Amendment 45

Agriculture Bill - Report (2nd Day) – in the House of Lords at 2:45 pm on 17th September 2020.

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Lord Gardiner of Kimble:

Moved by Lord Gardiner of Kimble

45: After Clause 16, insert the following new Clause—“Continuing EU programmes: power to provide financial assistance (1) The appropriate national authority may give financial assistance to—(a) a person who is a party to an agreement entered into in accordance with any of the following provisions—(i) the Rural Development Regulation,(ii) any legacy rural development provision, or(iii) Articles 32 to 35 of the Common Provisions Regulation (community-led local development), so far as relating to support for rural development,where the agreement has not concluded, or(b) a producer organisation implementing an operational programme approved in accordance with the producer organisations aid provisions.(2) In this section—“appropriate national authority” means—(a) the Secretary of State, in the case of an agreement entered into or an operational programme approved in accordance with any provision or provisions so far as having effect in relation to England;(b) the Welsh Ministers, in the case of an agreement entered into or an operational programme approved in accordance with any provision or provisions so far as having effect in relation to Wales;(c) DAERA, in the case of an agreement entered into or an operational programme approved in accordance with any provision or provisions so far as having effect in relation to Northern Ireland;“the Common Provisions Regulation” means Regulation (EU) No 1303/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 December 2013 laying down common provisions on the European Regional Development Fund, the European Social Fund, the Cohesion Fund, the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund etc;“legacy rural development provision” means any EU regulation, EU decision or EU tertiary legislation relating to support for rural development that preceded the Rural Development Regulation (including—(a) Council Regulation (EC) No 1698/2005 of 20 September 2005 on support for rural development,(b) Council Regulation (EC) No 1257/99 of 17 May 1999 on support for rural development,(c) Council Regulation (EEC) No 2080/92 of 30 June 1992 instituting a Community aid scheme for forestry measures in agriculture,(d) Council Regulation (EEC) No 2078/92 of 30 June 1992 on agricultural production methods compatible with the requirements of the protection of the environment and the maintenance of the countryside, and(e) Council Regulation (EEC) No 1096/88 of 25 April 1988 establishing a Community scheme to encourage the cessation of farming);“the producer organisations aid provisions” means—(a) Articles 32 to 38 of the CMO Regulation, which make provision about aid for fruit and vegetable producer organisations (“producer organisations aid”),(b) so far as relating to producer organisations aid, Commission Delegated Regulation (EU) 2017/891 of 13 March 2017 supplementing the CMO Regulation with regard to the fruit and vegetable, and processed fruit and vegetable, sectors, and(c) so far as relating to producer organisations aid, Council Implementing Regulation (EU) 2017/892 of 13 March 2017 laying down rules for the application of the CMO Regulation with regard to the fruit and vegetable, and processed fruit and vegetable, sectors;“the Rural Development Regulation” means Regulation (EU) No 1305/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 December 2013 on support for rural development.”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment allows the Secretary of State, the Welsh Ministers and DAERA to continue to make payments where agreements and programmes are currently supported under an EU programme relating to rural development or fruit and vegetable producers.

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 shall speak also to Amendments 46, 107, 110, 111, 122, 123, 124 and 125 in my name. Following new legal advice from the European Law Group and the Office of Parliamentary Counsel, these technical amendments are being tabled to put beyond doubt that a body of retained EU law relating to multi-annual programmes under rural development and common market organisation will be created at the end of the implementation period, where this is not created automatically by virtue of the interrelationship between the withdrawal agreement and European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018.

Clauses 14, 15, 16 and their equivalents in the Welsh and Northern Irish schedules all rely on a body of retained EU law being created on implementation period completion day that can then be applied in domestic law and modified as required. Article 138 of the withdrawal agreement means that rural development programmes and some parts of the common market organisation will continue to operate under EU law after the end of the implementation period. However, Section 3(2)(a)(bi) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 prevents EU legislation that is directly applicable in domestic law as a result of the withdrawal agreement under Section 7A of EWA also becoming retained EU law. I am sorry about this, but I want to go into some technical detail so that it is very clear to your Lordships.

This created a legal doubt as to whether the legislation governing the relevant rural development and CMO aid schemes would roll over to become retained EU law. These amendments therefore put that question beyond doubt by ensuring that a body of retained EU law relating to multi-annual agreements and programmes in rural development and CMO will be created at the end of the implementation period. They also provide a payment power to continue paying existing holders of agreements or programmes once the EU funding ends. This power to pay does not depend on modifying retained EU law. Such a power is necessary to ensure domestic funding can step in when existing EU budgets are exhausted in circumstances where these agreements and programmes continue to be regulated under the withdrawal agreement.

