alternative methods of pest control and to promote their take-up, and

(c) to consult on a target to reduce the use of pesticides.

(2) The proposals shall include steps to measure—

(a) the effect of pesticides on environmental health,

(b) the effect of pesticides on human health,

(c) the frequency with which individual pesticides are applied,

(d) the areas to which individual pesticides are applied, and

(e) the take-up of alternative methods of pest control by land use and sector.

(3) “Environmental health” in subsection (2)(a) includes the health of flora, fauna, land, air or any inland water body.

(4) “Human health” in subsection (2)(b) means the health of farmers, farmworkers and their families, operators, bystanders, rural residents and the general public.—(Dr Drew.)

This new clause would require the Secretary of State to publish proposals to monitor the impact of pesticides, to conduct research into alternative methods of pest control, to promote their take-up, and to consult on proposals to set a target to reduce the use of pesticides.

Brought up, and read the First time.

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

Now we are moving on to pesticides. Now that we have dealt with animals, we can go on to crops. Again, in its own way this new clause would not radically change the Bill, but the pesticides argument is important. We are all obliged to move toward higher environmental standards—dare I say it, that is the whole point of the Bill. One way in which we will measure those higher environmental standards is in terms of less pesticide use.

I accept that this is a very divisive issue. On the one hand we have the Pesticide Action Network UK and on the other we have the Crop Protection Association, each with radically different views on whether we are doing the right thing already or we should move in a different direction so that we see much less reliance on pesticides. Certainly, the agro-ecological approach would be to look at how we can substantially reduce, if not remove, the reliance on pesticides.

That matters because the British public seem overwhelmingly to want us to have less reliance on pesticides. We have had the big debate on neonicotinoids; we also have the debate on other pesticides. At the moment, that has been abdicated to Europe, and Members of the European Parliament voted on whether glyphosate should be banned. In the end I think both Conservative and Labour MEPs chose not to ban it, but if we leave the EU the decision will be fairly and squarely back with the United Kingdom Parliament. We cannot pretend that this is not something that we will have to make our opinion known on, and that will be subject to future legislative requirements.

We are not asking for the end of pesticides or necessarily for a dramatic change in policy. We are looking for an indication from the Government that they intend to look, through the environmental payments, at how pesticide use will be measured and monitored with a view to reduced dependence. That is important because the Bill is all about soil quality and water management, and if we do not control pesticides, we might as well give up on both those things, because they will not happen.

Again, it is not just about our environment per se, but about the impact on ourselves—human beings. Those of us who were involved historically with organophosphates know that they are sadly still an issue; I still have people coming to me to say that they feel that was never properly investigated. I know that there are research findings.

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Is it not part of the point? If we do the research and carry out deep investigations now, it is entirely possible that we will be able to be at the forefront of the new range of pesticides that are more environmentally friendly, rather than being dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century.

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Exactly. As I have made abundantly clear, we will get one chance to debate this in 50 years, because that is the likely length of time that this piece of legislation will last, if the Agriculture Act 1947 is anything to go by. These pieces of legislation do not come around very often, so we make no apology for bringing forward the debate on pesticides now. We are subject to correspondence on it and people want to know where we stand. I hope the Government are listening.

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This is a very important point and I welcome the new clause. Local testing is going on in Gower and we have shocking levels of weedkiller in local rivers. I hope that my hon. Friend will press the new clause to a vote.

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I think that is a hint. Given we did not divide on live exports, we might divide on pesticides instead. It is important to have this debate and look at this opportunity. The new clause is not doing anything dramatic. It asks us to use this piece of legislation to review current pesticide use, to consult on it, and to monitor it better. It says that that is something that should be in land management contracts. If it is not included, how can we find a way to secure a measurable improvement in our environment? As my hon. Friend the Member for Gower says, we only have to look at our watercourses to know that pesticides get into them. Most of us see that as unacceptable and we have to do something about it.

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I hope I will be able to persuade the shadow Minister that he does not need to press the new clause to a Division. We rehearsed in an earlier discussion on clause 1 the fact that the Government are actively looking at holistic schemes to support and incentivise what could be called integrated pest management. We are considering whether we can reduce our reliance on synthetic chemistry by using more natural predators and different agronomic approaches and being willing for the first time to incentivise farmers financially to do that.

One of the things we are looking at is an incentivised integrated pest management scheme to advance this policy agenda. We also set out in our 25-year environment plan the idea of moving forward and embracing integrated pest management more than we have done previously. The new clause deals with publishing reports and measuring impacts—I have said previously that DEFRA needs no encouragement to produce reports through statutory requirements; we love reports. As I explained, I regularly have to read and sign off reports and I sometimes question whether anyone else is reading them. For some reason, many reports seems to congregate around June, so during that month my box is weighed down with annual reports of one sort or another.

I will share with the hon. Gentleman some of the reports that we have received. I have a lot of reading here that he can take away as a memento of this Committee. The UK Expert Committee on Pesticides—the ECP—which gives us advice on emergency authorisations and on some of the tricky chemical issues. It is a standing advisory committee to the Chemicals Regulation Directorate. I have with me its annual report for 2017, all 22 pages of it. The Expert Committee on Pesticide Residues in Food produces a separate annual report, on top of the one by the Expert Committee on Pesticides, so we have two expert committees in the pesticides space, one on residues and one on broader environmental impacts, both of which produce a report. The report on pesticide residues lists all the findings and surveillance on residues on a wide range of imported products and products produced domestically. It runs to 48 pages and is an annual report.

If that is not enough for the hon. Gentleman, the pesticide usage survey report, is produced by the National Statistics Office and focuses on all sorts of different icrops. I have with me the 2016 report for arable crops, all 92 pages of it, with lots of tables demonstrating exactly what is produced. That key survey already monitors the use of pesticide-active substances on each crop.

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In addition to that, does my hon. Friend the Minister recognise that farm assurance schemes carry out detailed scrutiny of the records kept by farmers on the pesticides that they use within the rules?

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My right hon. Friend is correct: schemes such as the red tractor assurance scheme have additional checks and enforcement to ensure that there is nothing out of order, and on top of that they generally require MOTs, for instance, for sprayer equipment.

The pesticide usage survey covers the frequency of application, which picks up the measures in subsection (1)(c) of the new clause, and the area treated, which covers subsection (2)(d), as well as the weight of active substance. It also includes figures on some of the alternatives to chemicals, such as the use of viruses that can target insect pests. In addition, the National Poisons Information Service collects and considers reports of possible harm to people, which covers subsection (2)(b). Results are not published, but they are reported to DEFRA and other interested Departments, as well as to the UK Expert Committee on Pesticides.

Finally, the Wildlife Incident Investigation Scheme looks at reported incidents of possible harm to wildlife, which I think is what subsection (2)(a) of the new clause is trying to get at. Results of the Wildlife Incident Investigation Scheme are published on the Health and Safety Executive website, and the Environment Agency also monitors levels of pesticides in water.

I understand that there are very good intentions behind the new clause, but I hope that I can reassure the hon. Member for Stroud that we have a plethora of reports that cover pesticide use and pesticide issues in great detail. I hope he will withdraw his new clause at this stage, take some time to read the reports, which I would be happy to leave with him, and consider whether he still feels the measure is necessary on Report.

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It was always a good teaching ploy, when someone was really stuck, to give the kids lots of reading on the basis that that person could try to escape from the fact that they did not really know what they were talking about, hoping that the kids might be able to tell them in due course. That is just me as an old-fashioned teacher. I look forward to receiving the documents the Minister will give me to read, but I will press this to a vote, because the Government need to understand that the direction of travel is about environmental moneys being paid for environmental goods, whatever an environmental good is—it will be interesting to define that in due course.

Like previous versions of the Department, DEFRA has undertaken huge amounts of consultation, but when it comes down to it, it is about the action on the ground. It is important that we know that pesticide use will be one of the features that will be measured. As my hon. Friend the Member for Gower says, one would assume that over a period of time, when pesticides get into watercourses, that will be picked up and dealt with under land management contracts, so that someone will lose their money if they are seen to be polluting the local brooks. Otherwise, what is the point of this particular bit of legislation? We have both to lay down the law and to see how it will be enforced in practice.

Pesticides are a pretty important aspect of what happens to our landscape. I have always bought the argument that farmers, for all sorts of reasons, would want to spend less money on them, because it is an imputed cost and they feel very strongly that they want to minimise their costs, but sadly we have seen that many aspects of the environmental degradation of our countryside were down to misuse of pesticides, which have been seen as a shortcut to getting more output from farms. That is why we will put this motion to a vote. We let the Government get away on live exports, although that will no doubt come back.

On this motion, what is the point of environmental moneys if they are not properly scrutinised on the ground? Whoever may be advising is one thing, but this is something that presumably the payments agency will have to measure. Unless we have something that sets that out in the Bill, it will come down to vague promises. That is not acceptable in legislation. We either do it properly or we do not do it at all. Let us do it properly.

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

Division 28

20 November 2018

The Committee divided:

Ayes: 7
Noes: 9

Question accordingly negatived.

View Details

New Clause 29

Report on agricultural payments to the Scottish Ministers

“(1) The Secretary of State must, no later than one month before exit day, lay before Parliament a statement of his policy on whether sums will be made available to Scottish Ministers each year after exit day which are at least equivalent to the sums made available to Scottish Ministers in the year prior to exit day for the purpose of expenditure under—

(a) the European Agricultural Guarantee Fund, and

(b) the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development

as established under Article 3 of Regulation (EU) No 1306/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 December 2013 on the financing, management and monitoring of the common agricultural policy.

(2) “Exit day” shall have the meaning given in section 20 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018.”.—(Deidre Brock.)

Brought up, and read the First time.

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

The new clause will simply allow Ministers to measure their progress in implementing a promise made during the Brexit campaign that moneys available to support Scottish farmers will not decline in real terms as a result of our no longer being in the EU. The leave campaign made some real promises, which should be honoured. There will be plenty of hot air and confusion over the coming days, weeks, months and eternities, but can we at least get some clarity on how progress on this pledge will be measured?

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I have a few questions on this. It makes an awful lot of sense to me, and it matches what the First Minister of Wales has said repeatedly, which is that he wants all support to be matched penny for penny in the future, as was committed to by various voices during the referendum campaign. I do not think that there is anything unreasonable about that. If we agree to the new clause, it would open the door to similar amendments being made for the other devolved Administrations.

All the new clause seeks is transparent reporting that we would all benefit from being able to monitor, including in England. Agricultural payments will be something that we make decisions about, and doing so in the most up-front and clear way possible will help all of us. It is clear that the agriculture sector requires certainty going forward, and this is one way that we can assist in that. One key concern raised by stakeholders, particularly the farmers unions, is the continuation of funding that will be made available, particularly to the devolved Administrations.

Another key concern raised by the farmers unions is the ability of the devolved Administrations to make payments to farmers in 2020, due to the way that the Bill is structured. It would be helpful to hear the Minister’s thoughts on what will happen, particularly for Scotland. As Members will know, the Scottish Government’s continuity Bill is currently being considered by the Supreme Court. If it is deemed unlawful, what will happen to the payments to Scottish farmers? The Scottish Government intend that Bill to provide the vehicle by which payments could continue. What does the Minister consider the implications will be if that is not the case? It would be helpful to us all if we could use the consideration of this new clause to try to understand that issue.

I would like to ask the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith about the progress the Scottish Government are making with their own agriculture Bill, which the Scottish Government’s Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy, Fergus Ewing, has said that they will implement. Scottish farmers need to know what the future holds for them.

Is there a requirement for clarity from the UK Government as to the level of funding available to Scottish Ministers prior to that legislation being implemented? Obviously, we would like it in any case, but particularly considering that legislation, which we expect to see. In the absence of this clause and the continuity Bill, and not knowing when the Scottish legislation might come forward—or perhaps even a schedule, if it is not too late—Scottish farmers are still in the dark at this stage.

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I am grateful for this opportunity to set out our position on the funding of agriculture. As hon. Members will know, we have a manifesto commitment to keep the cash total spent on agriculture for the UK at exactly the same level until 2022—the end of this Parliament. That commitment goes further than the current spending review period. Not every other Department has that, but we made that commitment, because we recognise the importance of giving farmers clarity and certainty that the Government intend to still support them financially during this transition from the old system to the new.

Our manifesto also made a commitment that after 2022 we would roll out a new agri-environment policy, which would be funded. The Bill is explicit that there will be a transition period of seven years until 2028, as we gradually wind down the single farm payment—or basic payment scheme. It is implicit in the Bill and our manifesto commitment that there will be a funded agriculture policy after 2022. We have not put a precise figure on that, but we have done more than we do for most other Departments, which is to give a guarantee until 2022.

As the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith will be aware, the allocations for Scotland have been a contentious issue as a result of the convergence uplift and debates around that. For that reason, we have asked Lord Bew to lead an independent review of intra-UK allocations. That review is now underway. The outcome of that review will inform allocations for 2020 onwards.

The answer to this particular new clause is that this work is already being done and it is being led by the review that Lord Bew is undertaking, which will inform intra-UK allocations after 2020. That will enable us to take account, for instance, of severely disadvantaged area and to take account of the emerging policies that we have in different parts of the UK, but also to have regard for the fact that probably every part of the UK will want to have a transition from the old system of the basic payment scheme to the new, so there would need to be some understanding of how much money people will need as they move in transition from the old scheme to the new.

