Pwyllgor yr Economi, Masnach a Materion Gwledig

Economy, Trade, and Rural Affairs Committee

27/10/2022

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Delyth Jewell MS Aelod o'r Pwyllgor Newid Hinsawdd, yr Amgylchedd a Seilwaith
Member of the Climate Change, Environment, and Infrastructure Committee
Hefin David MS
Jenny Rathbone 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

Andy Richardson Bwrdd Diwydiant Bwyd a Diod Cymru
Food and Drink Wales Industry Board
Anthony Geddes Confor
Confor
Gwyn Howells Hybu Cig Cymru
Hybu Cig Cymru
Jerry Langford Coed Cadw
Woodland Trust
Simon Wright Wright’s Independent Food Ltd
Wright’s Independent Food Ltd

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Angharad Roche Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk
Elfyn Henderson Ymchwilydd
Researcher
Gareth David Thomas Ymchwilydd
Researcher
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
Rhun Davies Ymchwilydd
Researcher
Robert Donovan Clerc
Clerk
Rosemary Hill Ymchwilydd
Researcher
Sara Moran Ymchwilydd
Researcher
Stephen Davies Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol
Legal Adviser

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 09:31.

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

The meeting began at 09:31.

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

Croeso i bawb i gyfarfod Pwyllgor yr Economi, Masnach a Materion Gwledig y Senedd. Dwi ddim wedi derbyn unrhyw ymddiheuriadau. Gaf i nodi ar gyfer y cofnod bod Llyr Gruffydd, Delyth Jewell a Jenny Rathbone, aelodau o'r Pwyllgor Newid Hinsawdd, yr Amgylchedd a Seilwaith, yn ymuno â ni heddiw? Gwahoddwyd nhw i ymuno â ni yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.49. Croeso cynnes ichi, ac rydym ni'n edrych ymlaen at gael eich cwmni chi heddiw yn y sesiynau yma. A oes unrhyw fuddiannau yr hoffai Aelodau eu datgan o gwbl? Sam Kurtz.

Welcome, everyone, to this meeting of the Senedd's Economy, Trade and Rural Affairs Committee. I haven't received any apologies. Could I note for the record that we will be joined today by Llyr Gruffydd, Delyth Jewell and Jenny Rathbone, members of the Climate Change, Environment, and Infrastructure Committee? They have been invited to join us in accordance with Standing Order 17.49. A warm welcome to you, and we're pleased to have your company during these sessions. Do any Members have any interests to declare? Sam Kurtz.

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

Symudwn ni ymlaen, felly, i eitem 2, sef papurau i'w nodi. Mae yna ddau bapur i'w nodi. A oes unrhyw faterion hoffai Aelodau eu codi o'r papurau yma o gwbl? Nac oes. 

We'll move on to item 2, papers to note. There are two papers to note. Are there any issues to raise from these papers? No. 

3. Bil Amaethyddiaeth (Cymru): Sesiwn Dystiolaeth 5
3. Agriculture (Wales) Bill: Evidence session 5

Symudwn ni ymlaen, felly, i eitem 3, sef sesiwn dystiolaeth ar Bil Amaethyddiaeth (Cymru). Dyma bumed sesiwn dystiolaeth y pwyllgor yn trafod egwyddorion cyffredinol Bil Amaethyddiaeth (Cymru). Rŷn ni heddiw yn clywed tystiolaeth yn ymwneud â'r gadwyn cyflenwi bwyd. Gaf i groesawu'r tystion i'r sesiwn yma? Gaf i ofyn iddyn nhw gyflwyno eu hunain i'r record yn gyntaf, a wedyn gallwn ni symud yn syth i gwestiynau? Efallai allaf i ddechrau gydag Andy Richardson. 

We'll move on, therefore, to item 3, namely an evidence session on the Agriculture (Wales) Bill. This is the fifth evidence session considering the general principles of the Agriculture (Wales) Bill. We're taking evidence today relating to the food supply chain. Could I welcome the witnesses to the session? Could I ask them to introduce themselves for the record and then we'll proceed on to questions? Maybe I'll start with Andy Richardson. 

Good morning, everybody. I'm Andy Richardson. My daily job is working for Volac, a dairy nutrition business, but I chair the food and drink board for Wales. I apologise for my informal nature today; I'm on holiday in north Wales. So, thank you for the opportunity. 

Thank you for joining us while you're on holiday. We appreciate that very much. Simon Wright.

Hi, I'm Simon Wright, I'm a director of Wright's Food Emporium in Llanarthne, Carmarthenshire, and I'm director of food and rural economy with the University of Wales Trinity St David. I apologise for my informality—this is how I dress all the time. [Laughter.]

Bore da. Diolch, Gadeirydd. Gwyn Howells, chief executive of Hybu Cig Cymru/Meat Promotion Wales, a Government-sponsored body charged with the development and promotion and marketing of Welsh lamb, Welsh beef and pork from Wales. 

Thank you very much indeed for those introductions and thank you for being with us this morning. Perhaps I can just kick off this session just by asking a fairly general question. You'll know from the Bill that the Welsh Government has used the United Nations definition for 'sustainable land management'. Do you agree with that definition, because we know that some organisations, such as the National Farmers Union, for example, has suggested that perhaps they should be using the World Bank definition? So, perhaps if I can start with Andy Richardson: do you agree with the definition in the Bill?

Yes, broadly I do. I think the key thing that we need to be careful isn't missing is resilient supply chains. I think the definitions are fine and, ultimately, you can make them sound how you want to, but the key thing is we need to make sure that whatever we set up sets up a system that is part of a resilient supply chain for Welsh food and drink—indeed, UK food and drink. 

Yes, I'm broadly happy with them. I think the definitions are really important, because what we need to make sure within the Bill is that we are defining a direction of travel. I think the UN definition is preferable, to me, to the World Bank definition, I think, which is very utilitarian and extractive and doesn't, I don't think, appreciate the intrinsic value of nature. I think that the key thing here, with the Bill as a whole, with these definitions, is that we shouldn't be looking for the ones that allow us to get closest to business-as-usual. This is a process of change and of transition and that direction of travel needs to be defined within the Bill and the definitions need to do that job.

09:35

Diolch, Cadeirydd. Can I just deviate a bit and suggest that, whilst definitions, both of which are noted, are probably fine, I think there's a missed opportunity? This is a Welsh agriculture Bill and I think we need to have some connection with the people that the Bill affects and is for, and I think the words, 'Welsh people', 'Wales' and 'industry and supply chain for Wales' are all missing. So, my challenge, I think, would be: let's define our own definition to put on the front of the Bill, because I think it's really important to have that vision. And then, from the vision flows everything that comes within the Bill. So, I think that's what I'd like to see. Not that I'm decrying any of the two definitions, but I think we should have our own definition.

And should the definition be on the face of the Bill, in your opinion?

Yes, absolutely, I think so.

Yes. Simon and Andy, do you believe that the definition should be on the face of the Bill? Simon.

I do. We have done work in this area in terms of the Environment (Wales) Act 2016, so, to me, some of these things are defined within the Environment (Wales) Act. And I think, again, in the interest of consistency and linking things together, which is always important, we should be looking at those definitions as well. And I take Gwyn's point in terms of making it specific to Wales as well.

Yes, I would say 'ditto'. I think the only word of warning I would have, and maybe it's going slightly off piste for this bit, is we must make sure that we don't give Wales competitive disadvantage by what we do. In other words, we should constantly remember what our place is within the UK, the EU and the world. So, it's absolutely important to have Wales centre in the crosshairs of what we're doing—I totally agree with what Gwyn is saying—but it's just to make sure that we don't give Wales competitive disadvantage in what we set up.

Diolch, Cadeirydd. Good morning, panel. Gwyn, to start with you, on the four sustainable land management objectives underpinning the Bill, do you feel that these are appropriate? Would you strengthen any of them or add to them at all?

I think, probably, they are appropriate. I think I would make the point that they are—. Probably what doesn't come out is that they can be read as individual four objectives and I think there needs to be some understanding or interpretation that they are interdependent on each other. And I think that probably needs to be understood, otherwise there is a danger that they aren't moved or seen in concert with each other, and I think that's really important. Perhaps I would, on the first one—. And I think it does reflect the three legs of the milking stool, if you like, of sustainability, economic activity, societal gains and, obviously, environmental enhancement. One leg doesn't work without the other, and I think that sort of coming together in terms of the objectives is quite important.

What I perhaps would add is, maybe, on the first one, we've got, 

'to produce food and other goods in a sustainable manner.'

