Examination of Witnesses

Agriculture Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:00 am on 25th October 2018.

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Professor Terry Marsden, Vicki Hird, David Baldock and Professor Erik Millstone gave evidence.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet 2:00 pm, 25th October 2018

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. For the benefit of the Official Report, would you be kind enough to identify yourselves, please?

Professor Marsden:

I am Professor Terry Marsden from Cardiff University.

Vicki Hird:

I am Vicki Hird, from Sustain: the alliance for better food and farming.

David Baldock:

I am David Baldock, from the Institute for European Environmental Policy.

Professor Millstone:

Good afternoon. My name is Erik Millstone, and I am based at the Science Policy Research Unit at the University of Sussex.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

We are very grateful to you for joining us.

Photo of George Eustice George Eustice The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Q 145 The premise behind the Bill and the future of direction of agriculture policy is to move away from arbitrary area-based subsidy payments to a system based on payment for public goods. What do you consider to be the main criteria or factors that we need to take into account as we design schemes under that principle, to make them successful?

Vicki Hird:

We very much welcome that move—we have been calling for it for a long time. We would make sure that it enables payments that can deliver a truly sustainable farming and food system, so that it delivers good, healthy and affordable food to people as near as possible to where they are. We would look for a broadening of the payments to make sure that people can actually afford food locally in local markets. We think that the outcome has to be measurable and the payments have to be accessible.

We have talked about having some sort of way in which governance can be defined at local or even regional level, so that you are both covering landscape or catchment-scale outcomes where possible, and making sure that you are truly covering the environmental outcomes that we need to see, including on climate change. That means covering not just edge-of-field features that might be very visible, but also making sure to cover in-field farming systems. We would like to see an outcome that supports agro-ecological systems, such as organic and whole-farm systems that truly look in the field to tackle some of the worst pollution and environmental problems.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

Professor Millstone, you are nodding. Would you like to come in on that?

Professor Millstone:

I think that the move away from area payments is entirely sound, but the current interpretation of the notion of a public good seems to me to be far too narrow. It certainly does include those things currently on DEFRA’s agenda, but I think it ought to include, in particular, stability of supplies and prices. While there have been—and there remain—many problems with the Common Agricultural Policy, it has at any rate ensured relative stability of supplies and prices. EU consumers have been paying a premium above world market prices, but they have been getting stability. World market prices are typically far more volatile than those in the European Union, and I think that there is a need for policy measures to ensure supply and price stability, as well as other things, including improved safety, improved nutrition and, when it comes to sustainability, greater clarity on what is to be sustained.

Professor Marsden:

There is a real opportunity to set this in stone—it is almost a bipartisan, non-political issue—and build real consensus around integrated food, agriculture and environmental policy in the rural domain. The short bit of evidence I submitted suggests an amendment at the top of the Bill that would interlock what is already there, which is fine, with questions about food security, self-sufficiency and sustainable production. In 1947, we had principles of efficiency and stability, which are just as significant today, but they have changed their expression. Some key principles like that need to be embedded in the vision of the Bill from the start.

David Baldock:

I had the pleasure of producing, with colleagues, a study for the Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural DevelopmentDG AGRI—in the Commission in 2010 on what public goods in agriculture were. It took two years, it was a highly political operation, and we had agricultural economists all over Europe working on it. It is not easy, but intrepid Members might want to look at it.

One of the things we learned was that we must have clear objectives and be clear about what public goods are. They are, by and large, above the regulatory baseline. It is not just about trees and hedges; it is to do with the whole resource base for agriculture and land management. We must be clear about what payments mean. They provide farmers with opportunity costs, as well as other costs. Farmers often perceive public goods as a very unprofitable sideline. Actually, they are much more to do with the holistic management of the farm and the resources beneath it. Maintaining your resources in the long term is important for public good provision.

If you want farmers to take this seriously, they need to know that there is money behind it. Perhaps we can come back to that. They need to know that this is a long-term policy direction, not just a short-term measure. Otherwise, it is difficult for them to have confidence in it.

You need some means of measuring the outcome. Clearly, that involves having a monitoring process and some confidence about the indicators you are talking about. At the end of the day, public goods need to be visible and understandable to people. They are just shorthand for policy makers; we need to make the benefits clear to the whole world.

