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Report on agricultural payments to the Scottish Ministers

Agriculture Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:45 pm on 5th March 2020.

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“(1) The Secretary of State must, no later than one month before IP completion day, lay before Parliament a statement of his or her policy on whether sums will be made available to Scottish Ministers each year after IP completion day which are at least equivalent to the sums made available to Scottish Ministers in the year prior to IP completion day for the purpose of expenditure under—

(a) the European Agricultural Guarantee Fund, and

(b) the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development as established under Article 3 of Regulation (EU) No 1306/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 December 2013 on the financing, management and monitoring of the common agricultural policy.

(2) “IP completion day” shall have the meaning given in section 39 of the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020.”—

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Deidre Brock Deidre Brock Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Wales), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 3:00 pm, 5th March 2020

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Briefly, what new clause 17 boils down to is ensuring that Scottish farmers can plan ahead. It would ensure that the resources that will be made available to support Scottish farmers are known about in advance of the implementation period completion day. To be honest, I am not sure that a month is long enough notice, but it would at least be notice.

I am sure that the Minister could give that commitment today, but I think we would all agree that it would be much better written into the Bill. The Minister can think of the new clause as a sort of love letter to Scottish farmers, Parliament can think of things being done in the right way, and I would just be glad to have it confirmed.

Farmers, just like any other business, do best when they have some clarity on their long-term planning—we have heard the Secretary of State say that on several occasions. Providing that certainty and clarity—that honesty and transparency—is the work of the Government in this instance, and that is what new clause 17 asks for. Scottish farmers need that certainty and therefore the Scottish Government need certainty on funding. I would prefer farmers, crofters and Ministers to be told earlier whether funds will be made available that are at least equivalent to the cash that has been available to farmers and crofters up to now, but I look forward to the Minister telling us that the Government agree that farmers and crofters need that certainty and that they accept the new clause.

Photo of Thangam Debbonaire Thangam Debbonaire Opposition Whip (Commons)

We on the Labour Front Bench would say that the new clause makes a reasonable request. There are lots of ways in which we could try to deal with the problem of divergence and the tension between devolved and reserved matters and protecting regional interests, which we wish to do. There are various alternatives that the Minister could commit to. Having something from her on the record today, in Hansard, will be helpful.

Regardless of whether the new clause is agreed to, I am sure that all of us on the Opposition Benches will hold the Minister to her word; she is a woman of her word. If she makes a commitment on the record that there will be some form of report, we will put it in our diaries to follow that up. If the new clause falls, but she has made that commitment, we will be coming back to this point a month before the implementation period is over, at the beginning of December. I hope that, in that spirit, the Minister will consider making the commitment and therefore, when the time comes, the relevant statement can take place. It is completely reasonable that farmers across the whole of the regions and nations—not just Scotland, but the whole of the United Kingdom—can have that continuity and some certainty at least.

I may be wrong, but I am guessing that the Minister might be about to say that it is not necessary to add the new clause to the Bill. We have heard that before, and I understand the argument, but it would be good to have some recognition on the record that we can hold her to.

Photo of Victoria Prentis Victoria Prentis The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

In my experience, farmers would much prefer a cheque to a love letter. Maybe I have met the wrong ones. In that spirit, the only commitment I am going to make is the important one, which is a commitment to guarantee the current annual budget in every year of this Parliament, giving real certainty over funding for the coming years. That is worth a great deal more to farmers than a new clause that would merely require the Secretary of State to make a statement on agricultural funding for Scotland.

I reassure the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith that in recognition of the perceived injustice felt by Scottish farmers over convergence funding, the Scottish Government will receive an extra £160 million over two years in 2019-20 and 2020-21. All Members will know that Her Majesty’s Treasury is ultimately responsible for financial matters across UK Government. Treasury colleagues lead on discussions on all funding matters with Finance Ministers in the devolved Administrations. DEFRA will continue to work closely with the Treasury and the devolved Administrations on funding arrangements, but the Government have committed to year-on-year funding, and I am afraid that is the best I can do.

Photo of Deidre Brock Deidre Brock Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Wales), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I cannot say that I am not disappointed by the Minister’s response. Yes, the convergence funding was welcome, but that was after many years of tussling over it, as Members will be aware. In our view, that money was returned to us after it was wrongfully taken away by the UK Government. We are delighted we have it now, as are the many farmers and crofters who will benefit from it, after it not being with them for some years.

I do not doubt the Minister’s sincerity over this, but I want to hear that the funds made available will be at least equivalent to the cash. That includes such things as inflation, and I do not feel that her words are sufficient to provide that surety. Forgive me, Sir David, but—this is a commonly held view in this place—I do not have a great deal of faith in the Treasury and what it will decide in the future.

I thank the hon. Member for Bristol West for her kind words of support, because this important principle applies not solely to Scotland, but to all the devolved Administrations. She is right about that. That surety is vital for all our farmers and crofters, and even being able to put that into words in Committee would have been a helpful start. With that in mind, I will press the new clause to a vote.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.

Division number 38 Agriculture Bill — Report on agricultural payments to the Scottish Ministers

Aye: 6 MPs

No: 9 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

The Committee divided: Ayes 6, Noes 9.

Question accordingly negatived.