Fifth Standing Committee on
Tuesday 22 January 2002
[Mr. David Amess in the Chair]
Draft Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Dissolution) Order 2002
The Minister for Rural Affairs (Alun Michael): I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the draft Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Dissolution) Order 2002.
I have always felt that when debating statutory instruments it is useful to know what they do. Usually when someone asks that question, they receive a convoluted explanation of the relationship between pieces of legislation. I remember debating an education statutory instrument, in which when the question ''Yes, but what difference does it make?'' was asked repeatedly, the answer came that it did not make any difference. It merely implemented under the new Act every provision relating to governing bodies that had been included under the previous Act. The impact of the legislation was nil. It is useful to bring discussion down to those terms.
The order will tidy up the legislative loose ends left now that the responsibilities of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food have been taken over by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which was created on 8 June. The order will have three effects. It will dissolve MAFF, it will transfer all the property, rights and liabilities of the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and it will transfer all the statutory powers and duties of the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, whether acting alone or with others, to the generic title of Secretary of State. Many will be aware that the title ''Minister'' continued to be used in agriculture long after titles elsewhere had changed. The order will bring that up to date.
The new Department has a forward-looking approach to tackling the issues of the environment, food supply and rural life. The Department touches on the lives of everyone in Britain, and the world, and it will impact on the lives of future generations. The Prime Minister created DEFRA to lead a new drive on the environment, food supplies and rural affairs, and to speed up the modernisation processes that all public services are undergoing.
The Department was created during some of the worst times that farming has experienced for decades. In the past year, rural areas have endured the most devastating outbreak of foot and mouth disease ever seen. That was on top of other difficulties, such as flooding, swine fever and BSE. Farm incomes are greatly depressed, and the wider economy in rural areas has felt the impact.
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The Prime Minister has recognised that we need to treat food supply, rural affairs and the environment in the round and take a joined-up approach if we are to tackle them properly. Farming and fisheries have to be considered with the rest of the food chain. Agriculture must be considered as a part of the wider social, economic and environmental issues of rural areas, rather than in isolation. That is key to the change, and to the new Department's focus on sustainable development, which we define as a better quality of life for everyone, now and for generations to come.
The Government had already set out a rural White Paper, a sustainable development strategy and a strategy for agriculture. DEFRA provides a more integrated structure in which to deliver on those commitments and look ahead to a positive future for rural areas and the environment. In other words, it is about the delivery of sustainable development. Now that I have a few months' experience as a Minister in the Department, I am more and more convinced that it was a wise and far-reaching decision.
DEFRA took over the responsibilities and resources of MAFF and parts of the Home Office of the former Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions. Some people have asked whether the creation of DEFRA was just a rebranding or a respray for a Department which was heavily criticised for its handling of agriculture, and whether anything had changed. The answer to that is yes. There has been massive organisational change and application to policy. There are many more changes to come as the new Department develops. In creating DEFRA, we are learning the lessons of the past and looking forward to a brighter future. We are working towards new goals, developed with wide consultationgoals that are more relevant to the diverse and changing needs of society. We are developing new ways of working that will help us deliver better services and meet our responsibilities.
DEFRA is already different from its predecessors in the grouping of responsibilities and priorities. This is the first time that we have brought together the environment, rural issues, and food production policies under one roof. It brings together the essentials of lifeair, water and food. DEFRA must ensure that the businesses that deliver or impact on these are competitive but socially responsible and environmentally friendly. This is also the first time that one Department has been made the focal point for all aspects of rural policy, including the social, economic and environmental needs of the countryside.
DEFRA's creation puts sustainable development at the heart of government in a very practical way. DEFRA leads Government policy on sustainable development, while putting the principles into practice in its own aims, objectives and worksomething that is made easier by the size and punching weight of the new Department.
The pursuit of sustainable development is key to achieving our vision, to ensuring a better quality of life for everyone, now and for generations to come. We want a better environment at home and abroad, with more sustainable use of natural resources. We want
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our sponsored industries, such as farming, fishing, food and water, to succeed economically, but in a sustainable manner. We want our rural communities and their economies to thrive, while protecting the countryside for all to enjoy. These are big challenges indeed.