Yes, that's fine, but maybe we need to refer to food and fibre production as well, which leads to economic activity, and those two words 'economic activity' are not captured there. Economic activity is the gateway to all of these objectives happening, because if it's not viable economically, it is very, very difficult, if not impossible, to achieve these objectives. So, that would be my addition as well as, possibly—and I think it's got to be futureproofed for what we know now and in the future—resilience on food security and our ability to produce food not only for our nation, but for other parts of the world as well, given our very advantageous temperate climate and sustainability credentials already, and I'm talking about Welsh lamb and Welsh beef production here. Therefore, we start from a good place, and therefore I think we have almost a duty also to produce food not only for our own, but for others who will be under challenging conditions producing food in the future. So, I'd like to see that part strengthened. It's objective 1 I'm referring to, Chair.

09:40

Again, I think it's about definitions. I agree with Gwyn totally that we need to treat these things together rather than individually; we have to take everything together. I think the economy issue is important, and I do think that's kind of missing from here. I think it needs to be carefully defined, though, what we mean by 'economy' and the benefits that come from that part of the economy in terms of community prosperity. We should be concentrating on those aspects to which we're already committed in policy terms—the circular economy, foundational economy, the health of the rural economy in particular—and that needs to be definitely considered alongside those other objectives.

I think, also, it's arguable that health is missing from this, because increasingly we know how closely related the nature of our food production is to people's health. We know of the challenges we're facing in terms of diet-related disease, and the way in which our food is produced is absolutely crucial to that. The evidence for that is becoming clearer by the day and it's going to become clearer, so I think it would be prescient to be including health as an objective within that—producing nutritional food.

I take Gwyn's points in respect of the economy, and I agree with a lot of that. In terms of food security—and I'm sure we'll come on to this—we do need to be concentrating on what we can produce within the nation, its diversity, and how that is distributed within the nation in terms of local supply chains.

Thank you for the question. I think there are three things. Broadly speaking, I think the objectives are fine. I think, on the first point, about sustainability, we all fall into the trap of just saying, and I'm reading it here:

'produce food...in a sustainable manner'.

The danger is it's a cliché, and I think we need to try to be crystal clear what we mean by 'produce food in a sustainable way'. So, I would just say we need to pull that out a little bit.

The second point is about resilience. It's a little bit what the previous people have just said, but it's in a different context. So, the one thing that we've learnt through Brexit, COVID and Ukraine is the importance of resilient supply chains. And I know we're talking about land management here—I appreciate that, and the scope is land management—but our land management does depend on really stable, secure and resilient supply chains. So, if there's one request I could have it's whether we could build resilience and resilient supply chains into this in some way.

The final point, if I may please just make, is that I think what's missing here is that some of these objectives are quite nebulous; they're not wrong, but what would be great is that we could build a picture of what success looks like in 10 years' time. So, could we try to find a way of saying, 'Look, in 10 years' time, or whatever it is—15—this is what Welsh land management would look like'? I think that will help people engage much better in it.

So, those were my three points. Thank you.

Thank you, Andy. Moving on, then, in terms of the powers of the Welsh Ministers—whomever they may be—in monitoring and reporting duties in Part 1, are these sufficient to give an overall picture of progress on the sustainable land management objectives? And I'll come back to you, Andy, because you made the point about a 10, 15-year possible vision of that.

Yes. I mean, on one side, I'm always inclined to say, 'Look, for every objective, you've got to have really smart, measurable things you're going to achieve.' So, on one side, I think we just need one measure for each of those objectives. On the other side, I'm thinking that may not be enough. So, I'm not sure 100 per cent I can answer your question. I just think it goes back to what you've said there, of, 'Let's think about what we want to achieve in 10 years' time and set our measures to deliver those, rather than fall into the trap of setting what I would call the cliché measures that deliver these four that we've identified.' Does that answer your question?

09:45

I agree with Andy in terms of the long-term vision. I think this is something that—. Look, I very much welcome this Bill and the sustainable farming scheme that comes underneath it. But we're still, I think, in danger. We don't have a clear vision of the direction of travel and where we want to end up, and this is causing us difficulties, even when we're discussing things like the agriculture Bill. Because we don't have that vision, we tend to get divisions that I don't think would be there otherwise. We've talked about all the considerations and the goals and how we need to bring them together, but do we actually have a vision for how we're going to do that?

We've got to remember here we're talking about supply chains, the global food system, the nature of the global food economy. If we've learned anything from the past three or four years it's that it's almost impossible to predict how that is going to look in six months' time, let alone 10 years' time. But we do know that it's becoming increasingly unstable. For me, therefore, the key objective has to be resilience. We need to visualise what the Welsh food system should look like. In my view, we need to bring control of it home as far as we possibly can, because that is the safest and most resilient thing to do. I think, if we're looking for lessons, we can look at the energy sector and say, 'Well, looking back, 20 years ago, when we were making arguments that renewables were too expensive and that the market didn't work for them at the time, that looks like a pretty daft argument now.' So, we've got to be bold here, and I think Andy's absolutely right that we've got to set that direction of travel down. In terms of what the Minister—. I've got to say, reading this, it did seem fairly nebulous to me, and it will be nebulous if we are trying to measure something and we're not actually sure where we're trying to get. I think that's the key element here.

Thank you. I think this is, after all, a framework, and the monitoring framework gives Ministers that ability. However, taking up Andy's point earlier on in terms of vision, it's really important that we understand where we start from. So, what is the strategic vision for the Bill and any schemes that are under the Bill, and then how are we going to measure those in a meaningful way, setting KPIs? Not an easy task, and maybe that's not designed to be in the Bill, but I think there is a challenge there to understand what are the desired outcomes, how are we going to achieve them and how are we going to measure them.

A word of caution: it would be very easy to have lots of measurements and find it difficult to get the data to evidence any change. What I'm trying to say is let's not overcomplicate the KPIs, but get them evidence based on data collation and interpretation. But I don't profess to have the answer, because, obviously, we don't know what the schemes are going to be. So, it's quite difficult, actually, to think of the KPIs now, without knowing what the schemes are going to be. So, I think it's in abeyance of knowing what the schemes will be.

And then making sure that the agri Bill has the facility within that to—

Absolutely. I think that's what we could do at this point.

Thank you, Sam. Before I bring in Luke Fletcher, Jenny, you just want to come in on this point.

I just wanted to pick up on the points that Simon was making about resilience, because some of the witnesses we've got coming in later on this morning, in their written evidence, have talked about the need to not just maintain and enhance the resilience of our ecosystems, but also to restore the ones that have degraded, the soils that are exhausted. I just wondered if you thought that we needed to suggest an amendment to include the word 'restore', or some other word that addresses that point. Simon.

Yes, I agree, Jenny. I'd noted that as well. I think that's a really important part of it, and it's missing at the moment.

09:50

Diolch, Cadeirydd. If I could look at support for agriculture and ancillary activities in my line of questioning. The power to provide support extends to ancillary activities in the Bill. What do you think that support would look like and have any of you received any details from Welsh Government at all on this? I'll start with perhaps Gwyn on this one.

I think it's a good idea to have ancillary industries as part of the Bill. I think that's crucial because we are talking about, in the main, food production, environmental goods, societal goods. It's more than one sector's responsibility. I think that joined-up thinking is fine, as long as it has this balanced approach, going back to the objectives, that each one is treated with the same degree of importance, if you like. I think that's crucially important. I think we've got to get it right for just the dimensions of our agri and food industry—you know, £8.5 billion-worth of revenue, 0.25 million employed; we've got to get this right for everybody and for all supply chains, end to end. That is crucially important. 

What I would say in terms of one section I looked at in the ancillary activity, section 8, is it talks about maximising carbon sequestration and storage, but seems not to mention the management of existing carbon stores, for example, in woodland, peatland, grassland and so forth. Maybe that needs to be just tidied up to recognise that we already have significant carbon stores and therefore we need to add to those as well.

I think the viability, again, in terms of the ancillary industries is crucial in terms of looking after the whole supply chain and getting some balance in terms of economic activity, because one is dependent on the other, hence why the economic activity for rural Wales is crucially important in all of this.

Yes. Again, what Gwyn said at the end there is really important. I'm not sure that 'ancillary' is really the right word, in a way. It makes it sound like this is divorced from the overall approach. I think 'complementary' would be a better word. Because what we're talking about here is creating the right legislative economic context for agriculture to be able to fulfil these objectives, but also to survive and thrive economically. That's the purpose of these ancillary aspects. I think it's important that they're not seen as divorced. I know that there's some comment about how many resources will be given to ancillary and how many will be given directly to farmers, but it's part of the same picture. What we're trying to do is create an economically sustainable environment for this going forward. So, I think that's quite important.

