Senedd shouldn’t back Brexit Farming Bill unless changes are made

(Title Image: ITV Wales)

Environment & Rural Affairs Committee
Agriculture Bill Legislative Consent Motion (pdf)
Published: 4th January 2019

The UK Agriculture Bill was introduced last year to set out how farming policy and farm funding will work once the UK leaves the EU, including the transfer of certain powers to Wales. As agriculture is devolved, it needs the permission of the Senedd – done so via the Agriculture Bill Legislative Consent Motion.

At the moment, the plan is for direct payments to farmers to be phased out from 2020, with replacement schemes fully up and running by 2025. A Wales-only Bill setting out Welsh agricultural policies agriculture after Brexit is set to be introduced by 2021.

1. Farming bodies are concerned about the lack of scrutiny of regulation-making powers

Most issues relating to Brexit are being done via regulations, namely because it’s quicker in face of the sheer number of changes to the law needed prior to and immediately after Brexit.

The Tenant Farmers Association said the process by which these regulations are being made means placing “a great deal of trust in current and future governments to deliver an appropriate policy”. The Farmers Union of Wales (FUW) raised fears that governments may introduce a “draconian regimes” which place greater burdens on farmers than EU schemes.

NFU Cymru was worried that Welsh Ministers – under the Agriculture Bill – weren’t required to consult before exercising some of the powers which would be transferred to them; though the Environment & Rural Affairs Minister, Lesley Griffiths (Lab, Wrexham) made clear her intention to consult before using any powers.

2. There’s no information about farm funding arrangements beyond 2022

The UK Government has pledged to protect farm funding at current levels until 2022. In Wales, the Welsh Government intends to phase out single payments and replace them with two different funds from 2021 – which has caused some controversy.

Witnesses told the Committee that following Brexit the UK Government “will control the purse strings” and the Welsh Government will be relying on the UK Government providing enough funding to cover any Welsh funding scheme.

Farming unions were disappointed that there’s nothing in the Bill setting out a future funding mechanism and wanted amendments which would place a legal duty to set funding periods of at least five years (similar to how the Common Agricultural Policy works).

3. Changes are needed before the Senedd grants its consent

The Committee requested the following changes are made to the UK Agriculture Bill before they can recommend to the Senedd that they approve the Legislative Consent Motion:

  • Additional safeguards to ensure executive powers granted under the Bill are used proportionally and appropriately, including a legal duty to consult before introducing regulations.
  • A “sunset clause” should be inserted for transitional arrangements relating to Wales.
  • The Senedd should have a vote on any replacement farm finance scheme established by regulations and the Welsh Government should report annually on the effect of any schemes.
  • There should be, at the best least, a formal agreement between the Welsh and UK Governments on the UK’s obligations under the World Trade Organisation in relation to agricultural support (which would set limits). At the moment all powers in this area are to be held in London and could affect how the Welsh Government designs and implements a successor to CAP – though talks on this were said to have been positive.
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