Secretary of State’s powers to give financial assistance

Part of Agriculture Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:30 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 3:30 pm, 30th October 2018

The provisions that I am reading are very much around EU law and retained EU law, but I take the hon. Lady’s point that she may have intended the measure to be broader.

There is a third point, however. We are clear that we accept some of these principles. We will provide for a new environmental body to police them. We have already said that we are committed to those principles coming across. There is a difficulty, however, in the practice of a scheme where financial incentives are being paid. It is not always black and white. For instance, the “polluter pays” principle sounds great in theory, but what if there is a diffuse pollution incident somewhere in a water catchment that might involve small contributions from a number of farms that are difficult to locate? It is not always easy to just say, “We need regulation,” or, “We need enforcement,” on this farm or that farm.

In recent years we have successfully paid farmers to support them in investing to improve slurry infrastructure. We have had a successful scheme in the past two years to pay farmers to put lids on slurry stores, so that they can reduce ammonia emissions, for instance. If we are serious about tackling complex environmental issues such as diffuse pollution, we have to be willing to venture beyond what can be achieved with a blunt regulatory instrument and instead be willing to have financial incentives, rewards and grants to support good practice. A requirement to abide by the “polluter pays” principle will often be used, as in this case, by people who want to sit on their hands and not spend money. If we are serious about doing payment for public goods properly, we must be willing to exercise judgment and to support schemes that may fall into the grey area between what would normally be covered by regulation and what would be covered by an environmental purpose.

Amendment 74 relates to animal sentience, on which we have already published draft legislation. The Government are absolutely committed to making the necessary changes to UK law to ensure that animal sentience is recognised. This country has always been a leader in the field. In 1875, we were the first country in the world to pass legislation to regulate slaughterhouses. The Protection of Animals Act followed in 1911, and in 1933 we updated a lot of our regulation, particularly of slaughterhouses. The Animal Welfare Act 2006 recognises animal sentience. We would never have passed any of that legislation if we did not believe that animals were sentient beings. That is beyond question; both sides of the House and all Governments have believed it for at least 140 years. We are committed to introducing a Bill to recognise animal sentience.