As I said, these are technical amendments required to ensure the Bill works as it was originally intended, so that modifications may be made to existing programmes where appropriate, simplifications and improvements may be made to schemes and scheme beneficiaries can continue to receive payments. These government amendments are supported by, and made with the approval of, the devolved Administrations. That is most important and the schedules for Wales and Northern Ireland are at their request. I also emphasise that there is no change to the policy intent of Clauses 14, 15 and 16. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Marlesford Lord Marlesford Conservative

I am not speaking on this amendment.

Photo of Lord Mann Lord Mann Non-affiliated

My Lords, I appreciate that I may be in a tiny minority in this House. I do not intend to press anything to a vote and I fully understand the detail and the logic of these amendments. But I heard the Minister refer on a number of occasions to manifesto policy at the election and, having in another life represented a 500 square mile rural consistency, I have taken the opportunity to see whether there was any misprint or printing problem in the election leaflets, because I saw or heard nowhere a proposal for retained EU legislation. It illustrates a rather different approach, albeit by consensus across political parties, when it comes to agriculture as opposed to, say, manufacturing industry and other areas of state aid. Of course, this is still one of the two unresolved issues for negotiation in advance of the forthcoming EU Council, although the detail on state aid has been less clear.

I do not recall anyone ever telling me when they voted to leave the European Union that they were voting to keep the common agricultural policy, albeit with a different name, or to retain through legislation, funding and priority the same systems, or indeed that there would be a seven-year transition period. Actually, I think I would sooner have supported leaving the European Union. Transition periods, even ones of seven years, may be very sensible. I am happy to have voted for a seven-year transition period, but I do not think that I am in a minority across the country in being wary of us adopting some elements of what the EU created and what some of us would regard as the worst elements, because the common agricultural policy was the most incoherent form of state aid, the most invalid and antiquated, and one that did not serve the future interests of this country. So I put it very politely to the Minister that I am not suggesting that he should be circulating leaflets saying that the Government are proudly retaining EU legislation and what goes with that in terms of funding, but there needs more thought in debate, particularly in relation to state aid, that what might serve one community might well serve another community. I am quite sure that steel communities, which are part of rural communities in many parts of this country, would be keen to hear similar principles being applied on an ongoing basis.

For some communities and industries, it is too late. There is no coal industry left to provide state aid to. When that was attempted, I led delegations to Brussels and to a range of UK Governments to try to get state aid to allow the few remnants of the coal industry to survive—not because we wanted coal as opposed to green technology but because we wanted British coal as opposed to Chinese or Australian coal. We would rather that it provided wages and employment in this country. We were wholly unsuccessful under the way the EU configured its state aid rules and the way we applied them in this country.

I end on this point: that consistency also comes to mind when I hear noble Lords across this House putting in their requests for the shared prosperity fund. When I had the honour in another life of representing a rural area with mining communities built in, I went into tens of thousands of homes and dealt with the most extreme poverty. I can tell the House that the poverty in rural areas was, and is, nothing compared with the poverty in former coal mining areas. They are a world apart in life opportunities, real standards of living, housing conditions, jobs and real prosperity.

More than anything else, my polite advice to the Government, who breached the red wall in precisely those kinds of mixed rural and former mining communities, is that if these mining communities do not get sufficient assistance, their economies will be strangled, and the Government and the party in power will pay a very high price for that misjudgment.

Photo of The Earl of Caithness The Earl of Caithness Conservative 3:00 pm, 17th September 2020

My Lords, I welcome these amendments. I have only two questions for my noble friend.

It concerns me that these amendments have been tabled at this stage. Why did we not know about this problem before? Why has it only just come to light on Report? It worries me that we might be letting other issues through.

Are there any other related programmes affecting other industries where primary legislation might be needed to cover the gap, as my noble friend is covering it for agriculture in this instance?

Photo of Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Conservative

My Lords, I am pleased that my noble friend has tabled this group of amendments to clarify the legal situation in what seems a potentially vexatious area.

I want to place on record how dependent many heavily deprived rural areas have become on parts of the European rural development fund. To quote the noble Lord, Lord Mann, I want to place on record a bid to make sure that any offerings from the shared prosperity fund will include a heavy element of rural development and grants.

I also want to put a question to my noble friend the Minister. What will the natural end of these schemes be? I assume that they will be phased out. If the schemes are rolled over in the specific circumstances to which my noble friend referred, will they reach the natural end of their life by 2023? Will the LEADER programme and the other programmes that fall under the current rural development schemes—they have obviously had much funding from both EU and domestic funds—continue to benefit from the new ELM schemes? Is that the Government’s intention?