The hon. Member for Darlington made points about the ability of the Scottish Government to make payments. We covered that in an earlier debate, but to clarify, we introduced new clause 3 to the Bill in Committee, as well as subsequent equivalent clauses for the schedule for Wales and the schedule for Northern Ireland. The purpose of new clause 3 and those two connected provisions for Wales and Northern Ireland was to give the Government the power to set financial ceilings, so that the legacy schemes that come across through retained EU law could still be paid. Unless the power exists to set financial ceilings, the existing financial ceilings that underpin the payment legislation in the EU scheme will fall away. Therefore, unless the Scottish Government took action to introduce a clause such as new clause 3, they would not have legal authority to make payments in 2020.

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May I seek clarification? Have the Scottish Government approached the Department to introduce a new clause 3, and is the Minister aware that NFU Scotland is supportive of a new clause 3 for Scotland?

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Yes, I am aware that NFU Scotland has now said that it believes that, as a minimum, there should be something like new clause 3. I discussed the issue with Scottish Ministers yesterday at the meeting that we had in Wales, where it came up. We established that it is relatively easy to rectify. This is a single clause. We could put it in a schedule to this Bill if it were the wish of the Scottish Government for us to do so. We could add a schedule to the Bill that replicated new clause 3 for Scotland but did nothing else, and we could do that at later stages of the Bill, or of course it is open to the Scottish Government to add new clause 3 to an alternative piece of primary legislation, going through the Scottish Parliament. The issue is not complicated to fix; it does not necessarily need a fully worked-up, fully detailed Bill, but they do, as a minimum, need something equivalent to new clause 3. I think that they understand that now, and they are considering whether it is best to do it as a schedule to our Bill or as an addition to one of their own Bills.

I hope that I have been able to explain that we have a review under way that is looking at intra-UK allocations, that is designed to address the needs of every part of our United Kingdom as we consider funding the provisions in this Bill and provisions that other, devolved Administrations might bring forward in the future.

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In response to questions regarding Scotland not taking powers through this Bill, I will repeat once again that that is because, in short, we do not need to do so. We do not need the Government here to legislate for us on devolved matters. We have been producing our own legislation in those areas since the Scottish Parliament began in 1999. There is no question of our not being able to make payments immediately after Brexit, because the existing common agricultural policy rules will become retained EU law; that has already been provided for.

If there is no deal, then in conjunction with the UK we are preparing the necessary adjustments, through statutory instruments and Scottish statutory instruments, to ensure that we will be able to continue to make payments under the existing CAP rules. If there is a deal, then along with what happens in the rest of the UK, provision will be made to ensure that we can continue to make payments during the agreed transition period. Whatever scenario we face, there will be provision to make payments and administer schemes from next March.

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I agree that it is possible for the Scottish Government to include a clause similar to new clause 3 in primary legislation going through the Scottish Parliament, but the hon. Lady needs to understand that it requires the setting of a financial ceiling; that does not come across in retained EU law. That is why we have introduced those new clauses to the Bill for every other part of the UK. The hon. Lady is right: we are not saying that we have to legislate through this Bill. There is an offer if the Scottish Government would like us to include something equivalent to new clause 3, but if they would rather not have that, it is for them to add the provision to one of their pieces of primary legislation.

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Indeed, and given that the withdrawal agreement, the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 and the Scottish continuity Bill all give Scotland a legal basis on which to continue to make payments and administer schemes, we see no need to rush into the development of new legislation, but we are of course always open to that.

In our consultation document, “Stability and Simplicity: proposals for a rural funding transition period”, we have explained that the point at which we propose to start evolving our farm support arrangements is 2021. At that point, we will need new powers to amend the relevant retained EU law, and we are looking actively at all available options for taking those powers, including the possibility of legislating in the Scottish Parliament.

I hear what the Minister says about the review that is ongoing, but we want some certainty that an ability to check the promises that were made is hardwired into this Bill—as the hon. Member for Darlington said previously, that is in the interests of transparency—so I will press the new clause to a vote.

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

Division 29

20 November 2018

The Committee divided:

Ayes: 8
Noes: 9

Question accordingly negatived.

View Details

New Clause 31

Financial assistance: agricultural tenancies

‘(1) Where in respect of a tenancy of an agricultural holding a tenant is restricted by the terms of the tenancy agreement in respect of any activity for which financial assistance has been granted under or in connection with this Act, or any environmental land management scheme established in connection with the provisions of this Act, the tenant may serve notice on the landlord to request consent for that activity.

(2) A landlord must respond to a notice served under subsection (1) within one month.

(3) If the landlord does not respond to a notice served under subsection (1) within one month, consent for the activity within the notice from the tenant will be deemed to have been given.

(4) Any objection by the landlord to a notice served under subsection (1) may be referred by the tenant to arbitration or expert determination under a mechanism to be established by regulations made by the Secretary of State.

(5) Regulations under subsection (3) shall be subject to the affirmative procedure.

(6) “Financial assistance” under subsection (1) shall be taken to include (amongst other things)—

(a) any payment of financial assistance under section 1,

(b) any payment under the basic payment scheme, within the meaning of section 4,

(c) any delinked payment within the meaning of section 7, and

(d) any other form of financial assistance which may be given under this Act.’—(Dr Drew.)

This new clause would enable a tenant to challenge a restriction in the tenancy agreement regarding the receipt of financial assistance under the terms of the Bill.

Brought up, and read the First time.

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

We come to the end—almost. We shall say a few pleasantries in a minute or two, but this is an important new clause. That is because—I make no apology for putting some pressure on the Government here—the Tenancy Reform Industry Group, or TRIG, negotiations that took place almost two years ago now happened against a background of the Government making some rather nice noises about the importance of tenant farming and tenant farmers in particular. The Government have since gone quiet. There have been some noises off of late, with the Government saying that they intend to revisit the issue, but the Minister could make those noises more overt in his response, so that we know exactly where we are going.

The new clause provides a mechanism to ensure that tenant farmers are not disenfranchised from access to the new financial support mechanisms contained in the Bill. The tenancy sector of agriculture is responsible for farming about a third of agricultural land in England, and is a substantial part of farming business. There are about 13,000 wholly tenanted farm holdings, 41,000 predominantly tenanted farm holdings and 35,000 partly tenanted farm holdings. They are therefore an important part of the agricultural sector.

The tenancy sector has a greater preponderance of livestock—dairy in particular—upland and small-scale farming than in the wider agricultural sector. Furthermore, for those individuals who start in farming, most will start as tenant farmers, unless they are fortunate enough to inherit their father or mother’s holding. Often, however, it is not passed on to them so they become tenants of their family’s estate. Most farmers, when they start, are tenant farmers.

There are two principal types of tenancy agreement: those under the Agricultural Holdings Act 1986, which confers security of tenure, a regulated rent and in some cases a right of succession; and those known as farm business tenancies under the more recent Agricultural Tenancies Act 1995, which provides for a significant degree of freedom of contract so that there is no fixed term and no significant regulatory provisions on rent. I alert the Committee principally to that second one at this stage.

Although farm business tenancies have largely been welcomed, and overall have worked reasonably well, of late there has been a tendency for shorter FBTs, which are completely outwith the ability of new businesses to cope or to function effectively. Some FBTs have been for as short two years, and anyone who knows anything about farming knows that people cannot do anything in two years.

That is why we make no apology for raising the subject at this late stage. It is important for us to look at agriculture where it is not functioning as well as it could and should be. Those of us who represent rural or semi-rural constituencies know that that has been highlighted by the Tenant Farmers Association and the NFU, which want to make us recognise that basis of the TRIG reforms—which is what some of us thought that the Government would bring forward but have not yet happened. The Minister can do his best to allay our fears that the opportunity to look at that important sector will be dismissed, or at least missed. It is not just what is in the Bill that matters, but what could be in the Bill.

I hope that the Government will recognise how much of an awakening there is, and that those who operate as tenants want some clarity about how the changes will occur and how the new regime will affect them. If they are not mentioned in the Bill, which they are not in any substantive way, people will start to get worried. A tenant farmer, like any other farmer, will want to take advantage of the new payment system, because they are losing out on the basic payment. Some of them have been entirely dependent on that for their existence, but they do not know how they will move to a new form of payment.

We had a big debate on de-linking, which was seen as an opportunity to get people off the land who wanted to leave. As I have said on several occasions, I have always been in favour of a formal retirement scheme. We will not have that, but de-linking offers people the opportunity to leave the land. People who then come on to the land have to be treated fairly, however. If they are not, they will not stay and the average age of the farming profession will rise even further from 59 or 60, depending on who we believe.

There is still some concern that the 1986 landlords, in particular, will use their leverage in having to give consent to secure unreasonable demands from tenants, including loss of security, unsustainable levels of rent or other unwarranted commitments. Those of us who know a bit about dilapidations will know that that is usually one of the dividing lines when someone wants to leave their holding, because the landlord can hold them to ransom in a sense. I am principally concentrating on the farm business tenancies, which were the basis of the TRIG discussions.

I hope that the Government are listening and that they recognise that the new clause has not been tabled for anything other than a good purpose. It refers to a single sector of farming, but a very important one. Unless we can use the Bill to reform what is wrong, we will not have the opportunity to do so again, other than on Report, on Third Reading, in the other place and maybe back in this place if there are Lords amendments. It would be nice to think that we were taking note of the important issues here, however, which is why we tabled new clause 31.

By their nature, these people are not always in the best financial straits, so it is important for them to know what they will have to do to get the state’s support in the form of the environmental payments. That is why the Tenancy Reform Industry Group was looking for legislative change, and it has to be legislative change, because the two forms of tenancy agreement are based in legislation. As those questioning us will ask, if we do not change it here, where do we change it? It is very important that it happens.

I hope that the Minister will respond and recognise that TRIG should be faced up to in the Bill, and that it is right and proper that a consultative process such as TRIG has an outcome. It should improve the status of tenant farmers to allow them to become more sustainable and resilient, and allow people to come on to the land who otherwise could not, in the knowledge and security that the tenancy arrangements are right and proper.

In passing, Sir Roger, I would like to thank you and Mr Wilson for the way in which you have chaired the Committee. You have got us through it—some of us thought that might not be possible—even though we lost one session through agreement because the Government were doing some rather strange things. They seem to be doing the same today—we thought we would be voting at 4 o’clock. I only wish we had had so much acquiescence in this Committee and things had gone our way a bit more, but hope springs eternal and perhaps those things will come back at later stages.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington, who did a sterling job to get me out of the mire on more than one occasion, my Whip, my other hon. Friends and all hon. Members. I always think a Bill Committee is rather like a family—we have our differences of opinion, we were thrust together by no choice of our own, but we managed to make some progress, albeit not as much as we wanted.

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Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

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In a second—just let me finish my peroration.

I thank Rob Wakely, who did a sterling job to keep us on the straight and narrow, and Jessica Cobbett from my office, who helped me on more than one occasion. I thank the civil servants, who have done a really good job, and the Minister. I feel sorry for him, because he will have to start all over again tomorrow with the Second Reading of the Fisheries Bill. As much as we think we have done our bit, he still has to do his.

I give way to the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire.

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I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I have nothing to add—I am just enjoying intervening on him.

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If nothing else, that gave me a chance to rest my voice.

This is an important Bill. We got it through in time—it is a good job we left enough. Although I am using this opportunity to thank everyone from both the Opposition and the Government, I hope that, to finish with, we will hear some good noises about tenancy reform. People will be watching, listening or reading even at this stage because their livelihoods depend on that, so the Minister should listen and, if nothing else, accept this final new clause.

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On a point of order, Sir Roger. Will you advise me how I can add my thanks from the Government Back Benches to Opposition Members for the good natured way in which the Committee has functioned? On virtually every clause and amendment thus far, there has been a sense of consensus across the Committee that this is an important Bill and we need to get it right. I would also like to add my thanks to the 27 individuals who came to give evidence in our opening sessions last month and the countless more organisations outside this place with a committed interest, whatever their standpoint, to ensuring that the Bill sets out a new agricultural support framework that lasts for generations to come. I look forward to the Minister’s echoing those remarks.

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That is not strictly a point of order for the Chair, but the hon. Gentleman has already made it. There are a few formalities to complete. We had better get through those or we might be congratulating ourselves a little too early. Let us put new clause 31 and the Government amendment to the long title to bed and see where we go from there.

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Inspired by my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud, I want to put on the record my thanks to you, Sir Roger. We would very much appreciate it if you passed on our thanks to Mr Wilson, too.

I thank my hon. Friends, who all made substantial contributions to our proceedings. I have led on Bill Committees in the lead-up to Christmas where there has been lots of online shopping going on around the room, but that was not the case this time. Of the Government Members, I particularly thank the hon. Member for North Dorset for his good natured and at times very amusing contributions, and the right hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby for his repeated challenge on the withdrawal agreement. All I say to him is that if he and his colleagues are banking on Labour Members coming to the rescue in the first week of December, they should not count their chickens.

I thank the Minister, who has conducted himself impeccably throughout all this. It cannot be an easy task. All the pressure has been on him, and he has dealt with everything with good grace. I do not think that he has declined a single intervention the whole time. He has our respect for that. I must also put on the record my thanks, respect and admiration for my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud. His knowledge of the sector is far greater than mine. As a townie who does not represent a rural or semi-rural constituency but who likes her food, I have learned an awful lot. I also need to thank James Metcalfe, from my office.

We do not like the Bill at all. We think it is far too vague and does not provide the clarity that we want. Having said all that, this has been a hopeful process, and I think we have left the Minister with a better knowledge of our position than when we started. We look forward to some changes at future stages, as has been hinted at a couple of times throughout our proceedings. Overall, I thank colleagues for the way that we have conducted the Committee. I obviously say that I support new clause 31, otherwise I suspect that my speech would be completely out of order.

