Amendment 209

Agriculture Bill - Committee (5th Day) – in the House of Lords at 11:15 pm on 21st July 2020.

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Lord Gardiner of Kimble:

Moved by Lord Gardiner of Kimble

209: Clause 32, page 29, line 44, at end insert—“(1A) An order of the Secretary of State assigning functions under section 87(1)(b) by virtue of subsection (1) may only be made with the approval of— (a) the Welsh Ministers, if the functions are exercisable in relation to Wales,(b) the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs in Northern Ireland, if the functions are exercisable in relation to Northern Ireland, and(c) the Scottish Ministers, if the functions are exercisable in relation to Scotland.”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment secures that before making an order which assigns functions to a body that are exercisable in relation to Wales, Northern Ireland or Scotland, the Secretary of State must obtain the approval of the Welsh Ministers, the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs in Northern Ireland or the Scottish Ministers (as the case may be).

Photo of Lord Gardiner of Kimble Lord Gardiner of Kimble The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

My Lords, in moving Amendment 209, I shall speak also to Amendments 261, 262 and 268 in my name. Amendments 209, 261 and 262 provide that the Secretary of State shall seek consent from the devolved Administrations for orders made relating to functions of the livestock information service which are exercisable in those Administrations or when exercising the powers in the Bill relating to organics, where these regulations will also apply in those Administrations.

We have always said that we would engage intensively with the devolved Administrations prior to making any regulations that will apply to the devolved Administrations. However, the preference of colleagues in the devolved Administrations is for a consent requirement to be added. This would enable them to recommend legislative consent to their respective legislatures for those provisions in scope of the Sewel convention. We remain wholly committed to seeking legislative consent for all provisions that engage the convention in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and I am pleased to table these amendments. An LCM has now been recommended by the Northern Ireland Assembly; Welsh and Scottish Ministers are intending to seek legislative consent from their respective legislatures for these clauses.

Amendment 268 removes Clauses 42(4) and (5), which make provision for regulations requiring devolved Administrations to provide the Secretary of State with information on their classification and use of domestic support. While we consider that Part 6 is reserved to the UK Parliament, the UK Government are content with the assurances made that these subsections are not required in law, and have reached agreement with the devolved Administrations to remove them from the Bill. The UK Government maintains that this amendment now removes any Part 6 provisions in scope of the Sewel convention. It is our intention to enshrine this commitment in a concordat to be developed between the UK Government and all the devolved Administrations, which will sit alongside the regulations made under Part 6. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, the government amendments to Clauses 32 and 37 are welcome. I am aware that they meet a request from the Welsh Government. Removing Clauses 42(4) and (5) is very important because it is deeply unsatisfactory that the Government could, in effect, seek to strong-arm the devolved Governments into giving up elements of their executive competence by inserting such clauses in Bills in the first place.

However, other provisions in this Bill appear to undermine the devolved Governments’ competence, and it has been notable that many noble Lords have spoken powerfully on issues affecting Wales. The process of leaving the EU and resuming international trade negotiations and our independent membership of bodies such as the World Trade Organization is placing a huge—possibly intolerable—strain on our constitution.

As the noble Lord recognised in his recent letter on Second Reading, the power to conduct international negotiations is reserved. However, the rights and responsibilities for implementing international agreements within devolved competence rest with the devolved institutions. I am aware that the Welsh Government, although strongly in favour of preserving the union, albeit on the basis of reform, have taken the view that they cannot be bound to implement agreements which require changes to legislation made by the Senedd unless they have been fully involved with the process of negotiating those agreements. That is surely only reasonable and logical.

It is therefore imperative that the Westminster Government and the devolved Governments find transparent ways to fully recognise and respect the views and interests of the devolved nations in ongoing international negotiations. Concordats, memoranda of understanding and Dispatch Box commitments are all very well but they are legally unsatisfactory. They are no substitute for clear requirements to be placed on the Government in law to fully consult and secure the agreement of the devolved institutions on international negotiations where their policies and legislation are at stake. I am glad that the Government have tabled these amendments.

Photo of Lord Hope of Craighead Lord Hope of Craighead Chair, High Speed Rail (West Midlands - Crewe) Bill Select Committee (Lords), Chair, High Speed Rail (West Midlands - Crewe) Bill Select Committee (Lords) 11:30 pm, 21st July 2020

My Lords, I wish to speak to Amendment 267, to which the noble Lords, Lords Bruce of Bennachie and Lord Wigley, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, have very kindly added their names. It seeks to insert into Clause 40 a provision designed to protect the interests of the devolved authorities with regard to the exercise of the regulation-making powers conferred on the Secretary of State by that clause.

