Pwyllgor yr Economi, Masnach a Materion Gwledig

Economy, Trade, and Rural Affairs Committee

16/11/2022

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Hefin David MS
Huw Irranca-Davies MS Aelod o'r Pwyllgor Newid Hinsawdd, yr Amgylchedd a Seilwaith
Member of the Climate Change, Environment, and Infrastructure Committee
Llyr Gruffydd MS Aelod o'r Pwyllgor Newid Hinsawdd, yr Amgylchedd a Seilwaith
Member of the Climate Change, Environment, and Infrastructure Committee
Luke Fletcher MS
Paul Davies MS Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair
Samuel Kurtz MS
Sarah Murphy MS
Vikki Howells MS

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Bill Cordingley Llywodraeth Cymru
Welsh Government
Dorian Brunt Llywodraeth Cymru
Welsh Government
Hannah Fernandez Llywodraeth Cymru
Welsh Government
James Owen Llywodraeth Cymru
Welsh Government
Lesley Griffiths MS Y Gweinidog Materion Gwledig a Gogledd Cymru, a’r Trefnydd
Minister for Rural Affairs and North Wales, and Trefnydd

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Gruffydd Owen Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol
Legal Adviser
Katie Wyatt Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol
Legal Adviser
Katy Orford Ymchwilydd
Researcher
Lara Date Ail Glerc
Second Clerk
Masudah Ali Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol
Legal Adviser
Robert Donovan Clerc
Clerk
Sarah Bartlett Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk

Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.

The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.

Cyfarfu’r pwyllgor yn y Senedd a thrwy gynhadledd fideo.

Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 09:30.

The committee met in the Senedd and by video-conference.

The meeting began at 09:30.

1. Cyflwyniad, ymddiheuriadau, dirprwyon a datgan buddiannau
1. Introductions, apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest

Croeso, bawb, i'r cyfarfod hwn o Bwyllgor yr Economi, Masnach a Materion Gwledig. Gaf i estyn croeso cynnes i Llyr Gruffydd a Huw Irranca-Davies sydd yn ymuno â ni o'r Pwyllgor Newid Hinsawdd, yr Amgylchedd a Seilwaith? Rydyn ni'n edrych ymlaen at gael eich cwmni chi y bore yma. Dwi ddim wedi derbyn unrhyw ymddiheuriadau. Oes yna unrhyw fuddiannau yr hoffai Aelodau eu datgan o gwbl? Sam Kurtz.

A warm welcome to this meeting of the Senedd's Economy, Trade, and Rural Affairs Committee. May I extend a warm welcome to Llyr Gruffydd and Huw Irranca-Davies, joining us from the Climate Change, Environment, and Infrastructure Committee? We look forward to having your company this morning. I've not received any apologies. Are there any declarations of interest that Members would wish to make? Sam Kurtz.

Diolch yn fawr iawn. Llyr Gruffydd.

Thank you very much. Llyr Gruffydd.

Dwi'n aelod anrhydeddus o'r BVA.

I'm an honorary member of the BVA.

Diolch yn fawr iawn. Sarah Murphy.

Thank you very much. Sarah Murphy.

Also an honorary member of the BVA, but also one of the vice-presidents of Ramblers Cymru.

Dyna ni. Diolch yn fawr iawn. Unrhyw un arall? Nac oes.

There we are. Thank you. Anyone else? No.

2. Papurau i'w nodi
2. Paper(s) to note

Fe symudwn ni ymlaen, felly, i eitem 2, sef papurau i'w nodi. Mae yna ddau bapur i'w nodi. Oes yna unrhyw faterion yn codi o'r papurau yma o gwbl? Nac oes.

We'll move on, therefore, to item 2, papers to note. We have two papers to note. Are there any issues arising from these papers at all? No.

3. Bil Amaethyddiaeth (Cymru): Sesiwn dystiolaeth 10
3. Agriculture (Wales) Bill: Evidence session 10

Felly, symudwn ni ymlaen i eitem 3, sef sesiwn dystiolaeth ar Fil Amaethyddiaeth (Cymru). Dyma ddegfed sesiwn dystiolaeth y pwyllgor, a'r sesiwn olaf lle y byddwn ni fel Aelodau yn ystyried egwyddorion cyffredinol Bil Amaethyddiaeth (Cymru). Gaf i groesawu'r Gweinidog Materion Gwledig a Gogledd Cymru, a'r Trefnydd, a'i swyddogion i'r sesiwn olaf yma? Cyn ein bod ni yn symud yn syth i gwestiynau, gaf i ofyn iddi hi a'i swyddogion i gyflwyno eu hunain i'r record? Gweinidog.

We'll therefore move on to item 3, our evidence session on the Agriculture (Wales) Bill. This is the tenth and final evidence session considering the general principles of the Agriculture (Wales) Bill. May I welcome the Minister for Rural Affairs and North Wales, and Trefnydd, and her officials to this final session? Before we move to questions, may I ask the Minister and her officials to introduce themselves for the record? Minister.

Member
Lesley Griffiths MS 09:32:02
Minister for Rural Affairs and North Wales, and Trefnydd

Thank you, Chair. I'm Lesley Griffiths, I'm the Minister for Rural Affairs and North Wales, and Trefnydd. On my left is James Owen, deputy director, land management reform division. On my right is Dorian Brunt, senior lawyer, legal services department in rural affairs. Over further to my right is Bill Cordingley, who is the Government lawyer, legal services department for wildlife.

There we are, thank you very much indeed for those introductions.

Oh, sorry—and Hannah Fernandez at the end, who's the lead policy official, land management reform unit.

Thank you very much. Thank you for those introductions. Perhaps I can kick off this session just by asking you a couple of questions. Obviously, stakeholders are calling for the sustainable land management definition to be included on the face of the Bill. Why didn't you do that? Why did you decide not to include it on the face of the Bill?

So, we as a Government have defined sustainable land management within the context of the Bill through the four sustainable land management objectives, which you will have seen in the Bill. This Bill is a made-in-Wales agricultural policy. It's the first time we've had the opportunity to do this, and that's what we've done. So, we've had several consultation exercises, as colleagues know, along with the White Paper, and what we did in those exercises is really focus on the United Nations definition of sustainable land management. We've developed those objectives to incorporate the very wide ranging and significant economic, environmental and social contribution that we know agriculture makes here in Wales. So, the way that we've presented the SLM objectives, I think, makes it really clear what we're hoping to achieve through SLM within the context of the agriculture Bill, and makes sure that the Welsh agricultural sector is fit for purpose within that Welsh legislation.

You mentioned the UN definition, which you've used in the Bill. Can you explain to us why did you actually use that definition? Because, for example, farming unions are now suggesting that perhaps you should be using the World Bank definition, and others have also made reference to the sustainable management of natural resources defined in the Environment (Wales) Act 2016. So, can you explain to us why you've used this particular definition, and not even a bespoke Wales definition?

I think the UN definition and the World Bank definition are both integrated into what we've used. I explained at the beginning why we used that definition, but certainly the way we've laid out the objectives of sustainable land management, I think, does incorporate both the UN and World Bank.

