Secretary of State’s powers to give financial assistance

Part of Agriculture Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:00 pm on 30th October 2018.

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Photo of Sandy Martin Sandy Martin Labour, Ipswich 4:00 pm, 30th October 2018

The House of Lords Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee report stated that if the Bill is passed in its present form

“Parliament will not be able to debate the merits of the new agriculture regime because the Bill does not contain even an outline of the substantive law that will replace the CAP after the United Kingdom leaves the EU”.

What the House of Lords was looking for and what, I believe, farmers are looking for is a far clearer expression of the support that farmers will get and the activities for which they will get that support than is expressed in the Bill.

However, at least one thing is clear in the Bill as it stands. The Secretary of State does not envisage rewarding farmers just for being farmers. They need to be supporting the public good. I think farmers would support that, but the problem is defining exactly what the public good is and the extent to which any definition should be left entirely to the Secretary of State, rather than laid out clearly in the Bill. If the hon. Member for Ludlow supports the idea that access to healthy local food grown sustainably is a public good, I am a little mystified as to why he could not support our amendment.

We all want what is best for this country. One of the supposed benefits of Brexit was that it would enable us to decide for ourselves what would be the best agricultural support regime, rather than having to rely on the common agricultural policy. However, I am afraid that amendments 88, 89 and 90 fall down at that hurdle, because they very much advocate supporting farmers simply for being farmers. In the words of amendments 88 and 89, following the meaning across from one amendment to the second:

The Secretary of State may also give financial assistance” to

“those with an interest in agricultural land, where the financial assistance relates directly to that land.”

In other words, that means paying farmers for being farmers or, indeed, paying landowners for being landowners, which neatly expresses the worst aspects of the current operation of the common agricultural policy.

I have been a keen advocate of much of the support and protection that we have achieved through our membership of the European Union, and I fear that we will lose a good deal of it when we leave. However, even I would never claim that the common agricultural policy is perfect, and the UK has been at the forefront of attempting to reform it over the years. I think that that reform was intended to ensure that any financial support through the common agricultural policy aligns better with the support of the public good, but I do not believe that it was altogether successful. Payments to landowners simply for being landowners is one of the aspects of the common agricultural policy that this Bill was designed to end, so amendments 89 and 90 would be a serious step backwards.