Photo of George Eustice George Eustice The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Q Going back to Professor Millstone’s point about markets, I will put a few propositions to you and then invite your views on them. Part 4 of the Bill obviously has a sweeping section on intervention in agricultural markets. The Secretary of State can declare a crisis in the market and act accordingly. That is largely borrowed from the existing EU regime. Our most stable areas of production, where we have very competitive prices and compete internationally, are often the unsubsidised sectors, such as pigs, poultry and horticulture. Finally, the single farm payment is explicitly decoupled from production at the moment, so you do not really have to be producing food in any kind of productive way to qualify for it. Beyond part 4, which is about intervention, what other things do you think we need in order to provide stable food prices?

Professor Millstone:

Part 4 strikes me as essentially being about therapeutic responses to crises that have already emerged, whereas I think it makes much more sense to have a more prophylactic, preventive approach, and to take measures in advance of crises to ensure stability. Although the area payments are decoupled, they none the less reduce total costs for producers, so they contribute to the maintenance of farm incomes and give incentives to remain actively producing food.

There have been mechanisms that have operated to stabilise prices in UK agricultural markets, which did not have the adverse effects characteristic of the common agricultural policy—the creation of large surpluses. The deficit payment system, which applied in the UK before we joined the European Economic Community, gave farmers a minimum price for commodities, but only for products that they produced and found a buyer for, so it stabilised prices and farm incomes but did not generate surpluses.

Vicki Hird:

We want clause 1 to ensure that farms can continue. One of the ways it should do that is to ensure that the farming system is resilient and robust against the shocks that might hit it. That would include ensuring that the natural base is healthy—the soil, the water and the animals, as system-based resilience factors. It also should ensure that they are diversified if possible, ensuring that they are fulfilling the potential to have import substitution in areas such as horticulture.

We are keen to have a public health purpose in that section, which I do not think is strong enough yet. We are calling for a public health clause because we see a great benefit in boosting the sectors that are good for public health and changing the sectors that are not. That will mean diversifying and making the farming system more able to withstand shocks, because farmers will not be putting all their eggs—to use the wrong phrase—in one basket.

Photo of George Eustice George Eustice The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Q Professor Millstone, you are advocating something similar to the deficiency payments that used to be in the 1947 Act. Do you think that in a modern incarnation of a new agriculture policy it is the role of the taxpayer to do that? Or should Government, as we do in the Bill, improve the transparency of market information so that you can get the development of futures markets or margin insurance, so that there is a viable, accessible product that farmers can access to insure their own prices?

Professor Millstone:

It is not just about stabilising farm incomes, but about ensuring adequate supplies for consumers. Futures markets, insurance and so on can create what is conceived of as virtual stocks, but you cannot eat virtual stocks—you can only eat real food. Therefore, you have to have mechanisms to ensure that there is an adequate supply of real food available, and not just financial instruments.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Notwithstanding what you said about clause 1, Vicki, if you had a crystal ball, how else would you improve the BillQ ?

Vicki Hird:

We have suggested two additions to clause 1 to deliver a truly sustainable Farming Act, which is what we want. We want to bring public health and agro-ecological whole farm systems, such as organic, to the fore.

One of the fundamental things that we think the Committee and MPs need to drive—I feel slightly emotional being here because you have such an incredible opportunity and a responsibility in your hands—is to make the Bill far more robust in terms of duties. One of its weaknesses is enabling; we all said it would be an enabling Bill and the Government do not want their hands tied. As a result, we are extremely concerned that after a few years when there are pressures on the Treasury, there will not be the money to do the kind of things that we have identified externally as absolutely essential but that the Government have not.

These are things that we know need to happen: we know we need to tackle climate change, soil erosion, animal health and welfare, antibiotic use and obesity. They are all big crises that we need to deliver on, but there is no obligation in the Bill to tackle those things. Ministers want to, but it could all fall apart. It would be adding the responsibility to do those things and the ability to draw down a budget against assessment of needs from all those things, so that the Bill delivers the truly sustainable, healthy, nature-friendly farming that we know we can deliver—a lot of farmers are doing it. The Bill could be truly great if it had those duties, rather than lots of enabling.