I express my support for Amendment 291, in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Wigley, Lord Bruce and Lord Thomas of Gresford. I am also very much in sympathy with the amendment that the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, has just spoken to and to which my Amendment 255, which will be debated some time on Thursday, closely relates.

Turning to my own amendment, Part 6 of the Bill, of which Clause 40 forms part, concerns the WTO Agreement on Agriculture, which came into force in 1995. The agreement, reduced to its simplest terms, contains three pillars: domestic support, market access and export subsidies. The EU’s common agricultural policy has been subject to its discipline ever since the agreement was entered into. That responsibility, so far as the UK is concerned, will pass to the Government of the United Kingdom when the transitional period comes to an end. That, as I understand it, and in short, is what Part 6, and Clause 40 in particular, is all about.

It has been drafted on the assumption that it will be the responsibility of the Government at Westminster to ensure that all UK policies on domestic support, including those of the devolved Administrations, are compliant with the agreement. That is because, so the argument goes, the UK will be the signatory to the agreement, not the individual nations within it. As a matter of international law, there can be no argument with this approach, but the Bill is concerned with the exercise of this responsibility within the United Kingdom. This is a matter which needs to have regard to our own domestic arrangements, and especially to the fact that agriculture is devolved.

Indeed, agriculture is not, in the case of any of the Administrations, reserved to Westminster. Therefore, as these Administrations see it, the starting point for any system of regulation to ensure WTO compliance by the UK as a whole must be that it is the responsibility of each of the devolved Administrations to devise its own system for the support of agriculture with whatever resources may be available.

When one examines Part 6 in that light, it can be seen that it fails to respect these domestic arrangements. Clause 41(5) will enable the Secretary of State, in the exercise of the Clause 40 power, to set financial ceilings in relation to agricultural support provided by the devolved Administrations of a kind that is classified as “Amber Box” by the WTO, and to establish a decision -making process for the classification of agricultural support in accordance with WTO criteria.

The Secretary of State could set limits on the amount of domestic support targeted at specific measures that the devolved Administrations were seeking to apply to meet their own objectives. Those could be at a lower ceiling than exists under the current arrangements. Reducing the amount of support given to sheep farmers in Wales and Scotland, for example, would be a matter of very great concern, given the narrow margins within which hill farmers in those countries have to operate and the formidable challenges they now face due to the collapse of the export market for wool, to take just one example.

My amendment seeks to ensure that the Secretary of State will consult the devolved Administrations when he prepares regulations under this clause. It does not go so far as to require him to secure their agreement. In an ideal world, that would of course be desirable so that all parts of the UK could work together on this matter but, given the political tensions that currently exist, asking him to secure agreement may be asking for too much. I am not asking for that, but I stress the importance of consultation so that the Secretary of State is fully informed before decisions are taken and that this is written into the Bill.

It is good that, as can be seen from Amendment 268, the Government have departed from insisting on the provision of information by the devolved Administrations about their own proposed or existing farming support, as that is their business. But consultation about steps that the Secretary of State proposes to take is essential if serious misunderstandings and, worse still, a real sense of injustice and resentment are to be avoided. I should add that NFU Scotland supports this amendment, although it would prefer that decisions on financial ceilings should be taken not just after consultation but with the agreement of the devolved Administrations.

I recall that on 7 July, replying to an amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, the Minister said:

“Good progress has already been made by the United Kingdom Government and the devolved Administrations in developing an administrative framework for co-ordinating agricultural policy on the basis of co-operation and mutual consent.”—[Official Report, 7/7/20; col. 1043.]

I think he has said the same thing on a number of occasions this evening. I very much welcome that but I hope that, in that spirit, he will look favourably on my amendment and I look forward very much to his reply.

Photo of Lord Hain Lord Hain Labour

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, who made some compelling arguments, especially about the devolved question. I endorse the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, about Wales and the Welsh Government’s needs.

I wish to speak to Amendment 284 in my name. The shape and political make-up of the UK have shifted significantly since the last time we laid domestic agriculture legislation 40 years ago. When the UK first adopted the common agricultural policy, it was on behalf of the whole UK. Now, as we seek to replace that policy, we are doing so as four distinct Administrations with overarchingly aligned but divergent interpretations of what the common agricultural policy is able to deliver.

