107.Agriculture and environmental protection are competences devolved to the governments of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. Although agricultural policies are agreed at the EU level, there is some discretion to vary Direct Payments to farmers and introduce separate rural development programmes. The consultation sets out the future for agriculture in England and does not reference potential changes in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. Defra proposes that common frameworks will be established “where a common approach is required across the UK” and these will respect the devolution settlements and democratic accountability of the devolved legislatures.
108.On this basis, four different agricultural policies could be adopted within the UK. This is not inherently a problem. Witnesses told us agricultural policy should continue to be a devolved matter, however they cautioned that there must be an element of regulatory alignment to retain the functioning of the UK single market. George Dunn from the Tenant Farmers Association told us:
What we would not want is to see England take a different approach on a regulatory matter that made Scotland decide not to trade food across that border […] We need to be mindful that we live in a single market within the UK, and ensure that we protect that marketplace from a trading perspective, but also allow sufficient devolution for the policy framework. […] We run the theoretical risk of having that type of arrangement where there are trade barriers between parts of the UK, because agricultural matters will be devolved, so we need to guard against that risk.
109.The Soil Association similarly noted that common approaches would be helpful for animal health and welfare standards: “Given the trade across the devolved regions in livestock, common approaches to future animal health and welfare improvements would be helpful”. The Poultry Council agreed “we want to see a level playing field with no possibility of divergence of standards that may affect movement of poultry meat or high-value breeding stock”.
110.When it comes to designing new agricultural models in each country, such as payment for public goods, organisations suggested there could be more flexibility. Tim Breitmeyer, discussing Wales, said: “they [the Welsh Government] should have sufficient control over their own policy, particularly when it comes to the whole public goods model and the environmental side of it. I can understand that, because there are differing priorities there”.
111.We put to the Minister that Scottish, Welsh or Northern Irish farmers may end up in receipt of greater financial support which could undermine farmers in England. He suggested that this would not occur due to state aid rules and an agreed UK framework:
The first thing to say is at a UK level we will have to comply with our WTO commitments, which set ceilings for aggregate market support, so intervention prices and that sort of thing. I think it is understood that that would need to be a UK agreed framework, because we have an international obligation. […] We would all have to abide by those state aid and subsidy rules.
112.We also asked the Minister how the course taken in England would affect the devolved settlements for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. He told us that this will ultimately be a matter for the governments of those countries, but hinted at longer-term budgetary changes if such moves were taken:
This will be a matter for the Scottish Government and for the Welsh Government. Scotland and Wales will need to bring through their own Agriculture Bills. They will also need to set out how they want to design future schemes. […] Of course we will have to have that discussion when we talk about how we allocate budget in the future. Michael Gove [the Secretary of State] has already made clear that he thinks that at some point we should have a review of allocations. We are not at that point yet, but it is something that we are exploring.
113.After exit from the EU, each constituent part of the UK will be able to determine its new agricultural policy to address its specific needs. There may be areas where a common approach is helpful, such as in determining standards for plant and animal health and welfare. Regulatory alignment in these areas will support the functioning of the UK single market. Where these UK wide agreements are made, they must be agreed, following consultation, and with the support of the Governments of the constituent parts of the UK.
209 Cardiff School of Law and Politics (), para 15
210 Dairy UK (), para 18
211 [George Dunn]
212 Soil Association (), para 37
213 British Poultry Council (), para 43
Published: 6 June 2018