We would also like clause 25 on fair dealing to be strengthened. We are really pleased to see it there but we have some specific amendments to it, which we can provide the Committee, on ensuring that it provides the confidentiality for people who need to complain about bad treatment and that it covers all sectors. Again, the duty of the Secretary of State to deliver the new fair dealing measure is crucial, for the reasons that Mr Eustice described, to ensure that farmers can have confidence in the market.

Professor Marsden:

To add another issue, on the question of how to improve the Bill, there is nothing in it about rural development, which is important. This is an opportunity to link multifunctional farming, which seems to be where we are heading, with rural development. I am suggesting not the development of a second pillar necessarily but, for example, for the recipients of financing and whatever funding there is not to be restricted to farmers alone. It could go to partnerships, place-based partnerships—some good pilots of which are going on in England and in Wales—and consortia of landowners and stakeholders in rural areas to work together.

That is the other shift we need—in the mentality of funding for public goods. Rural development forms a gap in that. One might argue that that could be left to whatever comes out of the shared prosperity fund. I am, though, concerned about that, because it might lead to concentrated dollops of funding—to cities mainly—and we really need much more distributed, bottom-up and facilitative funding for things like a post-Brexit LEADER programme.

David Baldock:

First, to follow up on that and to amplify what Vicki said about duties as well as powers, I noticed that the House of Lords Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee pointed out that 36 clauses in the Bill confer 26 powers on Ministers, but include hardly any duties. At the moment there is a duty on the Government to introduce and operate agri-environment schemes, but even that duty is going. We are actually moving backwards on duties.

Secondly, on the budget issue, I understand that the Treasury does not like to have its hands tied and so forth, but we are in a position here that there is no guarantee whatever of multi-annual funding for agriculture. Lots of sectors have special pleading here, but the fact is that farmers do not work on a CSR—corporate social responsibility—cycle; they are not investing on that time scale. Therefore, either in the Bill or through some parallel commitment, it is important—there is a lot of sectoral join-up here on the environment and farming sides—to have some kind of forward-looking structure. That is not just a five or 10-year agreement for an individual farmer, but some sense of where things are going for the industry and infrastructure, and how we are going to meet future Government objectives.

Thirdly—a point that has not come up yet—at the moment the Bill contains nothing about the regulatory baseline, the environmental baseline, for agriculture in future. I understand that that might come forward in separate legislation, such as the environment Bill, but it might not—that Bill might not happen. There is the possibility, which is slightly more than theoretical, that farmers take up the de-linking option, the payment option, under the scheme, therefore finding themselves outside cross-compliance and outside good agricultural environment condition, which means that the baseline in those circumstances—without having a position in law—will be weakened. In fact, we could go back from where we are now. Good agricultural environment condition is a very important part of cross-compliance. It was our major means of protecting soil, so it is the only means of protecting soil through the public sector at the moment. I want to emphasise—although we all know this—that it is a key area that should not be forgotten.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

Professor Millstone, do you want add anything to that?

Professor Millstone:

I agree with my colleagues.

Photo of Colin Clark Colin Clark Conservative, Gordon

Coming back to the part 1 financial assistance powers, they largely focus on the environment, but clauses 2, 3 and 4 go on to mention productivity. Is there enough in the Bill not to cause tension between environmental payments and food production? How do we avoid that? How do we get the classic situation that we end up with a great deal of afforestation and a reduction in grassland, in particular in the upper parts of the countryQ ?

Vicki Hird:

That is a good point. My experience over the past few months, discussing this, is of an unnecessarily divided and polarised debate. Clause 1(1), done well and given the resources and infrastructure to deliver—it is absolutely essential to make sure we have adequate resources for training and advice for farmers that links to their business planning—could deliver a farm support scheme that does not separate out the two and that genuinely supports farmers for being farmers and for producing food or other products of the land or for doing agroforestry or forestry, and for doing that in a way that is sustainable. That really is the prize of the Bill, and it should be. It should be built into the new environmental land management scheme.

