Agriculture Bill - Report (2nd Day)

– in the House of Lords at 2:22 pm on 17th September 2020.

Alert me about debates like this

Clause 16: Support for rural development

Debate on Amendment 43 resumed.

Photo of Baroness Wilcox of Newport Baroness Wilcox of Newport Opposition Whip (Lords)

My Lords, it seems only right that, having spoken on the amendments in the fourth group, which would have restricted financial assistance to solely supporting production, I also respond to these amendments, which call for the opposite.

Amendments 43 and 44 come from different places but clearly demonstrate the importance of allowing a level of financial assistance for purposes other than production. I absolutely agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, when she said on Tuesday evening that she wishes to see a United Kingdom where there are no food banks. Their proliferation in both rural and urban areas in the last 10 years is a failure of government to address poverty issues in our communities. The devastating effects of the pandemic, combined with the disastrous rollout of universal credit, have pushed more and more people in this country into reliance on these services, which casts an indelible blight on one of the world’s richest economies.

I am particularly interested to hear the Minister’s response to Amendment 44, which raises the lack of progress—in public, at least—in relation to the UK shared prosperity fund. I know that my colleagues in both national and local government in Wales are particularly interested to know what happens next in the distribution of this promised funding, which replaces the generous EU grants of previous decades. I share my noble friend Lady Young’s fears about the shared prosperity fund being neither shared nor prosperous.

In relation to Amendment 44, does the Minister believe this point is covered by the government amendments in the group after next? If not, is there any form of contingency should a gap arise in the availability of development funds?

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

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions to this debate. I will take Amendments 43 and 44 together. I would like to reassure your Lordships that we recognise the importance of the issues that these amendments raise. Farmers and farming households make a valuable contribution to our national life, and we recognise that the needs of farming households may change as we move away from the common agricultural policy.

As set out in their manifesto, the Government intend to introduce the UK shared prosperity fund to replace EU structural funds. The manifesto also stated that it will, at a minimum, match the size of those funds in each nation, which was reiterated by the Chancellor in the last Budget. The final decisions about the quantum and design of the funding will take place after a cross-governmental spending review.

The Government have made a long-standing commitment to ensure that all policies are rural proofed—that is, ensuring that policy outcomes work in rural areas. This includes the development and delivery of the UK shared prosperity fund, on which Defra and MHCLG officials are working closely. In advance of the introduction of the UK shared prosperity fund, £60 million of funding will continue to flow to rural businesses via the final tranche of the growth programme, which the RPA is currently assessing.

The fund will play a vital role in supporting rural and coastal communities in recovery and renewal from Covid-19, and our expectation is that the growth programme and LEADER elements of EAFRD will be a component of the fund. This was set out in a letter from the Defra Secretary of State to the chair of the EFRA Select Committee on 7 September. Defra officials continue to work closely with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, which leads on the fund’s development, to ensure that its design takes account of the dynamics of rural economies and particularly the challenges faced by rural communities, as well as the opportunities that I believe rural communities have. We have been in contact with MHCLG Ministers and I can assure your Lordships that MHCLG recognises the importance of these considerations.

I fully recognise the importance of reassuring rural communities and farming households about the future of local growth funding. The Government will look to set out their national approach to local economic recovery and devolution through a White Paper expected in the autumn. We firmly believe that the best way to make progress is to continue to work collaboratively at local and national level. The MHCLG has established an economic recovery working group, which meets regularly, bringing together a range of local growth partners to work on emerging themes and concerns across the country, including those relevant to rural areas. This includes representatives from rural local enterprise partnerships and local authorities.

If new socioeconomic support programmes were to be operated under Clause 16, they would have to operate under broadly the same framework dictated by the existing CAP. Clause 16 provides the Secretary of State with the power to modify or repeal retained EU legislation relating to rural development in England. This clause will not be used to introduce any new schemes, as they will be covered under Clause 1.

I very much hope that the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, and the noble Earl will accept my confirmation that the UK shared prosperity fund will provide great opportunities for growth and investment in rural communities and will include the successor for the growth programme and LEADER elements of EAFRD. I believe this is a cause we all share and hope that, on that basis, given the explanation of the work we are undertaking between the two departments and the imperative of rural proofing, the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of The Earl of Devon The Earl of Devon Crossbench

Following up the question from the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, I ask the Minister to confirm whether he considers that government Amendments 45 and 46 might address the issues raised by Amendment 44. It is important to have that clarified. I thought that they did as I read them in preparation for today. That would certainly alleviate some of the concerns behind Amendment 44.

Photo of Lord Gardiner of Kimble Lord Gardiner of Kimble The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 2:30 pm, 17th September 2020

My Lords, when we come to the amendments in my name I will explain that they intend to, and will, provide for the smooth running of existing schemes under the EU programmes, not only so that they can continue to work well but so that people due to receive funds from them can do so. The amendments we have discussed were about additional and beyond, but my amendments on retained EU law are technical amendments to ensure that the existing programme under the existing schemes can work effectively.

Photo of Lord Cameron of Dillington Lord Cameron of Dillington Crossbench

My Lords, I thank all those who have taken part in this short debate, albeit that it has taken place over two days—three, if you add in yesterday. I also thank the Minister for his carefully worded reply. I know that he personally understands the problems I have described and the importance of the wider rural economy, not only to farmers and farming households but to those who live on the edge in our countryside and whose poverty remains largely ignored by government.

Meanwhile, I reassure my good friend, the noble Baroness, Lady Young, that it was never my intention to take money away from ELMS, or even the agricultural budget—or perhaps, as she might have put it more figuratively, I had no wish to hang another bauble on to the ELMS Christmas tree. I was trying to make the “rural affairs” bit of Defra a bit more of a reality, as recommended by two Select Committee reports of this House in recent years. However, as hinted at by my very old friend, the noble Baroness, Lady Chisholm, it is probably best to keep rural communities alongside all other communities and therefore firmly within the ministry for communities, now known as MHCLG.

The Minister has indeed given me some comfort in what he said about the shared prosperity fund, although I realise that nothing is certain before the comprehensive spending review. It might have been good to hear some indication as to when we will get any tangible details about the shared prosperity fund, but I suppose, with our economy currently on a precipice of uncertainty owing to the fallout from Covid and the ongoing doubts about the Brexit deal, it would have been asking too much to expect more detail when neither the Treasury nor MHCLG have any firm grip on where they are going.

Anyway, I will stop there. In the light of the Minister’s undertakings on the Floor of the House about a future rural component of a shared prosperity fund, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 43 withdrawn.

Amendment 44 not moved.