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General Committees

Debated on Wednesday 13 July 2022

Delegated Legislation Committee

Draft Common Agricultural Policy (Cross-Compliance Exemptions and Transitional Regulation) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2022

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chair: Hannah Bardell

† Argar, Edward (Charnwood) (Con)

† Blomfield, Paul (Sheffield Central) (Lab)

† Bonnar, Steven (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (SNP)

† Brennan, Kevin (Cardiff West) (Lab)

† Byrne, Ian (Liverpool, West Derby) (Lab)

† Glindon, Mary (North Tyneside) (Lab)

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

† Hart, Sally-Ann (Hastings and Rye) (Con)

† Jenkinson, Mark (Workington) (Con)

† Prentis, Victoria (Minister for Farming, Fisheries and Food)

Ribeiro-Addy, Bell (Streatham) (Lab)

† Russell, Dean (Watford) (Con)

† Simmonds, David (Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner) (Con)

† Smith, Greg (Buckingham) (Con)

† Stevenson, Jane (Wolverhampton North East) (Con)

† Sunderland, James (Bracknell) (Con)

† Zeichner, Daniel (Cambridge) (Lab)

Guy Mathers, Joe Briggs, Committee Clerks

† attended the Committee

Third Delegated Legislation Committee

Wednesday 13 July 2022

[Hannah Bardell in the Chair]

Draft Common Agricultural Policy (Cross-Compliance Exemptions and Transitional Regulation) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2022

Before I call the Minister to move the motion, I should say that, given the heat, if Members would like to take their jackets off or loosen or take off their ties, I would have no problem with that; and please stay hydrated.

I beg to move,

That the Committee has considered the draft Common Agricultural Policy (Cross-Compliance Exemptions and Transitional Regulation) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2022.

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Bardell. These regulations apply to retained EU law relating to the common agricultural policy, including the cross-compliance rules, which farmers and land managers must follow if they are claiming certain rural payments. This SI is entirely technical; it makes no policy changes to retained EU law and makes no provision for future funding. It changes references to the European Commission, member states, EU funding and EU policies, and so on, to the national institutions that we now use, having left the EU. These would, if possible, have been amended or removed from the statute book by our exit SIs in 2020, had the EU regulation that introduced them been made in time. Sadly, it was only published and brought into force in December 2020, so that was not possible.

The instrument also amends schedule 3 to the Common Agricultural Policy (Control and Enforcement, Cross-Compliance, Scrutiny of Transactions and Appeals) Regulations 2014, which set out the circumstances under which a breach of the cross-compliance rules is dealt with. This SI simply extends the list of management agreements and measures, ensuring that farmers who engage in our new schemes are not placed at unfair risk of penalisation for complying with some of the requirements. The instrument has been developed in close consultation with the devolved Administrations and has been laid before Parliament with their consent. It does no more than is appropriate to remove or correct certain inoperable European references and cross-compliance exemptions, and is technical in nature. I commend the regulations to the Committee.

It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Ms Bardell. As ever, I thank the Minister for her excellent introduction to the instrument, and also for the helpful explanatory memorandums supplied in advance. I also thank colleagues in the other place for their scrutiny of this SI in Grand Committee.

Committee members will probably be delighted to hear that, because these changes are technical adjustments, we will not be looking to oppose them. We agree that it is unfortunate that EU regulation 2020/2220 was made too close to the end of the transition period to be addressed by the Department’s 2020 EU exit SIs. We also agree that it is right that we take this opportunity to remove ambiguities and potential confusion for stake-holders, and we understand the need to remove unnecessary references to member states, EU funding, EU policies, and so on, which no longer apply to UK law.

However, I would like to raise a query about how the cross-compliance regulations interact with the new environmental land management scheme. There was some confusion after the discussion in the Lords when my colleague Baroness Jones pressed the Minister in the other place on whether cross-compliance rules would continue after basic payments had been phased out. He seemed to indicate that they would, when others had understood otherwise, so it would be most helpful if the Minister today clarified the interface between the old cross-compliance and the new arrangements.

Finally, can the Minister provide further clarity on the changes to the scope of the existing cross-compliance exemptions, as set out in schedule 3 to the 2014 regulations? The new exemptions refer only to specific changes made to section 1 of the Agriculture Act 2020 and section 98 of the Environment Act 1995. I would be grateful if she elaborated on why these two provisions are the only two instances where exemptions to cross-compliance rules are necessary. Otherwise, I am happy to proceed.

