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Queen’s Speech - Debate (4th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:42 pm on 17th October 2019.

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Photo of Lord Morris of Aberavon Lord Morris of Aberavon Chair, EU Justice Sub-Committee 1:42 pm, 17th October 2019

My Lords, I wish to raise three points on the post-Brexit arrangements for agricultural support, particularly in relation to Wales.

More than 60 years ago I was a young official for the newly born Farmers Union of Wales. Most of family—my brothers and their descendants—are engaged in livestock breeding in Wales, sheep in particular. There has never been greater uncertainty in the Welsh hills, traditionally the breeding ground of Welsh lamb. What advice will the Government give to them? When I was at the criminal Bar, I was occasionally asked in the Court of Appeal, “What is your best point, Mr Morris?” My best and most important point is: what should hill sheep farmers dependent on export to the continent do this year, so far as breeding is concerned? This is the period—from about 1 November on, depending on the altitude of their farms—when they put their rams to their ewes. This is the obvious initial step for the lambs they hope to be ready for the markets, particularly the continental markets, in late spring and early summer. They do not know what markets there will be—or what tariffs, as my noble friend mentioned from the Front Bench. I hope they will not be punitive; if they are, it will destroy the industry. I would therefore like to know what assurance the Government can give.

My second point concerns the last agriculture Bill, which was stalled in the Commons for many months—pending, I presume, the outcome of Brexit. I look forward to a new Bill, as promised in the Queen’s Speech. On more than one occasion, the last in March this year, I raised the Delegated Powers Committee of this House’s severe criticism as that Bill sought to bypass the devolved legislatures. I pointed out that Whitehall is blind to the fact that devolved Administrations are now part of our constitution. Will Westminster never learn that, given the situation we find ourselves in—which I welcome and have worked for—it must consult the devolved Administrations? We had the same experience with the initial offering of Clause 11 of a recent Bill concerning the retention of powers that were being transferred from Brussels to the United Kingdom, which led to prolonged discussion between the Government of Wales and Westminster before a reasonably acceptable solution was arrived at. When the next agriculture Bill is presented, can we have firm assurances, first, that there will be no bypassing of the Welsh Assembly; secondly, that farmers in Wales will not lose out in any new support arrangements; and thirdly, that there will be agreed arrangements in which the Welsh Government will have confidence?

My third point is that the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced on 4 September this year his proposals for the next spending round, including £1.2 billion for Scotland and more than £600 million for Wales—based on the existing Barnett formula, of course, and on top of the existing spending per head in Scotland and Wales. The Government went on to say, interestingly:

“The Spending Round also delivers on the government’s commitment to provide £160 million to farmers and land managers in Scotland in relation to historic allocations of Common Agricultural Policy … funding”.

Given that the Welsh allocation usually follows the Scottish, based on Barnett, I want a specific answer: what is the equivalent commitment to Wales, not mentioned in the statement, of that £160 million found for Scotland for farmers and land managers? The Scottish figure refers directly, I repeat, to,

“farmers and land managers in Scotland”.

Is there a different figure for Wales? Is there no figure for Wales? I would like to know.