I think also, one thing I would be concerned about here, and I'm referencing 20 years of experience of looking at the activity that we have undertaken in this ancillary area in relation to food, is that we're very clear again on what are the objectives here and what is going to work and that we're not just handing out resources to say, 'We need to help people with branding.' What's the framework for this? Sometimes, I think when we look at things like marketing, we think about branding, et cetera, but there are other ways of thinking about this. We can give money to promoting Welsh products, but at the same time we could be giving some more of that money to putting those products on the public plate, which is a very good form of marketing, in my view, in the long term in itself. It's again about having a strategic approach to this and it not being piecemeal, in my view. 

Yes. Just to add, I agree with what Gwyn and Simon have said, the only thing I would say is the question I have in my mind is: what is it going to take to have a successful land management scheme going forward? For me, it comes back to this point of resilient supply chains. I'll give an example, if I may. We know that, in Wales, one of the challenges that we have is access to cost-effective green energy. So, one of those sources might be biomass, for example. So, if that were the case, then we need to make sure that we encourage the growing of forestry trees, et cetera, sustainable forestry management, to supply the biomass energy market in Wales, which will then supply a successful supply chain, manufacturing, whatever. So, it's just one of example of how I think that it's about resilient supply chains and comes back to what the purpose of this scheme is. Thank you.

09:55

Thanks, Andy. Thinking about the list of purposes for which support may be provided under section 8, I'd be interested in some of your views on that. Perhaps I'll go in the reverse order this time and start with Andy, if that's okay.

Yes. Could you just remind me which ones you're referring to there? I've got a pile of paper on my desk.

So, the list of purposes where support can be provided, which is under section 8. So, that would be Part 2, Chapter 1 and 2.

Okay. I think it's important—. Again, I would come back to the industries and the supply chains that land management need to be dependable on. It's kind of difficult to answer. I think they're fine, I don't think there's a problem with them, but I'll just come back to this resilient supply chains, and I think we need to look at this through the lens of those, to answer the question that you're talking about. It just worries me enormously that we're looking at land management in isolation with this Bill. We need to think about these supply chains. So, it's half an answer, but I do believe it's important.

I would agree. Simon, is there anything you'd like to add additionally, or Gwyn?

Well, I agree again with Andy that we've got to see it through that lens. I think, with the list of purposes—. I don't know. We need to make sure that that doesn't exclude things that we might want to do. We're looking at the barriers to local supply chains here, and supply chain issues as a whole, so I think it's important that we allow flexibility within that. I'm attracted to the idea that education should be in there. Again, I believe education is a very strong form of marketing, and we should think more about that, when we're looking at how we're going to feed ourselves going forward. Like many things in this area, you can have one solution to several different, big challenging questions, and education is the answer to quite a lot of questions in terms of the challenges we face in nutrition, why are we doing these things in terms of climate and nature, but also in defining the market in Wales for the future in terms of what we're consuming.

Thank you, Simon. I agree, in terms of education, I think it's vitally important going forward around food. The Nature Friendly Farming Network also raised that point with us. Gwyn, is there anything additional you'd like to add, before I move on to my next question?

In terms of eligibility for support, given that public moneys will be spent, it's really important to have value for money and to understand what the definition is to start with and what the outcomes would be.

I think the Bill, obviously, is very, very crucial to the rural industry, and the food industry indeed, and society generally. I think the Bill must ensure that the investment made reaches and delivers on the priorities of the vision that we started with in the Bill, because it is a watershed moment for Wales. We've been operating under the European regime for half a century, and before that under the Agriculture Act 1947, and therefore this is a real watershed moment, and we have to define what we want to achieve and spend the money in a way that reaches the outcomes that we need, but do so in a diligent matter. And I think we mustn't forget active farmers and others in the processing supply chain, including the consumers, in terms of education and information. It's crucially important. And I think, obviously, that will come in the schemes, but the provision needs to be there, and the direction needs to be there, in the Bill to start off with.

Thanks, Gwyn. We have touched quite a few times on the definition of ancillary activities and what we actually mean by this in previous answers, but I wanted to give an opportunity for any further comments, because NFU Cymru and FUW have provided evidence where they argue that that definition is far too broad. They would argue that the funding could be directed away from active farmers, and I'd just be seeking any additional views on that point. I can see Andy's indicating he wants to come in.

10:00

Thank you. I think the one thing that we haven't mentioned yet, and hopefully its in the scope of what you referred to, is the role of innovation. I'm absolutely passionate that we have to be at the forefront of innovation in Wales. Now, whether that's innovation in the way we manage our land, we manage our supply chains or the food products that we make, I have an anxiety that we haven't covered innovation enough in this Bill, and I suspect it may come under the section you're referring to.

I think in a way there's a false dichotomy with that argument in terms of directing money away from farmers, because what we're trying to do here is create a resilient system for the future, so it's all directed at farmers and it's all directed at the public. And how that's balanced is obviously a question for the future and a question for the detail and a question for cost-benefit analysis. But I think it's important, as I said earlier, not to separate these things out. They need to be part, they are part, of the same picture. So, for me, it's not a question of whether we're giving money directly to the farmers or whether we're giving money to manifest a more resilient system as a whole; they're two parts of the same thing.

Very, very quickly, and I mentioned before, given it's a land management scheme, I think active farmers have to be central to that scheme. I think that goes without saying, but it needs to be specified.

Grêt. Diolch yn fawr. Nôl i ti, Cadeirydd.

Great. Thank you very much. Back to you, Chair. 

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

Thank you, Chair. Good morning to all our witnesses. The first question I'm going to ask has been a thread, really, through all of your answers today, but I make no apologies for asking it again because it's such an important one. I just wanted to make sure that there's nothing else you wanted to add on it. My first question is whether you feel that the Bill sufficiently addresses food security and also how it can address food sovereignty. 

Well, I think, yes, not to repeat boringly what I mentioned earlier on, I don't think it probably does at the moment, and I think there's room for some tweaking to actually ensure that we have food security at the heart of it. Whilst we don't want to go into the debate about whether food production is a public good or not, I think it evidently is given the geopolitical climate that we have seen, certainly over the past few months, and how things might change in the future. So, I think it's incumbent on us now in having a framework like this to not ignore that, but put that as a centrepiece of saying, 'Yes, we want to feed the nation that we are accountable to, and food security is absolutely part of that.' There might be themes around that, in terms of what that food offering looks like, but it has to be a centrepiece.

I agree with Gwyn again. I think he's absolutely right there, and I think that we need to talk about food security in its widest sense. Food sovereignty—we talked about resilience. It's about control and security for our nation going forward. I do think that we've got to be clear about what that means. The UK food security report, I think it was last year, identified the biggest threat to food security as being climate change and the nature emergency, so if we don't deal with those things, we're not dealing with food security.

We also then need to look at the nature of what we produce now and what we actually consume, which in Wales are largely two different things at the moment. That's not going to change overnight, but if we're going to look at food security and sovereignty going forward, then it's inevitable that we have to look at what we're producing, and we have to plan for transition. I think, in fact, for me, one of the most important things in this whole process is that what we're looking at is managing change here. There is going to be change—there has to be change—and managing it is the responsibility that we have. If we don't do that, we know what the consequences of that are. We didn't manage change from coal, and we're still paying the price for that 50 years on. That's what this is about.

One thing I would mention in that respect is that we need to have special regard for horticulture in that respect, because we desperately need to increase the amount of horticulture production on a sustainable basis, and we have massive opportunities, in my view, in that area. We're seeing quite interesting changes to the structure of the market in that respect, especially when we're looking at the cost of inputs at the moment. I'll just give you a small example. I'm not trying to advertise my establishment, but during the summer some of the organically produced fruit and veg that we were selling was comparable to mid-priced stuff in Tesco. That's never been the case before. And that's because the price at which we were purchasing from our local suppliers who we have long-standing relationships with didn't go up in the same way that other more input-dependent produce did. 

10:05

I think it's a great question. From my perspective, I think we just need to take a backward step and say that as we went through Brexit and COVID our supply chains were very tight at times. The challenge we have is that we've always got through, and I wouldn't wish Governments in Wales or the UK to assume that things are always going to be okay. Supply chains were and can be extremely tight. So, that's the first point I'd like to raise. And that's reinforcing your point, Vikki, that it's part of this work. 