If I may, Minister? We started with the UN definition as the basis for crafting our framework around sustainable land management, and as part of the consultation in 2019, that was the basis of it. What we found in the responses that we've had to the consultation since that time, and then in the legal drafting process, was that, to make sure that we're incorporating the economic, environmental, social and cultural aspects of SLM that we've tried to build in to this framework, the objectives was the right way to do it for us, to make it a truly bespoke made-in-Wales policy. 'We took the UN definition as a starting point, and then we built on it', is how I would describe it, as part of that (a) consultation process, and (b) the legal drafting process. 

09:35

One of the things that surprised the committee was the extent to which the stakeholders were raising this as an issue. So, I'd just like to understand how stakeholders were involved in the discussion on the definition. Was it a top-down thing? Were stakeholders invited to contribute? Because it did surprise us as a committee the extent to which this was raised.

Well, we've had three consultations, which, obviously, stakeholders have participated in. We had the White Paper. Even going as far back as the stakeholder round-table we had following leaving the European Union where this was discussed right from the fore, because we knew, at the outset, back in 2016—

Yes. We've talked about having an agricultural Bill and, obviously, that has been part of the discussions we've had with stakeholders. So, I'm equally surprised, because, obviously, we've been monitoring the evidence sessions.

I'd say, if you look at the biggest change to the work that we've done in the period of that consultation, it would have been around the inclusion of the sustainable production of food as an objective of Government. So, when we started the consultation, the objectives were very much focused on the environmental aspects, but, as a result, I think, of the 2019 and certainly the 2020 consultations, we've included that very clearly as an objective of what we're hoping to achieve through that SLM framework.

Diolch, Cadeirydd. Staying with the SLM but focusing on its objectives, Minister, I was wondering if you and your team have considered the following additional SLM objectives, suggested by stakeholders: firstly, on the wider food system to promote shorter supply chains and food sovereignty; secondly, for community health through provision of nutritious food; thirdly, to recognise the importance of vibrant rural communities through economic activity; and finally, animal health and welfare. I know there's a lot there.

There were. So, I suppose, going back to what James was just saying, the first objective is, obviously, around sustainable food production, so I think food sovereignty could, obviously, be tackled within that first objective. That absolutely focuses on the production of food and other goods in a sustainable manner. Obviously, there's nothing that would prohibit the sale of food to local communities—that would—[Inaudible.]—business resilience, for instance, going forward. We've obviously got, on the face of the Bill, a non-exhaustive list of purposes, and we include certain ancillary activities. So, again, that could be used. I think there are ample mechanisms, really, in relation to food sovereignty. 

Vibrant rural communities: we obviously recognise the very key role that farmers play in our rural communities, and one of the best ways of safeguarding that is to keep farmers on the land. We often use that phrase in relation to this Bill and, for me, that is, obviously, the most important thing. We want to keep farmers on the land, keep producing food in a sustainable way, whilst also looking at environmental outcomes.

Animal health and welfare, you asked about, and obviously, throughout the Bill, there are considerations for animal health and welfare—I suppose the main one being the banning of glue traps and snares. 

Okay. Thank you. In terms of the wider community involved with agriculture, it's one industry where the prevalence of Welsh speakers is highest. Have you had discussions with your counterparts within Government—Jeremy Miles, for example, or Julie James, who covers housing—in terms of how the agriculture Bill can support Welsh language communities specifically?

'Yes', is the short answer. Obviously, it's very much cross-Government from a rural point of view. Lots of ministerial portfolios fit into the rural aspect. You mention the Welsh language and, obviously, the fourth objective is around supporting the language. You're quite right, the agricultural sector probably uses the Welsh language more than any other sector. So, for me, keeping farmers on the land is absolutely vital to support our Welsh language.

In relation to housing, perhaps not so much specifically in relation to this Bill, but, obviously, I have discussions with her.

Okay, thank you. Concerns were raised with us that the Bill as drafted could result in one objective being cherry-picked to the exclusion of others. I'm just wondering what's to stop future Ministers favouring one over the other, and would you consider amending the Bill to ensure that that's not the case.

09:40

I don't think it needs amending, personally. The way it's set out, it requires Welsh Ministers to look at the four objectives in the round, so, a sort of holistic approach. We didn't want to restrict it in any way, so when you're considering the sustainable land management duty, you have to look at all the objectives, and that is for all Welsh Ministers. If I could give you an example, if you were restoring a peat bog, that would obviously tick objective 2, but it could have an impact on the ecosystems in objective 3, for instance. So, that's why I think there won't be any cherry-picking—you will have to consider all four SLMs. 

But that's a 'could'. It's not defined that it 'should' include all four sustainable land management objectives within one project.

No, but Welsh Ministers 'must' consider all the objectives. 

Sorry, Sam, before you go on, I know that Llyr Gruffydd and Huw Irranca-Davies would like to come in on this point.

Yes, thank you. You just said earlier, Minister, that keeping farmers on the land is the most important thing, and I'm sure a number of us would agree with that. But of course it doesn't say that in the Bill. It talks about climate change, the resilience of ecosystems—we all support that. There's a rather ambiguous concern about enhanced countryside—I don't know what the legal definition of that is or what that means. Is that code for 'economy'? Because if it is, then you should probably say it, shouldn't you?

The whole purpose of the Bill and, obviously, the sustainable farming scheme that we're working with alongside is to support our farmers. So, as I say, we use the term 'keeping farmers on our land', but the whole of the Bill is to support the agricultural sector. This is what this Bill is about—it's about agriculture. So, I don't know if, from a legal point of view, you could actually say in the Bill, 'We want to keep farmers on the land', but that's the policy.

Well, as an objective it could be 'the economic vibrancy' or something. 

Obviously, the objectives are set out. I know there's a call for another objective, and I'm certainly working—I'm sure you know—with Plaid Cymru as part of the co-operation agreement around that. We do think the objectives as set out will support the economy of our rural areas, but I know there is obviously a call to have a specific economic resilience objective. 

It's very much part of the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, you take all of the four pillars together, and it's just sort of not amplified here in the objectives, and I just feel that's—. You know, you mention cherry-picking, and I'm not suggesting it is cherry-picking—I'd imagine it's there implicitly, but other elements seem to be there explicitly, including cultural resources, and I'm just wondering whether 'conserve and enhance the countryside' could be sharpened a little bit to explain what you really mean by that, because that could mean all sorts of things, couldn't it?

Just to say that's part of the ongoing conversations the Minister's having as part of the co-operation agreement. I think there was a clear agreement at the introduction of the Bill to bring forward a number of amendments during the Stage 1 process. Of course, I think it will be very interesting to see what the committee have to say around those possible amendments as well. 

So, just to be clear, then, you're obviously open to adding another objective as a Government on this Bill. 

Refining, yes—it's certainly part of the discussions. 

Obviously, we'll be considering this committee's report as well. 