The confusion in the House of Lords was one of semantics. Cross-compliance, in the sense that we use it as farmers and at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, is the compliance regime that stems from the common agricultural policy. Under our new future funding schemes there will be new compliance procedures, but strictly speaking they are not cross-compliance. I hope that distinction makes sense. The position is that cross-compliance, in the traditional sense of the terminology, will end when CAP direct payments are phased out and conclude. We will of course have a new risk-based inspection regime.

That it is probably what I expected the Minister to say. My one concern, which I raised during the passage of the Agriculture Act 2020, is that there is a danger that we will end up loosening our environmental protections. I would really welcome an assurance from the Minister that cross-compliance will be replaced by an equally rigorous but hopefully less bureaucratic and pernickety system.

Absolutely. The whole tenor of the new schemes is about working with farmers—the terminology that I have used frequently to explain it to the hon. Gentleman is that we are looking more at carrots and less at sticks—but there will of course be a sensible, risk-based and proportionate inspection regime where that is necessary.

The purpose of the new schemes is to bring farmers into more regenerative farming and a more environmentally friendly way of both producing the food that we need and supporting our environmental and carbon capture ambitions. I think the hon. Gentleman knows and agrees with that. The whole tenor of the reforms is to move the agricultural world into a more sustainable place. With that in mind, it is of course important that we make sure that there is compliance—to use the word in its normal sense—with our new rules and regulations. I think I have dealt with the points raised, so I commend the draft regulations to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Committee rose.

Electoral Commission: Appointments

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chair: Derek Twigg

Abbott, Ms Diane (Hackney North and Stoke Newington) (Lab)

† Afolami, Bim (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con)

De Cordova, Marsha (Battersea) (Lab)

† Debbonaire, Thangam (Bristol West) (Lab)

† Gardiner, Barry (Brent North) (Lab)

† Hollern, Kate (Blackburn) (Lab)

† Hollinrake, Kevin (Thirsk and Malton) (Con)

† Jones, Mr David (Clwyd West) (Con)

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

† Jupp, Simon (East Devon) (Con)

† Mackrory, Cherilyn (Truro and Falmouth) (Con)

Smith, Henry (Crawley) (Con)

† Spencer, Mark (Leader of the House of Commons)

† Syms, Sir Robert (Poole) (Con)

† Tami, Mark (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab)

Thomson, Richard (Gordon) (SNP)

Vickers, Martin (Cleethorpes) (Con)

Bradley Albrow, Foeke Noppert, Committee Clerks

† attended the Committee

Fourth Delegated Legislation Committee

Wednesday 13 July 2022

[Derek Twigg in the Chair]

Electoral Commission: Appointments

I beg to move,

That the Committee has considered the motion, That an humble address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that Her Majesty will re-appoint Lord Gilbert of Panteg as an Electoral Commissioner with effect from 1 November 2022 for the period ending 31 October 2026; appoint Roseanna Cunningham as an Electoral Commissioner with effect from 1 October 2022 for the period ending 30 September 2026; and appoint Chris Ruane as an Electoral Commissioner with effect from 1 November 2022 for the period ending 31 October 2026.

Mr Twigg, you will see that, on page 12 of the Order Paper, the Fourth Delegated Legislation Committee is to

“consider the motion in the name of Sir Mark Spencer”.

I am delighted to have had that premonition. I thought I would draw it to the Committee’s attention.

Not as shocked as I was, to be honest.

The Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission has produced its second report of 2022 in respect of these appointments, which I am sure hon. Members read with great interest. Electoral commissioners are appointed under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, as amended by the Political Parties and Elections Act 2009. Under the 2000 Act, the Speaker’s Committee has a responsibility to oversee the selection of candidates for appointment to the Electoral Commission. Any reappointments can be made only on the Committee’s recommendation.

Lord Gilbert, Roseanna Cunningham and Chris Ruane will be three of four nominated commissioners, who are persons put forward by the registered leader of a political party. The term of office for the current nominated commissioner for the Conservative party, Lord Gilbert, ends on 31 October. Following a positive appraisal of Lord Gilbert’s performance as a commissioner from the chair of the Electoral Commission, the Speaker’s Committee agreed in November 2021 to progress with his reappointment, subject to the statutory consultation with party leaders.

I will turn to the Labour and SNP nominations. The term of office for the current nominated commissioner for the Labour party, Joan Walley—a great lady—expires on 31 October. The term of office of the current nominated commissioner for the Scottish National party, Alasdair Morgan, expires on 30 September. The Speaker appointed a panel to consider the Labour and SNP nominees and make recommendations to the Speaker’s Committee on their appointability. I am grateful to the panel for its work and unanimous recommendations.

