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UK Government publishes Agriculture Bill

NFU CYMRU has welcomed the reintroduction of the UK Government’s Agriculture Bill to Parliament after the previous version was lost in light of December’s General Election.
Commenting on the Bill’s introduction, NFU Cymru President, Mr John Davies said: “I am pleased that a new Agriculture Bill has now been introduced to Parliament, with many of the provisions NFU Cymru has pushed for reflected in this important piece of draft legislation.
“In particular, I am glad to see that the Bill will provide a mechanism to reform the sharing out of the red meat levy across Great Britain. The fact that a significant proportion of Welsh livestock ends up being slaughtered outside of Wales means that there is a significant annual loss of levy funds to Wales’ red meat promotion body, Hybu Cig Cymru.
“The current basis for levy collection is flawed, as it based solely on the location of the abattoir, something which lies completely outside the control of the primary producer. NFU Cymru has been calling for reform in this area for many years now. Once the relevant parties are equipped with the powers they need to address this anomaly, we will look to them to work together to ensure that a mutually agreed, equitable and fit for purpose scheme is up and running as soon as possible
“I also welcome the obligation that the Bill will place on Ministers to report on food security to Parliament. The issue of food security has not been given the prominence it deserves, and hopefully, this new duty that the Bill places on Ministers will go some way towards ensuring that food security is at the forefront of politicians’ minds.
“Fairness and transparency in the supply chain is another issue that NFU Cymru has been pushing hard for many years, so I welcome the fact that the Bill equips Ministers with powers to address supply chain issues. Across many sectors, we have seen inexplicable downward price pressure, including most recently in the beef sector, which dents farmers’ confidence and their ability to invest for the future. Stamping out unfair trading practices and improving the bargaining position of farmers in the supply chain are vital steps we must take to ensure a viable future across different sectors.”
Mr Davies did, however, raise concerns about the omission from the Bill of provision concerning standards: “Although we have had numerous assurances from the UK Government that it will not allow the import of food produced to environmental and animal welfare standards which would be illegal here, I think an opportunity has been missed to legislate around standards in future trade deals.
“For some time now we have been pressing the Government to introduce a standards commission as a matter of priority to oversee and advise on future food trade policy and negotiations – this Bill could have been how this could have been delivered. We will continue to press the Government on this issue, to ensure that Wales’ farmers can compete on a level playing field after Brexit.”
About future Welsh agricultural policy, Mr Davies said: “Agriculture, and the development of future agricultural support policy, is, of course, a devolved matter. When the UK Government’s Agriculture Bill was first introduced in 2018, the Welsh Government took powers in it which would have allowed them to operate new schemes in Wales post-Brexit.
The Welsh Government has confirmed it will not be doing so this time around, opting instead to introduce its own legislation to the National Assembly in Cardiff in due course. NFU Cymru looks forward to working with politicians in Cardiff to deliver policy for Wales which delivers against our three cornerstones of productivity, stability and the environment to realise our ambition of a productive, progressive and profitable Welsh agricultural sector.
“In the nearer term, the UK Government Agriculture Bill will provide Welsh Ministers with the powers they need to continue paying direct payments beyond 2020. I very much welcome commitments made by our own Minister, Lesley Griffiths AM in this respect to continue with the Basic Payment Scheme unchanged for 2020 and 2021, this provides stability to the sector at what is an uncertain time.
“NFU Cymru will continue to scrutinise and examine this Bill in great detail over the coming days and weeks to ensure that it delivers on these vital issues for farmers while providing the environment we all need for a thriving agricultural sector post-Brexit.”
Lesley Griffiths said: “As we prepare to leave the EU and enter the post-Brexit transition period, my message to the UK government is to ensure Wales’ interests are taken into consideration in trade negotiations and during talks about the future relationship with the EU. We also strongly believe there must be no erosion of standards for food, human and animal health and environmental protection.”
In a written statement responding to the Bill, Ms Griffiths said: ‘The powers being taken for Welsh Ministers are intended to be temporary until an Agriculture (Wales) Bill is brought forward to design a ‘Made in Wales’ system which works for Welsh agriculture, rural industries and our communities. Provisions relating to Wales are contained in a separate Schedule.
‘The Bill introduced on January 16, provides powers for the Welsh Ministers to continue paying Direct Payments to farmers beyond 2020 and gives our farmers much-needed stability during this period of uncertainty. It also contains certain other powers, including those which are important to ensure the effective operation of the internal market in the UK.
‘Given the passage of time since the original Bill was first introduced in September 2018, I have reflected on the scope of the Welsh schedule, taking into account the helpful reports provided by the Senedd during scrutiny.
‘I have concluded it is no longer appropriate to take powers to allow the Welsh Ministers to operate or transition to new schemes. My intention now is these will be provided for instead by the Agriculture (Wales) Bill. I intend to publish a White Paper towards the end of 2020 which will set out the context for the future of Welsh farming and pave the way for an Agriculture (Wales) Bill’.
The TFA, while welcoming the UK Bill, said it could be further improved.
George Dunn, TFA’s CEO, said: “Whilst the Bill is better than the one that went before, the task now is to ensure that we make it the best Bill it can be.
“For example, the obligation upon the Government to prepare a report on food security should be annual, not just every five years. The strengthened supply chain measures should be regulated by the Groceries Code Adjudicator and not given to the Rural Payments Agency to oversee. The schedule of changes to tenancy legislation also needs to be bolstered with further measures to assist older tenants into retirement, encourage landlords to let for longer periods of time and protect tenants from spurious notices to quit.”
“Rather than supporting non-active landlords,” Mr Dunn said, “it is also essential to ensure that future financial assistance properly supports active farmers – those in occupation of land, taking the entrepreneurial risk for the activities occurring on that land and in day-to-day management control. If the Bill does not spell this out, there will be a significant risk that public funding will be misdirected.”
George Dunn sounded the same note of caution as John Davies and Lesley Griffiths about the risk of watering down food standards: “There’s nothing in the Bill that protects the UK market from imported food and food ingredients produced to standards that would be illegal within the UK.
“To date, the Government has shied away from legally binding commitments. It’s time for the Government to enshrine its strong words on protecting our standards in trade in legislation.”