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UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE
To be published as HC 1266-ii
House of COMMONS
TAKEN BEFORE the
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee
Outcome of the Farming Regulation Task Force
Wednesday 22 June 2011
BEN STAFFORD, DR JULIA WRATHALL and DR ABI BURNS
David Clarke and Jeremy Boxall
William Worsley, Meurig Raymond and George Dunn
Evidence heard in Public Questions 89 - 170
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
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Taken before the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee
on Wednesday 22 June 2011
Miss Anne McIntosh (Chair)
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Ben Stafford, Head of Campaigns, Campaign to Protect Rural England, Dr Julia Wrathall, Head of Farm Animals, RSPCA Science Group, and Dr Abi Burns, Senior Agriculture Policy Officer, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, gave evidence.
Q89 Chair Good afternoon and welcome. For the record, Mr Stafford, would you like to introduce yourself and your colleagues?
Ben Stafford: My name is Ben Stafford. I am Head of Campaigns at the Campaign to Protect Rural England.
Dr Wrathall: I am Julia Wrathall. I am Head of Farm Animal Science at the RSPCA.
Dr Burns: Abi Burns, Senior Agriculture Policy Officer for the RSPB.
Q90 Chair Thank you. First of all, thank you very much for being here and participating in our inquiry. We are very grateful. If you agree with each other, just say so; if you disagree then do. I would like to ask each of you in turn, bearing in mind 80% of the work of DEFRA is Europeanoriented and that the Task Force concluded that engagement with the European Union should be greater, earlier and in partnership with industry, do you agree with that conclusion? What more do you think DEFRA could be doing in that regard?
Dr Wrathall: I do agree that it is hugely useful to engage with the EU at governmental level and also to involve all relevant stakeholders-I think that is the key-one of which would be industry, but I think there are many others involved. Clearly from the perspective of my organisation, what we would be thinking about would be farm animal welfare and when considering that area, there are many stakeholders other than industry. Whilst we very much welcome greater engagement and certainly at an earlier stage and as soon as possible to discuss all relevant issues, in our view it should involve not only industry but consumers, animal welfare scientists and other relevant bodies.
Ben Stafford: I would agree with that. In terms of DEFRA’s engagement with the EU, it is important to recognise, as you say, how much regulation and environmental law does come from the EU. So I also think DEFRA needs to be realistic about the extent to which it can, through a process like this, affect the nature of what is coming from the EU. There are obviously opportunities through CAP reform negotiations and so on to change the nature of regulation and so on, but I think that DEFRA perhaps, in terms of the expectations that it is building up, needs to be clear that there are limits to what it can do because of the fact that so much of the regulation comes from Europe. We would argue that a lot of that is very good legislation. There are questions-perhaps you will come on to them-about whether or not there is gold-plating, but one person’s gold-plating is another person’s sensible legislation or sensible regulation. So we think there is a lot of good stuff coming from Europe and that it is certainly right that DEFRA needs to engage with it.
Dr Burns: We would very much agree with the points that have already been made and particularly the importance of forging relationships with other stakeholders. I think that is important in terms of more efficient regulation. For instance, the recent European Nitrogen Assessment stressed the importance of forging these different links with different disciplines to include scientists and other stakeholders and other sectors of industry as well.
Q91 Barry Gardiner: The Task Force’s assessment of its own proposals is that they would not lower standards, either for consumers, for workers, for animals or for the environment. Do you make a similar assessment of their proposals?
Dr Wrathall: I think it is difficult to make that assessment in the absence of clear evidence of the outcome of those recommendations. We would question whether enough evidence-or any, in some cases-was presented within the report to enable an assessment of the likely outcome to be made. Some of the recommendations certainly seem logical and sensible and I think do merit further consideration and analysis, but even those require a better evidence base and a better impact assessment before any of us can really make a judgment. The concern that we would have is that whilst we can certainly recognise the importance and indeed the value of reviewing a process that appears to be overburdensome, I think in some cases even processes that are quite difficult to apply can be very worth while, and in other cases, even where change is merited and warranted, without further scrutiny-and remember this report was done in an astonishingly short period of time. I think it is very impressive in that respect, but the authors of the report themselves, certainly during discussions with us and others, did freely admit that the time scale was extremely exacting and would not allow them necessarily to check the evidence base on which they based those recommendations.
Q92 Barry Gardiner: What about the immediacy of the implementation?
