Select Committee on Liaison First Report



Memorandum to the Liaison Committee

Scope of the Memorandum

1.  Our memorandum is concerned with the work of the Agriculture Committee between January 2001 and the Dissolution of the House in May 2001 prior to the General Election, and with the work of the present Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, which was appointed on 16 July 2001.[87]

The Work of the Agriculture Committee

2.  The Committee took oral evidence on thirteen occasions between 10 January and 9 May 2001, and in addition held four private meetings.[88] Its programme of oral evidence was dominated by five sessions of evidence from Ministers, officials and others on foot and mouth disease.[89] It published eight Reports:

    Badger and Bovine Tuberculosis: Follow-up,[90] Organic Farming,[91] Flood and Coastal Defence: Follow-up,[92] Horticulture Research International,[93] The Work of the Forestry Commission,[94] The UK Pig Industry,[95] The Implementation of IACS in the European Union[96] and New Covent Garden Market.[97]

    It also published nine Special Reports, eight of which were Government Replies to Committee Reports, and one of which, its Second Special Report, dealt with the work of the Committee in the 1999-2000 Session.[98]

Re-structuring of Government departments

3.  Following the 2001 General Election, changes were made to the structure of Government. The widely-held expectations that the responsibilities of the former Ministry for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) would pass to a new Department were realised with the creation of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), which also absorbed the Environment Protection Group and the Wildlife and Countryside Directorate from the former Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, as well as responsibility for certain animal welfare issues and hunting with hounds from the Home Office.[99]

4.  Changes to the structure of Government led to consequential changes to the structure of Departmental Select Committees. Standing Order No.152, under which such Committees are appointed, was amended on 5 July 2001. The Standing Order provided for a new Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee comprising 17 Members, one of only two Departmental Select Committees of this size.[100]

5.  We have been given the power to appoint two Sub-committees. We very much welcome the flexibility this power gives us, and have already appointed a Sub-committee of eight Members to undertake an inquiry into radioactive waste policy.[101] It is our intention to make full use of our power to appoint Sub-committees. We will decide shortly on how to take our work forward: whether, for example, to appoint permanent Sub-committees to deal with generic matters such as rural affairs, or to continue to appoint ad hoc Sub-committees to undertake specific inquiries.


6.  Since we were appointed we have held eleven meetings, at nine of which we took oral evidence. The Radioactive Waste Policy Sub-committee has held three meetings and has made a visit to Sellafield. Ministers from DEFRA have appeared before the Committee and the Sub-committee on six occasions.[102] In the main Committee, as well as taking evidence about the establishment of DEFRA and about developments in relation to the Kyoto Protocol,[103] on three occasions we, like the Agriculture Committee, took evidence about foot and mouth disease. We intend to publish a short Report into that matter shortly, and with it to publish all of the evidence we and the Agriculture Committee have received about the outbreak.

Pre-legislative scrutiny

7.  We would have liked to have undertaken pre-legislative scrutiny. We took evidence on the Animal Health Bill shortly after the Bill was presented to the House. We were able to publish our evidence prior to Second Reading of the Bill, and thereby inform the deliberations of the House.[104] Nevertheless, it is a matter of some regret that the Government did not choose to publish the Bill in draft so that we could have taken more evidence, and perhaps produced a Report on its contents. Even the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State conceded that the lack of proper pre-legislative scrutiny was "not the ideal situation, I would much rather have the detailed scrutiny".[105] Repeated rhetoric about the Government's commitment to pre-legislative scrutiny is no substitute for publishing Bills such as the Animal Health Bill in draft.


8.  In the last Parliament the Agriculture Committee committed itself to undertaking a 'rolling programme' of inquiries into the work of Executive Agencies and non-departmental public bodies.[106] We have continued with that programme. Already we have examined the work of the Countryside Agency and the National Forest Company, and taken evidence from the Environment Agency in relation to flooding and flood defence. We intend to continue to monitor regularly the performance of DEFRA's associated public bodies over the course of the Parliament.

Future programme

9.  Our main inquiry in 2002 will be into the Future of UK Agriculture: Farming beyond subsidies?. We intend in the inquiry to address a wide range of issues, setting the decision-making options firmly within the international context, a dimension which may be less present in the Government-sponsored Policy Commission looking into the future of farming. To that end we have sought evidence from the European Commission and from the World Trade Organisation, amongst others, and we intend to undertake a number of visits, both in the United Kingdom and abroad.

Government replies

10.  Since our establishment we have also published two Special Reports, containing the Government Replies to the Agriculture Committee's Reports into The Implementation of IACS in the European Union and New Covent Garden Market.[107] We have also sought Government replies to two Reports from the former Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee into the draft Water Bill and Delivering Sustainable Waste Management. To that end our Chairman wrote to the Secretary of State on 15 November 2001 asking that the Government replies be made without further delay. The reply relating to the draft Water Bill was eventually received in mid-December, more than seven months after the Report was published. The reply to the Report into Delivering Sustainable Waste Management, published in March 2001, is still awaited, despite the fact that the Report was debated by the House in December 2001.[108] We are extremely concerned by the inordinate delays in publishing Government Replies to these Committee Reports. Such delays inevitably devalue the impact of the original Report.

Relations with DEFRA

11.  Notwithstanding the comments already made about delays in receiving Government replies to Reports, we can report that we have made a good start in the development of a co-operative relationship with DEFRA. Ministers from the Department have willingly appeared before us on a number of occasions, and we believe that we have established the practice of conducting searching but critical exchanges designed to inform our Reports. Officials have also proved co-operative. We trust that the positive relationship between us and DEFRA will continue in future.

January 2002

87   See Votes and Proceedings for 16 July 2001; see Back

88   See Minutes of Proceedings at Back

89   HC (2000-01) 363-i to -v; see Back

90   HC (2000-01) 92. Back

91   HC (2000-01) 149. Back

92   HC (2000-01) 172. Back

93   HC (2000-01) 153. Back

94   HC (2000-01) 229. Back

95   HC (2000-01) 32. Back

96   HC (2000-01) 150. Back

97   HC (2000-01) 173. Back

98   HC (2000-01) 117; see Back

99   A new Department, a new agenda, at­aim/aimobjectives.htm#new. Back

100   See Standing Order No.152 at; the other Committee of seventeen Members is the Transport, Local Government and the Regions Committee. Back

101   See Back

102   Before the main Committee on 17 October 2001 (Secretary of State), 24 October (Minister of State (Environment), 6 November (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State), 14 November (Secretary of State), and 28 November (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State), and before the Sub-committee on 17 December (Minister of State (Environment)). Back

103   See Back

104   HC (2001-02) 339-i; see Back

105   HC (2001-02) 339-i, Q.20. Back

106   HC (2000-01) 117, para.5. Back

107   HC (2001-02) 273 and HC (2001-02) 272 respectively. Back

108   See HC Deb, 11 December 2001, col.776. Back

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