I think we need to look at two things here. One is the actual raw materials themselves like grain and sugars or whatever, and then, secondly, the enablers to produce those, like fertiliser, seed, et cetera. I think also one thing that's been missed here, which may be a hot potato, is our land use. So, how do we use our land? Not for now, but I can send a report on to you. There was some work done by the University of Cambridge's Institute for Sustainability Leadership. What it basically said was that if you added up all conflicting requirements for our land in the UK, we do not have enough land to give us food security going forward. And I think the concern I have is there's an assumption that we'll always get through, and that may not be the case going forward. 

The second point I wanted to raise was that we in Wales and in the UK are very focused on exports. That's right—it's all part of balance of payment—but we also need to think about how we consider our imports. So, the question is: are we clear about what imports we want to prioritise, not just for our food security, but so that we can add value to them as exports form Wales later on? Thank you. 

Thank you. That was really useful, and my follow-up question is linked to that. RSPB Cymru have said in evidence to us said that there should be a duty on the Welsh Government to undertake regular food security assessments, including identifying opportunities for Welsh sustainable food producers. So, I'd just like to gather your thoughts on that suggestion, please.

I think that's a good idea. I think we need to understand our levels of production at any given time, and how we need to incentivise, or not as the case may be, going forward. Supply chains are absolutely global now, as we've seen in the last three years, and they can change very, very quickly. And I think for our consuming public, the Bill also needs to protect them in terms of good, nutritious, affordable food, and that comes from the land in most part. I think we've absolutely got to be on that page to actually produce the best food possible, the safest food possible from Wales. 

I think it was Andy who touched on international trade deals; are we coming on to that, Chairman? I think there are, obviously, challenges to some of the trade deals, but there are opportunities as well. As Andy mentioned earlier on, in terms of Welsh lamb and Welsh beef, we are somewhat export orientated in terms of our offering, in order to balance the carcass and balance the value of the carcass. And I repeat again: we have a temperate climate; even though the world is warming, we still can produce grasslands all year round. And therefore, we are in a very, very favourable position worldwide. Our sustainability figures on beef and lamb production are probably the best on the planet, if not very close to being the best on the planet. We start from a very good place, and I think we mustn't ever forget that.

10:10

I think it's a good idea, as long as we know what we're looking for in terms of measuring that, and the definitions around food security and food sovereignty. So, of course, we need to monitor those things. We've got to remember here the scale of the challenge and the interconnected nature. This is the thing that worries me most—that we are not doing enough joining up here. The challenges that we face in food, on climate and nature, we know what they are and we know how extreme they are, but there's also the nutritional challenges that we're facing. There's the food security issue: can we actually feed the nation? And as Andy pointed out, we are looking at a situation—. There are serious academics who study this who think that we could encounter food rationing even this winter, but certainly in the years coming up. So, these issues couldn't be more serious. And we have, coupled to that, the decades-long decline of the rural economy in Wales as well and all that's meant for communities. We have to deal with these things together. So, when we're talking about setting targets and monitoring, what worries me more is: do we have an overarching strategy for food and farming, given how important it is—there's nothing more important than being able to feed the nation, surely—that joins up these different elements of policy? And Andy's referred to it as well, in terms of land use management; there are other pressures on the land, so you have to take those into account. But all the other areas of Government policy—education, health—have to be tied in to our vision of a food system for the future, in my view, or we don't have a vision.

Andy, would you like to come in on this very, very quickly?

Yes, really, really quickly. Firstly, I totally agree with it—I think it's really important to do, but I'd just be careful about keeping it too simplistically. I've seen these done before, where you look at things such as oil; sunflower oil—we need sunflower oil, we know the situation in Ukraine, therefore we need to look for alternatives. That's fine, but it's deeper than that, and it's the enablers that I was talking about that we need to think about: where you get your fertiliser from, the grass seed, energy security. So, it's as much the enablers for your supply chain as it is the actual food groups themselves. Thank you.

Thank you, Andy. Thank you, Vikki. I will bring in Jenny Rathbone. Can I just ask you to be as succinct as possible? Time is marching on, so, if everybody could be as succinct as possible, I'd appreciate that very much. Jenny.

Thanks very much. Simon was talking about the management of change, and given that the second objective of this Bill is to mitigate and adapt to climate change, I was interested to read that the 'State of Climate Action' report for this year, which was published yesterday, which has obviously got COP27 in Egypt in its sights, is suggesting that meat eating must shrink to just the equivalent of two burgers a week. That, obviously, implies huge management of change in the way we farm and use our land. I just wondered whether that was clear enough in the Bill, and, if not, how we need to amend it.

Amend what, sorry, Jenny?

Well, let me take you back to the Climate Change Committee report, which suggested, as its advice to Ministers, to reduce, for the benefit of climate change and carbon, meat eating and dairy product eating by 25 per cent. I think that that needs to be challenged, because there is no human nutrition or medical advice to support that, and I think it could be very, very dangerous. I think there's some work done by very eminent academics, which will be published in The Lancet very shortly now that challenges that. So, I think we've got to be careful, because we're conflating two things, Jenny, I think: we're conflating the need to adapt to climate change and to improve what the world does, but you're conflating, in that article, human health and nutrition—they are two different things and shouldn't be conflated in that way.

10:15

I'm just quoting the 'State of Climate Action' report, which is obviously produced by a bunch of eminent climate scientists. But I think it brings us back to this whole issue of food security and the management of change. Because we know that the food that we used to import from Europe isn't arriving in the same quantities, and there is a shortage of fruit and vegetables in the wholesale markets, and it's really how much of that is—. Is there a need to clarify that these are some of the things we are talking about? Spain is running out of water; we have loads of water, thank goodness, and we are going to therefore be a very good place to be growing food.

I wouldn't disagree with you at all; I think we need to look at the balance of the offering, given our temperate climate, which is also probably changing. But I think, yes, there is room to actually grow more crops and vegetables and fruit, as you suggested, but that's notwithstanding the fact that most of the topography of Wales lends itself to grassland farming and not crops. One size doesn't fit all, Jenny, does it, and I think we have to have the realisation that that is the case. But, certainly, in some areas, on grade 3 land and above, yes, obviously, there are opportunities to fill gaps in the marketplace—and there will be gaps in the marketplace, both now and in decades to come—and farmers and others in Wales will have the opportunity to adapt to do that. And I suspect if you went back 50 years ago, there was more of that done on farms in Wales because of necessity of rationing, post war.

In the context of your anxiety, which I appreciate is reflected by the NFU and the FUW, that newly established trade deals may have serious implications for our farming industry, nevertheless, we all have our net-zero targets that we need to meet, and one of the ways that we need to change is the type of food we eat, because food is the biggest contributor to carbon emissions by individual households, who themselves can't affect the way we run our industries. But, in terms of individual choices by households, it is the biggest contributor to carbon emissions by households.

I'm not sure if I agree with you on that, because there's heating, transport and leisure activities as well.

Well, I would argue that with you, but we won't go into the detail of that.

Perhaps, Simon, would you like to come in? I think I can see, Simon, you perhaps indicated you'd like to come in on this.

It is a question of balance, and it's a question of having a plan. I think this is what we're coming back to: what is that balance, what should that balance be, what are we working towards in that respect? I take some of what Gwyn says in respect of red meat. Certainly, in terms of impact in climate and nature, I'd much prefer that we were eating beef and lamb than we were eating industrially produced chicken and pork, and that would be true from a nutritional point of view as well. We should be doing something about that on the public plate, where we consume huge amounts of very poor chicken at the moment. So, for me, it's about that planning, and that's what we're lacking here at the moment. This is a very important Bill, but I just don't feel that we have a framework to define how this is going to operate, and therefore, we're having problems setting objectives and definitions.

10:20

Very quickly, a couple of points on that, Jenny. Firstly, I would say, beware of unintended consequences. So, if you take dairy, for example—one thing we do in Wales extremely well, for a number of reasons—globally, it's about 3.5 kg of carbon per litre, globally. In the UK, it's about 1.5 kg of carbon to make a litre, and it can get as low as 0.6 kg, and that is lower than some what we call 'alternative milk products'. So, I know that this isn't a technical briefing, but I think the principle of that is that we need to be really careful about how we judge things.

The second point is you mentioned there about free trade agreements and, Jenny, you talked about maybe having less from the EU. So, I think it's really important that, in Wales, we need to really understand which trade deals are important to us. We need to really understand the relevant chapters, the innovation, the intellectual property protection, the standards, and really leverage those so we understand where we've got competitive advantage, be that commercially or environmentally. Thank you.

The point I was trying to drag out, I think, was that the carbon emissions in food also includes the transporting that's locked into it. So, the price of a pineapple at the moment doesn't reflect the carbon emissions. It's not a basic part of our diet, but it applies to all sorts of other food as well, including exports—other countries may need to re-evaluate what they're eating coming from other countries.