Photo of Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

My Lords, this group of government amendments relates to the rural development regulation and would allow the devolved Administrations of Wales and Northern Ireland to operate once the EU programmes of financial assistance have ceased. It will be extremely important for the rural development regulation to continue and for fruit and vegetable producers to be supported.

As I understand it, the amendments would, under the withdrawal agreement, roll over both retained EU legislation to cover existing programmes and a large number of programmes on which the farmers of the devolved Administrations rely. They cover apiculture in Northern Ireland and Wales, and some consequential amendments cover England, Wales and Northern Ireland only; another includes Scotland as well.

As the Minister indicated, the devolved Administrations are in agreement with these amendments. I note the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Mann, on state aid and have some sympathy with them.

I generally welcome this large group of amendments. They give a lot of technical detail, as the Minister said. I hope that this will mean that slightly fewer statutory instruments follow on from this Bill. I also note the comments of the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, about whether this covers a gap and whether we should have known about it beforehand. Generally, however, I support all the amendments in this group.

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

My Lords, we welcome these technical government amendments, aimed at providing greater certainty over the state of legacy funding schemes and EU-derived legislation.

I appreciated the Minister’s technical explanations in his introduction. However, I would appreciate it if he could explain why these amendments have been tabled only at this late stage of consideration, given that the points they cover will have been on the department’s radar for quite some time.

A number of EU exit statutory instruments have been found to contain errors that have required correction by later instruments. Is there a mechanism for changes to be made to these provisions should any problems arise? We have spent a summer of U-turns, with a plethora of problems arising across government in a range of offices and service delivery and systems simply not working. Should it not be the case with good governance that problems are dealt with before they become a problem? I urge the Minister to use his expertise in these matters to look at these mechanisms again and ensure that changes can be made to the legislation in good time in this House.

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

My Lords, this has been a very helpful debate. I am most grateful to noble Lords for their general welcome for the amendments, although I want to deal with some of the points made. I will be the first to say that the perfect form is something we all aspire to, but I am afraid that we are all human.

I want to explain this matter precisely because my noble friend Lord Caithness and the noble Baronesses, Lady Wilcox of Newport and Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, made absolutely fair points. The advice from the European Law Group about retained EU law changed recently, prompting Defra lawyers to want to put beyond doubt that we can continue to pay beneficiaries under existing CAP schemes.

I would not blame the noble Lord, Lord Mann, if he was not listening to our earlier deliberations, but I explained on Tuesday that one reason why the Government were keen to start the transition is that we are the first to say that we do not think that the CAP has been directed properly or that it has given value for money on all the things we want to do. I am happy to send that reference to the noble Lord; we are clear that that is why we want a transition and want to start now. As for existing programmes, I also say to the noble Lord that this is about where people have entered into existing programmes in good faith. We want them to have the ability for that to continue, as the programmes were forces for good, and for those applicants to receive the funds that they thought were the case.

On a point raised by my noble friend Lady McIntosh, I say to noble Lords that part of what we will want to do in supporting the farming sector but also rural communities is that there will be financial assistance through Clause 1 and other clauses in this Bill for farmers. I emphasise that the whole essence of the UK shared prosperity fund is that “shared” means across the country. I assure your Lordships that this is the case everywhere I go; it means to former mining communities, rural, coastal, suburban and urban. It is a shared prosperity fund, and it will not be successful unless it is precisely that. I absolutely understand that it is important that all communities—certainly those that have been going through very difficult times over quite a long period of time and particularly in those areas where industrial change has been so acute—are included.

I am grateful to all noble Lords for their welcome for these measures. As I say, I have had to bring them forward because there has been a change of advice. As for my noble friend Lord Caithness’s question about whether there are other sectors, I try to master this brief but mastering other departments’ briefs might be a little difficult. However, I will send that message back.

As for the length of the programme—the “natural end” that my noble friend Lady McIntosh spoke of—I cannot say precisely for each and every scheme, but we have said that we will fulfil our promise to pay for those schemes that are in existence through domestic funding for the length of those particular schemes. I cannot comment on each and every scheme, but we say that we will back those schemes that have been entered into in good faith.

With those explanations—I will look at Hansard in case there are more technical details—I beg to move.

Photo of Lord McNicol of West Kilbride Lord McNicol of West Kilbride Deputy Chairman of Committees

I have received no requests to speak after the Minister.

Amendment 45 agreed.