Secretary of State’s powers to give financial assistance

Part of Agriculture Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:45 pm on 30th October 2018.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of George Eustice George Eustice The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 3:45 pm, 30th October 2018

My right hon. Friend makes an important point. I am conscious that on animal welfare and in the agri-environment schemes, a lot of farmers have already done a huge amount of work, and it is important to recognise that and to continue to reward them for that. The baseline, such as it is, should be anchored somewhere around the regulatory baseline. Even then, I do not think we should have a hard and fast rule, for the reasons I have explained on issues such as investment in slurry management. In this innovative new field of animal welfare, there are grey areas, and it is not always right to have a hard and fast rule.

The hon. Member for Bristol East mentioned the issue of cross-compliance. The conditionality on new schemes is provided for in clause 3. If somebody enters a new scheme and is in breach of it in some way, there are provisions for financial penalties and for the powers that we would need to be able to do that.

Having been farming Minister for five years, and having wrestled with cross-compliance, I am not a great fan of how it works in practice. It is a rather dysfunctional system. There is literally nothing—bar one thing—in cross-compliance that is not already in our domestic law. All the requirements on ear tagging, animal health and animal welfare, or the issues around TB testing and good environmental condition for land, are already requirements in our national law. All that cross-compliance really gives us is a sort of easy and rather unjust way to claw penalties out of farmers without really giving them a chance for a fair hearing in court. In my view, it is not a very satisfactory system. We would need some sort of system of fixed penalty notices in future, so that there are ready remedies for minor breaches, but we could design something far better. Cross-compliance will remain in the legacy scheme that we will come on to debate, but we will have the opportunity to modify and improve it and to remove some of the rather unnecessary administrative burdens that can get in the way.

I hope that I have managed to persuade hon. Members that the Government remain absolutely committed to amendment 74 animal sentience, but we believe it should be in another Bill. We have already published draft legislation. On amendment 75, retained EU law will already be binding on anyone, whether or not they are in a scheme. I hope that the hon. Member for Bristol East will not press amendment 71, as it would be counterproductive to the cause that I know she believes in very strongly.