If I could say one thing—

Just very, very briefly, then we'll have to move, on I'm afraid.

Very briefly. I agree with you. I think we must ensure in this Bill that we don't export our emissions elsewhere and then import the food back in. That's the crucial point.

Absolutely. Okay. Completely agree on that. So, just finally, really, do you think that this Bill should oblige Welsh Ministers to undertake impact assessments of future trade deals, even though we don't have devolved powers to sign trade deals?

Well, yes. It's a reserved matter, as you're alluding to, for Westminster Government. And I think it would be nice to have a better dialogue than we have had hitherto with the Australian and New Zealand deal. Because, whilst there are opportunities in some of the trade deals, like Japan, and there will be others on their way, there are also impacts that we need to manage, from a Welsh agricultural point of view, on some of the trade deals and the futureproofing of trade deals. So, I think, my plea to both Governments, or certainly the Westminster Government, would be to engage with Welsh Ministers on trade deals, even though it's a reserved matter. But I think it would be courteous to do so.

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

Thank you, Chair. Thank you, all, for being here today. Just a quick question from me, and it's about the collection and sharing of data. In your opinion, how far are the provisions on collection and sharing of the data appropriate and proportionate? And do you foresee any issues? Who would like to come in?

A quick answer: I think the sharing of data is essential. The problem is how do you do it, because there is some data that people are happy to share, and some data that gives people competitive advantage. So, I think it's a great idea and it's essential for innovation and continual improvement, but we have to nail how to share that more confidential information.

I just think it's important, when we're doing this kind of thing, that we have due regard that it's not disproportionately burdensome on small to medium sized enterprise, new entrants, smaller businesses and smaller farms. I know that this affects every area of our economy, and sometimes, I don't think we have enough regard for—. It's very easy for large companies, large businesses to bear this admin; sometimes, it's not so easy for smaller ones.

I think it is very useful, and I think the approach is fine. I think delivery of the approach is difficult with general data protection regulation provisions, for example, and maybe the provision of third party involvement in some of the measurements or the data collection. I think that could be problematic. It's one to resolve, really, as opposed to—. I think, the theory and the principle behind it are fine. How it is done is the key.

10:25

I'll ask my question very quickly because of the time. Regarding the issue of marketing standards and carcass classification, are the powers in the Bill appropriate, and are appropriate mechanisms in place for UK co-ordination on marketing standards, and should there be a provision on that in the Bill?

Well, I think that the provisions are appropriate in the Bill as drafted, and I think we're quite aware of the protection, from my point of view, of the Welsh lamb protected geographical indication, Welsh beef PGI and pork from Wales. So, content with that. But, I think, I would flag that there needs to be some reference to cross-border framework in terms of standards vis-à-vis international markets for example, because they're set within the relevant trade deals and there needs to be some synergy between those standards and the standards within this Bill. 

What I would flag very, very quickly—and it's a point of detail that we'll cover off in our written report—is that I was looking at Schedule 1 on page 38 on agricultural products relevant to marketing standards provisions, and that's a cut and paste from the EU common market organisation regulations. And, no surprise there, they don't include any sheep meat provisions whatsoever. And that's how the EU always did look at the sheep meat industry; it was always a poor relation in terms of other sectors. So, I presume, and I would hope that the provision to change that is in drafting, I wish to say. 

It's not an area that I have that much detailed knowledge about; I'll leave this one to Gwyn, I think. 

Nothing to add, thank you. 

That's great, Hefin. Thank you very much indeed. And I'll now bring in Llyr Gruffydd. Llyr. 

Diolch, Gadeirydd. Thank you. The nature of any framework Bill is set in the parameters so that Ministers can then go away and draft regulations and fill in the blanks, effectively. So, it's a bit of a broad one, but do you think the balance between what's on the face of the Bill generally and the empowerment of Ministers to work within that is the right balance? For example, we've discussed a little bit about the definition of agriculture, the definition of auxiliary activities, but Ministers, by subordinate legislation, can actually change those definitions. So, where are we in terms of the balance of risk that Ministers might end up doing something that we never would have countenanced as part of the Bill, as it stands? Are you sufficiently reassured by what's on the face of the Bill versus the potential of Ministers to go and do things that maybe we hadn't expected?

Well, I think—. Llyr offers a very good question. I think the problem with all Bills is that they need to be broadly defined in order to capture what we know now, and what might happen in the future, which we obviously don't know. And, therefore, yes, they need to be generic and broad, and this Bill probably fits very well in that respect. But, obviously, the detail is the important part thereafter, and I think my pragmatic approach would be: you have to start somewhere. But, I think it needs to be governed by—going back to the start of this meeting—the vision and the objectives, and see if we can fine tune those, and, then, obviously, that will hopefully set in train what comes underneath it. So, I think, Llyr, it's fine in terms of: we need a framework, a broad framework, because, otherwise, we would be going back to this all of the time to change it, which we don't want to do. 

I think Gwyn makes an excellent point in that respect. I'll just mention one specific thing in relation to intervention in the markets from the exceptional market conditions declaration. It worries me slightly how that could be used. Given what we've experienced in the last three years, we could be constantly in exceptional market conditions. And, so, it seems to me, if we don't make the changes that we need, we will be in those conditions time and time again. So, there's a sort of contradiction there that concerns me slightly. 

Yes, I think, importantly, if we're crystal clear on our principles, our mission, our objectives, and we've got those right, then I'm very happy that we leave the Minister and her team to deliver that but, obviously, being accountable for doing those things to committees such as the one we're talking to now. 

10:30

Llyr, diolch yn fawr iawn. I'm afraid time has beaten us, therefore, our session has come to an end. But, can I take this opportunity to thank you for being with us this morning? Your evidence will be very useful for us as a committee in scrutinising this Bill going forward. So, thank you for being with us. A copy of today's transcript will be sent to you in due course. If there are any issues with that, then please let us know, but, once again, thank you very much indeed for being with us this morning. We'll now take a short break to prepare for the next session. Thank you. 

Thank you. Bye bye. 

Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 10:30 ac 10:39

The meeting adjourned between 10:30 and 10:39

10:35
4. Bil Amaethyddiaeth (Cymru): Sesiwn Dystiolaeth 6
4. Agriculture (Wales) Bill: Evidence session 6

Croeso yn ôl i Bwyllgor yr Economi, Masnach a Materion Gwledig y Senedd. Symudwn ni ymlaen nawr i eitem 4 ar ein hagenda, sef sesiwn dystiolaeth ar y Bil Amaethyddiaeth (Cymru). Dyma chweched sesiwn dystiolaeth y pwyllgor yn trafod egwyddorion cyffredinol y Bil Amaethyddiaeth (Cymru). Rŷn ni'n clywed tystiolaeth ar goedwigaeth a thrwyddedau cwympo coed.

Gaf i nodi fe wahoddwyd Cyfoeth Naturiol Cymru hefyd i ymuno â'n sesiwn banel ni heddiw, ond doedden nhw ddim yn gallu anfon cynrychiolydd i roi tystiolaeth lafar? Gaf i felly groesawu ein tystion i'r sesiwn yma? Gaf i ofyn iddyn nhw i gyflwyno eu hunain i'r record, ac wedyn gallwn ni symud yn syth i gwestiynau, ac efallai gallaf i ddechrau gyda Jerry Langford?

Welcome back to the Economy, Trade, and Rural Affairs Committee of the Senedd. We move on now to item 4 on our agenda, which is an evidence session on the Agriculture (Wales) Bill. This is the sixth evidence session considering the general principles of the Agriculture (Wales) Bill. We're taking evidence on forestry and felling licences. 

May I note that Natural Resources Wales were also invited to join today's panel session, but they were unable to send a representative to give oral evidence? May I therefore welcome our witnesses to this session? May I ask them to introduce themselves for the record, and then we can move straight into questions, and perhaps I could start with Jerry Langford?

10:40

Bore da. Good morning. I'm Jerry Langford. I work for Coed Cadw, the Woodland Trust in Wales, and I do the external-facing public affairs for Coed Cadw.

Good morning. I'm Anthony Geddes. I'm the national manager for Confor in Wales. We're a seed-to-sawmill organisation representing the forestry sector and processing businesses.

Well, thank you for those introductions, and perhaps I can just kick off this session. Now, the Bill gives NRW the power to add environmental conditions to tree-felling licences. Do you believe that that goes far enough, in your view? Perhaps I can start with Jerry Langford.