Devolution developed within the context of the CAP. The Welsh Government were given competence for agriculture policy in 1999. The strength of devolution, for agriculture in particular, is that it gave the constituent parts of the UK—areas whose topography and climate have produced vastly different agriculture sectors—the ability to shape the policy and support to suit individual needs. The flexibility to tailor individual needs while working with high-level parameters and outcomes, laid out in the framework of the CAP, was a key component of what made the policy work in terms of its structure, while delivering the careful balance between divergence and uniformity. The common overarching objectives—the commitment to seven-year funding cycles, the broad agreements on spending limits and the overall breadth and intention of the policy framework —combined to produce a competitive but level playing field. It was a structure that enabled disparate areas with different agricultural systems to address local needs while working towards strategic goals.

As the UK Government and devolved Administrations develop new agricultural policy with new policy intent, we must surely take time to consider not merely what CAP delivered but how it delivered it. While the landscape and agricultural sectors of Wales may be different from England or Scotland—or Northern Ireland, for that matter—we are unified by the need to trade effectively both internally and externally. The fundamental need to unify areas of common interest should be accounted for in this Bill.

For Wales, the most pressing issue is the ability to agree and deliver a multi-annual funding arrangement with Her Majesty’s Treasury. Multi-annual funding is key to providing stability to a sector that takes time to see the impact of any investment or delivery of any environmental outcome.

Currently, the budget for Wales is set through the annual spending review negotiation between the Treasury and the Welsh Government. An annual funding mechanism for agriculture and land management will create too much uncertainty for Welsh farmers. This lack of stability will destroy the level playing field for farmers and agribusinesses in Wales and consequently the integrated food supply chain within the UK. This is a uniquely Welsh constitutional and political problem.

In this Agriculture Bill, we have a clear opportunity to put in place steps to design and deliver a multi-annual funding arrangement that can create a common structure with shared opportunity against shared UK objectives while allowing devolved Administrations to meet domestic needs. It is the first building block to ensuring that we can accommodate and build resilience into our agricultural sector, our food and drink sector, and the UK’s national security. This is the context in which I have spoken to my amendments.

Photo of Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick Non-affiliated

I support the amendments in my name. Amendment 289 seeks to introduce a sunset clause so that provisions relating to Northern Ireland are timebound, while allowing suitable time for the development of bespoke legislation within the next Assembly term—some time post-2022—and taking into account disruptions in future planning as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, providing a clear timeframe for Northern Ireland.

As the Minister has mentioned, Clause 45 and Schedule 6 refer to the devolved regions and, in that respect, to Northern Ireland. While the schedule provides much-needed certainty in the short term, Northern Ireland is still left without a long-term vision for how agriculture and the environment will be supported in the future and without clarity around what outcomes a future policy framework should aim to deliver.

This is despite widespread recognition from stakeholders that the current system is not fit for purpose. Northern Ireland is facing considerable challenges in terms of species and habitat loss, agricultural GHG emissions, poor water quality and marked volatility, among others. The way we manage our land use will directly impact on our ability to mitigate and adapt to climate change as well as helping meet a range of other environmental commitments.

There is a need to reform how we farm and manage our land and move towards a resilient, profitable and environmentally sustainable farming sector. The need to outline a future direction of travel for Northern Ireland is of paramount importance. Currently, a risk exists that the provisions within the Northern Ireland schedule could continue indefinitely, and this would result in the long-term continuation of direct payments in their current form, which have been criticised by a range of stakeholders and do little to address the numerous crises facing farming and the environment. While the provisions in the Northern Ireland schedule are similar to those that apply in Wales, there is an important difference: the Welsh provision will expire in 2024, while there is no sunset clause outlined for those relating to Northern Ireland. This is largely due to the fact that the Bill was created in the absence of an operational Assembly. We have now had an operational Assembly since 11 January this year and, in fact, this amendment has already been discussed by the DAERA Assembly Committee in Northern Ireland, which supports it. It is also supported by the Nature Friendly Farming Network.

In that regard, I thank the noble Lords who signed my amendment, including the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, and the noble Lords, Lord Alderdice and Lord Hain. I know that other noble Lords also support it, so it is important to noble Lords that the presence of a sunset clause relating to the Welsh schedule creates an onus on the Welsh Government to develop domestic legislation in a time-bound manner. The absence of that sunset clause relating to the Northern Ireland schedule creates a risk of the development of a future agricultural policy framework for Northern Ireland being further delayed—hence my amendment. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Wigley Lord Wigley Plaid Cymru 11:45 pm, 21st July 2020

My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie. I very much support her points. She can add my name to the list of those she mentioned as supporting her amendment. Again, I declare my registered interests, as I did in earlier Committee debates.