Dr Wrathall: I think that is another concern. Some of the recommendations are pretty revolutionary, or certainly the shift towards a better way and a different way of doing things. So if it is worth doing-and I think most people would agree it is certainly worth reviewing and considering-then it is worth doing properly and we do have concerns about the apparent haste with which some of the recommendations are going to be taken forward without this additional consideration that I mentioned. It would be a shame to get it wrong for the sake of not taking the time to look at it properly.
Ben Stafford: I do not want to duplicate what Julia has said. I have one or two points. In terms of potentially suggesting more of a voluntary approach to regulation, I think if that is taken forward too speedily and without learning the lessons of some existing voluntary approaches in these areas, then that could undermine environmental standards. We may come on to talk about these later, but in areas like the Campaign for the Farmed Environment and also in terms of the voluntary initiative on pesticides, we have seen that progress has not been as good as we would have wanted. In the case of the voluntary initiative on pesticides, there has been evidence of lapses that have been damaging to the environment. So I think there needs to be a conscious approach to implementing those sorts of approaches. We would also say from CPRE’s perspective that we are a bit concerned about some of the proposals on planning; we think there needs to be more clarification about the new kinds of developments and how they are dealt with by planning in the countryside-the cumulative impact of some of those developments that are covered in the report. Also, with regards to the idea of defining sustainable intensification within the National Planning Policy Framework, which the report suggests, we think there is still a debate to be had about what that means, but if that were done too hastily and if the NPPF took on that definition, that could have damaging environmental consequences in the long term. But I think a lot of it is about how DEFRA implements it and what it chooses to implement.
Dr Burns: We very much support the principle of identifying opportunities for more efficient regulation, so long as there is no reduction in environmental standards. It is clearly in no one’s interest for regulation to be overly complex or overly bureaucratic. As a farmer and landowner ourselves, we understand why farmers feel frustrated when they feel they are faced with unnecessary bureaucracy. Also, of course, many of our most important species and habitats depend on sympathetic management by farmers and we directly engage with thousands of farmers a year through our advisory service. So in compiling our response to the consultation, we consulted with some of those farmers in order to make suggestions for how the regulatory process could be streamlined without reducing environmental outcomes. We feel that a number of the suggestions made in the report are sensible and do have the potential to reduce unnecessary bureaucracy, for instance where there is duplication of information that has to be provided to different statutory bodies and there does not seem to be communication between the two.
Our other key interest in the review, however, was that there was no reduction in protection for the natural environment. We were told during our engagement with the review-and we feel this is borne out in the final report-that very few issues were raised in relation to the legislative protection for habitats and species, which we believe forms the bedrock of biodiversity conservation. We are pleased about that and it tallies with our view that that legislation is generally accepted by farmers and landowners. We stressed from the beginning it was very important that recommendations were evidencebased. We were disappointed that we felt a few of the recommendations lacked a factual evidence base where quite major changes in regulatory process were being suggested, and that there was not a full cost-benefit analysis and identification of potential risks that were involved and how those risks could be mitigated. An example was we were very concerned about the suggestion that agriculture should be exempt from the IPPC regulations that aim to reduce pollution from the most significant industrial and agricultural resources. We felt that was really out of line with the weight of evidence that the agricultural sector needs to do more and has been less successful than other sectors of industry in reducing those emissions, and that they are having major impacts in terms of the environment but also human health and the economy.
Q93 Neil Parish: The whole ethos of the Task Force has tried to change the culture of regulation. The Task Force recommends a shift from processbased to outcomebased regulation. How practical is this to do in outcomes like better soil quality or better animal welfare?
Dr Wrathall: Taking the animal welfare, if I may, I think we are in the very early stages of developing an outcomesbased approach for looking at the welfare of animals on the farm and indeed at other stages of their lives. There are a number of research projects ongoing at the moment trying to develop a userfriendly, robust, validated system of doing that. So our view would be very much it is far too early to move over to an outcomesbased approach. I think even when those measures have been identified and the process for measuring and scoring them has been developed such that it is repeatable and so forth, to move completely away from process and socalled input standards to an outcomesbased approach we would feel very much was not the right thing to be doing and indeed could give a false sense of security. I suppose one could take the example of the control of diseases in farm animals. If we looked across the industry at the moment, many of the major diseases that cause so many problems are not apparent, so if we look at the outcome at the moment it looks good, and yet it is a selfconfessed state of affairs in the industry itself that biosecurity on the farm is not a priority, is not well understood and is not well practised. I think there was a survey three or four years ago of farmers-clearly not a scientific survey, but still a snapshot-in which around 82% of those who responded said biosecurity was not terribly good on their farms and about one third said it was pretty much nonexistent. I noticed in the report that there was a suggestion that the industry should be given responsibility to improve education and knowledge in that area, which is great, but-
Q94 Neil Parish: I think it is about duplication of regulation. Where you have got farmers who have signed up to Freedom Food standards, then surely is that not something that could be adopted as partially-do you then actually need a DEFRA inspection for those standards of welfare as well? I think this is partly what it is all about, is it not?
