Secretary of State’s powers to give financial assistance

Part of Agriculture Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:45 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 4:45 pm, 30th October 2018

I will try to be brief in dealing with the two important points. First, the impact of amendment 73 would be to subordinate subsection (2) to the purposes in subsection (1), which is problematic on numerous levels. I can reassure the hon. Member for Bristol East that when it comes to the payments that we will make for the delivery of public goods, which we envisage being the cornerstone of the future policy under subsection (1), there will be conditions attached to those and requirements for entering such schemes. There will be enforcement provisions, as I said, in clause 3 to deal with that.

I understand the hon. Lady’s concern that we do not want to support something on the one hand that might undermine objectives on the other, but it is inappropriate to link the two in the way that she does because the right way to do it is to apply conditions on both. It is possible for us to apply entry-level conditions for the payment of productivity grants so that they explicitly do not undermine some of our other objectives. That will change from case to case depending on what is being supported. If there was something that dramatically improved yields but had an impact on the environment, we might be cautious about supporting it. If we supported, for instance, robotic technology to aid harvesting, it might not have any natural crossover with the provisions in subsection (1). I think the correct way to approach this is to put the right conditions on schemes under both subsection (1) and subsection (2), so that they complement rather than undermine one another. The amendment is unnecessary.

The shadow Minister has raised a question as to how much we would put on the environment versus productivity. We have made it clear that we see the cornerstone of the future policy as the new payment by results. We have not put precise figures on it, but we see the lion’s share of the funding going to provision for schemes under subsection (1). Nevertheless subsection (2) will be important in providing the grants.

As I said earlier—I hope that I can reassure the hon. Member for Stroud—our definition of productivity for the purposes of the Bill is not an economist’s narrow definition. It is not linked to output per unit of labour. It is productivity in its broadest sense. That could include reducing costs to improve profitability; measures that would add value to a product and improve the quality; other measures to reduce costs, through the deployment of robotic technology; or, indeed, such things as plant breeding for more productive farming. I think keeping the definition broad is right, so that it can genuinely support profitable farming enterprises, as I know all members of the Committee would like.

I hope that, after that reassurance, the hon. Lady will withdraw the amendment.