Government Amendment 209, on identification and traceability, which recognises the need to work with the devolved Governments, is of course welcome. I know that this provision was requested by Welsh Ministers. However, this group of amendments goes way beyond identification and traceability. As I indicated in the debate on the very first group of amendments in Committee, I acknowledge that my Amendment 291 sits more comfortably with Amendment 290 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, which proposes an agricultural co-ordination council; perhaps we will hear the arguments in favour of that later in this debate.

In fact, that amendment then stood as the lead amendment of a group that lent itself to such a purpose. Tacking Amendments 290 and 291 on to government Amendment 209 makes less sense, but we are where we are. However, I very much add my support the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, and the noble Lord, Lord Hain. The theme has already begun to emerge and it goes way beyond Amendment 290.

None the less, the general setting in which these two amendments arise represents a dimension much broader than the agricultural setting. The issue of a UK single market replacing the European single market goes to the heart of the relationship between the four nations of these islands. If Westminster gets this wrong, it will have far-reaching constitutional implications. However, addressing the issue in an agricultural context is a good starting point.

As the noble Lord, Lord Hain, emphasised a moment ago, the whole rationale of devolution was to create political structures that can facilitate different policies in different parts of these islands, responding to the different needs and circumstances that exist. That is most certainly the case in the context of agriculture. Because of our mountainous terrain in Wales, the nature of our agriculture is different from that of England, as indeed is much of the farmland of Scotland. Northern Ireland is again different, with its links to the Irish Republic and into the European single market. Our farming in Wales is much more dependent on the livestock sectors—sheep, beef and dairy farming. Unless a free trade agreement can be reached before the cliff edge of 31 December is upon us, our departure from the EU will have absolutely devastating effects on our agriculture, particularly our hill farms, as has been mentioned in several debates in this Committee.

It is totally inconceivable that any Welsh Government of any party or combination of parties would stand by and allow the devastation of our rural life that would ensue. They would be expected to intervene—that would be a political imperative—but, of course, intervening to help Welsh agriculture in such dire circumstances would inevitably have a knock-on effect on agriculture in England and Scotland. Likewise, initiatives by Westminster to help any particular sector in England would have consequences for the other three devolved regimes, so there must be a framework mechanism for the UK single market. On that much we are probably agreed across this Committee.

The problem is to determine the nature of that mechanism; that becomes a political question. The nationalist Benches in the other place are sometimes taunted that we are happy to see our nations conceding power to a European single market but not to a British single market. That gibe ignores the geopolitical reality within the UK compared with that within the EU. If all the rules and priorities within the EU single market were dominated by a single member state—Germany, say—and the German Government had a veto over all other member states, the EU single market would have long since collapsed.

Our fear, shared among many and across parties in the devolved Parliaments of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, is that England will insist on determining the policies and priorities of the UK single market at the expense of the ability of the devolved Governments to secure and implement policies needed by their own people—in this case by their own farming communities.

To that extent, Amendment 290 provides a requirement for unanimity between the four Governments in making any changes to the framework; that is welcome. It had been my hope that by the time we were debating these issues in the context of this Bill we would have made progress on the general trading structures alongside which any agricultural provision has to exist. We are not there yet, though there may perhaps be a greater indication of government thinking before we get to Report on the Bill. We may therefore need to come back to it.

In conclusion, I press upon the Government to approach this whole issue from the viewpoint of seeking an agricultural framework compatible with a broader framework of relationships between the four nations of these islands and to accept that, if there is to be a stable ongoing relationship, it has to be based on a partnership of equals. A larger population does not give any nation the right to impose its policies on all others, or we would now be acknowledging that China—by dint of its size—has a right to impose its will on the international order. A framework solution within the UK will inevitably have some form of federal or confederal relationship between the nations of these islands, based on transparent and equitable mechanisms and underpinned by mutual respect, not population size.

I hope that, by the time we come back in September, the Government will have developed their thinking along these lines. If they do not, it bodes very badly not just for co-operation within the agricultural dimension but for the future constitutional outlook of the four nations of these islands.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Green

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Wigley. I will keep my comments very brief. I have already spoken to similar Amendments 147, 148 and 154, highlighting the risk of these potential cost-cutting and corner-cutting clauses—but I welcome the opportunity to prompt the Minister to reassure me, as he so often does.

House resumed.