Agriculture Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:14 pm on 10th October 2018.

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Photo of Deidre Brock Deidre Brock Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Devolved Government Relations), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Environment and Rural Affairs), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Wales) 2:14 pm, 10th October 2018

I am rather surprised that the hon. Gentleman has not yet read our very sensible proposal for stability and simplicity, which sets out the route map. Let us not forget either that the Scottish Government were the first UK Administration to set out detailed plans for the short and medium term after Brexit. I suggest that he goes online and has a look at our proposal.

Where now are the pledges and promises that were made? Where are the guarantees for Scottish farmers that they will not lose out? Where in this Bill is the guarantee that the cash going to Scotland for Scotland’s farmers will not fall under some newly invented Barnett guillotine or that the additional support that has been available for less favoured areas, which is so important to Scotland, will not simply vanish, like so much else that Scotland is due but Whitehall absorbs? Perhaps we should be looking for a red bus with some numbers on the side and a promise to Scotland’s farmers of untold riches to come. Without that certainty from Whitehall and the news that the funding for Scotland’s farmers is secure, protected from the Brexit meltdown and protected in the long term, farmers in Scotland cannot start planning for the future, and not even the near future.

I looked at the National Audit Office’s report card on DEFRA’s progress in preparing for Brexit and it did not make for pretty reading. It was in fact quite stark, saying:

“DEFRA has not been able to make progress in supporting business in their preparations,” although it makes it clear that this is partly the fault of the Department for Exiting the European Union for choosing to restrict Departments’ ability to engage with their stakeholders. But whose fault that is will not concern farmers, nor will it be a great concern for those who would like to see food continuing to appear in their shops. The NAO goes on to point out that no information was available on the DEFRA website about the EU exit or any potential changes following Brexit and that, almost ironically, stakeholders such as farmers had to look to the EU agencies’ websites for information about what was likely to follow. The warning about lack of preparedness was pretty stark:

“there is no guidance on Defra’s website for businesses exporting food products to the EU. Some of these may have to apply for an export health certificate for the first time and change trading routes so that their products enter the EU through a border inspection post.”

The most damning part of the report, though, might be the observation that

“DEFRA does not have a clear vision either for the new services and functions it has to introduce or for the organisation as a whole post-EU Exit”.

No clear vision, no plan and no action, but here we are with a Bill to set the future direction. In spite of a 37% increase in the number of legislative staff in the Department, the portfolio board heard in June that

“DEFRA is at high risk of being unable to deliver a full and functioning statute book by end March 2019” if there is no deal, due to the number of statutory instruments that need to be drafted, but here we are with a Bill that will need further secondary legislation.