We welcome in principle NRW having the power to add environmental conditions, although I would point out that that in itself doesn't necessarily guarantee conservation outcomes. That depends on the appropriateness of those conditions and the resource that NRW has to actually ensure that they have the right information, and also what monitoring goes on and the ability to actually ensure good management happens. So, potentially a step in the right direction, but a lot depends on how they're actually applied.

I would broadly agree with that. I think what's laid before us in the Bill is an interesting approach to delivering improved environmental outcomes, but I personally think, and the reflection of the sector is, that actually this is not the appropriate way to do it. Certainly, there are serious concerns about the role of the regulator and the appropriateness of the application of conditions, and the ability of the regulator, again, to ensure that there is compliance and performance. Our fear is that the major impact is that actually this will diminish the desire to engage with high-quality woodland management, not actually improve it.

So, these powers aren't proportionate, in your view.

I do not believe they are proportionate and I do not believe that they are the appropriate way to achieve this outcome.

Yes. One thing I would add: one of the principles that NRW refer to—. They drew attention to something called the regulators' code, and one of the principles within that was that regulation should be risk based. I think that's an important principle that should apply here. So, the focus of their conditioning should be proportionate to the risk of conservation harm, reflecting both the sensitivity of the site but also, frankly, the record of the applicant. So, I think the application of that risk-based principle is important.

Diolch, Gadeirydd. Good morning, both. Thank you for attending this morning. What are your views on the proposed powers to allow NRW to amend, suspend or revoke a tree-felling licence it has issued? Jerry, I'll start with yourself.

Basically we support them, yes. We think that it is a sensible extension that could make felling licensing more effective.

Again, we are broadly in support of the principles, obviously depending on how they are utilised. We feel that there are shortfalls in the Forestry Act 1967, and the ability to amend licences is actually a hindrance to that management. So, it would not disturb the industry to see those powers, but appropriate usage is absolutely the key message there.

Excellent. As we heard from the Chair at the beginning, NRW were unable to have a witness this morning to join you both, but they submitted written evidence, and one question that I'd like to offer to you, but I'll read their response so that you're aware of it, is in terms of the question, 'How will you avoid potential conflict of interest as both regulator and forestry operator in exercising powers?' 'As with other regimes where NRW has more than one role, there will be appropriate arrangements in place to ensure functional separation of the relevant roles.' I have a concern, and I've questioned the Minister on this previously as well, with NRW issuing licences to itself for tree felling. Is this a concern that's shared by yourselves? Jerry.

I appreciate the fundamental issues here. The management of the forest estate, of course, is ultimately the responsibility of Welsh Government and is set by Welsh Government policy. So, I think part of, if you like, the approach needs to be effective Welsh Government oversight of how NRW is managing its estate. That raises all sorts of processes and questions, but I can certainly see the perspective of the private sector, who will have major concerns about NRW regulating itself. They can give assurances like that, but it's quite difficult to actually say, 'Okay, in practice, how do you ensure that the control of their own operations is watertight?' Now, I'd have to say that there are some good policies that are applied to the forest estate and there are plenty of people in NRW who are very genuine and diligent in what they're trying to do with the estate, but the control of large-scale felling and obviously how they then operate within the timber market are pretty major issues that are not really within the Woodland Trust's remit as a charity to comment too deeply on. But we acknowledge that there are questions there that need to be asked. 

10:45

I think it's a very pertinent question. Managing that conflict of interest, and it is a conflict of interest, between the provision of an industrial material into a marketplace through self-regulation versus the interests of private sector suppliers, it's a tension. It's a tension that's existed for a number of years and there are certainly anecdotal reports where licences or permission to fell internally have been provided but not allowed or not reasonably supported within the private sector. The timber market is a remarkably sensitive product area. I do not believe it would be done out of intention or of malice, but we need confidence and clarity that the oversight within NRW undertakes scrutiny of itself and almost benchmarks itself against its own processes. Where there is great risk is not specifically at a national level but actually at individual regional levels, where we have a variation in staff resource, a variation in staff skill. That can have a significant impact. And if you look at mid Wales, for instance, which is one of the major timber producing areas, last year we saw a significant underresource of that, which allowed the public sector to bring timber to the market in a time of very high timber prices, but actually delayed the private sector being able to undertake the same process. So, it's not intentional manipulation, but it's certainly possible and a risk. 

Okay. Thank you. I appreciate both your answers there. In terms of—

One process that should help with this is that the public forest estate is certified under the UK woodland assurance scheme, which means it is subject to independent auditing. I think that is a very important process and it is one that allows stakeholders to raise concerns, as we have done in the past, actually. It was very welcome a few years ago when Welsh Government and NRW confirmed that they were going to really commit to meeting both the spirit and the letter of that certification. So, I think that is an important contribution. 

Okay. Excellent. Staying with you, Jerry, I know the Woodland Trust's paper says it isn't clear how NRW will use the powers to protect and restore ancient woodland. So, what are your—? Are you able to develop those thoughts for the committee?

Yes. There is this thing called the UK forestry standard, a Government standard for sustainable forestry, which of course Welsh Government and NRW are signed up to, and that makes several statements on good practice in managing ancient woodland. Now, those are statements of good practice, not regulatory, legal requirements, but NRW say that that UK forestry standard is what defines good forestry and all the felling licences they issue have to be compliant with that standard. So, it leaves some fuzziness as to whether that good practice is an absolute requirement or not. So, in theory, it might be useful for us to argue that meeting those statements on ancient woodland would be useful to put in felling licence conditions, except that we'd accept that trying to achieve those objectives through regulation alone is not really realistic. It requires an entire support framework policy, and ancient woodland restoration is a public good, it's a public benefit, not a commercial benefit, and, if it is going to be required of private owners, that does deserve some public funding. So, it's a complicated picture. So, it is quite difficult for me to work out how NRW are actually going to progress this and where the felling licence conditioning bit fits in.

10:50

Okay, interesting. Anthony, on behalf of Confor, anything to add on how NRW proposes to implement its new powers?

I think only to reinforce what I've already highlighted, that it is about the quality and proportionality and consistency and, actually, that word 'consistency' is probably the most important one here. So, we would like to see further investment and significantly more engagement with the industry before this goes forward.

Okay, excellent. Just moving on, on a slight tangent, in terms of the sustainable farming scheme, it was announced within the draft proposal of that that there would be all farms required to have 10 per cent tree coverage on farm holdings. I'd just like your opinion on that section of the sustainable farming scheme, really. Anthony.

The 10 per cent has caused quite a stir amongst farming communities and I understand why. Personally, when you look at what we're trying to achieve as our 2050 target—167,000 hectares of new woodland creation—that will mean that many farms will be way beyond 10 per cent. Some farms may be less or may just make it, and it really depends on the appropriate and, again, proportional input for farmers as to whether that is part of their sustainable business. And that's really the core here: it needs to be part of their sustainable business and not forced upon them.

Personally, within the sector, we welcome it as a useful start to better embrace woodland creation, but what I would seriously highlight is that that sustainable farming scheme also makes comment about management support. The relationship between farming and forestry is broken, and it's broken because of years of underinvestment and exclusion of on-farm forestry. If we're actually serious about getting that 10 per cent or further, we need urgently to have a strong and appropriately funded management support for farmers. We cannot expect to rebuild the relationship with them without showing them the worth and the value of what they already have. I literally cannot express how important that is.

Okay. So, it's not just the support to plant the tree in the first place, but it's the support for the management of trees and woodland going forward—that's equally, if not more, important.

It's support of the existing woodland—it's hugely important. And we need to move away from talking about planting trees. It's an establishment process. A tree is not successful as soon as it comes out of the bag and goes in the ground. A tree is successful when it starts to deliver the products, the goods, the services for which it was intended to be planted, whether that be carbon sequestration, whether that be flood mitigation, whether that be timber production. They are all valuable outcomes. But in some cases, that establishment is 10 or 20 years down the line. And certainly, with the threats that we see from invasive pests, such as the grey squirrel, if we are to be successful in achieving our carbon sequestration, especially for the processes that NRW and Welsh Government provide us at the moment—which is a predominantly broadleaved woodland creation scheme for that—we are going to have to get very serious about management of that, otherwise, we are going to undershoot spectacularly, and that would be catastrophic for us.