Dr Wrathall: Yes. I think the idea of utilising information from other sources is an interesting one and our view would be very much that they should be used to contribute to the information pool but not to replace Government agencies’ role. The reason I say that is that whilst I am aware of the recent Warwick University study that did conclude that membership of UKASaccredited assurance schemes did tend to reduce noncompliance with the legislation and codes, what it did not say was it made them low-risk; it simply said it tended to make them lower-risk. I think the other difficulty is that you add complexity if you start using assurance scheme data instead of Government agency inspection data, because there are all kinds of things to think about within those assurance schemes: exactly what inspection regime they have, how frequent it is, how they are interpreting the standards they do set, how they deal with noncompliances and how long people have to rectify those noncompliances.
Ben Stafford: I do not have much to add. On your point, Mr Parish, about duplication, obviously it is sensible to try to avoid duplication. In terms of inspection regimes, it may be possible to reduce the number of inspections there and have a more general inspection, but if that is going to happen then the people doing inspection need to have the requisite experience, training and so on to be able to cover what is done through a variety of different regimes at the moment. One of the other points on the outcomebased regulation that came through from the report was about partnership and having more of a partnership between Government and the industry. Again, I think that is fine, but the partnership needs to go wider than that. Organisations such as ours on this panel have expertise and knowledge that we can offer to those processes, too. I notice that the Task Force suggested that NGOs might be involved "where it makes sense", which sounded slightly as if they wanted us not to be there all that often. I think it is important, if you are going to have those sorts of processes, that all of the interested stakeholders and parties are involved.
Dr Burns: It is definitely an attractive idea to move towards a more outcomesbased approach. We certainly feel that inspections should not be a paper tickbox exercise, and it is not appropriate to penalise heavily a farmer who has made a genuinely inadvertent error in his paperwork either. But we do still feel that there is a role for process compliance and a combination of the two is needed. If I could just give an example, in relation to the Environmental Impact Assessments in agriculture, if a farmer wanted to carry out work on uncultivated or seminatural areas he would apply for a screening decision and that would either allow the work to go ahead or mean that consent would have to be required. If he did not follow that proper process and he just ploughed up the seminatural area, it is very hard then to look at the outcome and determine if there has been any environmental damage because the original habitat has disappeared. So it is actually the process of observing that proper process that provides the protection in that case, so a combination of the two is needed.
Q95 Dan Rogerson: Do you think DEFRA should trust farmers more? Can you give examples of successful voluntary schemes that have improved the situation in terms of animal welfare or environmental goods?
Ben Stafford: Whether DEFRA should trust farmers more is a difficult question. Maybe DEFRA should trust some farmers more; the problem is it is difficult to generalise. All of our organisations, I think, have said there are lots of farmers who are doing very good things. If you look at the Campaign for the Farmed Environment, for example, we know there are some farmers who are doing really good work through that who are taking forward the options within it really well, but we also know from the information that DEFRA have produced themselves that around three quarters of farmers have not taken additional voluntary action through that and about 80% of those have suggested that they are not going to. So in theory, voluntary approaches can work well but there needs to be a recognition that if they do not, you have got to have other options and ways of getting the environmental outcomes that we want to see. I think in a way, the ball is in the farmers’ court on this. I know that the Minister wrote to the farming industry at the end of year two of the Campaign for the Farmed Environment and said, "One more year to go. We need to increase participation, we need to increase support." If that happens, then in all probability this initiative will continue. Maybe it will anyway-who knows? But the onus therefore really is on farmers to demonstrate that as a sector as a whole-not just as good people within that sector-they can deliver these sorts of outcomes. But as to whether there are good examples of voluntary initiatives working well, I think the jury is still out.
