Amendment 1

Agriculture Bill - Third Reading – in the House of Lords at 2:01 pm on 1st October 2020.

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Lord Gardiner of Kimble:

Moved by Lord Gardiner of Kimble

1: Clause 17, page 14, line 45, at end insert—“(ba) the Scottish 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 Scotland;”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment enables the Scottish Ministers to give financial assistance under Clause 17.

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 to a small number of technical amendments, and I declare my farming interests as set out in the register.

These are technical operability amendments and do not represent any change of policy. The Government are acting on very recent legal advice from the European Law Group and the Office of Parliamentary Counsel, the Government’s primary legislation drafters, on the interpretation of the withdrawal agreement as regards retained EU law, with the objective of ensuring that no doubt remains that these powers to continue EU CAP legacy schemes will operate as intended for England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland.

Amendments 1 and 4 relate to the new clause created by Amendment 45, as agreed on Report, “Continuing EU programmes: power to provide financial assistance”, and will ensure that the Scottish Government are able to make domestic payments where agreements and programmes are currently supported under an EU programme relating to rural development or fruit and vegetable producers once the funding for the programme has been used up. This amendment has been tabled at the request of the Scottish Government, whose primary legislation has progressed quickly through their Parliament and who do not have, as a result, an immediate opportunity to correct this themselves.

Amendments 2 and 3 have the effect of adding the promotions aid legislation—EU regulation 1144/2014, delegated regulation 2015/1829 and implementing regulation 2015/1831—to the list of legislation which will become retained EU law under the new clause created by Amendment 46 “Retained direct EU legislation”, as agreed on Report. This ensures that EU legislation relating to promotion measures for agricultural products which has a direct impact under the withdrawal agreement in relation to existing programmes will also be included in retained direct EU legislation. We have made these amendments at the request of DAERA, which wants to retain the ability to carry out agri-promotion legacy schemes in Northern Ireland under this legislation after the end of the transition period.

Government Amendments 107 and 110 at Report gave Welsh Ministers and DAERA the power to modify retained EU law for CMO apiculture legacy schemes. Amendments 5 and 6 correct a drafting oversight by specifying the resolution procedure for government Amendments 107 and 110 as agreed at Report, for the Welsh Government and DAERA to make regulations in their respective parliaments.

In line with the Sewel convention, the UK Government have sought the legislative consent of all the devolved legislatures for the provisions that engage the LCM process. I am pleased to report that each of the devolved legislatures has agreed legislative consent for the Agriculture Bill on the recommendation of its respective devolved Administration. The Northern Ireland Assembly agreed to the LCM on 31March 2020; the Senedd Cymru on 29 September and the Scottish Parliament on 30 September.

I would like to make clear again that these are purely technical amendments and were tabled at the request of the devolved Administrations to ensure that the legislation operates as intended. These amendments are consequential upon those tabled at Report to reflect the new European Law Group advice. The Government have not changed their policy. I hope that noble Lords will understand my wish, on behalf of the devolved Administrations, to ensure that these matters are firmly settled before the Bill leaves your Lordships’ House. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Labour

My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to say a few words. First, I repeat what I said at Report: I am particularly grateful to the Minister for the way he has conducted this Bill, for his kindness and for the way he explained it and answered questions in such a helpful manner. I thank him and all the Front Benches for their hard work on this marathon Bill. They will be more pleased than anyone that we are now at Third Reading.

I want to ask a question or two about Amendment 1, on providing financial assistance for continuing EU programmes as far as Scotland is concerned. The Minister said this was a technical amendment—if I have got this right—because the Scottish Parliament did not have the opportunity to legislate. I was mystified, however, about why it was not included earlier and why we had to wait until Third Reading—at the 59th minute of the 11th hour—to include it, because the original draft included powers for the Welsh Assembly and the Northern Ireland Assembly, but Scotland was not included at all. Why has it been delayed? Are there changed circumstances? Will the Minister expand on that? Was it an oversight or have the circumstances changed?

I am a bit worried that sometimes in Whitehall—not through any malevolence, but just through oversight—we provide fuel for the fires of nationalism that are currently burning and that, on all sides of the House, we do not want to encourage. Therefore, it is very important that we get these things right and get them right early on in the process, so that we are not seen to be putting Scotland in as an afterthought.