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I think it probably was anyway.

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New clause 31 is an important clause and an important point to end on. As the hon. Member for Stroud knows, our view is that changes to tenancy law go beyond the scope of the Bill, which concerns future agriculture schemes. However, he also knows that I take the issue very seriously.

While we do not want to throw the baby out with the bathwater when it comes to tenancy law, because the introduction of farm business tenancies was an important innovation and has brought more land to market, there are undoubtedly some problems with the way that both Agricultural Holdings Act tenancies and the farm businesses tenancies under the 1995 Act operate. That is why, around 18 months ago, I commissioned the Tenancy Reform Industry Group to do a detailed piece of work on what changes to tenancy law we ought to consider, in particular to address productivity and support structural change in the industry. It came back with a package of proposals, as the hon. Gentleman said.

Probably chief among the proposals was the idea that an Agricultural Holdings Act tenancy could be assignable, so that an older farmer who wanted to retire but did not have children to inherit the tenancy would have some kind of right to assign the tenancy at open market values to a third party or, indeed, to enter into surrender negotiations on the tenancy with their landlord on that basis. The Law Commission recommended reform of the rules of forfeiture for farm business tenancies many years ago, and tidying that up remains unfinished business.

Also included in those proposals was a recommendation for a provision to vary restrictive covenants within Agricultural Holdings Act tenancies. Farming practices have moved on, and having certain covenants that prevent modern investment on farms, or that might stand in the way of the type of environmental schemes envisaged in the Bill, are problematic. There should be a process for looking at that.

To end the Committee on a positive note, I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that we have by no means forgotten that package of measures. My officials are currently working on a draft consultation on tenancy law and some of those changes, which we intend to publish in the new year. The outcome of that consultation will inform a future piece of legislation on tenancy reform.

The consultation will probably look at one or two other areas where we believe changes are required. For instance, article 31 of the Agricultural Tenancies Act 1995 restricts the ability of landowners to issue tenancies on their land unless they have permission from a lender, who might have a charge over that land. That overturned decades of practice, where there was a presumption in favour of a landlord being able to grant a tenancy because the land needed to be farmed. We believe that that particular provision, article 31, needs to be looked at again.

We are also considering a call for evidence on the repossession of agricultural land. At the moment there is a gap in the law. Farm businesses tend to have their assets owned by individuals. Currently, if a bank wished to repossess a residential property, it would have to go to a court to get a possession order. There is no such requirement with agricultural land. A bank can simply seize land and auction it without any recourse to the courts. It is an outdated approach, and we are therefore considering amendments that would require a possession order from a lender before they could seize the land.

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Would that include the valuation of land by banks when they repossess, and the other professionals that are involved in taking over the land—it is not repossession at the moment—in that sequence of events?

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A possession order would require a bank to justify its action to a court before being able to take anyone’s land. There have been a number of issues with secondary lenders, and mainstream banks, moving aggressively to seize and auction land, and selling it in a reckless way that is against the interests of the landowner and their creditors because they have that charge over the land. That area needs to be looked at.

With the confirmation that we have not forgotten those areas, and that we are looking at a consultation, I hope that the hon. Member for Stroud will not feel the need to press the new clause to a vote.

It has been a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger, and that of Mr Wilson. We have had a good-natured debate on new clause 31 and all the other amendments and clauses in the Bill. We have done a thorough job of examining every clause and amendment in great detail. I thank every member of the Committee for giving up their time and diligently intervening and contributing to the discussion.

I also thank my officials in DEFRA, who have worked incredibly hard. The Bill is the first substantive piece of legislation on agriculture that we have had since 1947. It has been a huge piece of work. Finally, and by no means least, I thank the Clerks. We particularly tested their patience when changing the plan for evidence sessions at the beginning, but I hope that we have been less difficult since then. We are grateful for the time and effort that they have put in.

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On that note, I particularly thank Mr Fox, who has been so helpful to Rob, who has done the Opposition work in detail. It is important that we put that on the record. Without the Clerks, Bill proceedings would not go very far, or if they did, they would go in completely the wrong direction. I also pay due regard to the many contributors to the evidence sessions, which were illuminating, and those who have given us ideas and interesting amendments. Some of them caused us a few sleepless nights in deciding whether to table them. They were all suggested in the right spirit, to try to improve the legislation.

Clearly the Government have a different view to the Opposition about how the legislation will progress, but we will see whether we can further improve it on Report, on Third Reading and in the House of Lords. It is good that the arguments have been had. Others will read them and see whether the proposals can be introduced in a different way, if not necessarily one with which the Government will wholeheartedly agree. However, given what happened today with the Finance Bill, we live in hope, and in the expectation that a degree of consensus is breaking out across the House. That is the way that good Government can operate.

On tenancy reform, I was pleased by what the Minister said. New clause 31 was a probing amendment, and the Minister knows where it was coming from. Changes are needed in this area. I hear what he said about repossession, which has always been a bone of contention in wider agricultural areas, because people do not necessarily just think in terms of those directly affected. It can unhinge a wider part of the countryside when people think that what has happened has not been done in the right way. It is important that we heard what the Minister said, and that we see some progress on that.

Without more ado, we have managed to complete consideration within the timeframe thanks to the good chairmanship of our two Chairs. I will not press the new clause to a vote, but I hope that, now it is on the record, we will hear early in the new year what form the necessary legal changes, which will presumably be made through secondary legislation, can take. We will of course scrutinise them in the right way and hope that they improve what is happening out there. We need good tenants with good tenancy legislation. British farming will be stronger because of that. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment made: 43, in title, line 14, after “Agriculture;” insert

“to make provision about red meat levy in Great Britain;”.—(George Eustice.)

An amendment to the long title is required to cover the content of NC4 which is not covered by any of the other specific limbs of the current text.

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As everybody else has been mostly out of order for the last half an hour, I too will say a few words. Mr Wilson and I would like to express our thanks to the Clerks, the Hansard writers, who work extremely hard, and of course to the Officers of the House who look after us. Without all those people, our work would be much harder, if not impossible.

Finally, I thank the Committee for the courtesy and good humour with which proceedings have been conducted. At a time when courtesy and good humour are at something of a premium in other parts of the House, it has been a pleasure to come into an oasis of tranquillity in Committee Room 12 and see people behaving properly, as colleagues ought to behave.

Bill, as amended, to be reported.

Committee rose.

Written evidence to be reported to the House

AB67 Royal Town Planning Institute

AB68 Rare Breeds Survival Trust (RBST)

AB69 Fresh Produce Consortium

AB70 Academics and farmers from the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex and the Land Workers’ Alliance

AB71 British Horse Society

AB72 British Meat Processors Association (BMPA)

AB73 Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust

AB74 Paul Gingell

AB75 Shropshire’s Great Outdoors Strategy Board

Agriculture Bill (Thirteenth 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

Tuesday 20 November 2018

(Morning)

[Phil Wilson in the Chair]

Agriculture Bill

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.”.—(Dr Drew.)

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.

Brought up, and read the First time.

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

Division 22

20 November 2018

The Committee divided:

Ayes: 6
Noes: 8

Question accordingly negatived.

View Details

New Clause 11

UK-wide framework for agriculture

“(1) A UK-wide framework for agriculture, agricultural support and land management shall, subject to subsection (2), be established jointly by—

(a) Ministers of the Crown;

(b) Scottish Ministers;

(c) Welsh Ministers; and

(d) Northern Ireland Ministers or, if there are no Northern Ireland Ministers, the Department for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs in Northern Ireland.

(2) A framework under subsection (1) shall be established if it is deemed necessary, with regard to agriculture, agricultural support and land management, to—

(a) enable the functioning of the UK internal market, while allowing for policy divergence;

(b) ensure compliance with international obligations;

(c) enable the management of common resources;

(d) administer and provide access to arbitration for disputes in cases with a cross-border element; or

(e) facilitate the allocation of funding to the devolved administrations to provide financial support.

(3) A framework under subsection (1) must respect the devolution settlements and the democratic accountability of the devolved legislatures and shall—

(a) be based on established conventions and practices, including that the principle that the competence of the devolved institutions will not be adjusted without their consent;

(b) maintain, as a minimum, equivalent flexibility for tailoring policies to the specific needs of each territory as is afforded by current EU rules; and

(c) lead to a significant increase in joint decision-making powers for the devolved administrations.

(4) Decisions made under a framework established under subsection (1) shall require unanimous agreement between each of the authorities in subsection (1).”.—(Ben Lake.)

Brought up, and read the First time.

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

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Wilson. I rise to speak to new clause 11, tabled in my name and those of my Plaid Cymru colleagues, in the hope of probing the Government a little on their thinking about the need for and the operation of common UK-wide frameworks once the Bill—and the respective Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish Bills—comes into effect. It was mentioned in an earlier sitting that the EU provided both the regulatory and financial frameworks within which each of the devolved nations has been able to tailor and operate some of their agricultural policies.

If we are to leave the European Union, I cannot see any clarity at present as to how the four respective industries and the four respective Administrations will continue to operate on such things as those listed in the new clause, including: the functioning of the UK internal market, which I am sure we are all quite keen to ensure, while allowing for some policy divergence for each Administration to tailor whatever agricultural policy best suits their specific needs; compliance with international obligations; the management of common resources; and—most importantly, perhaps, from my point of view—how finance and funding under the UK umbrella will be allocated to the four respective nations.

I am very much of the opinion that any proposed framework would have to be agreed by the three devolved Administrations and the UK Government. If we did not have such an agreement, I do not think anything would truly operate smoothly. We would open ourselves up to challenges, legal disputes and so on.

I tabled the new clause because a lot of farmers in Ceredigion and, indeed, wider Wales have approached me with concerns that policy divergence may have severe adverse consequences for them. They fear that some policy divergence may cause adverse market distortion. Given the size of Wales and of the industry in Wales, we are keen to ensure that we minimise disruption as far as possible. The common agricultural policy, of course, does that to some extent: it sets out the broad parameters and objectives by which every nation state must abide while they try to tailor agricultural policies that suit their specific industries. Similar frameworks for the UK, agreed by the four Governments, are certainly appropriate and necessary.

I turn to finance, which I have mentioned not just in Committee but in other parts of the House. Although there is an ongoing independent review, which I welcome —for the record, I also welcome the Government’s commitment to avoiding using the Barnett formula to allocate resources among the devolved nations post Brexit—there is still a question. If we manage to sort out the initial funding allocation—the initial framework, as it were—how will we come to decide the next one in five to 10 years, or whatever that period may be? Just as importantly, how will we ensure the different financial thresholds in each policy do not lead to market disruption and distortion, which we must avoid?

The Farmers Union of Wales and the National Farmers Union Cymru have pleaded with me to stress the importance of ensuring that no nation is left behind and that we do not disrupt the level playing field. Thinking about how the CAP sets broad limits on how much money can be given directly to farmers, I am not confident that we will have any clarity about how we manage finances under this new set-up once we leave the EU.

I have suggested that we should look to create joint frameworks—intergovernmental frameworks—as a way of ensuring not only that each nation gets its fair share, but that multi-annual frameworks can be introduced. I know the industries in each of the nations of the UK are keen on those. If that was agreed by the four Administrations, perhaps the Government could take it out of the three to five-year Treasury cycle, liberating Ministers to set five, seven or even 10-year frameworks—whatever they deemed appropriate.

The key thing is that there needs to be joint agreement. It was stressed in the evidence sessions and our earlier debates on the Bill that at present there is no adequate or appropriate body to oversee the policies in the four nations of the UK. There is no dispute mechanism that is trusted by the four Administrations and the four industries. That should be explored as part of the discussions on the Bill. I am willing to say that Welsh Labour First Minister, Carwyn Jones, has touted a council of UK Ministers as a possible solution. That would replace or even enhance the existing Joint Ministerial Committee, which does not command much confidence in the industry, at least in Wales.

I can see the need post Brexit for an oversight body or some sort of governance structure to adjudicate whether the respective policies of the four nations abide by the UK’s commitments under the World Trade Organisation agreement on agriculture. I can also see the need for some sort of independent dispute resolution mechanism when it comes to exceptional market circumstances. For example—touch wood—drought in one part of the UK may lead the Government in that part of the UK to offer assistance with buying foliage. Inevitably, that would have an impact on the other countries if they did not decide to offer similar assistance. There needs to be some sort of body so that such concerns can be discussed in confidence and, I hope, addressed in a way that ultimately ensures the smooth running of the internal market and, most importantly, avoids harmful disruption to our farmers. I am sure we can all agree about that.

The issue of cross-border properties and farm holdings applies particularly to Wales; I am glad to see that the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire, my friend and neighbour, is here. Again, there needs to be a little more clarity so that we know exactly how these will operate post Brexit. If there are disputes on the Welsh or English side of the border, how can those farms take up those issues? Will they have to resort to costly legal action? Will both Governments be arguing and playing politics? My contention is that, if we were to have some sort of an oversight—an overarching body, an independent council of UK Ministers—that would at least afford us the opportunity to take the matter out of politics and have independent arbitration, which would, I hope, ensure that a particular farm on the border of Brecon or Radnor, for example, did not lose out.