Thank you, Chair. So, the strength of these objectives is they're so wide and all-encompassing; the weakness of them is they're so wide and all-encompassing. That issue of cherry-picking could be flipped on its head to say, 'Well, some of these can drop off the agenda as well.' So, in referring to my declaration of interest at the start of this session as well, those people who are concerned with access, they very much welcome the fact it's explicitly stated here under objective 4. That's good, but of course it's balanced against all the other interests here within the objectives stated. But of course when you turn to the ancillary matters, it's not explicitly stated within it, so that raises alarm bells for those who are concerned with access, knowing the state and the condition of the existing rights-of-way network, knowing that what we want to do is work with farmers to encourage not just the existing right to roam and access to common land and so on, but to see whether we can go forward and actually enrich and reward farmers for doing that as well. So, what reassurance can you give, in this basket of things, that access will be a firm, clear part of this?

09:45

You just stated, Huw, that the fourth objective does recognise the importance of promoting public access to the countryside and engagement. I think that's further emphasised through the power to provide support. Again, if you look at the powers to provide support in Part 2 of the Bill, you'll see that it can be provided to farmers for the purpose of maintaining and enhancing public access to and engagement with the countryside. So, farmers will be able to choose support that helps people engage with and access the natural environment. For instance, it could include upgrading footpaths going forward. 

It's interesting, Chair, and I do see the struggle the Minister has here. I think I'd simply draw attention to it. It's probably a wider discussion than here in this agriculture Bill today. But we know the condition of the existing footpath network and the fact that it isn't being maintained adequately. So, the 'could' becomes a—. It could be done now. 

Part of the discussion we're having in relation to the sustainable farming scheme is around this. Because, obviously, under these powers, the scheme proposes support to farmers that goes beyond the legal minimum—by enhancing access, for instance. So, those are part of discussions we're having in relation to SFS, which, as you know, we're co-designing at the current time. Again, I'm trying to think what the date is. There's still time to participate in the survey—it's open until 21 November; I think we're not there yet. So, please, if people are concerned and looking at the evidence you have taken, I accept that, but there are lots of things I think we could do. 

One of the things I'm really keen to see is more educational visits by farmers to schools. I met last week—I know colleagues here met with them as well—the next generation group of NFU Cymru, who were really, really keen on doing that, and probably a lot of them are doing it at the moment and not being rewarded. For me, that education part is very important and should be rewarded. 

Thank you, Chair. Just to come back and develop on Llyr's final point, when we were taking evidence from those from the wider food supply chain, they said the objectives are nebulous, stating there's no strong vision for the food industry. I'm just wondering how you'd respond to that. 

I do think there's a vision for the industry. There's a separate vision for the food and drink industry. But within the Bill, I go back to the first objective, and that's support for sustainable food production. And also the inclusion, obviously, of ancillary activities in the definition of 'agriculture' under the Bill marries both the production and the supply chain of food, I think, more than ever before. So, I do think there is that strong vision within the Bill. There's also a purpose that is the production of food in an environmentally sustainable manner. So, there's the inclusion of those activities. We discussed this, I think, the last time I was in front of committee. Those activities include selling, marketing, preparing, packaging and processing. So, that's all, obviously, within the Bill. 

Thank you, Chair. I'd like to ask some questions about the reporting and monitoring. We heard calls for wider consultation when preparing the SLM indicators and targets. Would you consider extending the list of statutory consultees to include additional bodies alongside the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales, like agricultural industry bodies? 

Thank you. Obviously, we are required to consult with the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales and anybody else that we think appropriate. We're not restricted at all by the fact that we've got to consult with the future generations commissioner. I don't want to inadvertently exclude relevant parties or stakeholders or organisations by omission, so the drafting really has left that matter very open, I think, so that Ministers, on a case-by-case basis, could then take advice from other stakeholders. 

Also within the Bill, Ministers must consider reports and policy documents to help inform and also revise targets going forward. As you know, we're going to look at those indicators and targets every five years. They may change, and obviously the people you need to consult with then could change as well. I think it's important that we maintain flexibility in relation to that. The indicators and the targets aren't static; obviously, they've got to be reviewed every five years. So, it could be that new ones come in, and, obviously, Ministers will need to look to different people to advise them, going forward. So I don't think it would be appropriate to have a list of people because of the future changes that could come down the line.

09:50

Thank you, Minister. Secondly, should the SLM statement be available at the time the Bill comes into force, to ensure clarity of the direction of travel at the earliest possibility? Is this feasible?

The statement of indicators and targets must be published and laid before the Senedd by 31 December 2025. That date has been set so that we have time for due consideration and preparation of the indicators and targets, and, obviously, that will include consultation. The indicators and targets will obviously be a key part of the monitoring, going forward, and help guide any future policy decisions that will need to be made as to what's working for the sector, what isn't working for the sector, what needs changing. That date was chosen to allow sufficient time for that, to make sure that we have the effective indicators and targets, going forward.

Thank you again, Chair. In terms of the list of consultees, sometimes it's helpful to hear the words of a Minister on record in evidence sessions like this about how they see that developing. If you don't want to be more prescriptive, do you envisage, as the current Minister with responsibility for this, that the list of consultees would include, for example, agricultural land workers and their organisation? Would it include environmental non-governmental organisations? Would it include farmers unions? If you don't want to be prescriptive and detailed and put a Schedule in, could you at least indicate now that certainly those three categories should be amongst those who are consultees?

Thanks. Thank you, Sarah. I'll now bring in Luke Fletcher.

Diolch, Cadeirydd. If I could look at the purposes for which support could be provided, a number of stakeholders suggested they'd like to see that list expanded under section 8 of the Bill. Some of the suggestions we had ranged from educating around food and farming, better access from the community to local food, support as well for infrastructure, machinery and equipment, which link of course to the SLM objectives. There is a list of them—I won't go through the entire list.

Exactly. Perfect. What would your response be to those calls to expand the list?

I would say the list isn't exhaustive. We've referred to the list already, under section 8 of the Bill. It can be amended, things can be removed, things can be added. By way of regulations, we are able to do that. So, I absolutely agree with that—it's not an exhaustive list, and it can be altered. I mentioned in an earlier answer that education, I think, of our children and young people by farmers is really important, and there seems to be a real appetite to want to do that, so I absolutely understand why that would be something that I'm sure stakeholders have raised with you. There's already a purpose that encourages the production of food in an environmentally sustainable manner in the list. That's obviously further supported by the sustainable land management objective number 1 in the Bill. I think I mentioned earlier there's nothing to prohibit the sale of food to the local community, and, for me, that would absolutely build economic resilience into our farm businesses, so that's another area. We talked, I think, when I was in committee last time, about ancillary activities in relation to capital expenditure, so that's another area we could look at. So, infrastructure, machinery—that's an area we could look at as part of the ancillary activities. But the short answer is that it's not an exhaustive list and it can be amended.

Maybe just to add, what we've tried to do with the publication of the proposed sustainable farming scheme is to try and bring that list to life a little bit. Some of the things I think that you've mentioned are absolutely incorporated in the proposed scheme that we would support farmers for in the future—capital infrastructure being an obvious example of that. There are specific proposals in the scheme about how Government would support them in relation to those purposes.

