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.

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Photo of David Drew David Drew Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 3:45 pm, 30th October 2018

I shall try to be a bit briefer on this amendment, partly because the hon. Member for Ludlow has three amendments to our one. I make no apology for the fact that it is more of a probing amendment. There has been some discussion about the relationship between supporting environmental goods and what remains of helping farmers or people who work the land. Paragraph (b) is quite important to me, having done quite a lot of work on rural policy over the years. We have not really spent much time looking at how rural fits alongside agriculture.

One of my worries about the legislation is the way we are changing from the common agricultural policy, of which, as the Minister rightly said, I was a critic. There were many things wrong with it, but one of its strengths was pillar 2, and the way in which pillar 2 was able to enhance and, dare I say it, rebuild rural communities. One of the problems with the Bill is that rural communities hardly seem to feature at all. Yet the strength of agriculture is in the context of the rural communities in which farmers and others live. It is quite important that we tease out from the Government how they see pillar 2 being reframed in a British context.

I would argue from the outset that the previous Labour Government, the coalition Government and this Government have not done enough to support rural communities. Too often money was forthcoming only in a grudging manner. We frequently failed to match-fund the moneys that were available through pillar 2, which meant that very often schemes did not go forward. Part of my reason for tabling the amendment was to raise the issue of rural communities, and to say that hopefully there will be opportunities for us to put something more definite in the Bill to say that we really want to enshrine pillar 2 in the legislation. Otherwise, all will be lost. There is no other opportunity; there is no forthcoming rural Bill. We may have a sentience Bill, we may have a sentencing Bill, and we may have a Bill to ban animals in circuses.