Agricultural activities are carried out on two-thirds of the land area of Scotland. It is very important and right that the decisions about funding these continuing EU programmes be made as near as possible to the area in which they are taking place. The Scottish Parliament and Government clearly fulfil that objective. I hope that the Minister will reassure us that it was not an afterthought, that it is a technical amendment and that the interests of Scottish farmers, the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government were not overlooked, because it is a very important issue. I would be grateful for that reassurance from the Minister.

Photo of Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Conservative

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes. I thank my noble friend for bringing forward this small group of amendments and will speak in particular to Amendments 1 and 4.

My concerns echo those expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes. This is a recurrent theme expressed by the devolved Parliaments and Assemblies which we hear of in the EU Environment Sub-Committee, on which I have the privilege to sit. In thanking my noble friend for listening to their concerns and bringing these amendments forward, I note that consent was given by the Scottish Parliament only yesterday, which seems quite late. Would my noble friend use his good offices to keep Parliament informed and update us on continued progress and on how this will impact negotiations and, afterwards, the implementation of the new policy? It is very important that the national Parliament at Westminster should be kept informed on the impact on the devolved Assemblies.

I take this opportunity, as I will not participate on the last stage, to thank my noble friend for his boundless patience, courtesy and tolerance during the many hours of debate. Through him, I thank the Bill team for the outstanding service they have performed to the House. I also thank the Public Bill Office and all who have been involved, including my noble friend’s able assistant, my noble friend Lady Bloomfield, who has been utterly charming and patient throughout this process.

As my noble friend Lord Gardiner is aware, I hoped he would have brought forward a government amendment on another issue. The House has spoken; it voted overwhelmingly, by I think a majority of 100, to take forward an amendment to the House of Commons on protecting our standards and ensuring that imported food products continue to meet these standards. I also look forward to my noble friend and his department’s response to the Dimbleby report, which would have been very helpful to have.

We are on a voyage of discovery, as there is very little detail about either the interim SFI or the ELMS proceedings—the sustainable farming initiative and the new environmental land management schemes. But we are at this stage, and I congratulate my noble friend on all the hard work from him and his department to get us here.

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

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for setting out the rationale behind these somewhat late amendments. Over the last 18 months, there have been several occasions on which we have debated legislation under the Defra banner which has been amended for a variety of reasons—with the sheer weight of legislation in Bills and statutory instruments, the degree of detail needed and the very short timeframes have meant that unforced errors have occurred. The main thing is that, in this case, the Government have been able to act so that omissions were rectified.

The first amendment, as the Minister indicated, is at the request of the Scottish devolved Administration to ensure that their agriculture Bill could provide the continuing financial assistance that will be needed and give Scotland the same powers as Wales, England and Northern Ireland. The third amendment is consequential on the first. It would have been helpful if the Scottish Administration realised this omission earlier, as indicated by the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes.

The second amendment, to Clause 18, relates to retained EU law for promotion schemes for agri-foods not to be used in England, Scotland or Wales. Northern Ireland wanted to keep its options open, so we have this amendment.

These are very technical issues, but it is often those that trip us all up. This is, as has been indicated, all very last minute. I understand that this could not be covered later by secondary legislation but would have needed primary legislation to comply with the multiannual financial arrangements.

The last two amendments relate to powers enabling the Senedd Cymru and the Northern Ireland Assembly to enact legislation for bees to be included in the Bill. We have debated on many occasions the crucial role that bees and other pollinators play in ensuring that our crops, flowers and trees flourish and survive. I find it extraordinary that such a vital section of the Bill, on apiculture, should have been left without any means of legally ensuring its continuity. However, the error was discovered in the nick of time. I support this group of amendments.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 2:15 pm, 1st October 2020

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his explanation of these amendments. As I know he is aware, it is clearly very frustrating that they have been tabled at such a late stage. As he has explained, several of the changes come as a result of late requests from the devolved nations. It is a worrying sign of the complexity of legislation across the four nations that decisions are being made on different timeframes and with different consequences for the agricultural community. It underlines our view that we need a robust framework agreement within which we can anticipate and plan legislative changes affecting the four nations in an orderly way in future.

