Scrutiny of the Agriculture Bill Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

Introduction

1.Given the importance of this Bill in shaping UK agriculture for years to come, it is deeply disappointing that this Committee was not given the opportunity for thorough pre-legislative scrutiny. This unsatisfactory precedent has been swiftly followed by the publication of the Fisheries Bill without pre-legislative scrutiny. The Government should explain why the Bill was not presented in draft form for pre-legislative scrutiny. (Paragraph 3)

Nature of the Bill

2.There is uncertainty about what the UK’s future holds post-Brexit and therefore it is appropriate for the Agriculture Bill to be an enabling bill, allowing the Government some flexibility. However, we are disappointed by the extent to which powers have been delegated and by the Secretary of State’s weak justification of this approach. Delegated (or secondary) legislation cannot be scrutinised as effectively in Parliament as primary legislation. At the very least, the Government should have published some indicative draft statutory instruments alongside the Bill. The Government should provide us with a detailed timetable for its programme of Statutory Instruments relating to this Bill. (Paragraph 10)

3.We are concerned that the imbalance of duties and powers in the Bill, combined with the significant delegation of powers, does not provide sufficient clarity about how the new system for agricultural support will function and how delegated powers will be used. Given the fundamental changes being proposed, the Government should ensure that there are sufficient opportunities for parliamentary scrutiny as the new system and policies are implemented. (Paragraph 12)

Leaving the Common Agricultural Policy

4.The list of purposes (public goods) under Clause 1 of the Bill is sufficiently broad that most environmentally beneficial activities could qualify for funding. However, we are disappointed that this Clause does not explicitly recognise the important balance that must be struck between food production and the environment. (Paragraph 23)

5.We are also concerned that there was no indication provided by the Government about how much financial assistance might be allocated to each public good or how they might be prioritised. Overall this will not give enough clarity to recipients about where to focus their efforts in order to qualify for financial assistance. The Government should explain how it envisages the listed public goods would be prioritised when competing for a limited pot of funding. (Paragraph 24)

6.The Government should, before 2020, outline how it would phase out direct payments over the entire transition period, in order to give some certainty to those who currently receive direct payments under the CAP (Paragraph 26)

7.In 2020, before direct payments are reduced, the Government should conduct a review of whether the new environmental land management schemes are sufficiently advanced to begin replacing the direct payment system. The review should also assess whether farmers and land managers are aware of the new scheme and how to access it. (Paragraph 27)

8.It is reasonable to expect the Government to outline a long-term financial commitment to agriculture. The Government should amend the Bill to require it to establish a multiannual financial framework before the agricultural transition period commences. We propose the following wording:

Clause 36, page 27, line 29, at end insert -

“(2) No payment may be made under this Act unless the Secretary of State has made regulations in accordance with subsection (3) to implement a multiannual financial framework setting out the sums available under Parts 1 and 2 of this Act during the agricultural transition period.

(3) Regulations made under subsection (2) shall be made before the beginning of the agricultural transition period and shall be subject to affirmative resolution procedure.” (Paragraph 29)

Trade

9.The Government should put its money where its mouth is and accept an amendment to the Agriculture Bill stipulating that food products imported as part of any future trade deal should meet or exceed British standards relating to production, animal welfare and the environment. This is particularly necessary because similar amendments to the Trade Bill have, so far, been voted down. We suggest the following amendment:

To move the following Clause

“Import of agricultural goods

(1) Agricultural goods may be imported into the UK only if the standards to which those goods were produced were as high as, or higher than, standards which at the time of import applied under UK law relating to

a)animal welfare,

b)protection of the environment, and

c)food safety.

(2) “Agricultural goods”, for the purposes of this section, means

a)any livestock within the meaning of section 1(4),

b)any plants or seeds, within the meaning of section 15(6)

c)any product derived from livestock, plants or seeds.” (Paragraph 36)

10.While respecting the delicate nature of the discussions between the UK and Scottish Governments over devolved competences, we hope that the Devolved Administrations would agree with the principle that food imports produced to lower standards should not be allowed under future trade deals. (Paragraph 37)

Fairness in the supply chain

11.We are pleased that the Government is introducing measures to improve fairness in the supply chain for farmers and producers. However, we do not consider that the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) is the appropriate body to oversee and enforce fair dealing obligations; it does not have the confidence of farmers and lacks relevant expertise. (Paragraph 45)

12.The Groceries Code Adjudicator (GCA) is a more logical entity to oversee fair dealing obligations than the RPA. In addition, we see no reason why fairness in the food supply chain should be governed by two separate processes and enforcement bodies. Fair dealing obligations of first purchasers of agricultural products, as specified in the Bill, should be the responsibility of the Groceries Code Adjudicator, whose resources and remit should be expanded accordingly. The levy on large retailers that funds the GCA’s work should not be a barrier; it could be expanded so that purchasing organisations in the supply chain whose annual turnover exceeds a set amount would contribute towards it. (Paragraph 46)





Published: 27 November 2018