ENVIRONMENT, FOOD AND RURAL AFFAIRS COMMITTEE
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.
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.
Its programme of oral evidence was dominated by five sessions
of evidence from Ministers, officials and others on foot and mouth
disease. It published
Badger and Bovine Tuberculosis: Follow-up,
Flood and Coastal Defence: Follow-up,
Horticulture Research International,
The Work of the Forestry Commission,
The UK Pig Industry,
The Implementation of IACS in the European Union
and New Covent Garden Market.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In the main Committee, as well as taking evidence about the establishment
of DEFRA and about developments in relation to the Kyoto Protocol,
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.
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.
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".
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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
87 See Votes and Proceedings for 16 July 2001; see
See Minutes of Proceedings at http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200001/cmselect/cmagric/479/47901.htm. Back
HC (2000-01) 363-i to -v; see http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm/cmagric.htm. Back
HC (2000-01) 92. Back
HC (2000-01) 149. Back
HC (2000-01) 172. Back
HC (2000-01) 153. Back
HC (2000-01) 229. Back
HC (2000-01) 32. Back
HC (2000-01) 150. Back
HC (2000-01) 173. Back
HC (2000-01) 117; see http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200001/cmselect/cmagric/117/11702.htm. Back
A new Department, a new agenda, at http://www.defra.gov.uk/corporate/consult/defraaim/aimobjectives.htm#new. Back
See Standing Order No.152 at http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200102/cmstords/27501.htm;
the other Committee of seventeen Members is the Transport, Local
Government and the Regions Committee. Back
See http://www.parliament.uk/commons/selcom/efrapnt03.htm. Back
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
See http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm/cmenvfru.htm. Back
HC (2001-02) 339-i; see http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200102/cmselect/cmenvfru/339/1110601.htm. Back
HC (2001-02) 339-i, Q.20. Back
HC (2000-01) 117, para.5. Back
HC (2001-02) 273 and HC (2001-02) 272 respectively. Back
See HC Deb, 11 December 2001, col.776. Back