I picked up on what you said earlier around education and food. I think there's an opportunity here as well to link that in with other Government policies such as free school meals, for example. There's an opportunity there, I think, to bring in schools into that element. The hope would be that, as time goes on, the list develops and we see some of those purposes added to that list. We also had a number of stakeholders raise concerns around the need for more emphasis on the restoration of habitats and species, and a number also felt that nature recovery wasn't as prominent, or didn't have as much weight, as climate change in the Bill. How would you respond to those stakeholders who felt that way?

09:55

It's about a whole-farm approach, isn't it? Actions that are being taken under any of the objectives would—. If there's a climate change action, for instance, surely that would obviously help support nature—it would have a direct effect on nature recovery. I go back to what I was saying before about the four objectives and having a holistic approach. There's no hierarchy in those objectives. We would expect all objectives to be considered going forward. We haven't given one more prominence over the other. Again, going back to the ancillary activities that the Bill does provide for, if you look at that, they are split into environmental and business actions, so again, there is that focus on the environment actions there. We would expect actions to be taken on land management that would maintain and enhance ecosystem resilience, for instance. So, I'm not sure I would agree with the statement that you said.

I would take issue, though, in terms of saying that tackling climate change would necessarily lead to also improving biodiversity, because we know that some renewable projects, for example, can have a negative effect on biodiversity. I think it's important that we're aware of the key differences between improving biodiversity and climate change going forward, and that they are on equal footing, because one can't follow without the other, in my view, at least.

I suppose I've just contradicted myself, because I gave an example before about restoration of a peat bog, when I said it could have a negative effect in a way that you wouldn't want to. So, I do take that point.

Yes, just in support of Luke's point. Some organisations have suggested that any future changes to this should be linked to the parallel process that's going on in developing sustainable land management, which really brings all that together. Traditionally at Westminster and here, we're trying to evolve from a system where agriculture sits here, all the other stuff sits over here. That would do it. So, are you sympathetic to the calls to say that there needs to be something more explicit that you can put either on the record or on the Bill that says that any purposes for support and any future changes to it should be linked to the principles of sustainable land management'?

Finally, before I hand back to you, Chair, we did hear from stakeholders that farmers in Wales will have to do more to receive their payments than in other areas of the UK and countries within the EU where payments are less conditional on public good provision. Is this your assessment?

I'm not sure how they've come to that conclusion when we're still in the process of co-designing the scheme. Until I know the final outcome of the scheme—and that will obviously be out to consultation again next year—I don't think I'm in a position to answer that question. I certainly don't want to pre-empt the final consultation on the scheme.

I just want to focus a bit on the ancillary activities and what that really means. How are you going to strike the balance between supporting agriculture and supporting ancillary activities? I don't want to go back to the old pillar 1 and pillar 2 tensions, but, clearly, there are people who are concerned that this is going to mean a significant shift away from funding active farmers to paying for other things. I suppose we're getting to the crux of some of the cultural change that might be encouraged by this Bill, really. I'm just wondering what is there in the Bill that gives people reassurance either that there will be a more equitable spread or, conversely, that it will basically reflect, in broader terms, where we are today.

10:00

Well, I think that that is absolutely a fair point that has been raised. I have been very clear that the one thing that we want to do, or don't want to do, I should say, is divert funding away from farmers. So, I think that that is really important, and that's absolutely the baseline. Farmers have to be involved in this, and it is about the balance, as you say. I don't know what the budget is going to be, but what we have said very clearly is that if you look at the farming scheme—. As you know, there are three tiers proposed in that. I am being asked questions, 'Which is going to get the most budget?' et cetera, while we are, as I say, designing the scheme.

But then, the ancillary activities—. And I hear what you are saying about pillar 1 and pillar 2. What the Bill is seeking to do, I think, is to absolutely ensure that the whole agricultural sector and its associated supply chain is supported. That obviously includes ancillary activities, which complement our agricultural businesses. We all know that there are farmers who want to diversify their business, and it's important that there is support there for them. So, that support will be there for things that support their agricultural business. We have seen it already, haven't we? Over the past few years, we have seen much more diversification.

The power to provide support,

'... may provide support for or in connection with agriculture in Wales and ancillary activities that take place in Wales'.

Obviously, they will then probably be—. We have got to make sure that they are interlinked, going forward. So, under the SFS, ancillary activities are proposed to support the active farmer—and I think that that word is really important—who is undertaking the ancillary activity, and that that ancillary activity takes place on agricultural land. 

Is that explicit in the Bill, is it? Sorry, I might have—. Or, is that just a policy intent?

On the face of the Bill, it talks about the supply chain, in terms of the packaging and processing, rather than the actual farmer. The policy intent is that the farmer would have to be involved in that processing, packaging, marketing and branding, because what we don't want to do is take away that funding for the farmer and the farm business. So, the further away from the farm gate, if you like—the further away from that farm business—the less, then—. You move away from the Bill, then.

Sure. Okay. We did have evidence from people who were looking at the list of purposes, and then looking at the definition in section 49, or the meaning of, 'ancillary activity'. The question that they were asking was, 'Does this not risk using some of that potential money to potentially purchase land by outside sources, to plant trees and to access money for carbon credits or that kind of thing?' I mean, that's still possible, I'd imagine, if you just look at the Bill in isolation.

I will just come back on that, in the sense that the ancillary activity is very much linked to the agriculture definition. So, it's the definition of agriculture and ancillary activities that is key here. When you look at what activities are defined under agriculture, it comes back to that farmer. It comes back to that farm business. 

So, we shouldn't look at the meaning of 'ancillary activity' in isolation. Is that what you are saying?

No. So, it says that support may be for ancillary activities and agriculture within Wales.  

Ah, right. Okay. Yes. So, 

'The Welsh Ministers may provide support for or in connection with agriculture in Wales and ancillary activities'

It's not, 'and/or'. Is that what you are saying? That's the point that you are making.

Yes. Within Wales. 

Just to maybe add—. A key assumption that we have made as part of the regulatory impact assessment for the Bill is that we wouldn't be diverting any direct support away from farmers. So, while there is a significant amount of budget uncertainty at the moment, beyond the duration of the current UK Parliament, the assumption that we have made is that that direct support that currently goes to farmers should be maintained in line with commitments previously made. So, I think that that's a really important point. So, in supporting ancillary activities, that doesn't necessarily mean that we'd be taking money out of the pot for direct support for farmers.

Sure. So, you wouldn't be supporting ancillary activities, unless it's agriculture and ancillary activities. 

Okay. Got you. Right. It was the way I read the Bill. You might need to tweak that to make it clearer—I don't know. We have also heard quite compelling evidence around, of course—. We talk about food security, rightly so. But the point is made—and we are reminded by Confor and others, of course—that timber and wood fibre security is something that maybe the Government should be considering in this context and, in many ways, is as important as food security, if you look at the carbon footprint and how much timber we have to import, et cetera. I'm just wondering what your response is to that. 