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The hon. Gentleman has given me a great opportunity to come in. I sympathise with a lot of what he is saying, and my hon. Friend the Member for Gordon, sitting in front of me, has been nodding in agreement on various things. However, does the hon. Gentleman not have concerns, as I do, about certain things that come out of the DEFRA Department of the Welsh Government as a result of having too much authority in cases such as this? I understand his request for a framework, which we are all working towards, but if we give that Department too much power, Brecon and Radnorshire, and Ceredigion, will be in hot water indeed.

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I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I acknowledge and accept what he is saying: there is always a danger that we may not agree with what the Welsh Government want to do, particularly with regard to agriculture. I share that concern. However, I assure him that he need not worry and wait for too long—before long, my own party will be in government.

I fear that I have rambled on for long enough. This is a probing amendment, so I will not be pushing it to a Division—

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I might be tempted later.

We need to look at how the four industries and Administrations will work following the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, because the EU provided a sort of overarching framework within which we all knew the parameters and rules. Any new framework would have to be agreed by the four Administrations if they were to work effectively and smoothly. I am probing the Government to see what their thinking is on this matter. I may then bring it back for a vote on Report.

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The hon. Gentleman said that this is a probing amendment. He raises some important issues about how we co-ordinate policy around the UK. I will first explain why we do not agree with the approach taken in the new clause; secondly, I will outline some of the things we are doing.

First, we do not have a federal system in the UK. We have a devolved settlement. There is a good reason for that: federal systems tend to work best where there are a number of constituent parts all of roughly the same size. Our challenge in the UK is that England is so much bigger than the other parts of the UK; if we had some kind of qualified majority vote, England would end up dominating the decision making. Equally, if we had equal votes and effectively required unanimity, smaller parts of the UK would have a veto on what England did. That is why we have developed a devolution settlement where certain powers are clearly devolved and certain powers are clearly reserved. In the middle, where it makes sense to co-ordinate and work together, we have a good track record of putting together voluntary frameworks and memorandums of understanding.

The approach that we envisage taking is that there would be frameworks, in the form of memorandums of understanding or concordats, and that those would facilitate co-operation, collaboration and co-ordination so that we can work together on a number of key areas. As the hon. Gentleman highlighted, there are elements of the Bill that are devolved but on which we would probably want to work together, to co-ordinate the impacts. Notably, there needs to be some sort of administrative agreement in place to manage cross-border holdings. We have that already under the existing CAP so it would be relatively easy to roll something similar forward.

Perhaps most important is the use of powers in exceptional market conditions. Those intervention powers could have impacts on other parts of the UK, so having a memorandum of understanding about how we would use the powers is important. Other areas in which we believe that having an MOU would be important include approaches to data collection, contracts and market transparency, but also issues such as the changing of marketing standards.

We already have in the DEFRA family good examples of concordats working well. We have a number of them in relation to fisheries. Some of those have within them a dispute resolution mechanism. The Scottish Government have at times been in dispute with, for instance, the Isle of Man about scallop fishing—it is always scallops, for some reason—but a resolution process exists in the fisheries sphere to deal with that.

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Is the difference between a concordat and a memorandum of understanding the involvement of a dispute mechanism?

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Well, they are similar. Neither has to have a dispute resolution process. Some do and some do not. We have a number of concordats in the fisheries sphere. A concordat tends to be slightly more formal than an MOU, which is a looser agreement.

Let me turn to the points made by the hon. Member for Ceredigion. On subsection (1) of the new clause, we envisage concordats and MOUs pulling Ministers together in the way that I have described. On subsection (2)(d), as I said, we already have processes for managing cross-border cases. On subsection (3), we already have, as I said, the devolution settlement. On subsection (3)(b), about maintaining,

“as a minimum, equivalent flexibility for tailoring policies”

to that which we have in the EU, that is not saying very much—we do not have a lot of flexibility, to be honest, and we would like to give more.

One of my most memorable experiences in DEFRA has been being informed of a dispute that the Welsh Government were having with the EU about ear tags. In Wales, where there are hedges, ear tags can sometimes be pulled off by the brambles in a hedge, so animals used to have one small tag—a metal clip tag—and one larger tag that could be read, but the EU said that that was not good enough and the two tags had to be the same size, so that there were two dangling tags. The matter ended up going to court, and we had to get involved to support the Welsh Government in arguing their case. That is the kind of flexibility that we have in the EU—not very much. We would like to have far more.

My final point is this. Yesterday I was in Cardiff: the occasion was a joint ministerial meeting with the DEFRA Ministers. The meeting was hosted by Lesley Griffiths of the Welsh Government. Lesley put forward a proposal, which we agreed yesterday, that we should put that group of, in effect, the Agriculture and DEFRA Ministers on to a more formal footing, with clear terms of reference established, so that it could manage the EU exit process and possibly have a role thereafter, but also work up a memorandum of understanding about how we approach some of these issues together. Therefore, in addition to the Joint Ministerial Committee process, which itself is being reviewed to try to iron out some of the difficulties and make it more effective, we have a memorandum of understanding under development through the meeting that has been convened with the DEFRA Ministers. As I said, I was in Cardiff discussing that only yesterday.

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I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for updating us. May I ask which organisation will take precedence?

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Always, in a memorandum of understanding or concordat, we are in effect talking about issues that are devolved. They are issues that are technically devolved but on which we all recognise that there is sense in having common frameworks, so we voluntarily come back together for a concordat—to reach an agreement. We do that already in the veterinary sphere, for instance, in agriculture. There is a veterinary concordat whereby all parts of GB sign up to an Animal and Plant Health Agency surveillance programme, and it works very well, so we have demonstrated that we can do this. But ultimately these are areas of policy that are devolved and devolved provisions of the Bill.

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I should indicate that those policy areas may technically be devolved because they are devolved. That is important.

In the notice given by the policy paper “Agricultural framework progress update: September 2018”, the Government talked about a period of 18 months to reach that concordat with the Scottish Government. Can the Minister give us any indication of a firmer timescale for that, given how long the discussions have been going on and—if I may infer—some of the challenges that he has perhaps skipped over in reaching agreement on these concordats or memorandums?

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There is a lot of work to do. There are 92 different statutory instruments that we have had to put down in preparation for Brexit. Each of the devolved Administrations have had to do a large number of SIs themselves, and there has been an enormous amount of joint working at official level to share clauses and the legal drafting that our own parliamentary counsel has done, with the assistance of other devolved officials. We also now have 54 different Brexit projects, all of them about areas where we effectively have to either agree joint approaches or concordats, or agree that we will leave things fully devolved.

There is a large number of those projects. We discussed them yesterday. About one third of them are rated as being in the green box—everything has to be red, amber or green these days—recognising that there is already an agreement about how to proceed. On a number of others, more discussions are still needed, but that was highlighted yesterday. In the month ahead, there will be a lot of detailed working between officials.

I hope I have been able to reassure the hon. Member for Ceredigion that, through both the review of the JMC and putting the group that the Welsh Government proposed yesterday on a more formal footing, together with our plan for concordats and memorandums of understanding, we will address his concern, and that on that basis he will consider withdrawing his amendment.

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We think there is considerable merit in this new clause, and we hope that the hon. Member for Ceredigion will think hard before he gives away too much to the Government. The reality is that there is a need for a framework; if we are not careful, we will effectively have four different systems of agriculture developing, and I do not think we are very careful. I have waxed lyrical already about the problems in Northern Ireland, which have become more acute after yesterday. The Democratic Unionist party has already told me that it is not necessarily going to follow this particular bit of legislation—at the moment, it is not even going to follow this Government, so watch this space.

We must be very careful that there is some degree of co-ordination—dare I say it, a single market—within the United Kingdom, let alone a relationship with the Republic of Ireland, which is crucial for them but also important for us. We think the hon. Gentleman’s new clause deserves debate, and maybe more than debate. We must secure this agreement. It is interesting that the Fisheries Bill provides powers for Welsh Ministers, Northern Ireland Departments and Scottish Ministers in a more formal sense, yet this Agriculture Bill does not. Why not? I ask the Minister that—he can intervene, or sum up accordingly.

This is not just about farming. The new clause is strongly supported by Greener UK, which feels strongly that there is a real need for cross-border co-operation and collaboration to deliver on the environmental protection improvements that the Bill is all about. The Opposition advocated that during debate on the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, because we feel strongly that there is a need to at least keep the four countries together in terms of the different provision. Unless that is done by consensus, it will have to be done by imposition; consensus is by far the better way.

The specific requirements set out in new clause 11 would provide those legislative safeguards. Otherwise, there is nothing in the Bill to make the issue something substantive—rather, it is just on a wing and a prayer: one of the criticisms we have advanced throughout this Committee. I hear what the Minister says about how the different conventions apply with regard to meetings with the other three countries. This is very much an England-only Bill, so of course the Government can say warm words and make gestures, but those will not necessarily be tied in by the Bill.

On the need for environmental collaboration, Greener UK’s view is that the new clause is important, because those environmental considerations do not respect national borders. Unless we do similar things—we will not do the same thing, but we might do similar things—agriculture will be not just devolved but different in each of the four countries, as I have said.

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What my hon. Friend is saying is important, especially when we think about the proposed backstop arrangements for Northern Ireland, which could lead to significant divergence in standards and regulations between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK over time.

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That is true. Northern Ireland is the most acute case, because it has a land border with another country. The two countries have to have some sort of similar agricultural system because farmers farm on both sides and environmentalists want to see what is happening. While I was in Belfast, I talked to Friends of the Earth, which identified a serious and growing methane problem because of what has happened to farming in the north. I also talked to various parties in the south, which identified a similar problem. That indicates how much we need a common framework.

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Will the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that different schemes already operate in the four different parts of the UK? There is already plenty of co-operation on agriculture and the environment, so I do not think that that sort of UK-wide framework is required at this point.

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I have to disagree with the hon. Lady. If we do not put that in the Bill, what is there about having any co-operation?

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That is the point of devolution—that the different parts of the UK can do things differently according to their conditions and needs.

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I hear what the hon. Lady says, but for a farmer farming on the Scottish or the Welsh borders, of which we have some constituency examples here, that is not good news. They need to know that there is some certainty in the systems—not to put a straitjacket on what happens in those devolved parts of the UK, but because unless we are careful, we will end up with a hotch-potch of different systems.

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Is there not another danger? If there is no framework for dealing with differences or for helping the Scottish and Welsh Administrations to create systems that work for their farmers, large supermarket chains, which often determine the conditions under which farmers can produce, might use those differences to undercut farmers trying to do the right thing.

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My hon. Friend is absolutely right—of course they will. There is a real danger that something akin to turf wars will develop. This is not just hypothetical; it is about the need for common frameworks because of issues such as soil erosion and water management. We have to have cognisance of the fact that border areas need to take account of one another and of what is happening. Otherwise, we will end up with a race to the bottom, which we all want to avoid.

Another issue that has not been raised yet is the way that we will meet our international obligations post Brexit. As much as we have devolved Administrations, as the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith rightly says, we have signed up to many international conventions as the United Kingdom. We need some method. I hear what the Minister says about how regularly Ministers meet from the four Administrations—well, three; I do not know whether officials from Northern Ireland were there—

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indicated assent.

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The Minister nods, so they were. Again, that is important because it will be a learning curve.

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The hon. Gentleman is right to say we have international commitments, not the least of which, relevant to agriculture, is to the World Trade Organisation. I was somewhat surprised, therefore, that he decided not to vote with us on establishing the clauses that would enable us to deliver those commitments.

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It is not surprising. We are the Opposition and you are the Government. The Government are supposed to be moving the measure, which we scrutinise. There are ways in which we scrutinise it, which might involve some reflection.

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And we did, but I suppose the point I am making is that there are elements of the Bill that enable us to deliver the UK’s international commitments.

The hon. Gentleman asked whether I wanted to intervene on fisheries, and he is right that there are two areas in the Fisheries Bill where provision is made for joint working, but the difference with that Bill, which we will have time to debate in the future, is that it is very much to do with international negotiations. That is why we have committed to having a joint fisheries statement. It is all about international environmental commitments that are UK-wide. Secondly, there is provision for joined-up thinking when it comes to joint licensing, which, again, relates to an international agreement. We see agriculture policy as slightly different. There needs to be more scope for the devolved Administrations to do what works for their own landscape.

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I thank the Minister for that, and it is a perfectly valid case to make. That would be fine if we did not have a common border with another country that is going to remain in the EU. I do not quite understand. Although the seas are different in the sense that, yes, of course, there is a question of international access across all our waters, we have the same issue, whether we call it the backstop or just the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. We have to face up to it and look at some commonality, which is best achieved by common frameworks.

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Does the hon. Gentleman accept the Scottish Government’s point that the implementation of international obligations in devolved policy areas such as agriculture is in fact a devolved matter?

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That is the whole point. It is a devolved matter, but it is a question of whether, as I have said, there is some degree of agreement on how to take things forward. What we are considering is just a framework, not something that will demand that different parts of the UK follow exactly what other parts will do. The reality is that they will not. We know that. In farming policy, the word “policy” is important, because legislation is one thing, but the underlying policy equally needs to be scrutinised, which we have not really been able to do. We had a rushed series of evidence sittings, and the Government’s policy paper is, at best, fairly sketchy. We shall be looking at that.

The hon. Member for Ceredigion said he wanted to probe the question, and I hope that he will consider going further, having heard what has been said, to try to be clear about the future of British agriculture—if such a thing exists, given that the issue is devolved. The people in border areas really need to know that.

