Examination of Witnesses

Part of Agriculture Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:00 pm on 25th October 2018.

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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.