10:05

So, my response to that would be that this is an agricultural Bill, and obviously, there are felling licences incorporated in this Bill, but that is the only part, really, of forestry. So, I suppose the short answer is that this is an agricultural Bill; the wider forestry and timber sector fall outside of this Bill. 

Yes, okay. And there's a whole series of questions we could ask about timber security, I realise that.

One other question, just picking up on the earlier discussion about the purposes, there was quite a strong point made about there being nothing much in the Bill around innovation and productivity, and surely that should be something that we would want to drive and encourage through legislation, because if we're talking about producing more using less, all that kind of narrative, then obviously, innovation has a key role to play there. And it's just a question as to whether, maybe under the purposes, there should be something a bit more explicit about that kind of thing. I don't know whether you've thought about that.  

Well, I suppose the focus for that is within the sustainable farming scheme. I hear what you're saying about the Bill, but I think the focus for innovation—

Yes, but having it in the Bill would guarantee that the scheme would try to address that. 

The purposes are non-exhaustive and, I guess, illustrative of the types of things we support. So, there's nothing precluding Ministers in the future from supporting that sort of innovation, and we've tried to give some practical examples through the scheme of how they could directly support farmers, whether it be through diversifying practice or business to build more resilient and profitable farm businesses in the future, as an example. 

Okay, but I would have thought, given where we are in terms of our need to respond to some of the climate challenges and biodiversity challenges, that that kind of innovation would be prominent enough in your thinking around future schemes to actually include it explicitly in the Bill and not say that it's for future Ministers, potentially, to include it, or we may choose to add it later on. I would have thought that it would have been more central and fundamental to what we're trying to do here, but maybe we can all reflect on whether that's necessary. 

Yes, okay. Diolch, Llyr. I'll now bring in Sam Kurtz. Sam. 

Diolch, Cadeirydd. Moving on to support for third-party schemes, there have been points raised that, historically, a higher proportion of funding in the third-party schemes went to the administration, rather than direct support. Is there a risk, then, that third-party schemes supported under this Bill could require more administration and result, therefore, in less funding going to the active farmer?

So, at the moment, we haven't got any specific proposals on supporting third-party schemes, but we need that flexibility, obviously, going forward, if a scheme came forward that would support the sustainable land management objectives that we've set out. But I think, going back to what we were discussing earlier, it's really important that any third-party scheme would add value in working with others and it wouldn't be diverting funding away from farmers. But, as with any other scheme, if there was a third-party scheme that was brought forward, then it would need to be carefully assessed to see how it would fit in with the objectives of sustainable land management, going forward. I go back to the indicators and the targets, that's where they will have a real role to play in prioritising any actions that would require support directly. 

Just moving on slightly, in terms of the sustainable farming scheme, Farming Connect is mentioned prevalently throughout that—that's a lot of heavy lifting for Farming Connect to do. So, is that going to mean an increase in funding for Farming Connect so that they can deliver and support farmers in the objectives through the sustainable farming scheme?

Yes, absolutely. We've done that already. We've also looked at Farming Connect and how it can be—what's the word I'm trying to think of—streamlined, maybe, or maybe that's not the right word, in relation to the sustainable farming scheme, going forward. But yes, we've always recognised that we would have to increase Farming Connect provision, and I think Farming Connect is a brilliant organisation, and it's got years of experience, hasn't it, and it's absolutely the right thing to do. 

Fab. Moving on to the annual report and the impact report, I'm just wondering if there's value in having separate impact reports and SLM reports, because we did hear the suggestion that one overarching report would be more suitable. But, could preparing a separate report incur unnecessary administrative costs?

So, the impact reports focus specifically on all support provided under the power to provide support, and that will obviously then inform the sustainable land management report. I think the impact report really is an essential mechanism, going forward, to evaluate the impact and effectiveness of the support that we provide, providing it by any schemes that operate under the—I need to get my words right—power to provide support—too many Ps. And what the impact report will do will demonstrate whether certain actions are, or continue to be, fit for purpose. So, I think the impact report is one of a number of sources that will be used to determine the effectiveness and the level of progress made against the sustainable land management objectives and duties.

10:10

Okay. In terms of the regularity of reporting, and I know it's an annual report—it's a bit of a Ronseal; it does what it says on the tin there—but are you content with the regularity of reporting that is set out in the Bill and how that will gauge progress?

Yes. I think there's a distinction there, obviously, between the sustainable land management reporting framework where it will take time to demonstrate and generate evidence around the delivery of outcomes that we're seeking in that. So, hence, a five-year time frame, as opposed to the more regular annual report, which is around the operation of the particular schemes.

There we are. Fab. Moving on to food security, and apologies, Minister, I'm hogging the floor at the moment, but some feel that food security and food sovereignty need greater emphasis in the Bill's framework. I know that James mentioned previously how food security and sustainable food production made it onto the Bill after the consultations, but how do you respond to those concerns that food security and food sovereignty specifically need greater emphasis?

Well, both food security and food sovereignty can be tackled under the Bill, as highlighted by the first SLM objective. As I say, there's no hierarchy, but it is the first one and it absolutely focuses on the production of food and other goods in a sustainable manner. James referred before to—. And for me, that's the biggest change—from the very first consultation, whilst food did appear in the consultation, it wasn't as prevalent as it has been in further consultations and the White Paper. So, between that first objective, between this non-exhaustive list of purposes and the inclusion of ancillary activities, I think there are ample mechanisms to deal with any issues around food security and food sovereignty. 

Okay. Would you see any value in undertaking a food security assessment, per se, or at intervals to understand where we are?

Well, again, there's significant work done around food security and agriculture—being obviously very inextricably linked together. Obviously, international trade has an impact. I thought that George Eustice's comments were extraordinary this week, and I had long discussions with George on trade deals, but that is really important from a food security point of view, and I have discussions with all my UK counterparts in relation to this.

I think the aim of this Bill is really to create a framework that works for the agricultural sector in Wales and, in this context, the Bill absolutely supports food security specifically through the powers to support and through the sustainable land management objectives.

Diolch, Gadeirydd. If I can look at animal health and welfare briefly, the British Veterinary Association and RSPCA feel that animal welfare isn't given enough weight in the new agricultural framework, especially given the large proportion of livestock within the agricultural sector in Wales. And they've also pointed out as well the comparison between the agriculture Bill and the UK Agriculture Act 2020. In your view, how could it be strengthened?

Well, it's one of the 10 outcomes for the sustainable farming scheme—animal health and welfare—and that's obviously something that we're looking at as we develop the scheme. It's one of the purposes for which support can be provided through our power to provide support. Again, our approach to animal health and welfare is founded on the principles that are set out in our animal health and welfare framework, the framework implementation plan and the animal welfare plan. And where I want to focus is on prevention is better than cure—that one health principle. The main thing in relation to animal health and welfare, as I've already said, is obviously the banning of glue traps and snares, going forward, but I do think it is the thread that really runs through all of my policies.

10:15

RSPCA Cymru mentions specifically, in terms of the Agriculture Act 2020, the specific veterinary pathway scheme where farmers in England receive payments to get the vet on site and also capital costs in England to convert systems into higher welfare systems. Is that something that you would look to emulate?