I am very keen to make sure that that scheme provides the tools for all farmers, not just those who are already doing these things and who are very clever at filling in forms. It must be available to small farmers as well as large farmers, it must be accessible, and it must facilitate farmers to work in cross-farm, landscape-scale, catchment-scale farming schemes, but it must actually be about farming.

The false dichotomy has probably been set up by the fact that there are two subsections where you could have merged the two. From our perspective, the alternative view is to make clause 1(2), which is about productivity, very much connected with clause 1(1), so that any payment for productivity does not undermine the outcomes from clause 1(1)—the public goods that you are also paying for. That would be clunky, but from our members’ perspective—and we have a broad membership—the feeling is that that could be an option.

The final point to mention is the de-linking payments. There is a real risk in terms of public acceptance of the de-linking payments if potentially very large sums of money are going to farmers for no outcome at all for the taxpayer. We can see the need for de-linking in some form, or for some tool to make the break between the old system and the new, but you could be getting something more out of that—I think you will probably hear about that a bit later—and be making sure that it actually delivers on new entrants or diversification or sustainable investment, so farmers can invest in machinery such as small robots, or new, truly welfare-friendly housing, and those kinds of things, and that it is actually directed towards those kinds of outcomes.

The dichotomy is false, and we should not be thinking of it like that, but I can see why it has happened.

Photo of Colin Clark Colin Clark Conservative, Gordon

Q Professor Marsden, you mentioned security and stability and an amendment to the Bill. How do you avoid that tension? How do we achieve that?

Professor Marsden:

One suggestion in my amendment was that, right at the start, you have interlinked and interlocking objectives: promoting farming and food systems for ecologically restoring and protecting the environment, delivering resilient forms of food production and supply, which enhances food security, and improving quality food access, consumer choice and public health benefits. If you put those three things together, rather than in separate subsections, what that conveys is that any financing would have to pass those integrated tests. On the ground, that would effectively mean that it would be re-linking production in many respects. No public financing would be given unless sustainable production was leading to environmental gain or environmental restoration. It is not either/or; it is both together. A lot of research shows that we have spent 20 or 30 years developing very complicated environmental initiatives and processes, but they have been separated from agricultural practice. This is the opportunity to say, “No, we want agricultural practice to be central to delivering on environmental gains.” That is a message that needs to be put right at the start of the Bill.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Q Do you think there is any clarity in the Bill on what the mechanism could and should be? Are the existing institutions the right institutions to do this, or should we be inventing new institutions?

Professor Marsden:

Clearly, that is an institutional question. There are a lot of institutional questions that this implies that may not eventually need to go into the Bill, but it does obviously have institutional implications.

In my view, all of this is leading to more place-based systems of integrated management of land and the biosphere. One way or another, with bottom-up partnerships or with some level of regional sensitivity, we have to manage regional diversity in the land base of the UK. That means the landholders and stakeholders being fostered to come together in different ways, not necessarily through a top-down, dirigiste infrastructure, but to develop whole tracts of land—not just a farm, but whole regions—such that we have catchments and regions that are much more sustainable and that are delivering the big goals on climate change as well as individual farm landscape. There is a big institutional challenge here to get local diversity and regional diversity at the heart of these sorts of policies.

David Baldock:

As you said, the Bill does not spell out how the policy would work. We are all wondering how that might operate, and there have been some indications in a separate paper. This is clearly a source of uncertainty at the moment; you have powers with less specificity about how they are used. In principle, the public goods frame provides a good framework for delivering the right outcomes in the uplands or elsewhere, but it would be helpful to spell out how that will be met and how the local dynamics, which Terry talked about, can be matched with national objectives as well. If we look at the implications of the 1.5 degree target for the UK and for the world, we find that agriculture will have to make pretty significant changes over the next 20 years to the way soil carbon is managed and to the way energy is used in agriculture. That means that you need some strategic vision of where agriculture and land management are going, and you need to spell that out in a series of objectives a bit more clearly so that we do not have a slightly random selection of public goods that are produced according to local whims. I very much support the bottom-up approach, but that must be balanced by some quite clear strategic goals—we know we have them, but they have not been incorporated in a way we can see yet.

