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 George Eustice George Eustice The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 4:15 pm, 30th October 2018

I will take each amendment in turn. I am delighted that the shadow Minister described amendment 52 as a probing amendment. I will explain why the Government have chosen not to take that approach for England. He asked what Wales did to get this. I can clear up the mystery: there is no mystery. This is a fully devolved matter. The Welsh Government have the power and ability, if they want, to introduce their own Bill. They have taken, in my view, the very sensible decision to say that, for the time being, they want to make sure they have legal clarity, so they wanted a schedule that effectively mirrored the Bill for England. At a later date, they will consider additional primary legislation. The clause is in the Bill not because they won an argument; it is simply because they asked for that additional clause.

The measure would be wrong for us because it would achieve the reverse of what the hon. Gentleman and others want, which is some safeguard to suggest that we will pay money to farmers. The reality is that we see this as an agriculture Bill, and we have developed it very much with that in mind. Clause 1(1) is all about payments for the farmed environment and farmland and how we manage land and grant access to farmland. Subsection (2) is all about grants, aid and Government-backed loans specifically for businesses in agriculture and horticulture. We have tried to remain true to our intention that it is an agriculture Bill. The budget that follows it will go predominantly to agriculture and the farmed environment.

Amendment 52 would throw the door wide open to spending the money on anything but agriculture, because

“supporting businesses or communities in rural areas” could mean all sorts of things. It could mean not spending money on agriculture or farmers or our farmed landscape; it could mean spending money on bus services, post offices, broadband or other rural community issues. There is a danger that clause 1 would be diluted.