Roseanna Cunningham was a Member of the Scottish Parliament from 1999 until her retirement in 2021, and she was elected as an SNP Member of Parliament between 1995 and 2001. Overall, the panel considered that Ms Cunningham was eminently appointable and that she would bring strong political experience and effective challenge to the commission board.

Chris Ruane was the Labour Member of Parliament for the Vale of Clwyd from 1997 to 2015, and from 2017 to 2019. Before Mr Ruane’s political career, he was a deputy headteacher. The panel considered Mr Ruane a strong candidate who would bring passion, understanding and constructive challenge to the role. The Speaker’s Committee is confident that Ms Cunningham and Mr Ruane have the experience and personal qualities to be effective members of the commission.

Statute requires that the proposed appointments or reappointments to the Electoral Commission be subject to consultation with the registered leader of each party to which two or more Members of the House of Commons belong. The statutory consultation provides an opportunity for the party leaders to comment, but they are not required to do so. Mr Speaker accordingly wrote to the leaders of the qualifying parties on 1 November 2021 and on 28 April 2022. No objections or concerns were received in response to the Speaker’s consultation.

As is required under the Act, Mr Speaker has given his agreement for this motion. I hope that the appointments will have the Committee’s support, and ultimately the House’s support. I wish the appointees well in their important roles.

It is a pleasure to serve under your authority in the Chair, Mr Twigg, and please do advise me if I stray beyond the bounds of my role. I know that the commissioners have been properly scrutinised and recruited. That is set out well in the document, which I have eagerly read. However, I note that the background to their appointment is the Government’s treatment towards commissioners as a whole, partly in the passage of the Elections Bill—now the Elections Act 2022. Also, in the run-up over the past few years, there have been numerous calls by people on the Government side to abolish the Electoral Commission. In fact, that unfortunately includes the Leader of the House’s new deputy, the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone), who is on the record—from 2018, I think—as having called for the Electoral Commission to be abolished. The Electoral Commission and all commissioners, with the exception of the chair, who recused himself—

Order. I interrupt to advise the hon. Member that she is straying from the matter. The debate is about the appointments, not the Electoral Commission itself.

It is about the appointments. How can the Leader of the House assure the new commissioners being appointed that they will have the proper independence that they should be allowed, given the background of the Elections Act, given that Government Members, including Ministers now, undermine them, and given that the commission itself, which will include the new members being appointed as a result of today’s motion, expressed serious concern about the strategy in a policy statement laid out in statute under part 3 of the Elections Act?

Given that the existing commissioners, including one of the members now being reappointed today under this motion, expressed their concerns in their policy document, I would like the Leader of the House to answer various questions. How can he assure the new commissioners, who are being appointed today by the motion he is laying, that the Government will not interfere with their independence? Can he guarantee that there will be no further undermining of the Electoral Commission as a whole? In order for new commissioners to take up their role with enthusiasm, they at least need to know that they are part of a body that the Government does not intend to abolish. How will the Secretary of State’s considerable anti-democratic powers in part 3 of the Act affect the new and existing commissioners, in particular the role of the chair, who is being reappointed under the terms of this motion?

Will the Leader of the House undertake to discuss with his colleagues, including his new deputy, the importance of the independence of the new commissioners who are being appointed by this motion? Can he further guarantee that there will be no further attempts to undermine the good work of these new commissioners, alongside their existing colleagues? I would be grateful if he answered those questions.

I am delighted to reassure the hon. Lady that the Electoral Commission is an independent regulatory body. It is actually not accountable to the Government; it is independent of Government and only accountable to Parliament through the Speaker’s Committee. Those commissioners are completely right to act independently and are encouraged to do so. The Electoral Commission is not accountable to the Government; it is accountable to Parliament.

The Act does state:

“The Secretary of State may designate a statement for the purposes of this section”,

and that will affect the new commissioners that he is appointing, particularly the new chair.

Order. Again, I will have to rule on that. We are talking about the specific appointments, not the general policy.

Thank you for that guidance, Mr Twigg. We are appointing three commissioners here, who are highly skilled and experienced. They will deliver their role with true independence and I encourage them to do so. I am sure that Parliament will continue to monitor how they and the Electoral Commission perform in future, and I wish them well in their roles.

Question put and agreed to.

Committee rose.