Secretary of State’s powers to give financial assistance

Part of Agriculture Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:15 pm on 30th October 2018.

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Photo of Ben Lake Ben Lake Plaid Cymru, Ceredigion 4:15 pm, 30th October 2018

I will keep my remarks brief, but I must speak against amendment 90, tabled by the hon. Member for Ludlow. I appreciate that it is not dissimilar to his amendment 89 to clause 1, but it relates instead to schedule 3, which outlines the powers that I understand were requested by the Welsh Government. Those powers should not be amended or in any way interfered with by the Committee, or indeed by this House.

I oppose amendment 90 on a point of principle because it should be for Welsh Ministers to formulate proposals for Welsh agricultural policy and for the Welsh Assembly to give or reject its consent. As the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire will know, my colleagues in the Welsh Assembly are vociferous in expressing reservations about some of the Welsh Government’s proposals for agriculture policy. However, it is unacceptable for the Committee to consider any amendment that would omit the requested provisions in schedule 3 or interfere with their operation in any way.

I will not return to the argument that we had this morning about the distinction between “must” and “may”. I will say only that I am not entirely sure what purpose the amendment serves in stating that assistance “may only be given” to certain persons, other than restricting the Welsh Government’s ability to pursue and operate their own policy preferences. I am not sure how that would do anything to enhance the powers currently set out in schedule 3, which states that the Welsh Government “may give financial assistance” for a broad range of purposes.

I recognise that amendment 90 is probing, and I appreciate the opportunity it presents to think again about UK-wide common frameworks, as the hon. Member for Gordon said. The agricultural industry is inevitably closely intertwined across the United Kingdom. The circumstances by which we remove ourselves from the European Union’s CAP make us go back to the drawing board on how this common UK market will operate. I have raised this matter on previous occasions and I make no apology for being quite a broken record in that regard. Where common frameworks are concerned, they need to be drawn up, agreed to and implemented upon the agreement of the three devolved Administrations and the UK Government. In that regard, I am not inherently averse to the alignment of agricultural policy across the United Kingdom—far from it. I am making a point of principle that it is for the Welsh Government, in conjunction with the UK Government and the other devolved Administrations, to decide on that alignment, and not for this Committee or, indeed, this place to act unilaterally.

I attempted to spell that out in new clause 11, which I acknowledge will not be debated, but I am sure that we will have further opportunities to discuss the need for common frameworks, and I know that Members on both sides of the divide are concerned about them. Just for the record, unless amendment 90 was something that was requested in any way by the Welsh Government, I am struggling to see how, as it stands, it enhances the powers of schedule 3 and why it would be in any way necessary for the schedule’s effective function.