Examination of Witnesses

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

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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.