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The hon. Gentleman is generous in giving way. Does he think, particularly with regard to frameworks, that it is important that we protect the internal market, or unitary market, of the UK? It is important that potato farmers in Scotland, growing seed, can sell potatoes into England, and equally that livestock can move back and forth across the border. The east and west of the country have more in common with one another than, necessarily, north and south, and it is important that we recognise the unitary market.

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That is a point. We were talking about relationships with the EU post Brexit and about whether we have some form of common market, if not a single market. It would be helpful if we knew that that would happen within the four nations of the United Kingdom, let alone in the relationship with the Republic.

The issues are pretty important, and even more so in environmental terms, so I want not just to concentrate on farming but to talk about environmental requirements. On issues such as air quality, climate change and sustainable development obligations, unless we move forward with some degree of unity, we are pulled apart individually. I hear what the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith says about agriculture being a devolved matter, but air pollution is not, because it comes from one country to another. That is the whole point about methane: the problems in Northern Ireland do not stay in Northern Ireland but affect the Republic, and that is why the Republic is worried about what is happening in the north, as well as dealing with its own problems in the south. These problems have to be identified through some degree of co-operation. Why not have a way to lay that down? This is not a straitjacket. This is not about shoehorning four nations’ agriculture into the same box. We cannot do that, as the Bill says. Instead, we are saying that there needs to be a proper framework.

If the Government are not minded to accept new clause 11, I hope that the Minister will make it clear how the ongoing meetings with Ministers across the three territories and the officials in Northern Ireland can stay in place. With all the turmoil of Brexit and the way the world is becoming more complex, how will this stay in place? Unless we have some framework to ensure that this co-operation is ongoing, it could be subject to a completely voluntary approach to how the different Administrations want to get on.

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I will be brief. I understand why the hon. Member for Ceredigion has brought the new clause forward, but I cannot agree to support it. In particular, the Scottish National party position is that there is no need for a legislative UK framework of this sort. There are different common agricultural policy schemes in operation at the moment, for example, that do not disrupt the ability to trade across the UK, and land management needs are, frankly, too disparate to be covered under a single framework.

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I want to make a few points about this and to split them into the political and the legislative aspects. We have an opportunity with the Agriculture Bill to do what the National Farmers Union in Scotland has been crying out for—namely, to shape the decision-making process and establish it within the field of agriculture, for production and the environment. It would be a missed opportunity not to pursue that, given the length of time between agriculture Bills in the United Kingdom. We have an opportunity to provide farmers with a level of certainty and confidence, both of which, from the reflections that I have come across, are deeply lacking.

I said on a previous matter that the Bill is a framework and that there is little to see within it. Unfortunately, a lot of people seem to be seeing in it whatever they want to see. In doing that, we run the risk of creating something that means different things to different people. Agriculture is, rightly, devolved, but it does straddle the borders. There are farmers who do not necessarily have farms that straddle the border, but who are landowners on both sides of the border. This is an opportunity to give some certainty through a UK-wide framework, so that all our farmers and land managers and those who take an interest in the land are able to decide how they want to move forward with that confidence and certainty.

Secondly, I would like to address the politics of the Bill. We are in this position regarding this new clause and the Bill because there has been an inability for politicians to come together, consider and reach an agreement. I was grateful to the Minister for indicating the uphill challenge with regard to the memorandums that sit in front of the three devolved nations and England. However, he has highlighted the great problem that people have been unable to sit down and come to an agreement. That agreement has been desperately sought by the National Farmers Union, landowners, farmers and others on both sides of the border. There is still an opportunity to achieve it. It would be very helpful, as the Bill progresses, if the politics of it could be removed, so that some reality, certainty and, most of all, confidence can be given to our farmers.

A UK-wide framework would give an overarching picture in which each devolved area and England can continue to develop its own agricultural practices and those nuances that make a farm in Northumberland different from a farm in the borders and East Lothian. However, both those farms actually need certainty.

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I thank all those who have participated in the consideration of the new clause. I emphasise just a couple of things. It is of course true that there are policy differences between the different nations at the moment. However, we should also remember that there is—in effect, if nothing else—a UK-wide framework: the EU framework within which all the different nations tailor, operate and administer their policies. I therefore think there is a need to look again at how the four industries and four nations will work and co-operate post Brexit.

I understand what the Minister said about the memorandums of understanding and the concordats. I am particularly interested in the proposed dispute resolution mechanisms, or at least the potential for such mechanisms. I still argue that it would probably be neater and easier to understand if we were to have a single dispute resolution mechanism. My preference would be some sort of council of Ministers for agriculture, in which the four devolved Administrations could come together and agree on a more formal basis.

However, the point about the decision-making process was very well made by the hon. Member for East Lothian. I reiterate that we now have the initial frameworks and memorandums of understanding. There will come a point, whether in three, five, seven or 10 years down the line, when we will need to renegotiate, whether on the tricky issue of regulations or the even trickier matter of funding. An approach that sees us have an array of static concordats and memorandums of understanding would possibly not be appropriate.

This was a probing motion. Having now listened to the points made by Members on both sides of the Committee, I am tempted to go back and draft something else for the next stage of the Bill’s passage, and to then push that to a vote. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 12

International trade agreements: agricultural and food products

“(1) A Minister of the Crown may not lay a copy of an international trade agreement before Parliament under section 20(1) of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 unless the agreement—

(a) includes an affirmation of the United Kingdom’s rights and obligations under the SPS Agreement, and

(b) prohibits the importation into the United Kingdom of agricultural and food products in relation to which the relevant standards are lower than the relevant standards in the United Kingdom.

(2) In subsection (1)—

‘international trade agreement’ means—

(a) an agreement that is or was notifiable under—

(i) paragraph 7(a) of Article XXIV of General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, part of Annex 1A to the WTO Agreement (as modified from time to time), or

(ii) paragraph 7(a) of Article V of General Agreement on Trade in Services, part of Annex 1B to the WTO Agreement (as modified from time to time), or

(b) an international agreement that mainly relates to trade, other than an agreement mentioned in sub-paragraph (i) or (ii);

‘Minister of the Crown’ has the same meaning as in the Ministers of the Crown Act 1975;

‘relevant standards’ means standards relating to environmental protection, plant health and animal welfare applying in connection with the production of agricultural and food products;

‘SPS Agreement’ means the agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures, part of Annex 1A to the WTO Agreement (as modified from time to time);

‘WTO Agreement’ means the agreement establishing the World Trade Organisation signed at Marrakesh on 15 April 1994.”.(Deidre Brock.)

This new clause would ensure that HMG has a duty to protect the quality of the domestic food supply by ensuring that imported foodstuffs are held to the same standards as domestic foodstuffs are held to.

Brought up, and read the First time.

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

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With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

New clause 14—Ratification of international trade agreements—

“(1) An international trade agreement shall not be ratified unless it enables the United Kingdom to require imports to—

(a) comply with the standards laid down by primary and subordinate legislation in the United Kingdom regarding food safety, the environment and animal welfare, or

(b) have been produced to standards that are no lower than the legislative standards of the United Kingdom in protecting food safety, the environment and animal welfare.

(2) In this section ‘international trade agreement’ has the same meaning as in section 2(2) of the Trade Act 2018.”

This new clause would prevent the Government from entering into trade agreements that allow food imports that do not meet the UK’s environmental, animal welfare and food safety standards.

New clause 23—Import of agricultural goods—

“(1) Agricultural goods may be imported into the UK only if import would not conflict with and would be consistent with—

(a) the UK’s commitments under international law on animal welfare, including but not restricted to the European Convention for the Protection of Animals kept for Farming Purposes.

(b) The UK’s commitments under international law on environmental protection, including but not restricted to—

(i) the Paris Agreement,

(ii) CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora),

(iii) the Convention on Biological Diversity, including the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety to the Convention on Biological Diversity,

(iv) the Convention on the Law of the Sea, and

(v) the Sustainable Development Goals.

(c) Domestic legislation on—

(i) animal welfare,

(ii) environmental standards,

(iii) the protection of health and life of humans, animals or plants,

(iv) public morality,

(v) public security,

(vi) health and safety,

(vii) food safety standards.

(d) The section on animal welfare in the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) Terrestrial Animal Health Code and the section on the welfare of farmed fish in the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) Aquatic Animal Health Code.

(2) ‘Agricultural goods’, for the purposes of this section, means—

(a) any livestock within the meaning of section 1(4) or any product derived from livestock,

(b) any plants or seeds, within the meaning of section 13(6)

(c) any product derived from livestock, plants or seeds.”

This new clause would prevent the import of agricultural goods from other countries into the UK if they have been produced to lower standards than those of the UK.

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There has been considerable concern from consumers about the quality of foodstuffs that will be available after Brexit, and particular concern about the possible reduction in quality that might come as a result of trade deals, with chlorinated chicken, hormone-pumped beef, genetically modified vegetables and so on. The concerns are wide ranging and cover many areas.

Chlorinated chicken, for example, has implications for food hygiene and nutrition. We prefer poultry with higher welfare and hygiene standards throughout the journey from hatching to plate, rather than its carcass being bleached to remove evidence of poor welfare and hygiene. Those consumer concerns are matched by producer concerns about high-quality products being undermined and undercut by poor-quality, cheap imports, whose adulterations are masked by later cosmetic measures, which is truly the modern-day purchase of a pig in a poke.

Consumers and producers have been protected thus far by the European Union and its rules and red tape, which we will shortly shed. It seems sensible to me to replace those EU protections with what protections can be offered from this place. Such protection will be a pale imitation—that is sure—but we should do what we can. New clause 12 would ensure that food standards and the protections offered do not plummet off the Brexit cliff to be dashed on the rocks of profiteering below. It is incumbent on us to offer what protections we can, and the new clause would do that. Likewise, new clauses 14 and 23 would offer some peace of mind and some protections, and I am minded to support them.

I have seen no movement from the Government in this direction so far. However, I hope that the Minister will see the wisdom of accepting the need for such protections to be written into the Bill.

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I am minded to support the hon. Lady on this, although we have tabled our own new clause 23. This is at the core of the Bill. Although we are talking about agriculture, we cannot exclude trade from that. We—I mean the great “we”, because no organisation that has commented on the Bill is not of a similar mind—need to know what guarantees there are that the animal welfare, environmental and food-quality standards that British agriculture prides itself on will not be undermined by a race to the bottom, and that we will not take on some mad trade deals to try to dig the UK out of its current dilemma of what it does if it shuts the door on the EU. This is very important.

We have reached a turning point in our debate on the Bill. We hope the Government will get the message, from not just the Opposition but the organisations that have commented on the Bill, many of which will have spoken to the Minister. They want security and the knowledge that there will be no attempt to undermine the standards that have been put in place over generations for British agriculture and the environment. Greener UK, which has been largely supportive of the Government’s approach, sees this as one of the major dividing lines. It wants new clause 23 or new clause 12 in the name of the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith.

We can argue about the definitions—we think that our new clause is slightly more foolproof, but we will listen to the hon. Lady and my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East, who will hopefully get the opportunity to speak to new clause 14. This issue is absolutely crucial to the way the Bill will be received in not just this country but the wider world. We have to send the wider world the message that this Bill rules out importing cheaper, poor-quality food.

I know there is a degree of disunity in the Government. The Secretary of State for International Trade has been going to all sorts of places, but I challenge him to name one place outside the EU—where he has not been—whose food standards are equal to the UK’s and the EU’s. The reality is that there are not any. Other countries are able to produce cheaper food because they undermine labour standards, sadly mistreat the animals and use all sorts of other methods.

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The hon. Gentleman is making some very valid points, but is it not the case that currently, in the EU, we are unable to ban the import of foie gras or veal produced under systems that are illegal in this country? We could improve animal welfare standards by disentangling ourselves from the single market with Europe.

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I hear what the right hon. Gentleman says. If we had been more effective, we might have got rid of those things. We have to pay due regard to our international obligations, and such issues should be tackled internationally. The problem is that we are going backwards to go forwards. I know that we get hung up on chlorinated chicken, but a whole range of things could be coming our way from the US, because the Americans have a fundamentally different attitude towards food. Their view of food is that it is more about price and availability, which is why they are able to do the things they do. Of course, much of the food produced in the US is good quality, but the problem is that the methods by which they produce much of their food are alien to the British way of producing food. We have to accept that.

I have already made the point that if Australia is able to break its sheep meat quota, it will completely undermine the lamb market in Wales and other parts of the United Kingdom. This really does matter. We know where the dilemma comes from. In much of the Bill, we have had arguments about powers and duties, the Henry VIII clauses and so on. My hon. Friend the Member for Darlington knows that the Trade Bill would give so much power to the Secretary of State to chip away our regulation, if they so choose, that it is deeply worrying if we do not hold the line in this area at least.

Our food should be sacrosanct, yet it is included within many of the areas that we see as deleterious in the way that the Department for International Trade is pushing through, on the presumption that those with whom we make trade deals will play by the rules. They may choose to at one level, but they certainly will not take the substantive approach in how they pretend to keep to our standards. That, of course, matters because it is our consumers who will suffer.

Our food trade internationally will also be associated with the lowering of standards. That is why we tabled a number of amendments to the Trade Bill to look at making those trade obligations more secure, but sadly the Government did not listen to us. We looked for guarantees on welfare standards, environmental protections and food standards and the Government did not listen. We make no apology for having another go because it is too important for British agriculture not to do so. We will lose all the benefits of sanitary and phytosanitary arrangements currently in place with the EU, which no doubt the Minister could wax lyrical about. We must put something in the place of what we will be removing.

It is important to look at some of the governance issues. We looked at the implications, through the process of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010. The reality of that is that there will be very few safeguards to stop a Secretary of State who chooses to sign up to a free trade deal that threatens British agriculture.

