The Bill gives the UK a huge opportunity to revitalise the countryside in a way that meets the needs of people, farming, food and the environment for generations to come. I welcome the Bill’s broad thrust of shifting financial assistance to help farmers to restore and improve our natural environment, and public money for public goods. I also welcome the Secretary of State outlining the provision in the Bill to allow the Welsh Labour Government to set their own targets.
Crucially, however, the Bill fails in many areas. It fails to safeguard our food supply or to tackle health inequalities. It falls well short on properly protecting our natural environment. Depleting soils, losing pollinators, and polluting waters do nothing for farm productivity. At a time when we face huge environmental challenges, with the ecological challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss, we also need a Bill that delivers on outcomes, with clear targets.
The key weakness is the failure to secure long-term future funding for the agricultural sector, or to place a duty on Ministers to set budgets that reflect the scale of financial need and to specify timeframes for the longevity of those budgets. There is no doubt that the Secretary of State has excellent oratory skills, but does he have the negotiating skills to argue for the appropriate budget from the Treasury and to specify where and how it is to be spent? Can he also confirm by how much the DEFRA budget will be cut in future? The Bill must also ensure fair distribution across the four countries of the UK. I was pleased to hear the Secretary of State say that funding will not be Barnettised, but how will it be decided and assessed, and exactly how much will it be? That is crucial.
As it stands, the Bill fails to properly address unresolved issues between the Welsh Government and Whitehall, particularly around the red meat levy, which must be properly distributed. Change is required to underpin mechanisms for a fairer and more representative distribution of the levy, but the Bill fails to recognise that. This issue has been debated over many years—I took part in the debate many years ago—and it is disappointing that it is not addressed in the Bill. Lesley Griffiths, the Welsh Cabinet Secretary, has also expressed her disappointment that the Bill does not contain provisions to improve the functioning of the red meat levy.
Will the Secretary of State confirm that he will fight to save our 14 food products in Wales that have been granted protected name status? Foods such as Anglesey sea salt, Welsh lamb, Welsh cider and Caerphilly cheese, to name just a few, are all products that enjoy protected status but are under threat. I would like to him confirm that he will do so and say whether he will make provision in the Bill.
My final point is about trade. This Bill is utterly dependent on Brexit and the disastrous negotiations that are currently taking place. We know what World Trade Organisation rules would mean for our farmers, our agriculture and our land, let alone our environmental safeguards and protections. They would mean the end of farmers, businesses, food production and safeguards— the end of British agriculture as we know it. We need confirmation that this will be taken into account, and we need that assurance not only from the Secretary of State, but from the Government.
We need an agriculture Bill that delivers outcomes, delivers on food security, delivers on environmental protections, keeps farmers on our land, addresses the huge challenges that we face and sustains a thriving British farming, food and drink sector. I think that this Bill falls short.