Dr Wrathall: I would agree very much with those comments. There are certainly some good examples of where voluntary initiatives have worked well within the industry. Indeed, I suppose one could cite assurance schemes as voluntary initiatives that in many ways have been very successful. I think there are some good examples within the pig industry-for example the Pig Industry Professional Register, which developed a few years ago to enable pig producers to gain recognition and additional training and professional development and, indeed, to have in effect a skills database within the industry, which I think has had pretty good uptake. But I would also agree that, to put it in stronger terms, for the Government to completely hand over responsibility in certain areas would not be appropriate. I think Government has an overarching role that must be retained. Society expects that of Government; it is the only body that is really accountable to the public overall. So there would still need to be in all these areas some oversight by Government and indeed, as Ben has said, for there to be effective demonstration by industry or whichever private sector body it was setting up a voluntary initiative that it was delivering and across the board.
Dr Burns: Yes, we would very much agree with that, particularly the need for a sound Government policy and regulatory framework in order to make voluntary approaches succeed. But, having said that, voluntary initiatives that aim to raise environmental standards are to be encouraged. It is a very good thing for the farming industry to accept ownership of environmental issues as well. In terms of voluntary initiatives that have succeeded, it is still early days with the Campaign for the Farmed Environment, but it does have a good process in place in terms of a monitoring framework, and that is clearly key-that the targets are appropriate and ideally are outcome-based, and that there is a clear way of measuring if an approach has been successful or not.
Q96 George Eustice: I just wanted to ask a very straight question to get to the bottom of where you are coming from-do you accept that farmers are overregulated at the moment in general? There has been a trend in the last 30 years, say, of that increase.
Dr Wrathall: I can only deal with the farm animal welfare side of things, and in terms of that side I think there are examples of where regulation-even where it has been higher in the UK-has actually been of value to UK farmers, not necessarily a burden. I do think it is important that there is not a view taken that regulation and additional regulation, for example in the area of animal welfare, is always and inevitably a burden to the industry. I think it is often very difficult for UK farmers to compete in a global market on cost alone. We have higher land prices, higher labour and so on. Very often we find that there are many UK farmers who are managing to run their businesses on the basis of differentiation. Increasingly in this country, we know from tangible evidence of sales figures that the point of differentiation is welfare. So I do not feel necessarily that in the area of animal welfare the industry is overregulated.
Q97 George Eustice: So the objective of the Task Force was not necessary in your view?
Dr Wrathall: No, I think there is a difference between the amount of regulation and the way in which it is delivered. There is the differentiation. I think that is what the Task Force was looking at. It very clearly said it did not want to reduce standards and did not want to get rid of regulations; it wanted to look at how they were applied and whether there was a more reasonable and sensible way to do that without losing the desired outcomes and intent.
Q98 George Eustice: Yes. My next point was about the assurance schemes, which I know you are sceptical about. But what are the areas that DEFRA currently covers in regulation that the assurance schemes do not at present? In other words, where are its blind spots?
Dr Wrathall: I would not necessarily say I was sceptical about the assurance scheme role and I do think there is value in utilising information from them where it is robust and validated. In terms of gaps, it is not so much gaps in standards and I think all the UKAS schemes would say that it is taken as read that their members will abide by the law. Many of the standards are very much about ensuring that. Just briefly to go back to what I was saying, I think it is more about ensuring that the way in which the assurance scheme standards are interpreted, delivered and enforced are the key issues, and there should not be an assumption that it will be in the same way as legislation is currently enforced-for example, by Animal Health. So you could have an apparently same standard that might be being dealt with and interpreted differently and enforced differently within a scheme. That is the point I was making.
Q99 George Eustice: Just to press you on this point, where are the areas that it misses? I understand your secondary point, which is it is not quite the same as regulation, but is there a particular issue that concerns you?
Dr Wrathall: Without going through every standard it is quite difficult to say. I would say the key elements, for example within cross-compliance on the animal welfare side, will in effect be covered by the main assurance schemes, but if Government is going to utilise the information from assurance schemes, particularly if it is going to assume that simply membership of that scheme means that the farm is lower risk, then I think some of those things will need to be looked at carefully. They are not insurmountable, but it could add complexity and I know that is the opposite of what the Task Force was trying to achieve.