Yes. I think we greatly welcome the idea behind the 10 per cent threshold—I think it's quite refreshing thinking. As a general aspiration, it doesn't seem too ambitious, given that we were told that existing tree cover on farms is around 6 to 7 per cent at the moment, and I think there has been some misunderstanding out there that the threshold means planting an additional 10 per cent, and that's not our understanding; it's achieving 10 per cent tree cover. Many farms will already be significantly over that. So, accepting that there are some categories of farms that are going to have real difficulties, and particularly tenants—the issue of tenancies has come up again and again—I think that there are issues that need to be addressed, and flexibility is going to be needed. But I think that there are opportunities and possibilities here for many farms, whilst there are challenges for a few, and one way of actually addressing the tenancy issue is to actually ensure hedges are included; a simple measure, but tenants are responsible for the hedges, and that would help other farming systems, such as dairy farms as well, which tend to have good hedging but don't like field trees. So, I think there are some practical delivery issues that need talking through and a degree of flexibility.

But I totally agree with Anthony, who was saying that this tree cover needs to be integrated in the farm business, which is one of the reasons we are, as you know, strongly promoting agri-forestry as an agricultural activity that uses trees and it's not 'take the land out of farming and put it in forestry'. So, I think there are lots of positive ways forward here.

I also agree with Anthony that we've had this history of woodland creation talking about planting and maintenance, and the conversation should be planting and management, because you manage those trees as soon they are planted, and ever thereafter.

10:55

Thank you, Sam. I'll now bring in Delyth Jewell. Delyth.

Diolch, Cadeirydd. Good morning to you both. I think a measure of this has already been covered, but I'll just check for completion. Anthony, if I may, was there anything further that you wanted to add to what Jerry was saying—in addition to what Jerry had said as well—earlier about any other views you have as to how felling licence conditions could and should be used?

I think, beyond the measure of how we use them to promote sustainable management—. So, again, it comes maybe more to an ethos. We have potential to use these tools for excellence. We have potential to use them as a risk-averse land management tool. I'm sorry, I'm speaking slightly in code there, but it can either be an excuse to say, 'Yes, let's do good land management', or it can be an excuse to say 'no' to everything. And we have on too many occasions seen our regulator be risk averse and say 'no'. Within the professional industry, there is a huge amount of experience that performs to a very high standard, and if you look at the figures for prosecutions or for infringements or even reports against high-standard UK Woodland Assurance Standard managed commercial forestry, they are microscopic in the context of everything else. What we see here is, actually, we're trying to draft legislation for the misguided or the incompetent, or for the intentional damage and destruction. So, all I can really add to it is just to say, on a good day, the least risk-averse attitude taken by NRW is still very, very far over on the scale of where any commercial practice sits. And that's what causes us the greatest risk and fear here.

That's quite powerful, actually, the language that you were using there in terms of the ethos surrounding it. On a good or bad day, are there any examples of where you think this kind of thing is got right that we need to be learning from?

Within the current framework, I am struggling to think of instances where we can see best practice really working well. I can unfortunately think of quite a few that reflect the opposite.

Okay, well, that's also useful. Thank you for that. Jerry, if I may, in section 4.6 of your paper, you ask whether the Bill could be

'amended to ensure monitoring and reporting on the impact of felling consents that is equivalent to the requirements for reporting on the achievements of the SLM objectives'.

Could you expand on that? Is there anything further you'd like to say other than what you've already said?

11:00

I think where I was coming from is if NRW have all of these additional powers, there's a governance question: what is the oversight of how they're going to use them and how effective are the impacts of using them? Some more transparent reporting might be an important contribution to that. At the moment, NRW maintain an online register of felling licence applications, but that doesn't, for example, contain information on whether the woods are protected sites or not or ancient woodland. There's no information on, subsequently, what happens. So, we seem in forestry to have bits of reporting that don't really join up. There's quite good official evidence on the condition of woodland that tells us that a very small proportion of woodlands are actually in good ecological condition. There's information on what's coming out of woodlands in terms of timber and attempts to value other benefits, but the two are not linked. So, there isn't any real reporting on what's going on in woodlands and how that's affecting condition.

The Welsh Government's had, for more than 20 years, a woodland strategy. There was an attempt to report on that back in 2018, I think, which was somewhat compromised by limited suitable data, and that's not been repeated since. So, I just wonder if there's something there on improving the reporting and who then looks at that, who is checking and discussing with NRW how they're using these powers and to what effect.

Thank you. Diolch. Diolch, Cadeirydd. That was helpful.

May I just come back in on that, briefly?

Certainly, I'm in support of Jerry in that I think we need to understand what management outcomes mean in terms of landscape. What I would say is, within the sustainable farming scheme proposals, that where farmers will be monitoring and reporting on outcomes, they will be receiving a basic income for doing that, because it will be part of the mandatory threshold. Forestry is unlikely, I would suggest, to see that reflected, and whilst I do welcome what Jerry said, I think to add more incumbent costs on forest management continues to push forest management out of some people's budgets, out of their aspirations.

If I may, I'd also like to just add something very briefly to my previous comment back to you, which is there is one area of the Bill and the proposals to amend, suspend and revoke the does really concern me, which appears to be somewhat of a catch-all element in section 24D that would allow the regulator the ability to suspend where no condition has been breached. My understanding is that, with these new conditions and with the process of the Forestry Act that exists at the moment, we are, as applicants for a felling licence, required to undertake a survey, to consult, to refer to the regulator, and the regulator then onward refers to archaeological trusts or other parties. So, by the time that licence, and especially if these new powers go forward for conditioning, is issued, it should be a very solid statutory instrument. So, I then question this ability to revoke for no breach. This is a catch-all. This is a tool that, depending on how it's used, could have a more serious impact or as serious an impact as the change in felling licence legislation that was seen in the Republic of Ireland two and a half years ago, where there was the ability to appeal a felling licence. That has crippled an industry. There have been instances where timber had to be imported to keep Irish mills moving, and it was imported from Denmark and from the UK, from Scotland. So, if we are trying to decarbonise, if we are trying to ensure that we have a viable and sustainable forestry sector and processing sector that will meet some of our decarbonisation requirements in Wales in the form of timber housing, there are risks created here that cannot be ignored. Thank you.

11:05

Okay. Diolch, Delyth. I'll now bring in Luke Fletcher. Luke.

Diolch, Cadeirydd. I was going to ask Anthony what are Confor's views on the requirement for monitoring and reporting on the impact of felling consents, but I think you've touched on that quite a bit already. So, unless there's anything additional you want to add or elaborate on, I'll move on to my next question. No. All good. No worries. 

I would be interested in what your views are on the provisions providing for appeals and compensation in connection with suspension or revocation of licences. I'll start with Anthony and this one and move to Jerry.

Again, we welcome them as part of the tool set that's provided. To give you an idea of the cost of suspending an active harvesting site, it's at minimum between £5,000 and £10,000 for anything that goes on beyond a week, because, at the point at which machinery is removed, felling is suspended, excluding professional fees to understand why that's happened—to engage, to mitigate, to repair or appeal if needs be. There are substantial supply chain concerns. So, we do welcome the fact that we'll be able to appeal and receive compensation, but actually it would be far better if the number of appeals we saw was zero because it was regulated and there was confidence that it was done well and for the right reasons.

Thank you, Anthony. Jerry, anything additional to add?

No, nothing to add. I defer to Anthony's much greater experience on these matters.

Thank you, Luke. I'll now bring in Hefin David. Hefin.

I've just got a question on the increase in the maximum fine proposed for illegal felling from level 4, which was limited to £2,500, to a potentially unlimited fine for illegal felling, and the panel's views on that.

It's greatly welcomed, basically, particularly where there are cases of deliberate illegal felling. Referring back to this risk-based approach, there does need to be the power to make really substantial fines for those who have deliberately broken rules and expected to either get away with it or merely to pay a fine as part of the cost of their activity.

Equally, we applaud this. It has been a very long time coming. The cost of illegal felling for paying the fine versus the income that is potentially received, whether that be through development or whether that be through income from timber, really has not been reflected. The industry thinks that this is a long-delayed measure.

Thank you, Hefin. I'll now bring in Sarah Murphy. Sarah.

Thank you, Chair. Thank you, both, for being here today. I have to declare that I am a member of the Woodland Trust. I was going to ask some questions about the environmental impact assessment of forestry regulations. To begin with, what are your views on the fact that powers to review and amend the thresholds in the EIA of forestry regulations have not been included in the Bill, taking into consideration that, in the White Paper, there was an intention for these powers to be included in the Bill that has since changed as the Minister has said that the UK Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill has come forward and it does contain powers for devolved Minister to amend, repeal and revoke retained EU law. What are your views on this, please?

First, I'd say that the EIA requirements are a very important protection. It's really important that they are maintained. We are happy with the thresholds as they are, so we're not seeking any change. They're a really important means of control on afforestation that doesn't go through grant schemes. So, they're important for that specific purpose, but they're also very important for protecting habitat more widely. So, if there is any threat to the future of those protections, and that would be addressed by including something in this Bill, then certainly we'd support that.