Yes, that will be covered in the sustainable farming scheme.

And I'm just seeking as well your view on something the BVA proposed as well around the establishment of a UK-wide body to co-ordinate animal health and especially to tackle endemic disease and animal health and welfare challenges. Is that something you have an opinion on?

So, we've got the framework, and the animal health framework was the first framework that we actually fully developed after we left the European Union, and, obviously, all four UK Ministers agreed that. So, I think that framework probably would cover what the RSPCA—. Was it the RSPCA? The BVA, sorry—it was the BVA. I did have a discussion with them about that. I think that would be covered.

Diolch, Luke. I'll now bring in Vikki Howells. Vikki.

Thank you, Chair. Good morning, Minister. Some questions first of all on new entrants. We know that getting new entrants to come into farming has long been a concern here in Wales, and we did hear a suggestion that the Bill could place a duty on Government to include support for new entrants in the scheme design. Is that something that you've considered?

Yes, absolutely. We've set up a new entrants working group to explore the best way of providing support for new entrants. I think you're quite right; it's something I think Llyr and I worked on back in 2016. If we're going to have a vibrant agricultural sector, we obviously need new entrants, and that's not just people who have always been in the agricultural sector, but people who've come from a non-agricultural background also. So, I do think new entrants are something we absolutely should be supporting, going forward. So, we've got the new entrants working group. I don't think—. Has it met yet?

It's going to meet before Christmas. [Interruption.] Oh, we did have the first meeting at the royal Welsh. Sorry, yes.

In the winter fair.

The winter fair, yes. That's a week on Monday. We're having the first meeting, so it will be really interesting to see what ideas they come forward with, but I do think this is a specific area. And going back to the group I met with last week, they've got some fantastic ideas about how we can offer this support, so it will be good to hear from them.

Thank you. And county council smallholdings have often been a route-way for new entrants, and we heard calls there for the Bill to have powers for Ministers to scrutinise and sign off rural estate plans and any local authority proposals for farm disposals to ensure best value. With the economic climate that we've got now, this might be something that becomes, unfortunately, more prevalent, so do you see a role for Welsh Government in this process and should there be powers in the Bill?

So, we've always had a statutory duty. Welsh Ministers have always had a statutory duty in relation to the activities of local authorities and smallholdings. This is something I've specifically asked this new entrants working group to have a look at. It's not very strategic at the moment, I think it's fair to say. I have to have an annual report from local authorities about their smallholdings, and I think it is fair to say there isn't much of a strategic view across the whole of Wales. So, I have asked the working group to have a look at this and see how we can have a much more co-ordinated approach, really, across all the local authorities.

Okay, thank you. And I'll move on to snares now. Did you consider defining snares in the Bill, because we certainly found from our discussions with stakeholders that there have been some differences in opinions as to maybe what constitutes a snare?

We deliberately didn't define snares in the Bill, as the intent is a blanket ban on any device that fits the description of a snare or of a cable restraint. I think if we'd have defined snares, that could have created a loophole to avoid the ban, so we deliberately didn't do that. I think the wording of the Bill has been chosen and very, very carefully drafted to ensure that there are no intended consequences that would prevent the use of humane implements that, obviously, are used as well—the rescue poles, for instance, that the RSPCA use. Officials included 'cable restraints' in the definition as snare user groups use the term 'humane cable restraint' interchangeably with 'code-compliant snare'. We need to be very clear that they are exactly the same device and they're not different in any way. The code-compliant snare was developed 10 years ago and it's been used by the industry from just before I came into the portfolio actually—probably about seven years now. So, any claim that there have been recent developments in snare design making it more humane or more efficient have not been evidenced. We've asked to see that and, for me, there is no evidence that has persuaded me that's the case.

10:20

Thank you. My next question I was going to ask was whether you believe that the so-called humane cable restraints could be licensed for exceptional purposes that comply with the agreement on international humane trapping standards, but I think you've already answered that. 

Yes. I don't think that things have moved on enough. There's no evidence that's been presented to me and, I don't think, to officials. I'd just go back to what I said: it's identical in every way.

We did have one stakeholder who said that banning snares could compromise conservation projects and endanger priority species under section 7 of the Environment (Wales) Act 2016 and that that would then be a breach of the duty for Welsh Ministers to take all reasonable steps to maintain and enhance those species. What would be your response to that?

I suppose my response would be that we prefer to see a holistic approach to protecting animals—nesters, for instance—and that permitted means of killing is used only as a last resort. We've had a lot of conversations around this, going forward. We've got our code of practice on the use of snares in fox control, for instance, and that states snares must never be set where livestock could be caught or near an active badger set, for instance. So, I think it's really important that—. This can't be seen in isolation; you've got to look at everything that we've brought forward. But, I think, for me, this is absolutely the right place to ban the use of snares and glue traps.

So, to your mind, would those conservation projects still be able to operate but just using other means of capturing those animals?

Yes, absolutely. There is a suite of tools available for that.

Thank you. And other stakeholders that we spoke to were calling for a ban on the sale of snares as well as on their manufacture and possession. There was some concern that maybe the ban wouldn't be as effective if sale wasn't included. So, how would you respond to those arguments?

Thank you. So, we did look at this possibility when the Bill was being drafted—that we should extend the ban to include sale, possession and manufacture. But, as we all know, an unsophisticated snare can be fashioned with a variety of materials, so it wouldn't need to be an elaborate thing, really, would it, to be capable of trapping an animal. So, of course, then the enforcement difficulties come in, because then you'd have to ban the sale of wire, for instance. So, it would be very difficult, I think, to do that, but we did consider it.

Okay, thank you. One final question from me, then. A person guilty of an offence is liable to a maximum of six months' imprisonment or an unlimited fine under the Bill. We were wondering as a committee why you didn't use the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Act 2021 sentencing provisions.

That Act dealt with increasing penalties for offences under the Animal Welfare Act 2006. This Bill will create new offences under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, so I'm content that the punishment for those convicted of using a snare to capture a wild animal or using a glue trap would be in line with those of the Act, which, as you say, is imprisonment for a term not longer than six months or an unlimited fine. So, this offence really is to deal with the setting of snares and other cable restraints.

Thank you, Vikki. Before I bring in Luke Fletcher, Sam, you wanted to come in on this point.

Thank you, Chair. Minister, have you done any assessments around restoration projects—curlew restoration projects, for example, ground-nesting birds—as to what the removal of snares would do to the population numbers? Have any specific assessments made, or is it, as you mentioned in your answer to Vikki, that the holistic approach will see things just carry on as normal?

10:25

We did some work with—. Was it Curlew Action that we did some work with?

We looked at a project they'd had up in Scotland to make some assessment. I think about 90 cameras were set out on this project in Scotland. So, we sort of used that, going forward. Was it the Scotland one that found that the biggest destructor of nests was livestock? I think it was sheep, actually, going forward. I don't think we did any specific numbers, but we certainly looked at that project in Scotland.

Okay, because the concern was that those predators that have no natural predator will be able to continue, and if you're removing one of the holistic suite of regimes that you've got to control the population numbers, then that would have a detrimental impact on the restoration of species that we rightly want to see come back, like ground-nesting birds, et cetera. 

