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Agriculture Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:00 pm on 15th November 2018.

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Photo of George Eustice George Eustice The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 4:00 pm, 15th November 2018

I beg to move amendment 42, in clause 34, page 25, line 15, at end insert—

‘( ) Part (Red Meat Levy) extends to England and Wales and Scotland only.”

The amendment relates to NC4 which is expected to form a Part of its own (under the heading “Red Meat Levy”) rather than being inserted in an existing Part of the Bill. The amendment provides for the new Part to form part of the law of England and Wales and Scotland only, because nothing in it relates to Northern Ireland.

Photo of Phil Wilson Phil Wilson Labour, Sedgefield

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Government new clause 30—Red meat levy: payments between levy bodies in Great Britain.

New clause 6—Red meat levy redistribution—

‘(1) The Ministers shall establish a scheme for the redistribution of red meat levy in accordance with this section.

(2) The scheme shall make provision for amounts of red meat levy collected by the levy body for one country in Great Britain to be paid to the levy body for another such country.

(3) The scheme shall make provision about—

(a) how the amount of a payment is to be calculated, which shall be by reference to such matters as may be specified in the scheme,

(b) when a payment is to be made, provided that payments shall be made not less than annually and no later than three months after the end of the financial year in which the levy has been collected, and

(c) how a payment is to be made.

(4) Before making the scheme the Ministers shall consult the levy bodies.

(5) The Ministers shall publish the scheme in such manner as they may determine.

(6) A levy body must comply with any requirement imposed on it by the scheme.

(7) A payment received by a levy body in accordance with the scheme may be used by that body in the same way as levy collected by that body.

(8) The scheme may be reviewed at any time by the Ministers and shall be so reviewed at least every five years.

(9) The scheme may make supplementary, incidental or consequential provision, and may amend or repeal any earlier scheme.

(10) In this section—

“the levy bodies” means—

(a) for England, the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board established by the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board Order 2008 (S.I. 2008/420);

(b) for Scotland, Quality Meat Scotland established by the Quality Meat Scotland Order 2008 (S.S.I. 2008/77);

(c) for Wales, the Welsh Ministers or, where the power under section 7 of the Red Meat Industry (Wales) Measure 2010 (nawm 3) to delegate functions has been exercised by the Welsh Ministers, the person exercising the function of imposing levy on slaughterers under section 4 of that Measure 2010;

“the Ministers” means the Secretary of State, the Scottish Ministers and the Welsh Ministers, acting jointly;

“payment” means any payment which is to be made under the scheme by any levy body;

“red meat levy” means—

(a) in relation to England, producer levy imposed under Schedule 3 to the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board Order 2008;

(b) in relation to Scotland, producer levy imposed under Schedule 3 to the Quality Meat Scotland Order 2008;

(c) in relation to Wales, the production component of levy imposed under section 4 of the Red Meat Industry (Wales) Measure 2010; and

“scheme” means a scheme established by the Ministers in accordance with this section.

The new clause requires a scheme to be made by the Secretary of State, the Scottish Ministers and the Welsh Ministers for redistribution of part of the red meat levy collected by the levy bodies in Great Britain to the other levy bodies.

Government amendment 43.

Photo of George Eustice George Eustice The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Amendments 42 and 43 are paving and consequential amendments for new clause 30, which is the Government’s proposal for a red meat levy scheme. Amendment 43 amends the long title of the Bill to relate it to the red meat levy.

My hon. Friends the Members for Gordon and for Brecon and Radnorshire highlighted the issue in an amendment. They withdrew their original amendment following discussion with us and tabled new clause 30, which we are willing to support. The red meat levy issue has run all the time that I have been the farming Minister. In 2008, there was a change to how levies were collected by the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board and the other levy bodies. Representations were made then by the devolved Administrations that they should collect their own levy directly from the abattoirs and pay that money to the levy boards. The last Labour Government therefore made some changes to reflect the requests of the devolved Administrations and give them the power to collect their own levy. Prior to that, it had been allocated through a UK-wide formula.

After the new regulations were introduced in 2008, there were some closures of abattoirs in Scotland and Wales, with the consequence that more livestock—both sheep and cattle—were being taken across the border to England to be slaughtered. The levy was therefore captured in England by the AHDB, rather than by the levy bodies in Wales and Scotland.