11:10

Again, we support the maintenance of the EIA process. For context, if you wanted to undertake tree planting without a grant in Wales, there's a threshold of 5 hectares—so, under 5 hectares you do not need EIA determination. In England and Scotland, that's either 20 hectares or 50 hectares. So, within Wales, we are already quite stringent. I would not like to see these tightened any further, because I believe it will really diminish any engagement in afforestation outside of grant-funded schemes. But we would not like to see the power or the requirement removed.

Thank you very much. Is there anything else that you'd like to add before we move on from the forestry regulations?

Thank you very much, Sarah. I'll now bring in Vikki Howells. Vikki.

Thank you, Chair, and good morning to all of our witnesses. I'd just like to check, first of all, whether the witnesses agree with the definition of sustainable land management provided in the explanatory memorandum.

Broadly, yes. I think the four sustainable land management objectives together present quite a robust and inclusive definition. It might be helpful to have an overarching definition, but I think it's the whole structure that's important: the definition, the setting out of the objectives, and then, critically, what is actually going to be measured and reported on in terms of achieving those objectives. And I think there is the making of quite a robust structure there, which we welcome, the important point being that each aspect of that definition and all four objectives are delivered in a balanced way. So, yes, I think they're potentially pretty good.

To echo that, we support the four objectives. Again, what I would say is that the definitions clearly state the potential role of the land manager, and it is essential that the spirit of those definitions is really understood and written into the sustainable farming scheme. What we do not want to see is for them to become part of a curation tool for a failing landscape, but actually an enabling tool for improving landscape. And that very much will come down to how they are drafted and implemented in the sustainable farming scheme.

Thank you, both. My second question was going to be about those four sustainable land management objectives, and you appear to have both indicated that you feel that they are appropriate, those four principles underpinning the Bill. But if I can just check if I have interpreted that correctly, and whether there's anything there that you would strengthen or add.

Not specifically. I think the key point is the intention is to deliver them in a balanced way, and there is work to do on what actually is measured. So, for example, any targets and measures also need to be balanced across the objectives, so there aren't more targets for one compared to others, for example. I think there does, plainly, need to be a bit more detail on that. 

I would echo that. The devil is absolutely in the detail in how it is measured and observed. We have had numerous conversations with the farming policy team over the last four years, I think, Jerry and I, as to what those measures may be, and we still do not have a very clear indication of what they are, what they will be or how they will be collected, and whether, when measured and collected, that information will be made available freely to farmers, so that they can understand their landscape better.

Thank you, and I think the points that you're making may tie into my third question, but I just want to check that. So, it was to ask whether the Welsh Ministers' monitoring and reporting duties in Part 1 are sufficient to give an overall picture of progress on the SLM objectives.

11:15

Yes, I think they sound very promising, but, as I say, the devil is in the detail on what exactly is being measured and reported on. I think the other part of this framework is what's described as the national minimum regulatory standards. I think there also needs to be clarity on that. It is useful to have all that summarised in one place somewhere, and reporting on the regulatory performance as well. We've clearly seen in recent times where that's become inadequate in the protection of water quality. So, it goes beyond looking at what the sustainable farming scheme is adding, but also at what the baseline is and what's happening with that regulatory baseline. 

Moving that on, I think Wales is a very diverse country and we risk having a high bar for our minimum thresholds, and I do not feel that there's any way that we should not seek to achieve high-quality outcomes. What we have experienced, though, is that what's appropriate as a regulatory bar in one area may be inappropriate in another. So, without wanting to say you need to set the bar as low as you possibly can whilst maintaining a high enough standard—it starts to contradict itself—. So, we need then to see multiple measures. So, if we're measuring water quality, for instance, it's phosphates, it's suspended pollutants. This is not my key area, but certainly this is stuff we do deal with in forestry. It is ensuring that, if there is a failure on one measure, is that because of a local, regional, environmental, physiological, archaeological condition, and that can be countered by other measures that provide a good indication of suitable improvement or compliance elsewhere. So, I don't envy the person who has to think up these tests, but it is hugely important they are appropriately utilised within the regions of Wales. 

Thank you, Vikki. I'll now bring in Llyr Gruffydd. Llyr. 

Diolch, Gadeirydd. I'm just wondering what your views are on the powers given to Welsh Ministers to provide support for agriculture and ancillary activities—I always struggle with that word—and what the definitions are, clearly, because the definitions provided for 'agriculture' and 'ancillary activities' will effectively dictate the scope of what can be supported. So, I was just wondering whether you have any particular views on those, initially.

Yes. I looked at the definitions and was very pleased to see that they specifically include agroforestry and farm woodland within the definition of 'agriculture', which is what we were looking for—so, pretty happy with that. The limitation of this piece of legislation is, of course, that it's not there—it does nothing for owners of woodland who are not farmers, so there's a limitation in scope, but I don't suggest that can be dealt with by definitions; that just requires some other, entirely different approach. 

Again, I would echo Jerry's last comment. There are a huge number of land managers who are not farmers who will be excluded from support. The reference to 'other goods' within the definition is certainly welcome. There is some ambiguity for us. We are now acknowledging the importance of food within our sustainable farming scheme, and we talk about food security—we've continued to not talk about timber security, fibre security. These products are as instrumental in our everyday life as food, and I'm sure the committee members will be aware, and have had it quoted to them by many of my colleagues, that we import 85 per cent of the timber that we use in this country. So, I would like to see timber and wood fibre included within those 'ancillary' definitions, because I do believe they are intrinsically an important part of what a sustainable farm business will create going forward. Thank you. 

11:20

Okay, yes, a couple of really important points there. There is scope, of course, as well for Ministers to amend those definitions. I don't know whether you have any particular view as to how appropriate that is. 

I would say that the evolution of those definitions is welcome, and hopefully will be used to embrace our changing agro and forestry environment over the next decade. 

Yes, I'd echo that. I think farming is facing huge challenges. It is diversifying and needs to diversify further, so what farms do I think is going to become much, much more difficult to define and limit by definitions. 

Yes, okay. That evolution is sensible, I suppose; you're right. So, in terms, then, of the list of purposes for what support may be provided towards, that's listed in section 8. Is there anything there that grates or sticks out a little bit, or is there anything, actually, that's glaringly missing? 

I have to say it looked pretty comprehensive to me. 

Okay. There was one point made earlier in a previous session that there's reference to maximising carbon sequestration and storage, but that maybe there was a need for a more explicit recognition of managing existing, as well as maybe developing additional, capacity. 

Yes, I did make one specific comment on that purpose, actually, and that is that, if the purpose is climate mitigation, then the ultimate goal is having carbon in secure storage. So, the storage is actually rather more important than the sequestration. Interestingly, the wording in the SFS proposals actually reflect that, but, in the Bill, the word 'sequestration' has come back in, and I don't know what significance I should read into that. But I think, yes, there's a good point there that, if climate mitigation is the purpose, then it needs to focus on carbon storage—the long-term, secure carbon storage—which can, of course, be in timber products, but it is not necessarily so. 

Again, I think the conversation about locked carbon is maybe missing within those definitions. We can lock on farm or we can lock off farm. So, I would welcome clarity not just in looking at what the measurement system will be. Currently, the woodland carbon code that is used to understand how sequestration and locking through forestry works does not acknowledge the value of timber products. Currently, there is a huge opportunity there to maximise the use of timber and wood fibre in Wales. I would like to see that, obviously, coming off farm, and I would like to see farmers credited for that. It should be a core part of their business. 

The farming unions suggested that maybe elements such as productivity should be added to that list. Do you have any thoughts around extending in that direction? 

I think 'productivity' can be a slightly dangerous word. 'Effective and efficient land use' are the words that spring to mind necessarily over 'productivity'. But, by the same token, when you start—. This is where it gets slightly difficult. Once you start delving down into that—. Because we talk about productive woodland, but, actually, that definition has changed. Ten years ago, we didn't talk about broadleaved productive woodlands in a carbon sense, we talked about them in a hardwood sense or a coppicing fence—sense—coppicing 'fence'; a slip of the tongue there. [Laughter.] So, there is a role for productivity, but then that's a role for multiple outcomes and efficient usage. So, I hesitate with the word 'productive'.

Okay, and there is reference to maximising and resource efficiency, which may cover that base—

11:25

Yes, which I feel is appropriate.

I think you made a good point there. Okay. Thank you. Diolch.

Diolch, Llyr. And can I just ask you about the Bill itself? Do you think it's actually in keeping with other relevant legislation? Jerry.