Amendment 130

Part of Agriculture Bill - Committee (5th Day) – in the House of Lords at 3:15 pm on 21st July 2020.

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Photo of Lord Grantchester Lord Grantchester Shadow Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change), Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) 3:15 pm, 21st July 2020

This is an interesting group of amendments, the various areas of focus being multiannual plans and the transition period. As is customary, I declare my agricultural interests as recorded on the register.

The first cluster of amendments concerns the start date and duration of the multiannual plans. Amendment 130 and, consequentially, Amendment 142, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, would reduce the initial multiannual plan to five years starting from 2021. Moving from a previous group to this group, Amendment 131, in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Devon, and the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, would extend the subsequent multiannual plans to seven years, in the opposite direction, but leave the start date at 2021. Amendment 143, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, and others, delays the start of the transition phase of seven years until 2022, but technically, this seems to leave hanging the oddity under Clause 4(3) that the first planned period of seven years—the transition phase—starts in 2021 and will give rise to two competing seven-year periods.

Amendment 146, in my name, appears to involve a similar anomaly to the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, regarding Clause 4(3), by delaying the start of the transition phase to 2022. However, under proposed new subsection (4) in our Amendment 146, flexibility is provided to shorten the transition phase if this becomes necessary. The whole amendment, drafted to replace Clause 8, is designed to provide flexibility. Proposed new subsection (2) would provide that flexibility by accommodating the disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic this year through a one-year delay. It would also accommodate the possibility of a subsequent further disruption should a second spike strike, as further misfortune, it has recently been argued, may well be a possibility or even a likelihood.

Is there Minister confident about the readiness to implement the first planned period as soon as 2021? Last year, the National Audit Office was concerned that the Treasury and Defra had not built in enough time to implement the new funding system. Certainly, there are doubts that farmers and land managers would be able to accommodate the change to the support system in order to start next year. However, it could be argued that it may not be necessary to require a further full seven-year period for the first planned period, having had a delay to the start. The planned period could be shortened by the flexibility provided by proposed new subsection (4).

I merely comment to the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and the noble Earl, Lord Devon, that the first planned period being longer than subsequent planned periods would appear to make sense in order to allow the trials, pilots and designs of the new ELM scheme to be properly understood, responded to and taken up, in time for any reassessments to be thought through for subsequent planned periods.

I do not know whether we really need to be concerned about election cycles, debated last week, should the plans to change the five-year Parliament Act be taken up. Clause 4(4) of the Bill merely stipulates that subsequent planned periods must not be less than five years.

The Minister will be aware from the UK’s membership of the EU that one multiannual plan is often barely in operation before plans come forward to improve it to ignite responses in the member states.

I appreciate the intent behind Amendment 144 in the name of the noble Lords, Lord Carrington and Lord Curry, that the viability of farm businesses could be jeopardised by making deductions before measures are introduced, to which participants could make up that shortfall, as I have commented previously.

Amendment 149 in the name of the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, and the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, would require the Secretary of State to have regard to the impact of these payments on the viability of less favoured areas specifically.

The concern expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, is well understood. I reflect only that animal welfare standards are enshrined in farm assurance schemes and underpinned by good husbandry, and that regulations are a cumbersome tool in this regard. Welfare standards are not “burdens”, as expressed in this Bill; they are fundamental to good practice.

Amendment 150 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Rock, also calls for flexibility around payments. Although counterintuitive to the phasing out of direct payments, it is similar to effect to our Amendment 142, in an earlier group, which would allow the carrying forward of unspent sums as schemes under ELM may need time to be developed and taken up. The noble Baroness is right to signal in Amendments 151 and 153 that late payments suffered under the RPA’s management, especially at times of adjustment to new systems and developments, must be avoided.

I thank her for her Amendment 152 on the delinking payment provisions. It allows me to ask the Minister to clarify his department’s plans for the introduction of delinking payments from land. The Bill states that this cannot be before 2022, which is understood. As this will be the break from the past land-based payment systems, it would be helpful to have on the record what considerations his department has in mind regarding its introduction. How much notice will be given, especially if it is decided to activate the provision before the end of the transition phase? Can the Minister say that it will not be before the various trials and pilots throughout the country have been completed and the full array of new ELM schemes is available for uptake?

The Minister’s department has not published any further thinking beyond what was published in February this year. I hope and expect that the department has taken forward many aspects of all the measures that make up this framework. As we come to the Summer Recess, can the Minister give the House a clear commitment that there will be far more details against which to judge this stage’s amendments in good time for Report stage, which is expected in mid-September? Last week, the noble Baroness the Minister spoke of more information perhaps coming forward by mid-October. She will be aware that this will be too late. Details of other enhancements are promised to be forthcoming in September. Can the Minister map out the scheduling of information that will be necessary for our considerations on Report?