It would be nice to think that there were backstops to all that for the mainland—ways in which we could prevent the coming into force of trade deals that undermine our consumers’ position and, more particularly, the potential of the producer.

The proposed new clause covers more than trade deals, however. It is about the whole philosophical approach to the way in which we have developed high quality food, largely at a price people can afford. We argued previously, without success, for a clause on food poverty. That is a distribution as well as a production issue.

We want some clarity from the Government to the effect that they are willing to state in legislation that they will rule out anything that undermines animal welfare, environmental protection and food standards. This is a pretty important part of the Bill.

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Is it not the case that new clause 23 would give protection to the timber industry and, more importantly, address illegal logging? We would extend our protections even wider. One of the great environmental tragedies is the loss of rain forests and the continuous forests that are needed. This proposal would give protection there as well.

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My hon. Friend rightly chides me that we never bring timber into this discussion. That is, of course, as important as food and other areas, so we should be looking at an integrated approach. He is absolutely right. This is important because, unless we state in the Bill how we will approach trade, we will lose the opportunity for agriculture’s voice to be heard properly. More importantly, there are no safeguards or failsafes in place, because the Government did not listen to us on the Trade Bill.

I hope the Minister recognises that across the terrain of the farming and environmental organisations and the food lobby, security is what is wanted, in the form of a new clause that gives the certainty that we will keep to our word—that the standards of British food will be maintained and will not be subject to cheaper, poorer imports. That is why we make no apology for saying that this is a really important part of the Bill, and that we hope the Government will listen and accept what we are trying to do.

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I would like to speak to my new clause 14 and to support new clauses 12 and 23.

As has been said, there is a great deal of consensus regarding support for the principle behind the motions. I was with the National Farmers Union in Gloucestershire during the mini-recess in early November, and members were adamant that all the benefits that would come from the new subsidies regime would count for nothing if they were undercut by cheaper imports that were produced to lower standards. That would mean their either somehow having to lower their own standards, which they are adamant they do not want to do—they are proud of the standards they work to—or simply going out of business. As has been said, the green groups are supportive of the measures for obvious reasons, as is anyone who is interested in food sustainability and anyone who thinks it important that we stick to the standards we have kept to for many years through our membership of the European Union.

We know there is a threat; for all the reassurances the Minister can give us about not lowering standards post Brexit, we know that many in his party are keen to see that happen. To start with, the response I was getting from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs was that there would be no lowering of British standards post Brexit, which obviously leads to the suspicion that we would allow lower-standard imports. The response has now moved, very late in the day: when the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the farming Minister gave evidence to the EFRA Committee last week, they were keen to say that the measure would not apply to imports. The EFRA Secretary also gave me assurances that the Secretary of State for International Trade believed that as well. Given the record of the Secretary of State for International Trade on the matter—I was in Washington last year when he hit the headlines talking about chlorinated chicken and so on—I think that he is, to coin a phrase, “intensely relaxed” about the import of lower-standard foods.

There are certainly many in the Conservative party—the global Britain Brexiteers—who are keen to see us go to a no-deal scenario and, I believe, a race to the bottom. My constituency neighbour, the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg), has argued that as socialists we ought to welcome cheaper food imports because they would solve food poverty. He is also the person who said that food banks were a great thing because they show big society coming together and people helping each other. I have urged him, on a number of occasions, to cross the border into Bristol to see what food poverty actually looks like. From what I know of his constituents, I do not think they would welcome the bringing of chlorinated chicken into the country.

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Does my hon. Friend agree that if the Minister and the Secretary of State had the certainty that the minimum level was stated in the Bill, they would have some confidence and protection and the ability to say, when we come to trade agreements, “We can go no lower than this”? That certainty may help with the negotiations.

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We know there will be huge pressure when the negotiations start. The US has made it clear that it wants to see its produce that is currently banned allowed into the country, and Australia and New Zealand have said something similar. The International Trade Committee has warned of the risk of an “agriculture for services trade-off” in a future deal with the US, and we know that when they get into the negotiating room that is what will happen.

During the passage of the Trade Bill, I tried to put in an amendment, and we were repeatedly told that the Bill was not about future trade deals and the scrutiny of them, despite there clearly being provisions in it that talked about such deals. When I tabled amendment 81, attempting to insert a non-regression clause into any new trade agreements, I was told that that was not the place for it, and Ministers now say that that would be outside the scope of the Agriculture Bill too—the farming Minister said that to the EFRA Committee last week. This Bill is about protecting farmers, our food standards and the fairness of the UK supply chain. This amendment is fundamental to everything the Government are trying to do to support and sustain high-quality British food, produced to high environmental food safety and animal welfare standards. I should have thought that the Minister would welcome its being enshrined in the Bill, so that the Bill matches those words.

We heard some concerns about the potential impact if we allowed American imports, for example, into this country. There are food safety issues; the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has said that chlorinated chicken is not about food safety standards but is just an animal welfare issue of how the animals are treated beforehand—the fact that a bucket of bleach is tipped over the chicken at the end deals with any hygiene issues. When he gave evidence to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee on 31 October, I pointed out that the incidence of food poisoning in the US is around 10 times higher than in the UK. On average, one in six people in the States will succumb to food poisoning each year, and about one in 66 in the UK. The Environment Secretary was quite taken aback by that, and said he would go away and look at that.

A total of 380 deaths each year are attributed to salmonella in the US; there were no deaths from salmonella in England and Wales between 2005 and 2015. The campylobacter infection rate in the US is more than 6,000 per 100,000 of the population. In the UK that rate is much lower, and falling. The US has an average of 1,591 cases of listeriosis a year, compared with 177 a year in England and Wales.

Unless Americans are particularly unhygienic in their homes, there is clearly a food safety issue in American food. We do not want that imported into this country. Most recent evidence published by microbiologists at Southampton University in the US journal mBio found that bacteria such as listeria and salmonella remain completely active after chlorine washing. The process merely makes it impossible to culture them in the lab, giving the false impression that chlorine washing has been effective.

It is not just the case that we do things slightly differently here, and that although the American system deals with all the hygiene issues at the end, we deal with them throughout the production chain and they have the same impact. There is a very clear difference in the produce there. The Minister said that in the US they

“turn a blind eye to what might happen on a farm, and then treat it when it gets to the abattoir.”

That is why he said it was an animal welfare issue. It is not just an animal welfare issue. Even if it was, we would not want to accept that here anyway. Colleagues of the farming Minister, such as Lord Deben, will be very interested in this issue when it comes to the House of Lords. He said recently that imports of US-standard food would lead to a huge decline in food safety.

The routine use of antibiotics on farms is contributing to the growth of antimicrobial resistance and the rise of superbugs and putting public health at serious risk. That is five times higher in the USA than in the UK. The Minister will probably say that we are making strides to reduce the routine use of antibiotics in UK farms. In America it is still much higher, and if we are forced to compete with American imports, inevitably that will lead to intensification of our farming system here. Many more animals will be crammed into mega-farms, which will mean that antibiotic use inevitably will go up because that is what it tends to be used for—as a pre-emptive measure against infection when lots of animals are crammed together.

I think we will return to this issue on Report, as there is cross-party support for that. It is not enough for the Minister to say, “We do not want a lowering of standards.” I do not cast doubt on the Minister’s credibility—I believe that he does not want that. I believe that the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs does not want that. Unfortunately, I do not believe all his colleagues, or that there are enough safeguards to rely on warm words alone.

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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Wilson. I rise to speak very much in the spirit with which the hon. Member for Bristol East finished her remarks. She is absolutely right to have identified the cross-party interest in and concern about these issues.

Since the British people made the decision to leave the European Union, I have always said during my meetings with the National Farmers Union and farmers in my constituency that, as important as this Bill will be, the most pressing issue is probably the one raised by the hon. Member for Bristol East in relation to the new clauses. The Bill does important work: it is trying to sculpt and scope a framework of support, and triggers for that support, for UK agriculture. We all want that to be a success, we all understand the importance of the sector to our national economy, and we all want to see it flourish. We therefore understand the importance of the Bill.

We also understand entirely, from remarks made by my hon. Friend the Minister, that in many respects this is a skeleton Bill, or a Christmas tree Bill, upon which certain things will hang and from which future policies and initiatives will flow. I think that we have to be incredibly careful. I hope that we will be able to enter into trade agreements, because they will be good for UK plc, but we should not throw the baby out with the bathwater in their pursuit. We should not see a lowering of our standards in certain areas, particularly within the food sector. I have always had a concern that, for some in British politics, the pursuit of the “Brexit dividend”—to give it a handy moniker—could most readily manifest itself in the price of foodstuffs.

On several occasions I have heard my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset, as the hon. Lady for Bristol East referenced, talk about the lowering of food prices in the shopping basket, and likewise with shoes and clothing, although I appreciate that they are not part of the Bill. He may very well be right. I always point out that we are spending the lowest percentage of our household income on food than at any time in our history, so it is hard to see how food could become very much cheaper in real terms.

However, my concern is about the next step of the scenario. My concern has always resided on this point: if individual trade deals came back to this House to be voted upon in an affirmative way, whether through a statutory instrument or on the Floor of the House, this issue could be part of the checklist to establish whether one would be minded to support it. However, it looks as if trade agreements will not be subject to a vote in the House, so we would be wise to include in the Bill this precautionary principle—this little check—to provide comfort to consumers, who need as much information as possible. I do not believe in the sort of free market in which any old rubbish is put on the supermarket shelves and then people are allowed to make an informed decision. We have to have some standards so that people can have general confidence in the product they are purchasing, irrespective of the price that happens to have been set. There needs to be some underpinning and some general benchmark of standards.

On the “Brexit dividend”, I have always put it to my colleagues in this way: were trade agreements to be entered into that saw, as part of some spirit of reciprocity, new markets opened to what we might call the sexier sides of our economy—finance, IT, insurance, pharmaceutical and the like—the quid pro quo trade-off will be access to our large and growing consumer market, hungry for food, if the Committee will forgive the pun. We would find ourselves swamped with cheap imports, raised to all sorts of standards. Some may be higher than ours, which would be great. Some may be the same, which would be perfect. I think that we would all be keen to resist anything that was lower, for example in relation to chemical applications or animal welfare issues—I see those as equally important.

However, I have often made the point that those cheap imports would remain cheap only while a robust domestic production market formed a competitive market and challenge. I made that point on Second Reading, as did other colleagues. My fear, my hunch and my prediction would be that, as a result of a swamping of overly cheap imports—priced cheaply because the standards are lower and therefore the costs of production are less—that would see a rapid choking off of our domestic production market, either to the point of being barely recognisable, or to be non-existent.

Either of those scenarios could result in a situation whereby those who had distorted our food pricing market would then ride the crest of a non-competitive wave because domestic production would have diminished to a point at which it really only deals with the niche, farmers’ market type of market, but not large-scale domestic production. Having had two or three years of cheap prices, we would suddenly find prices going in an upward trajectory on a very fast escalator. It would be faster plus, because not only would they want to recoup the money for products sold cheaply then, but they would also want desperately to claw back the under-pricing that they had triggered as importers to our country—or exporters, depending which end of the telescope we care to look through—and regain that lost revenue, because they had deliberately distorted the market in order to choke off domestic competition.

I entirely take the point made by the hon. Member for Bristol East that the bona fides on this issue of my hon. Friend the Minister and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State are beyond challenge. They have been absolutely and abundantly clear. If I could preserve my right hon. and hon. Friends in some sort of political aspic and presume that they would always be in office—I am not sure whether they would find that an attractive proposition—we could all take a step back and breathe a little more easily. We all know that legislation cannot bind our heirs and successors because it is subject to amendment by future Parliaments, but we should at least be setting some definitive benchmarks now. On something as important as this, it is in the Bill—although not necessarily in the wording of these new clauses—that we need to put down those important markers. Would it not be the most frustrating waste of the Committee’s time to have spent it talking about the importance of a sector and seeking to build a cross-party coalition in its support and furtherance, only to find all our work and good efforts coming to nought as a result of an overly laissez-faire approach to trading issues?

Before my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes South has some sort of apoplectic fit, I assure him that, at this stage—because I am very conscious that our hon. Friend the Minister will need to go back and talk to colleagues—if the amendments are pushed to a vote, I will not support them, because further discussion is needed. I give my hon. Friend the Whip that assurance today, but I am afraid that I cannot give the same cast-iron guarantee on Report unless we see some movement on this.

I do not believe that I am alone. I noticed the sharp inhalation of breath by the hon. Member for Bristol West, in a theatrical, pantomime gesture. I hope that my hon. Friends on the Front Bench know that I have never rebelled—I have never voted against Her Majesty’s Government—and I hope that I do not have to. However, I think that the hon. Member for Bristol East was absolutely right that there is a broad coalition of interest in this on the Floor of the House. Whether Members come from a public health aspect or a fiercely pro-agricultural aspect, or whether they are concerned about better shaping and sculpting the post-Brexit environment, I am not sure.

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My hon. Friend makes some very valid points. Does he agree that adequate labelling is also part of this? For example, a lot of processed chicken comes in from Thailand and Brazil, but consumers are often not aware because it comes as part of a product. Does he agree that part of the solution to this problem is better labelling, so that people know what they are buying?