Our ambition is for DEFRA to become a Department respected by allinternationally, nationally and around Government. We want to be respected as an organisation that is outward looking, professional, expert and making a real difference through our work. That is not to criticise the individuals who worked in the former MAFF, and that is something that has been made clear in a variety of places, on a variety of occasions. It is to say that the people who transferred to the new Department, from wherever they came, come into a structure that is more appropriate and enables their talents to be used more effectively for the future.
The Department has to be creative and innovative in delivering effective policies and services. We have outlined the intention to create a learning organisation that bases its proposals on the best available evidence, and which manages risks effectively. This has to be a Department that is at the cutting edge of science. We have to be a Department that listens to and understands the needs of our customers and makes use of information technology and e-business. To help lead the drive for change, DEFRA has two new senior management postsa new director general of operations in service delivery, because delivery is so crucial to our work, and a new chief scientific officer.
We want DEFRA to be an efficient department in which responsibilities are delegated to appropriate levels and processes are streamlined, in which our staff and other resources can be redeployed quickly, and in which our teams are structured to deliver specific outcomes. Finally, we must be a Department that attracts, motivates and retains the best people as its staff.
We want to capitalise on the areas in which the creation of DEFRA enables us, for the first time, to adopt a truly joined-up approach between its different parts. That means, for example, developing policies that address the impact of agriculture on water pollution, looking at how environmental improvements can benefit the rural economy and comparing the way in which we sponsor the different industries for which DEFRA has responsibilities.
It is clear from what I have said already that there is much to do and many challenges for DEFRA. DEFRA can already demonstrate successes. In November, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State played a key role in Marrakesh in negotiating a deal among more than 180 countries to convert the Kyoto protocol into legal text. Japan and Russia have since made positive noises about ratification. The UK intends to ratify alongside our EU partners later this year in advance of the world summit on sustainable development in Johannesburg. At Doha, the DEFRA delegation worked closely with the European Commission to secure an excellent outcome on the agenda for the next round of trade talks. In particular,
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the environment will be included in negotiations on the next trade round for the first time ever. We are working with colleagues across government, particularly in that case with the Department of Trade and Industry, in fulfilling our responsibilities.
We are working on tackling ammonia pollution of water from agriculture, which is very much a DEFRA issue. Reform of the common agricultural and fisheries policies are key Ministerial priorities. We have probably the best opportunity in a generation to make that happen. Delivering on the rural White Paper published not much more than a year ago is a key political priority for me personally. Providing quality services to rural communities and strengthening rural economies will be a measure of DEFRA's success, and I am determined to deliver on that.
In our paper ''England's Rural Future'', which we published in December 2001, we not only responded to the Haskins report and the report of the rural taskforce but we described the progress that had been made in the previous 12 months. Against the background of the problems that I have mentioned, it is a signally positive achievement that the needs of rural communities are being addressed as never before.
This month, a landmark was reached in the fight against foot and mouth, when Northumberland joined the other counties in England in achieving disease-free status. However, there is still more to be done to gain international recognition that Great Britain can be declared disease free.
We are also continuing work on rural recovery. Earlier this week, I met the taskforces from Devon and Cumbria. We now need to learn the lessons of the outbreak. In particular, we must respond positively to the two inquiries, and to the policy commission on farming and food that was set up after the outbreak. The Royal Society's scientific review of animal diseases, and Professor Ian Anderson's ''Lessons Learnt'' inquiry, will report later this year. The policy commission on food and farming will report next week. They will help us to crystallise a new vision for farming, and to develop the route map to achieve that.
Agriculture is not being forgotten in the new Department. Agriculture is uniquely placed to contribute to the protection and enhancement of the rural environment, and it contributes to, and benefits from, a thriving rural economy. Along with fisheries, it sits at the base of the food supply chain.
I hope that my short introduction has explained that DEFRA's work affects everyone's quality of life, and that, therefore, it is in the interests of everyone that it should succeed as a first-rate Whitehall Department and a quality public service. That is why this tidying-up order, which will enable the work of DEFRA to be carried out successfully, is so important.