Ben Stafford: I think I agree with Julia’s point. I am not sure that the industry is vastly over-regulated, but I think there is an issue about how it is regulated. So when you look at issues like inspection regimes, you can see that there is frustration about having lots of different regimes or databases sometimes that do not match up and things like that. There are questions about the way in which regulation is done, perhaps, rather than the overall extent of it. But I think when you consider the impact that farming has in terms of the environment, animal welfare and public health, then obviously you do need a fairly good body of regulation on that. In terms of the way in which CPRE approached this review, we saw it as an opportunity to improve regulation. We were not saying we just need to defend regulation per se; we felt that the Hedgerows Regulations could be improved so that they are more locally relevant across the country, and that would be good for the environment and potentially be helpful to farmers too in protecting them. We also felt that there was perhaps an opportunity to talk about some of the pressures that small food producers face, who at the moment are caught up in similar sorts of requirements on issues like labelling, compared to much larger producers. Those are obviously much more onerous for them-with their much smaller staff and cost base, and so on-than they are for bigger producers. So I think this is a good opportunity to look at how regulation is done, but not necessarily to say we need a lot less of it.
Dr Burns: I very much agree with the points that were already made. For us it was about an agenda of better regulation rather than deregulation. So it was not necessarily about the amount of regulation but about the process of that regulation in some cases and also about how it was implemented. So the Aldersgate group, of which we are a member, has concluded that quite often the costs of regulation to business are overstated, whereas the benefits of regulation to the public purse and to society generally in other areas of business can also be underestimated. So I think it is possible to overstate the regulatory costs.
Q100 George Eustice: I just wanted to press you on what might make a reliance on assurance schemes more acceptable. I take on board all your points, but the reality is that there has been a growth in regulation in all sorts of new areas in recent decades and that is what this report is trying to address. So is there something that could be done? For instance, if there was independent auditing of the assurance schemes by a panel, would that give you-
Dr Wrathall: Do you mean a sample of farms?
George Eustice: No, auditing of the criteria that they apply and how they operate and how effective they are -a panel that perhaps even your groups might sit on so that you have got some impact there. Would that help to make you more confident about that?
Dr Wrathall: I think that would address certainly one of the issues, which would be ensuring consistency across schemes. I think that would be the right thing to do from a farmer’s point of view, because membership of one scheme that perhaps is extremely stringent and strict in the way that it implements and enforces could conceivably put at a disadvantage that farmer who was found to be non-compliant, but maybe in another scheme was not. It is a hypothetical case, but in a nutshell, ensuring consistency of approach for all farmers is clearly right for them and is clearly what everyone would want to see. Without overarching scrutiny of the assurance schemes, I do not think we can achieve that simply at the moment by using the individual schemes’ data.
Q101 Amber Rudd: Both the RSPCA and the RSPB refer to a lack of evidence base for some of the Task Force recommendations. Can you advise what evidence you think DEFRA will need to provide to justify how it implements the report’s recommendations?
Dr Burns: I think it very much depends on the particular case. The example I gave earlier was a quite specific one about the agricultural industry being exempt from the IPPC regulations. That is quite a major change that would need a very thorough analysis. Another example would be what we were just talking about. There was a statement in the report that earned recognition relies on the assertion that membership of assurance schemes makes you low risk. Well, there would need to be some quantification of what "low risk" means. It is feasible to do this-to go back and look at membership of the various assurance schemes, which of course have different focuses: they may be very specific; they may have different levels of standards; also, their inspection regimes might be different-and you could look at how membership of those different schemes relates, for instance, to the likelihood of non-compliance in an inspection by a statutory authority. So you could go through the environmental aspects that are checked during statutory inspections and you could see the likelihood of doing better in that inspection if you are in various assurance schemes. So that could be done, but it has not been done at the moment. Julia mentioned that the University of Warwick had done that for animal welfare, but as far as I am aware that has not been done for the environmental aspects. But then at least you can start to quantify if assurance scheme members are lower risk, and indeed if they are low risk.
Dr Wrathall: I suppose just to take the example of some of the recommendations relating to changing the animal movements regime, I think clearly that is one that we are all very sensitive about and I am sure we recognise the huge risks that could be posed if we get it wrong. Certainly in those cases, especially where in one or two areas there are recommendations relating to harmonising across different species, I think it would be essential that DEFRA had all the epidemiological information that they needed about incubation times for different diseases, the way in which diseases spread differently between different species and so on, before those steps were taken. We all know what the disastrous consequences can be and I think before those changes to the movement regime-which we do actually feel are worth looking at; some of them seem logical and sensible. But at the moment none of us are in a position really, as far as we can see on the basis of information presented, to be certain that they are at least riskneutral compared with the current situation. So, further veterinary information would be necessary.
Q102 Amber Rudd: How do you measure whether DEFRA has successfully reduced the regulatory burden while maintaining the standards, which of course is the ultimate goal? How do we measure that, do you think?