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My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. At the appropriate time there needs to be a significant and radical overhaul of the red tractor. There needs to be much clearer labelling and information. However, information itself can be a bit of a blunt instrument. People need to know how to interpret and understand the information put in front of them. I can read a manual on how to wire a plug 17 times but I will still not understand how to do it. However, the information is there. I do not actually know how to rewire a plug. That is why candle consumption in the Hoare household is very high.

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I remember, during the ’70s, when I was a child, my dad having to put a plug on the end of every electric device we had. However, that is no longer needed, thanks to European Union regulations on the issue.

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I hope I do not insult the hon. Lady by saying this, but I am rather guessing from those remarks that she and I are therefore of a similar vintage. Were those not simpler and happier days? That is where we are.

I do not wish to detain the Committee for any longer than I need to, but this is a pivotal thing that could dramatically affect our agricultural sector. It is not about protection or insulation. It is not about preserving our farming sector in some sort of legislative aspic, to create some sort of bucolic scene of smock-wearing, corn-chewing loveliness where sheep are clean and all the rest of it.

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What about the sandals?

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I shall leave the hon. Gentleman to polish his own sandals. I have never been a sandal wearer, apart from at school, I suppose.

However, we need to make sure that the sector is vital. It is not an old-fashioned sector; it is at the cutting edge of production and of using agritech and new sciences to farm and produce in more environmentally sensitive ways and to increase animal welfare and so on. It would be a tragedy if that all came to naught, and the work of the Committee came to naught, and we suddenly found that there was no agricultural sector, or such a small agricultural sector that, in actual fact, all this work was unnecessary.

I think that the hon. Member for Bristol East is right; there is a broad consensus and a growing coalition on these issues in the House. I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to convince colleagues across Government of the clear and compelling virtue that motivates both him and our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.

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I shall be brief, because most of what I would have said has been said by hon. Friends, and indeed by the hon. Member for North Dorset, with whom I absolutely concur. There has been a lot of discussion about whether we should be rule takers or rule makers, but there is no point in adhering to rules or in making them for ourselves if they are all then undercut by other people.

Other countries do not always adhere even to international agreements that they have signed up to. If we are going to adhere to them ourselves, as we should because they are good rules, we need to ensure that we have a legislative justification for refusing to take their goods. I am worried that without any legislative justification it will be extremely difficult for us, under either international trade agreements or World Trade Organisation rules, to prevent imports of goods that are produced without following those rules, undercutting what farmers can and should be doing in this country.

If we are to achieve any of the public goods set out in clause 1—healthy, sustainable food; a reduction in pollution and climate change emissions; protection of our countryside; and decent working conditions for people in agriculture—we need to have farming in this country that is not only ecologically, but financially sustainable, and it must not be undercut by other countries. A television programme I recently saw by chance included an appalling part about vegetables being produced in southern Spain. It showed just how bad some of the trashing of the environment and the treatment of people was. That was within the European Union, so we do not always get it right within the European Union, but at least while we are in the European Union there is a mechanism for trying to enforce rules in other countries. We will not have that once we leave the European Union, and we need to ensure that there is something in the Bill that will do that.

Pollution and climate change do not respect borders. There is no point in our trying to reduce the level of pollution and climate change emissions in agriculture in this country if we do not have some mechanism for ensuring that we can impose those high standards on producers in other parts of the world. If we do not have explicit rules in the Bill about what we will import, we are leaving ourselves open to undercutting and not only will farmers in this country suffer, but the environment will suffer in this country and in the rest of the world.

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I do know how to wire a plug; that is the first thing I want to say. I add my voice to this because we need to hammer home to the Minister the level and extent of the concern across the parties on this issue. I do not know whether my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East wishes to press the clause to a vote today or whether there might be opportunities to express the view of parliamentarians in future stages of the Bill, but the Government need to take the hint provided by the excellent speech by the hon. Member for North Dorset, which put the point across incredibly well. It might be a good idea for the Government to come back with their own proposition at a later stage, perhaps in the other place, and propose something that we can all support.

This matter is of such great concern and importance because it is all happening in the context of the withdrawal agreement that we had sight of last week, which is unclear about the future of these kinds of standards, either in the backstop arrangement or in the political declaration about the future relationship. There is a huge row going on about that outside this Committee, so we do not need to go into it all here, but suffice it to say that the agreement is incredibly vague and non-specific about how the UK’s future standards and regulations on these issues would look. That is something that we are unhappy about anyway, but it is particularly important when we look at the issues that we are considering. The hon. Member for North Dorset put it well when he said that the impact may not be felt straightaway but that the erosion of the industry could be seen over time. We have spent so much time in Committee discussing how to protect, enhance, sustain and grow that industry so it will continue to be the best in the world, and it would be a tragedy to see it diminish because we did not have the foresight to put these safeguards in place.

In a way, I am reminded of what has happened to the high street. In not that long a time, we have seen the withdrawal of the vibrancy of our high streets, and it will be very difficult to get that back. Exactly the same thing could happen to our agricultural industries. As a generation of politicians, we would never be forgiven for that.

Obviously, we import food from the US now, but we do it carefully within a set of rules and we are mindful of the standards of what we import, so everybody knows that they can buy food that has been imported from the US with confidence and that it complies with the standards that we expect in this country. That needs to be the case in the future too. I think there would be widespread public support for that to happen in the Bill, and if it does not, I am not sure where in law that provision would be placed, particularly if we were to leave without a deal. I am pretty confident that we are not going to do that, actually, because I do not think the Government would take us down that catastrophic path, but we are here to deal with things that might happen as well as things that we expect to happen.

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Surely if the hon. Lady is keen for us to leave with a deal, her party should vote for the deal before us.

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I do not believe that the Government have any intention of leading us out without a deal, and if they tried, the vast majority of MPs would get in the way. According to the Government’s technical notices, leaving without a deal would require 51 pieces of legislation, and on day one of that legislation being introduced, an amendment would be tabled that said, “This Government may not lead us out without a deal.” Parliament would use the many opportunities that it would have to prevent it happening, but I do not believe that the Prime Minister has the slightest intention of going down that path. I think she wants a deal, but the argument we are having is whether it is this deal.

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Following the comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby, I hear what the hon. Lady says—she and I have discussed it—but my right hon. Friend is right that at some point, the hon. Lady’s party will have to vote for a deal produced by the Government and not just hide behind process and everything else. To leave with a deal, we have to get a deal.

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Order. May I suggest that we stop the discussion there before we go down a rabbit hole from which we will never recover?

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I have been advised by the Chair not to respond, so I will resist, but there is nothing processy about our objection to the deal. The deal does not include that which we have told the Prime Minister we need in order to support it.

Our fourth test about preventing a race to the bottom is absolutely relevant to the new clause. Unless we have the new clause, or something like it that the Government have the opportunity to introduce—I have never seen a Minister stand up and say, “I accept your clause” to anybody across the way; I understand that they always want to bring back their own—we will see a race to the bottom. For about 18 months, we have set out the criteria by which we would assess a deal. Avoiding a race to the bottom is very important to us for the reasons we are discussing.

The withdrawal agreement and the political declaration mention non-regression measures. I have not got the agreement with me—this is the only time this week that I have not carried the damn thing around with me. Will non-regression measures apply to food standards, environmental protections and animal welfare? The agreement contains something about workers’ rights, but it would be helpful to know from the Minister whether non-regression measures will apply to the issues we are discussing.

Things look uncertain. We are not even sure whether the agreement published last week will be agreed by Parliament, or what steps the Government will take even if it is agreed. Which measures will apply to this industry, and what opportunities will there be to make this type of clause binding if we do not take the opportunity now? I am not certain that we will have the opportunity before the end of March next year. We have a duty to put this in place in some way, shape or form between now and then. If the Minister assures us that there will be an opportunity to do so, we will need to think about that, but for now, I think this is it. If the Government do not adopt these measures today, when will they do so? They are incredibly important, and there is clearly cross-party support for this kind of instrument. I think the Minister gets that. It would be useful to hear how he intends to proceed, how far he intends to go, and what form he thinks the protections need to be in.

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The amendments all seek to achieve the same thing: to set out in statute a requirement that no trade deal can be done or put before Parliament unless its terms mean that no good can be imported that does not meet our standards.

Before talking about the approach that we intend to take on future trade deals, I want to say first and foremost that this is an incredibly important issue. As a number of hon. Members highlighted, the Secretary of State and I could not have been clearer that we will not water down our trade and animal welfare standards in pursuit of a trade deal. The Department for International Trade has now adopted that position unambiguously, despite what the hon. Member for Bristol East said. It is clear that we will not water down our food standards in pursuit of a trade deal.

I want to make a number of points. First, the EU regulations on chlorine-washed chicken, hormone-treated beef and other standards are coming across through the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 and will sit as retained EU law. It will be unlawful to do a trade deal allowing hormone-treated beef or chlorine-washed chicken into the UK unless Parliament decides to repeal the legislation that bans its sale in the UK.

Secondly, we are obviously working on our future trade agreement with the European Union. The approach outlined in the Chequers proposal, which remains the basis for the UK’s approach in the development of a future economic partnership, is that we will have a common rulebook on issues pertinent to the border, which will include sanitary and phytosanitary issues. It is likely that a Bill giving effect to the future economic partnership will give additional protections in this space.

This is an important matter for another reason. The United Kingdom has been on a rather different journey from the United States—in particular, over the past 30 years. In the UK, there has been a growth of consumer interest in food provenance. Consumers want more labelling so they can understand how their food was produced. They want higher standards, and they have sought to purchase locally where possible. We have seen a growth in farmers’ markets and a much stronger consumer interest in the quality of food.

The US remains rather backward in this sense—it has not made those changes in recent decades. It has precious little legislation to protect farm animal welfare. There are virtually no federal laws at all. Even state by state, there is only patchy regulation. The hon. Member for Bristol East pointed out that the US is still too reliant on antibiotics and failing to make the kind of progress that we have. It has a long way to go to catch us up. That said, consumer driven trends in the US are making an impact. There is more interest in natural beef—non-hormone-treated beef. There is a growing demand among US consumers for organic beef. McDonald’s now has a British chief executive, who understands the importance of animal welfare. Standards of animal welfare in the US are being driven up as the terms of supply are dictated to big companies, such as McDonald’s. That is all starting to have a positive impact in the US, although it still has a long way to go.

This issue is important for another reason, which is most pertinent to us as we debate the Bill: we must not expose our producers to unfair competition. It would be wrong to have far higher regulatory standards here, but then undermine those standards and effectively export production to foreign countries with lower standards. That is why getting these issues right matters.

The approach we are taking is not to say, “Let’s try and put on the face of the Bill a requirement in this space,” because in a trade deal we need to consider things such as equivalence—they might not have identical regulations, but they might be equivalent in some circumstances. The approach we have taken is to look at the process of scrutiny of trade deals as they come back to Parliament.

There are a number of different models. In the European Union, the Commission first of all requests authorisation from the Council of Ministers to negotiate a trade agreement with a partner. Those are sometimes referred to as a mandate, because the Council will set out the parameters for that negotiation. When a deal is concluded the Commission returns to the Council and the European Parliament to seek agreement for that particular trade deal. The US has a similar approach, in which Congress delegates authority to the Trade Promotion Authority, which is an office within the presidency. Therefore, there is a mechanism whereby Congress can define the parameters and mandate of a trade deal, which finally returns to Congress to either be vetoed or accepted, but it cannot be amended.

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Will the Minister tell me what the former Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson), was doing in Oklahoma, if not trying to talk about some trade deal? If he cannot pull it off in this country, let alone the US, what was he doing in Oklahoma?

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I did not know that my right hon. Friend was in Oklahoma, but he is no longer the Secretary of State, and I have not had time to go to Oklahoma personally.

Smaller countries such as New Zealand and Australia have less parliamentary scrutiny—it is predominantly a prerogative for the Cabinet—but even Australia has a process whereby the final trade deal must be laid before Parliament for a period of 15 days. For us, this is an area led by the Department for International Trade. The hon. Member for Stroud said there were a number of amendments to the Trade Bill, which I know were debated. DIT has taken a position somewhere between the two. It envisages a 14-week consultation to run ahead of any new negotiation. There would then be a strategic trade advisory group, created to advise Ministers. As negotiations progressed there would be regular updates and statements with the International Trade Committee, so there would be a committee of MPs scrutinising the progress of negotiations. Finally, at the end of the negotiation, the terms of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 would kick in. That would require the Government to lay the trade deal and the treaty that established it before Parliament. There would then be a period of 21 days during which Parliament could pray against that trade Bill and vote to refuse its ratification.

If that happened, the Government would have to go away and think again about what to do. If that process continued a number of times, it would obviously be possible to bring a motion before Parliament that would effectively veto the treaty. There would be lots of scrutiny during the development of the trade deals and then a parliamentary right to veto at the end.

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Does the Minister accept that most trade deals involve various sectors? There is something unique about the agriculture sector and, in particular, the agriculture sector that will be created if this Bill is enacted. Farmers will be supported to do things other than the production of the substance that is the subject of trade. When we have a trade arrangement on agricultural products, we have a very different scenario from that we would have with a trade deal on products from producers who are not being supported to do other things. It is the support to do other things that needs the special protection in trade deals to do with agriculture.

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The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, but it is broader than that. Agriculture is unique. There is a reason why most trade deals that fail founder over arguments around agriculture. Controversy around deals such as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership or any others, for that matter, always concern issues about food standards, food quality and animal welfare, and rightly so. The truth is that consumers care about those issues deeply and passionately. They are less interested in chapters on digital or financial services.

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So does the Minister accept there is a very good reason for having a special trade clause in the Bill?

