Secretary of State’s powers to give financial assistance

Part of Agriculture Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:00 pm on 30th October 2018.

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Photo of George Eustice George Eustice The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 2:00 pm, 30th October 2018

I was going to say that that could be provided for under clause 1(2), which enables us to support businesses to improve their productivity if that were necessary. Broad beans, as a leguminous crop, often need less or no fertiliser at all, so that can be an environmental benefit. The current EU scheme enables broad beans and other leguminous crops to be used as one of the contributory factors to the environmental focus area. That is already recognised in the existing scheme, and there would be nothing to prevent us from recognising that in a future scheme.

Under subsection (2), a lot of things can be done to support the delivery of the local sustainably produced food objective. In the last 20 years, there has been exponential growth in consumer interest in food provenance, large growth and expansion of farm shops, and growth in box schemes and farmers markets—I know the hon. Member for Stroud has a well known farmers market in his constituency. There has been huge growth in consumer interest in this area. Under subsection (2), it would be possible for the Government to design a grant scheme to support farmers to open farm shops and to develop their own marketing and box schemes.

Subsection (1) is on the purposes for the delivery of environmental goods. We can pursue a lot of policies under those purposes and objectives that would deliver increased health outcomes. For instance, under subsection (1)(f) on animal health, we could support schemes that lead to a reduction in the use of antibiotics, which would have an impact on public health and safeguard some of our critical antibiotics for the medical sphere.

Under subsection (1)(a), as I described earlier, it would be absolutely possible for us to support an integrated pest management approach, leading to a reduction in the use of pesticides where they were seen to be of concern. Under subsection (1)(a) we could also support a pasture-based livestock system; there is some evidence, although mixed, that livestock such as sheep and cattle raised on pasture and grass have higher levels of omega-3 oils, which are good for public health. There are a number of areas where the purposes we have set out under clause 1(1) also reinforce public health measures.