Vicki Hird:

To add something on your question on institutions, David, we do not currently have the capacity to do that—the capacity is quite atomised. There is a lot of really good stuff on agri-environment, nature and conservation that is not doing the job adequately, because it has not got the capacity. We need to build that up, and it would have to fit with the vision, as David said.

Photo of Chris Davies Chris Davies Conservative, Brecon and Radnorshire

We have had various farming organisations in front of us who have criticised the Bill for not having enough about agriculture. Looking at your biogs—forgive me for saying this—you seem to have a bias, as academics, Q towards the environment. Is it fair of the farming organisations to criticise the Bill for not having enough about agriculture? If not, why is that not fair criticism?

Professor Marsden:

In a sense, it is fair for them to make that assumption at the moment. The message to get across to farmers’ interests is that it needs to be in there, but it needs to be there in a different way. We need to encourage a transition in the UK towards much more sustainable types of farming and towards the production of food of a healthier sort, which creates health benefits for consumers. It is not business as usual here—the point is that it cannot be business as usual for agriculture post Brexit—but neither is it simply an environmental agenda. That is why I say we need agriculture plus environment at the centre of this.

Photo of Chris Davies Chris Davies Conservative, Brecon and Radnorshire

Q Is it agriculture plus environment, or environment plus agriculture? Which way would you put that?

Professor Marsden:

I think the two go in tandem. You categorise us as environmentalists, but I do not think that is true at all.

Professor Marsden:

Yes, but we have worked a lot on looking at ways in which agriculture can deliver. It is 98% of land use here, so we have to encourage all farmers to think about public benefits in health and environmental terms. I am not saying that they do not, but why do we not empower them more to do so? Why do we not create the post-war agricultural committees in local areas again to reconsider what a good farmer is. In the 1940s and 1950s, we created the idea that a good farmer takes out hedges and practises economies of scale. We now need a new concept of what good farming and small farming is. There are some great examples of that in the UK, such as the Pasture-Fed Livestock Association. There are all sorts of things going on, so we can feed on excellence. We need demonstration farms.

Photo of Chris Davies Chris Davies Conservative, Brecon and Radnorshire

Q I would be cautious about who was on the judging panel, where the bar was being set, and who was setting it. Out of interest, would anybody else on the panel like to answer? Sorry, Sir Roger, I am taking your job.

David Baldock:

I fully confess to having “environment” in my organisation’s title, and to being interested in the environment. I have spent quite a lot of the last 30 years working for DG AGRI in Brussels, so I have some familiarity with the farming community. I can understand why farmers worry about the lack of warm words about agriculture and food production in the Bill. It is a pretty dry Bill, and it does not give that signal.

When it comes to the actual substance, whether it is here or in Europe as a whole, the future of agriculture policy is about agriculture, environment, sustainability and public goods. That is as true in any other part of Europe as it is in the UK. That is where the direction of travel is going, and there are good reasons for that. Farmers know that if they are to keep receiving public money, it will be on the basis that they are delivering public goods. There has to be a deal between the public expectation—that that is what the money is for—and the absolute value of farming and food production per se. I do not think that the environmental people, who may be over-represented right now, should apologise for being important voices—loud voices, anyway—in the debate, because it has become so central to agricultural policy everywhere.

Vicki Hird:

I am a pest management expert by background. I studied how to tackle pests on farms, but obviously my background is about looking at all aspects of farming—the integration of health, farming, environmental and social goals. That is what I have always worked on, and I see the Bill as an opportunity to do that. That is why I was saying that I was quite emotional, because I think the Bill could do that. It is a shame when it is put in a polarised way. A lot of statements from farming groups such as the Pasture-Fed Livestock Association, the Nature Friendly Farming Network and LEAF were very positive about the direction of travel represented in the Bill.

It would be great if you could go and visit these things. I went to a three-day festival called Groundswell in Hertfordshire, and there were a load of farmers there doing things very differently. They are not just tweaking the system; they are genuinely looking at how they can reduce soil erosion and enhance biodiversity on farms through the farm system. That is the kind of system we need to be supporting. We should understand that it is the future, because it is building in carbon into the soil and ensuring biodiversity benefits for the farm.