Yes. We certainly looked, as I say, at curlews, and we had a discussion with NRW around the use of snares to protect curlews from foxes, for instances. What came forward, I think, was that the most efficient method of fox control was rifles, with thermal imaging scopes at night, particularly during the winter and the early spring. 

When ground covering's less, because you can't shoot through dense grasses, et cetera. The thermal imaging won't work, so that's the justification. It can some in some parts of the year, but not other parts of the year, and if you're looking at the breeding seasons of some ground-nesting birds, that doesn't correlate with when rifles work.

No, but, as I say, there's a suite available. So, there's also various non-lethal methods to use to protect ground-nesting birds, such as scaring electric fences. Yes, electric fences.

Okay. Thank you, Sam. I'll now bring in Luke Fletcher. Luke.

Diolch, Cadeirydd. If I could move to glue traps, we had a number of stakeholders argue the point that there should be a licence for professional pest controllers to be able to use glue traps in high-risk situations, for example where there's a threat to public health and there's a need to deal with the situation rapidly—hospitals are an example of that. What would be your view on a licensing scheme?

Local authorities are happy with the ban that we're proposing and, obviously, they are probably at the fore—you mentioned hospitals, and schools—in relation to that. I think the evidence was very robust in relation to glue traps—that animal health and welfare standards couldn't be met. I go back to what I was saying previously, that there is an alternative suite of tools available for this. I recognise and I've heard of concerns in relation to this, but if local authorities are happy with the ban, and we've spoken to a lot of local authorities in relation to this, and they are absolutely at the fore of dealing with public buildings particularly, that was good enough for me, really, in the discussions I've had. No problems have been reported by pest control services; they all feel that they're able to capture rodents in different ways in all circumstances. 

Some of the evidence we collected was directly from pest controllers and their associations, who talked about some of the problems that they're having at the moment with some of those alternative methods. They're seeing an increase in trap shyness, for example, and poison resistance as well within the rodent population in the UK. So, you are confident, then, that the alternatives are good enough to be able to act rapidly in those situations where there's a risk to public health, for example?

I recognise what you're saying about rats. We did hear that when we were taking advice. But, no, I am content that there are enough other mechanisms available. One of the issues or one of the suggestions was around licensing. I've had discussions with DEFRA around this because they're currently designing a licensing system, but they're having some real issues in relation to it. We did look at whether we should have, as I say, a licensing regime for glue traps, but I do think what we're proposing is absolutely right for us here in Wales.

Can I just add that it was one of the options considered as part of the regulatory impact assessment of the Bill, having a licensing scheme? But I think some of the evidence we had back from organisations such as Rentokil, who are voluntarily not using these at the moment, and also the evidence back from local authorities, persuaded us that the preferred option would be to ban the use of them.

10:30

In gathering that evidence, then, was any assessment made of where glue traps had been used and how often they were being used in public health settings?

I think they haven't been used very often. Certainly in local authorities, they've not been used very often at all. 

Did you receive specific evidence around that? Because you said they hadn't been used very much. Did you receive specific evidence?

We did, but we can write with the details, perhaps. 

If you did, could you please pass on that evidence to us as a committee?

If I could just come back in on that quickly, because one of the issues that we did get from the pet—. Not pet, sorry; the pest controllers association—

I know, yes; that was quite a slip there. Some of the evidence that we received from them is that they themselves find it very difficult to monitor how many pest controllers are out there in the first instance. So, I just find it difficult as to how you would have been able to categorically say that you reflected that evidence. 

I know two of the local authorities who we took advice from did not use glue traps at all, so I'd be very happy to provide committee with a note in relation to that.

You mentioned local authorities. Can I ask about local health boards, the health sector and hospitals on the use of glue traps, and whether there was more evidence around that, or different evidence accordingly, given the health setting?

I personally didn't speak to any local health boards. Did you?

No, I don't think we did speak directly to the health boards, but we did speak to the contractors who often have their contracts to manage pests in those organisations. I mentioned Rentokil, which has a number of premises that you would identify as high-risk—health boards, schools, those types of things—and again, they have a policy of not using glue traps. 

Okay. That was a sort of blanket response on that. Given the health element of health settings, and the public health element of that, I know we wanted to potentially seek more evidence from Public Health Wales around the policy on this, just to knuckle down as to the use of it—whether it is more prevalent with one than another, or vice versa, or if you're saying, as Rentokil say, that it's just a blanket 'no'. 

Their policy is not to use glue traps already. 

Yes, please. Thank you very much. I'll now bring in Sarah Murphy.

Thank you, Chair. I'll ask some questions on the transitional support powers. We've heard mixed views on proposals to include a sunset provision to stop the CAP continuation powers being used indefinitely to ensure transition to the SFS. What are your views, and what could be the consequences of such a sunset provision?

We did consider the introduction of a sunset provision into the Bill, but I think we decided on balance that the Bill already contains the relevant powers to modify legislation relating to the common agricultural policy. We will exercise those powers when the sustainable farming scheme is ready, and obviously that won't be before 2025. 

Thank you very much. And secondly, how would you respond to a request for additional powers for Welsh Ministers to give consolidated basic payment scheme payments as a lump sum to assist with retirement from the industry?

I've no plans to introduce a lump sum to assist with retirement from the industry. I think what this Bill does is give Welsh Ministers powers to modify the basic payment scheme, which is obviously a very broad and very unlimited power. We could look at it as part of the sustainable farming scheme; I don't know whether that's come forward as an idea for SFS, but I certainly have no plans to do that. 

Just to add that DEFRA obviously proposed and run a scheme now in England, so we will look at the outcome and the results of that, the evidence that's generated from that, in terms of advising the Minister on any future schemes.

Diolch. I just wanted to ask a few questions about the third chapter and the intervention in agricultural markets because of exceptional market conditions. You've confirmed previously that that would relate to any large-scale business disruption that is obviously not the fault of the farmer—that those would be considered for intervention. Extreme weather events would be an obvious one, because we've had stakeholders wondering about drought and flood. Disease, I think, would be included, and economic phenomena that might impact on markets to a sufficient extent that you feel you need to intervene. But what we've also heard is that it shouldn't just cover acute hardship and those sudden events, but also more chronic, long-lasting issues—endemic disease or structural changes in agricultural markets. I'm just wondering whether those would be within the realm of exceptional market conditions. 

10:35

You gave some examples of what we mean in relation to exceptional market conditions. I suppose in relation to endemic diseases, we are already obligated, as you know, by the Animal Health Act 1981, to pay compensation for animals slaughtered, for instance, to prevent the spread of notifiable animal diseases—bovine TB, avian influenza, which we've seen horrendous outbreaks of this last year. So, that's already there. What we were thinking of were the things that you came up with. We've seen severe market disruption, haven't we, already in the last few years. But, yes, we can consider those. 