The issue is complex, in that elements of the AHDB’s work are absolutely UK-wide, so it incurs costs on behalf of the whole UK. That is notably for trade—this is an argument that it has made—but nevertheless a feeling has persisted in the levy bodies in Wales and Scotland that they lose out on some of the levy as a result of animals crossing the border. The Government have looked at a number of ways to address that.

Lesley Griffiths from the Welsh Government made representations, which we reflected in a recent consultation and review of the AHDB, about whether we could look at a different methodology for collecting the levy. Rather than collect the red meat levy at the point of slaughter, we could perhaps collect it as an ear tag levy or a registration levy at the point at which animals were born. That consultation is ongoing and a change in how the levy is collected might be a good long-term solution. In the meantime, both the Welsh and Scottish Governments—as well as my hon. Friends the Members for Gordon and for Brecon and Radnorshire—have made representations that we should put in place a power that enables us to resolve this in the short term by making it possible with mutual consent to move some levy from AHDB in England back to Wales or Scotland. The amendment enables that to happen with the agreement of the relevant Administrations involved.

Photo of Deidre Brock Deidre Brock Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Devolved Government Relations), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Environment and Rural Affairs), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Wales) 4:15 pm, 15th November 2018

I rise to speak to clause 34 and new clause 6. The Radcliffe report recommended changes to the red meat levy in 2005, and successive UK Governments really should hang their heads in shame at its taking 13 years to get to the stage where the matter is finally being addressed. To be more exact, the preparation for putting in place a scheme for addressing the red meat levy is happening at last. I understand that discussions between the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Scottish Government continued right up to wire, so I am very pleased that DEFRA Ministers have given ground on this. I congratulate them on their very good sense in listening to Scotland.

The pressure for this change came from farmers, whose levy moneys were not being spent to their benefit, and from the promotion boards, whose jobs were made harder by those funds not being properly distributed—a couple of million pounds a year taken from both Scotland and Wales. Quality Meat Scotland and NFUS, as well as their counterparts in Wales, deserve credit for their long-running campaigns to rectify this anomaly. Frankly, politicians should be ashamed that it has taken so long.

With that said, I welcome the Minister’s agreement to the amendment. Discussions between his Department and Scottish Government Departments might not always have been easy, but they have brought an agreement that we can all live with. I will withdraw my amendment—to give this one a clear path—if I can get a couple of reassurances from the Minister.

First, can we be assured that timescales will be specified to give certainty to the levy boards? Time lags clearly would be a difficulty for the boards, and regular, consistent income streams would be more beneficial to allow their work to carry on as it should, and also to allow forward planning to be conducted properly. Can we also have an assurance that the scheme will be reviewed on a regular basis, such as every five years or so, to ensure that it is operating properly? If I can have those assurances from the Minister, then he and I are on the same page—at least on this—and we agree on the way forward.

I welcome this change to the operation of the red meat levy and the Minister’s willingness to listen to the voices from Scotland and Wales that have been calling for it. That work with the Scottish Government is an example that one hopes the rest of the Departments in Whitehall can follow.

Photo of Colin Clark Colin Clark Conservative, Gordon

I rise simply to thank the Minister for supporting the amendment and to echo the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith—this has been called for for quite some time, and it is good that just over £1.5 million will be spent on promoting Scotland. We have to remember that the vast majority of red meat is exported south of the border, and we are very grateful that the promotion will continue for the entire country.

Photo of Chris Davies Chris Davies Conservative, Brecon and Radnorshire

I follow my hon. Friend the Member for Gordon, who is a joint signatory to the amendment. We both thank the Minister for supporting the amendment, discussing it with us and agreeing a way forward. This has been called for—not just by the farming unions, but by farmers themselves—for a very long time in Wales and, as we have just heard, in Scotland. I am sure that it is the same in England.

As somebody whose constituency is right on the border, I feel that what the Minister said is very appropriate. Sadly, so many slaughterhouses have closed that people cross borders with their stock. In Wales, we have lost a lot of revenue across Offa’s Dyke. Money has perhaps been spent not on Welsh land promotion, but on other things.