That is the kind of thing that this farm Bill—it is a farm Bill—should do. As Tom Lancaster said on Tuesday, most of the rest of the Bill relates to farming. One of the crucial elements of it is the fair dealing part. I have said that it needs to be strengthened, but it is great that it is there. The new statutory contracts are absolutely vital to ensure farmers get a fair deal, and the transparency is vital to ensure they understand how they can get a fair deal in the marketplace.

The big gap, which I forgot to mention when you asked for gaps, Mr Drew, is the trade deals and agrifood imports element. Most stakeholders are in complete agreement that we need to be able to control the import of agrifood produce that is coming in at lower standards. I am sure you have covered that elsewhere. We have got a clause, which we are all promoting, that is saying that. I do not know whether that is out of order or not. That is an essential gap, and it makes a difference to farmers. It is another farming-relevant part of the Bill that we would like to see. Sorry, I went slightly off-topic there.

Photo of Sandy Martin Sandy Martin Shadow Minister (Waste and Recycling)

ThisQ is a skeleton Bill, and I am getting a very strong impression that an awful lot of people are reading into the Bill what they would like to see, without it actually being there. You have talked a lot about the sustainable production of healthy food; however, the most operable parts of the Bill are clauses 1(1) and 1(2), and there is no mention at all of the production of food in either. Because this is an enabling Bill, it says

“The Secretary of State may give financial assistance”,

so we do not know whether he will decide to give financial assistance to any or all of these things, but we do know that it does not say that he may give any financial assistance to the production of healthy food in a sustainable way. Is that something that you would like to see in the Bill?

Professor Marsden:

That is why I tabled my amendment for a longer first clause that integrates those things so that it interlocks them. The point is not that it is the environment over and above agriculture, farming or food, but all three. This Agriculture Bill should be projecting the integration of those three priorities because they are all priorities and they are all interlinked—you cannot really have one without the other. That is the critical point, from which the rest of the Bill could be much more specified in duties and so on. It is the principal thing that needs to be right at the start. I think that it is important that the Bill gives the vision.

This is a 1947 moment; I was not around then—not many of us were— but we have all read about what happened. This is a clean sheet in terms of taking back control and delivering a much more self-sufficient, sustainable food system for the UK as a whole. So take the opportunity—that is my advice.

Professor Millstone:

I certainly agree that the Bill addresses certain aspects of farming, but clearly the National Farmers Union thinks that there are rather important aspects that are not mentioned. As my colleague Professor Marsden says, it is almost completely in abstraction from food, which there is nothing about.

May I please briefly go back to David Drew’s question about institutions and pick up on Vicki’s point about education and training and Terry’s about the need for transformation? Previously, we had the Agricultural Development and Advisory Service, which performed two important functions. First, it disseminated information and knowledge about innovations and new products and processes to farmers. But it also performed a second function, which was gathering information from farmers about the problems to which they would like solutions that the research and development on innovations could provide. When ADAS was abolished, it was essentially replaced by a commercial marketing and sales system, and that second function disappeared in the UK. It remains present in Denmark, the Netherlands, Austria and many other countries, which accounts for why their agriculture is both more productive and more sustainable than UK agriculture. There is scope for important institutional development in that regard.

Photo of Deidre Brock Deidre Brock Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Devolved Government Relations), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Environment and Rural Affairs), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Wales)

It has been suggested to me that the switch from support for food production to support for public goods might make subsidies easier to claim for landowners who manage things such as grouse moors and shooting estates, rather than for farmers with small plots of land. Would you consider that an environmental gain, and, in that case, would the reductions in food production be worth itQ ?

Vicki Hird:

We do not have a position on that—it would be hard for me to say whether we would advocate for grouse moors. I understand that clauses on active farmers, food producers and those gaining financial reward from production of goods from the land are being mooted. I think that would restrict the Bill somewhat and make it very inflexible in supporting systems that can do both in a very extensive way. I am not necessarily talking about grouse moors here; I suppose I am thinking more about extensive livestock in a system that has other huge benefits in carbon capture or tourism. If land is producing not a huge amount of food but a bit of food, and the Bill restricts that, that would not necessarily be a good thing.