Just two points. The acute pressure is for Ministers to have a power to intervene for a period of three months, but they can, of course, have that as a rolling cycle, so if it did last longer than three months, it could be extended. I think the other thing to say is, obviously, Ministers have powers in the Bill more generally to support the sector, so if we are talking about, for example, a multi-year issue, Ministers could intervene using the powers of support generally that are provided through the Bill. 

Yes, because we could see, for example—. I mean, we've seen a huge increase in input costs—what if they were 10 times bigger? Then, obviously, you'd feel that that would qualify here. I suppose the longer it goes on, the less exceptional it is, in a sense, but that's a call you have to make in the there and then, I suppose. 

That was the thinking behind the three months, but as James said, that can be assessed. You need to have that—

Yes, because you need to be nimble in order to respond to events. 

Okay. Obviously, much of this section, I'm reliably informed, mirrors the UK Act. 

And this market distortion and implications in terms of the UK context in which we're operating, and beyond, has implications. The question has been asked around a requirement to consult with UK Ministers, but have you considered consultation mechanisms or ways of engaging with other administrations in the UK, for example?  

No, mainly because we've got the common framework. We've got the agricultural support provisional framework, which, again, going back to the animal health framework I referred to before, all four UK Ministers signed off. So, I think the mechanism is there. I don't think there needs to be something further. 

Diolch, Llyr. I'll now bring in Huw Irranca-Davies. 

In respect of agricultural tenancies, the Tenant Farmers Association describes the fact that tenancy provisions do not extend to farm business tenancies, FBTs, as a major omission. Their short-term nature, restrictive terms and high levels of rent mean that they need protection. You've told the committee that sufficient mechanisms are already in place. Can you explain why you feel that, why you disagree with the TFA on this?

We discussed this the last time I was in front of committee, because what we did was we sought feedback on this issue in the agriculture White Paper, and there was just no substantive evidence to suggest that provision should be extended to farm business tenancies. The Bill provides support for long-standing tenancies, and I think FBTs already have much greater freedom of contract to renegotiate them. So, we just did not see the evidence to support that at all. 

So, you don't agree that they feel particularly vulnerable with the FBTs themselves, because of the very nature of FBTs? 

No. I think we've already, under the current legislation, got provision for a general dispute resolution, for instance. So, I don't think any additional procedures really are necessary. 

Okay. Thanks for that. The definition of 'agriculture' in the Bill impacts only on the internal operation of this Bill. Did you look at any point at amending the definition of 'agriculture' that applies to agricultural tenancies in the Agricultural Holdings Act 1986? Because that could have a much wider implication, and could help tenants access the future scheme. 

10:40

Going back to the legislation you refer to, the definition of 'agriculture' in that Act is non-exhaustive, so we didn't consider it would act as a barrier to farmers being able to access.

My apologies to Huw and to Hefin. I should have called Hefin for this section, so apologies, Huw. Hefin would like to come in on this.

Incredibly well done from Huw Irranca-Davies there. Huw has asked some key questions I wanted to ask, and there clearly is a dispute here with the Tenant Farmers Association. But we've heard that you've set up a farm tenancy working group, which will inform Government amendments later on. Why is that coming so late—why not do that at the earlier stages?

The working groups have been set up in this part of the year, but that doesn't mean to say we haven't been taking evidence; I've had several meetings with the TFA, for instance. The working groups have been set up now to, obviously, help us not just with the Bill, but with the sustainable farming scheme as well.

Does that mean that some of the issues that Huw just raised could actually be brought in as amendments later, so that there is some hope for what the tenants association are asking for?

I mentioned that we hadn't seen the evidence to support the issue that Huw raised. I don't want to pre-empt, but the group could provide that evidence, in which case, 'yes', but if it doesn't, 'no'—if that makes sense.

Okay. So could we expect to see Government amendments on that?

I'm happy to look—. If I saw evidence, I could bring forward amendments, yes.

Can we just be clear about the evidence you're looking for?

Would you like me to—?

For me, it would be evidence that the FBTs—the farm business tenancies—have restrictive clauses that can prevent tenant farmers accessing support provided under the Bill.

Because, at the moment, we can't see any barriers to that. But if they came along with evidence that showed that that was the case, then obviously we would look at it.

Yes. I'm just concerned that this is a bit late in the day in terms of the work that this group is doing, because 30 per cent of farmers actually farm land in Wales that they don't own. It feels a bit like an afterthought. If we're talking about a third of farmers in Wales, then, surely, you should have included or incorporated this in the initial Bill, and not vaguely referred to possible amendments at some point.

Six working groups. It wasn't an afterthought—it was very much a part of that. And all the working groups have come together. They all started this summer. So it's not an afterthought at all. And as I say, we have continually taken—. Well, I've met with them, we've taken evidence from them, you've taken evidence from them. It's not an afterthought at all—absolutely not.

Specifically, it was a question consulted upon in the White Paper that was published as a precursor to the Bill.

But you're still expecting possibly to bring amendments in relation to this.

No. I said, if they could bring forward—.They've got to provide the evidence, which they haven't been able to provide up to now, and certainly, in the response to the White Paper that James has just referred to, there wasn't the evidence there.

Just on that point on the evidence, because tenancies haven't had to go through a scheme similar to this previously, that evidence will be thin on the ground. It won't be until this SFS potentially starts and then the disputes happen between the landlord and the tenants that that evidence will then come forward. So, is there a possibility of there not being that evidence now, per se, but it will be collated as soon as this becomes enacted?

The working group has specifically been asked to look at the proposed scheme and identify the specific barriers to enabling tenant farmers to access the scheme. So, that was the remit of the working group particularly. And obviously, one of the reasons for publishing the scheme in advance of the Bill was to have that conversation. Our assessment is that due to the flexibility provided by FBTs, which are much shorter contracts, have much more in form of contract, and also have general dispute resolution procedures, there shouldn't be any specific barriers, whereas with the AHA agreements, which are obviously long standing and can operate for generations, they operated under a very different time, so we could obviously see the barriers there.

So, I don't think there's an obvious correlation, perhaps, coming forward with evidence about the scheme, but if there is, there are two things that the Minister can do: she can take evidence on amending the Bill; or, indeed, change some of the conditions of the scheme, to enable farm business tenancies to access it. And one that's commonly been talked to us about since we published the scheme was the ability of tenant farmers to plant trees, for example. And we do understand that there are some restrictive clauses that will prevent tenant farmers from planting trees on the land that they farm, and that for me, that's a good example of where we would not change the legislation, but we would change the scheme to enable them to access a scheme, which has always been an absolute priority for the Minister.

10:45

Okay, because there could be some larger landscape changes to landlords' lands that they wouldn't necessarily be too aware of, because it's the farmer directly, it's the tenant who will be seeking the funding. So, it could be that the landlords, further down the line—. You've engaged with tenant farmers around the sustainable farming scheme, but given that it's the landlords who may have to give permission per se, that could be a pinch point in the future possibly.

Thanks. I'm not going to comment on the evidence issue, but what I would say about the legal position is that the 1986 Act is very differently drawn to the Agricultural Tenancies Act 1995, which created farm business tenancies. So, the reason we've made an amendment to the 1986 Act in the B