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There is a very good reason for having the thorough process outlined by the Department for International Trade that I am describing to the hon. Gentleman.

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There has been much talk about trade deals in terms of what others might send us, but does the Minister not agree that trade is a two-way process? If, as he suggested, the Americans are becoming much more discerning in the quality of the products they buy, there are great opportunities to export products such as Wensleydale cheese or British beef to these new markets.

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That is a very important point. We are working at the moment to try to get access for British beef to the United States because it is a premium product and their beef tends to be lower grade. There is also a good market for British dairy products, particularly our famous cheeses, in the United States where they largely have a standard cheddar that is not particularly good. There is a market for those. There are offensive opportunities in some of these trade deals, which we should always bear in mind.

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I would observe that not all American food is as dire as it might seem from our deliberations. There is a thriving organic, local food market in the United States.

I want to ask the Minister about process. Will there be an opportunity for Parliament at the mandate-setting stage to constrain the trade negotiations, so that it can be made clear to negotiators that Parliament will not accept anything that breaches the standards that we are trying to embed? The Minister seeks to do that agreement by agreement, but we are trying to put those constraints in the Bill.

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The hard power, for want of a better term, that Parliament will have is the power to block ratification at the end of the process. As I outlined earlier, there will be a 14-week consultation process where anybody—consumer groups and whoever—can feed in.

As the negotiations progress, there will be regular scrutiny from the International Trade Committee, which will be a parliamentary Committee providing that scrutiny. Therefore, it will not be a mandate as such—in that sense, it is perhaps more akin to the Australian system—but it will have some of the features of the US system, in terms of parliamentary overview as the negotiations progress, but also the ability to block ratification at the end.

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Is not the danger with the procedure that the Minister is outlining that every time a trade Bill comes up with any country or group of countries, we will have a repetition of evidence and submissions from farmers, who will seek, rightly, to defend what we agree across the House about a bottom level. Removing that repetition would make life a lot more certain for farmers, in terms of how we are going forward in the agricultural community, but also, more importantly, it open ups space for other discussions that will be particular to an individual trade Bill, rather than something that I think we agree would apply to every trade discussion.

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I think that that is right and it is why ultimately this area of policy is for the Department for International Trade, because it has to look at the whole trade piece. As the hon. Member for Ipswich pointed out, agriculture is unique and special, and that is why DEFRA has a special role in this—because there are complex issues in relation to tariff rate quotas, which a lot of people do not understand and which are very agriculture-specific, and lots of complex SPS issues. Agriculture is a unique and highly complex area of trade that we would need to get right.

In conclusion, a process has been set out; there is an ability for Parliament to block ratification and, if it so wanted, to make a resolution to strike down a treaty. However, in the light of the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset, I will of course undertake to talk to Government colleagues to see whether anything could be refined in this process to reflect the agricultural context of trade agreements and to look at the role of scrutinising those agreements from a strictly agricultural perspective. I do not think that it would be within the scope of the Bill, but I hope that in Committee I can give some additional reassurance in this regard.

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This has been a very good debate, with very good contributions from hon. Members on both sides of the Committee. I appreciate what the Minister has said about trying to refine this issue at some stage, when we go further into the Bill, but I am disappointed that he has not indicated that he will include a clause about trade in the Bill. We still come back to this question: where are the safeguards to prevent Ministers from signing up to trade deals that disadvantage UK food producers and potentially lower animal welfare, environmental protection and food standards? Farming, environmental, public health and food-producing organisations think that the strongest assurances are required in the Bill so, in the hope that the Minister and his colleagues will agree with me that it is important to make it clear now to all those organisations and to our constituents that their concerns are being taken seriously and listened to, I will push new clause 12 to a vote.

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

Division 23

20 November 2018

The Committee divided:

Ayes: 9
Noes: 10

Question accordingly negatived.

View Details

New Clause 15

Mandatory labelling of animal products as to farming method

“(1) The Secretary of State shall make regulations requiring meat, meat products, milk, dairy products and egg products (including those produced intensively indoors) to be labelled as to the method of farming.

(2) The labelling required under subsection (1) shall be placed on the front outer surface of the packaging and shall be in easily visible and clearly legible type.

(3) Regulations under subsection (1) shall (among other things) specify—

(a) the labelling term to be used for each product, and

(b) the conditions that must be met for the use of each labelling term.

(4) Regulations under subsection (1) may exclude from the labelling requirement products containing meat, eggs, milk or dairy products where the total proportion by weight of one or more of these items in the product is less than fifteen per cent.

(5) Regulations under this section are subject to affirmative resolution procedure.”—(Kerry McCarthy.)

This new clause would strengthen Clause 20 to require the Secretary of State to make labelling regulations that require meat, milk and dairy products, and egg products, including those which have been produced intensively, to be labelled as to farming method. Eggs are not included as legislation already requires eggs to be labelled as to farming method.

Brought up, and read the First time.

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

Division 24

20 November 2018

The Committee divided:

Ayes: 7
Noes: 10

Question accordingly negatived.

View Details

New Clause 16

Environmental targets and objectives

“(1) The Secretary of State must, in exercising functions under this Act, take all reasonable steps to—

(a) further the purposes within section 1(1)(a) to (g), and

(b) following a public consultation, bring forward proposals for environmental targets and objectives for the achievement of the purposes in section 1(1)(a) to (g) to secure the maintenance, recovery and restoration of the environment, so that the environment is healthy, resilient and sustainable for the benefit of people and wildlife.”—(Kerry McCarthy.)

This new clause includes a requirement on ministers to introduce specific targets to ensure the bill meets its objectives.

Brought up, and read the First time.

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

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With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

New clause 17—Primacy of public purposes—

“The Secretary of State must ensure the payment of public money delivers primarily the purposes in section 1(1) so that the natural environment is conserved, enhanced and managed for the benefit of present and future generations.”

This new clause is intended to ensure that the list of public purposes set out in Clause 1 are the primary objective for payments under the Bill.

New clause 19—Financial assistance: duty to provide advice—

“(1) The Secretary of State must make regulations to secure the provision of training, guidance and advice to persons receiving financial assistance under this Act, for the purpose of enabling those persons to deliver the purpose or purposes for which the financial assistance is given.

(2) Regulations under subsection (1) may include provision for advice on matters which include but are not limited to—

(a) the impact of any practice upon the environment,

(b) business management, including the development of business plans,

(c) the health and welfare of livestock,

(d) the safety and health of workers in any agricultural sector,

(e) innovation, including alternative methods of pest, disease and weed control,

(f) food safety, insofar as it relates to the production of food or any activity in, or in close connection with, an agri-food supply chain,

(g) the operation of any mechanism for applying for, or receiving, financial assistance under this Act,

(h) marketing of any product falling within an agricultural sector under Part 2 of Schedule 1.

(3) Regulations under this section are subject to affirmative resolution procedure.”

This new clause would require the Secretary of State to make provision for training, guidance and advice to be made available to persons receiving financial assistance.

New clause 27—Smallholdings estates: land management—

“(1) A smallholdings authority which immediately before the commencement of Part 1 of this Act holds any land for the purposes of smallholdings shall review the authority’s smallholdings estate and shall, before the end of the period of eighteen months beginning with the commencement of Part 1 of this Act, submit to the Secretary of State proposals with respect to the future management of that estate for the purposes of providing—

(a) opportunities for persons to be farmers on their own account;

(b) education or experience in environmental land management practices;

(c) opportunities for increasing public access to the natural environment and understanding of sustainable farming; and

(d) opportunities for innovation in sustainable land management practices.

(2) No land held by a smallholdings authority as a smallholding immediately before commencement of Part 1 of this Act is to be conveyed, transferred, leased or otherwise disposed of otherwise than—

(a) in connection with the purposes listed in subsection (1); and

(b) in accordance with proposals submitted under subsection (1).

(3) For the purposes of this section, “smallholdings authority” has the same meaning as in section 38 of the Agriculture Act 1970.”

This new clause would limit the disposal of smallholdings (‘county farms’) by local authorities and would require local authorities to review their holding and submit proposals for future management to provide opportunities to extend access to farming, education, and innovation.

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New clause 16 aims to get specific targets into the Bill, to ensure that it meets its objectives in relation to the public goods for which financial assistance is provided in clause 1. Those objectives are all laudable, but verge on the vague. The new clause would include targets and objectives to ensure that air quality is safe; that our fresh waters and seas are in good ecological and environmental status; that our soils are healthy and used sustainably; that the extent, quality and connectivity of habitats is increased, and natural processes are restored; and that the richness of species is maintained, and their abundance is restored to at least favourable conservation standards on land, in fresh water, and at sea.

We know from the Climate Change Act 2008 that legal targets with identified milestones have a proven track record in delivering environmental outcomes. We could have a separate debate about whether we are doing enough to meet the targets in that Act when it comes to future carbon budgets, but that is a matter for another day. We at least have targets that set out the future programme, and also provide farmers with policy certainty and a framework for future investment. I accept that setting out such targets on the face of the Bill would be rather complicated, particularly as we are still looking at quite a lot of the detail about how to measure some of the public goods, reward farmers for meeting them, and so on. Rather, new clause 16 would impose a duty on the Government to bring forward targets and objectives as soon as possible.

During this Committee’s fifth sitting, the Minister said that the Government would do that, and again, I believe he is genuine in wanting to take this forward. He said:

“we have a 25-year environment plan. An environment Bill will come from that, which will set out targets, objectives and commitments to get trends moving in a particular direction. It will give a longer term commitment and buy-in, which successive Governments will work towards.”––[Official Report, Agriculture Public Bill Committee, 30 October 2018; c. 149.]

However, we know—it has been on the front page of the papers—that the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has some differences with his colleagues in this area. In this case, those differences are not with the Secretary of State for International Trade, but with the Treasury. The Sun said that the Treasury was trying to block green targets from being enshrined in law. Perhaps when he responds the Minister can tell me whether there is any truth in that suggestion.

The Treasury certainly got its way in the Budget, with little more than tokenistic gestures on the environment. The biggest announcement, £10 million for tackling abandoned waste, seemed to be there only so that the Chancellor could set up a joke about the shadow Chancellor, who had fallen over some fly-tipping and bruised his face. In particular, despite great fanfare when the Chancellor referred in the 2017 Budget to the Government’s intention to deal with plastic pollution, and then re-announced it in the spring, that was a damp squib in this year’s Budget. The purpose of the new clause is to protect the Minister and his boss, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, from their colleagues in the Treasury. We are on the Minister’s side: we want to make sure he can deliver a green Brexit, as we believe he wants to do. We want to help him with that.

The Chancellor’s view that any new laws should be kept to a minimum does not, I believe, represent the views of many businesses. In a letter published in The Sunday Telegraph—yes, I am a Sunday Telegraph and Sun reader; I hope Conservative Back Benchers are listening—members of the Aldersgate Group, including Siemens, Marks & Spencer and IKEA, called for the Bill to set

“measurable targets to cover improvements to air and water quality, soil health, peatland restoration, net biodiversity gain and resource efficiency.”

The group said that those targets

“provide a level playing field”,

which is what everyone wants,

“incentivise investment in innovation, support job creation and help businesses develop commercial strengths in fast-growing areas of the world economy.”

As the group’s executive director says:

“Where environmental protections are ambitious, well designed and properly implemented, they can actually deliver economic as well as environmental benefits”.

We hear a lot about red tape, regulation and targets being a burden on business. I included that to show that business likes targets and certainty. Businesses like to be able to plan, and to know that the Government are on their side.

Reassurances by the Minister will not be enough; we need the promises to be enshrined in law. We know that the Environment Secretary was offered another job just a couple of days ago. I never thought I would say that I was glad that he turned it down, but for the time being I am glad that he is still in post. However, given the current chaos on the Government Benches we do not know who will be in post perhaps even in hours, let alone days, weeks and months. It is important that we enshrine it in law, so that we can protect the noble ambitions of the farming Minister and his boss.

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I am delighted to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East and to support her in new clauses 16 and 17, which are important.

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I should have said at the beginning that I will not press new clause 17 to a vote. I have had a change on that for the time being.

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It is always great to be corrected by my own side, particularly when I have just said how wonderful the new clauses are.

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You told me to do that!

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Okay—left hand and right hand. I will speak to new clause 16, which was excellent, and which we fully support because it is about targets, which is largely what the group of new clauses is about.

Although we are losing new clause 17, new clause 16 is important. It tries to tie together the Bill with the environment plan, which is crucial to the Government’s way of thinking. It is about setting targets and putting meaningful arrangements in place so that we can look at where the Government’s joined-up thinking is taking us. We hope that the Government will look carefully at new clause 16. They might agree with what we are doing, but we will look at that on Report.

Again, there is universal support from farming organisations and, in particular, from the various green contributors to the Bill. They want ambitious and legally binding targets set “for nature’s recovery”. Those are not my words, but those of The Wildlife Trusts, which looks at the UN sustainable development goals. Goal two—“End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture”—is highly relevant to the Bill. It is about setting ambitious targets by 2030, and indeed some by 2020, regarding the way in which we want to change agriculture across the world. If we do not do that in the UK, we will miss a real opportunity, and the Bill is the opportunity to do that.

I want to speak principally to the two new clauses in my name and in those of other hon. Friends. New clause 19 is about offering advice to those seeking to make dramatic changes to the way in which they farm or operate the land, which is important. We feel strongly about that because it is missing from the Bill. The Government have talked about land management contracts.

The Chair adjourned the Committee without Question put (Standing Order No. 88).

Adjourned till this day at Two o’clock.