Opposition Members will certainly know how the meat levy is worked out: it is a jointly funded levy that is paid by both the producer and the slaughterer or exporter. Under Hybu Cig Cymru, the current price paid per head of cattle in Wales is £5.67. It is 83p per sheep, and £1.30 per pig. That may not sound like a great deal per item, but when one considers how many animals are slaughtered each year for consumption, both in this country and across the world, it adds up to a considerable amount of money that is sometimes not correctly spent on the area that the animals come from. This has been called for for a very long time, and I am delighted that the Government are supporting it under new clause 30.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

It is good to see how cross-party collaboration can have an impact. I congratulate Conservative Members on getting the Minister to move—it is important. I am not an expert on this part of the Bill; we do not have that much beef farming in my part of the world, but some dairy cows get slaughtered and it is important that we know the impact of the levy boards. I am interested in what happens in Northern Ireland, which is not part of the scheme. Can they be brought in?

I am interested to know to what extent the separate boards—the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, Hybu Cig Cymru operating in Wales and Quality Meat Scotland—will maintain their independence, given that the Bill, which is primary legislation, is making a change to how the moneys will be devolved. It would be useful to know to what extent the different organisations will maintain complete independence or whether the administration of the funding will become more complex. I suppose the AHDB would take over all responsibility and devolve the moneys down to the different organisations.

It is good. This is what primary legislation is for: to improve what we have at the moment and do it differently and better. It is pleasing that it seems that all the farming organisations are in favour of the proposal, so I cannot see any reason why the Opposition would not be in favour of it. Again, I would like some clarity about exactly how the scheme operates at the moment and the changes that are, hopefully, going to make it better. We support what is proposed and hope that this good bit of the Bill will receive unanimous support at every level of debate, both in this place and the other place.

Photo of George Eustice George Eustice The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

It is great to have an outbreak of consensus on this issue. I will address some of the points raised, first by the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith. New clause 30(2) addresses all her concerns because it makes provision in paragraphs (c), (d) and (e) for:

“when a payment is to be made”,

so it is clear the scheme can design that;

“how a payment is to be made,” and

“the duration of the scheme”.

We envisage that an assessment may be made of the type of animal movements, based on the cattle movement records, and then a scheme could be set that might run for a year, two years—a number of years—to reflect those cattle movements; and a scheme could be put in place that enabled the transfers. It is very clear that the scheme that would be designed would provide for those particular issues.

On the points that the shadow Minister made, the boards would retain their independence. This is where I take some issue with the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith. It has not taken 13 years to sort out. We must recognise what happened. The previous Labour Government, with very good intentions and at the request of the devolved Administrations, gave the devolved Administrations the power to collect their own levy, because that is what they said they wanted at the time. Two or three years after that, when a number of abattoirs in Wales and Scotland had closed, the industry there started to say, “This change now disadvantages us because we are not getting a fair share of the levy that is collected.”

To be fair to the previous Labour Administration and my predecessors from some years ago, they were reacting and responding to requests from the devolved Administrations at the time. For reasons of closures of abattoirs, that did not work out and this slight problem was left and has run for a number of years. We have consulted on a possible long-term solution through a different collection methodology, potentially to do with ear tags, but we concede that a fix of this sort, which would enable us legislatively to move money around with the agreement of all the relevant devolved Administrations, is the right power to put in place.

Amendment 42 agreed to.

Question proposed, That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.

Photo of George Eustice George Eustice The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Clause 34 sets out which legal jurisdictions are being changed by the Bill, recognising that England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have different bodies of law. Extent is different from application, which is about the persons or matters to which a provision relates. Retained EU legislation will form part of the body of law shared by all parts of the UK; therefore, provisions of the Bill that amend or provide for the amendment of retained EU law will extend to all UK jurisdictions. Those provisions may none the less apply differently in different parts of the UK. Where it legislates on reserved matters, the Bill extends and applies to the whole of the UK. The Government have provided the Committee with their updated analysis of where the provisions of the Bill extend and apply and, where applicable, where corresponding provisions would be within the competence of the devolved legislatures.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 34, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 35 and 36 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

New Clause 2