It is understandable that Scotland might want the same powers as other devolved nations to provide financial assistance for rural development initiatives, but I share the concerns of my noble friend Lord Foulkes on this. When were the Scottish Government made aware that the powers applied to everybody apart from Scotland, and when did they put in their request to add these powers into the Bill? If future requests are made by the devolved nations, would it be possible to deal with them via secondary legislation, since, had this Bill passed, where or how else could these matters have been pursued?

The Minister also explained that there had been a drafting error on the management of apiculture. It needs a resolution procedure for changes, which has now been included in the Bill as a negative resolution. Have these late changes been sent to the Delegated Powers Committee for review? What provisions are available if other drafting errors of this kind come to light once the Bill has been passed? It goes without saying that we hope no other errors appear, but sadly, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, reminded us, the department has not been exempt from similar errors in secondary legislation in our recent past. Unfortunately, we have form on this.

Finally, the Minister explained that a small number of changes arise from a change in advice from the lawyers about how sections of the withdrawal agreement should be interpreted. Were the lawyers made aware that this Bill was reaching its final stages of consideration and were they given a deadline for their advice which would have allowed the consequences of it to be introduced into the Bill in a timely way? I know the Minister shares our frustration that these issues have arisen at such a late stage. If nothing else, I hope there can be a resolution from the department to learn from these errors so that the same mistakes do not occur in the next piece of legislation and that we can deal with all these matters in a timely manner.

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 who have taken part in this short debate on these technical amendments. No one could be more frustrated than I am at coming before your Lordships at Third Reading with new technical amendments. It is not desirable, and I regret it.

However, on the issue with the Scottish Government, I emphasise to the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes of Cumnock, and all noble Lords that there was no afterthought. Nothing was overlooked. What I am bringing forward is at the request of the Scottish Government. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, that this is why work on the framework, collaboration and working together, although agriculture is devolved, are so important.

We clearly did not want to assume that Scotland also wanted powers and we waited for the Scottish Government to confirm that they wanted the provisions extended to them before assuming that that would be the case. We are in regular contact with officials in the Scottish Government. We understood that they were made aware on 15 September; we gave timings and deadlines, and the Delegated Powers Committee was made aware.

I agree that in the perfect world we would have been able to include these at least on Report, if not before, but they are issues that have recently come forward. As I said, I felt that it was better these were dealt with, as they needed to be, in primary legislation. Given the fact that these were flagged up and that the devolved Administrations sought us to attend to them for them, I thought it would be austere—to say the least—to say, “No, you’d better wait for opportunities within your own Administrations.” That is why, although I am frustrated about it and I recognise that frustration, they have come forward.

I am very grateful to all noble Lords for their kind remarks. I say to my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering that no one wants to have legislation that is in error in any sense. That is why we have professionals and lawyers bringing forward that expertise. Obviously, what has happened here is that there are some things which the devolved Administrations have looked at and said, “Actually, we would like to have this within our own legislative framework and our own schedules.”

On the point about apiculture, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, that bees and pollinators are absolutely essential not only for our crops but for the natural world. This was about ensuring that the regulations in Wales and Northern Ireland, and any changes in them, were to be dealt with by the negative resolution. It was not that there were no regulatory powers; it was to confirm it would be through the negative resolution.

As I say, I wish that these matters had come forward earlier, but—I say this particularly as the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, raised it—I want to get these things right. That is why I have asked your Lordships to accept these amendments. I reiterate that they do not represent any change, they are consequential on those tabled on Report, and they reflect the advice that we need to attend to these for the devolved Administrations at their request. Given the time constraints, introducing them at this stage did at least allow us to ensure that the legislation operates as intended and, very importantly, to the satisfaction of the devolved Administrations. We have had very positive working relationships on the Bill, and more widely as a department. I am very pleased that each devolved legislature has agreed the legislative consent for the Bill on the recommendation of their respective devolved Administrations.

I know that my noble friend Lady McIntosh raised issues separate to the amendments themselves, which obviously I will reflect on. In the meantime, I beg to move the amendment.

Amendment 1 agreed.

Clause 18: Retained direct EU legislation