The important distinction is that we would not be advocating payments purely for being a farmer on an acre basis. In answer to Sandy’s question as well as yours, we do not think that that would be a good outcome for farmers, the taxpayer or the environment. What is in the Bill is a skeleton, which needs to be built on, and we certainly think that there needs to be an extra clause relating to agri-ecological systems such as organic, to make sure that we can cover them and very small producers. You mentioned small producers. It is really important to get rid of the cut-off, because there are some very small, very productive producers who should benefit from any possible public good payment. I will leave it there.

Professor Marsden:

We clearly have a big issue here in what we are saying about the uplands. They are never going to be agriculturally productive in this sense, and they will need support for landscape purposes, amenity and so on. This is a very important element and one of the reasons why I stress this whole issue of the rural economy.

The economy in the uplands is governed not by agriculture but by all sorts of other activities, not least the public sector, which is very significant in rural areas. I think we have to look at upland agricultural systems in a completely new light. We have to look at ways in which we can support them in delivering for the rural economy, as well as for the environment.

Over the last few years we have done some research in Wales which has shown that, okay, there may be some scare stories about cuts in subsidies for hill farmers, but if you look at the amount of household income, not farm business income, many hill farmers are generating a lot of income from non-agricultural activities. They are reliant on non-agricultural income for their household income. There is a lot of cost transfer from different members of the household into upland farm households. That is something we should be encouraging. We should encourage more multifunctional farms in upland areas, which can attract visitors and fulfil more amenity purposes. Again, the Bill provides a real opportunity, not a threat, to our extensive upland areas across the UK.

David Baldock:

I think the public goods record of some grouse moors is highly controversial; some of the management practices of grouse moors would not score very high in the public goods test. It is more likely, as Terry has been saying, that money will go into mixtures of agriculture and forestry—agri-forestry—and different patterns in the uplands, producing more return for farmers and land managers, rather than be switched out of the land environment. I do not think that is likely to happen on a significant scale, no.

Photo of Deidre Brock Deidre Brock Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Devolved Government Relations), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Environment and Rural Affairs), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Wales)

Q Should some sort of distinctions be placed in the Bill specifying that? I did not quite hear what you said—are you saying that that would limit the Bill too much?

Vicki Hird:

If it was only for the active farmer and food production; if that was the only basis on which you could get any support at all.

Professor Marsden:

A key word here is “productivity”, isn’t it? That needs to be in the Bill, but we need a broader definition of what we mean by productivity. We can see—we have evidence—that we can get productivity out of small agri-ecological farms. You can create demand for labour out of those activities. You can create much more work. So we need to redefine the notion of productivity in a much broader way to cope with this variation across the agricultural landscape in the UK.

Vicki Hird:

Yes, because they might be producing good carbon capture. There are other ways of measuring.

Photo of George Eustice George Eustice The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Q I will be brief, Sir Roger, because you want to keep us to time. Part 2 of the Bill creates the power—quite a large one—to modify and sort out existing schemes, to remove some of the bureaucracy, to simplify them and to sort out mapping. If you had one or two—perhaps this is for Mr Baldock because you have had some experience of them—what would you do to clean up and sort out the existing BPS?

David Baldock:

The main difficulty with the current CAP regime is its bias towards control of very often the wrong thing—micromanagement of farm boundaries and of the way data is gathered and reported. Instead of getting the big picture of what is happening on a farm and how it is complying with its broad obligations, we have a highly burdensome system that, at the end of the day, does not really add a lot of value to the public purse or public transparency. It would be very welcome if the Government were able to shift that whole delivery system so that it focused on real outcomes and was more farmer friendly.

I was involved in the beginning of the cross-compliance discussion in Brussels. At that time, the whole idea was to take out the very worst farmers—to put under scrutiny people who committed large-scale abuse of livestock and so forth. It has become a micromanagement tool for worrying about individual farmers, with ear tags for livestock and a whole process around that. It has completely disappeared into a bureaucratic process. There is a great opportunity here to change that culture and delivery system.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

There is a lot of nodding going on, but Hansard cannot report nods, so I have to place them on the record for you. I am afraid we are out of time. Professor Millstone, David Baldock, Vicki Hird and Professor Marsden, thank you very much indeed for joining us. We are most grateful to you.