Ben Stafford: It is probably something that can only be measured over time. If the regulatory burden is reduced as a result of these recommendations, then we will need to assess in the future whether the issues that regulation was put in place to deal with in the first place are still being dealt with by farmers in a more voluntary approach, or whether they have got worse. I think it will be very difficult to answer that question at this stage; it would be the kind of thing that will be evident over time.
Q103 Amber Rudd: What should the role of DEFRA’s Strategic Regulatory Scrutiny Panel be, do you think?
Dr Wrathall: I saw that that was announced in the DEFRA press release about the report, and I think we would like to know much more information about that body: the makeup of the body, the representation and the terms of reference, which obviously is what you are referring to. Also, it would surely depend upon the way in which DEFRA responds to this report. So whilst in principle we believe it would be extremely useful to have an overarching body looking at this and advising Government, I think it is too soon for us to be able to put forward any thoughts on what it should do or how it could work.
Ben Stafford: I would agree with Julia on that. It is not at the moment very clear what it would be. In some ways the fact that the Macdonald Report was an industryled process is now water under the bridge, but we certainly, and I am sure other organisations also, said at the outset it would be useful to have more representation of, for example, environmental bodies in this review. If we are going to have a strategic regulatory scrutiny panel, it has to ensure that it is involving all of the interests so it is not just an industryrun process. But at this stage, to be honest, we are not much clearer. We have seen the DEFRA press release but we do not know much more about what is intended.
Dr Burns: Really, to echo those comments, but also, going back to the point earlier about forging links with other stakeholders, we would feel that it is important that the different stakeholders’ interests were adequately represented. We did have concerns in the case of the Task Force that it was quite an industrydominated Task Force and that there could have been greater environmental representation on the panel. So that is something that I think would be important in terms of this new suggestion.
Q104 Chair Just to follow on from what George Eustice was asking, you have argued that assurance schemes cannot be relied upon to provide objective assessments; I think that was in your written evidence. Does this concern still apply to assurance schemes that are run on a notforprofit basis?
Dr Wrathall: I think the point that we were trying to make did relate very much to consistency. I am going back-sorry to repeat-to the way in which inspections are undertaken, the frequency of the visiting regimes and the way in which non-compliance is dealt with within those schemes. Though if the schemes are UKASaccredited there are certainly rules and regulations relating to how that happens, by their very nature the schemes are not statutory; they are private enterprises; they are businesses. I think those things need to be taken into account when judging the degree to which the information should be relied upon. Just to go back to the point, we do believe that the data from those have a role to play, but that it should not replace the Government’s role. We feel very strongly that with animal health-although going down a risk-based inspection regime is a very good way of ensuring appropriate coverage when you do not have the resource to visit everyone; I think it is a good approach-there should be a certain number of completely random visits, because although past behaviour can help to indicate future behaviour, full compliance in the past does not necessarily mean that you are always going to be fully compliant in the future. So a certain number of completely random visits we feel would still be absolutely necessary.
Q105 Chair Can I just turn to planning? Do you believe that planning guidance should be reviewed so large-scale agricultural holdings gaining planning permission could be looked at?
Dr Wrathall: I am sorry-I don’t quite understand the question.
Chair Should planning guidance be reviewed to make it easier for large-scale agricultural holdings to gain planning permission?
Dr Wrathall: Our view would be very much that every case should be taken on its own merits regardless of size, and key points should be looked at. We are pushing for farm and animal welfare to be included within the considerations of planning authorities, and our view would be it really should not be about size; it should be about the individual criteria being met by each application.
Ben Stafford: Can I just come in on that, because we have a particular interest in those planning-related issues? I think there is the potential for some of the developments that we are seeing-the large scale poly-tunnel developments; we obviously had the proposal for a very large dairy at Nocton recently in Lincolnshire; seasonal worker dwellings and so on-to affect the character and the appearance of the countryside; there is cumulative impact from them and so on. We are very pleased that the report talks, for example, about bringing poly-tunnels more into the planning regime but we think that there should be a fuller planning process for some of the bigger developments. That does not mean that if somebody wants to do something very small scale, it necessarily needs to have full planning permission and so on; but we think that given the impact that these sorts of developments can have on the countryside and on the landscape, we should be arguing in favour of a coherent planled approach to looking at them, rather than saying that there should be exemptions here and there, and freeing up the system, essentially.
Dr Burns: I agree with the points that have already been made. We felt that for some of the assertions that were being made about constraints on development, the evidence base was missing. There were anecdotes that local wildlife sites had been inappropriately designated, but no evidence was provided for that. That was, in our view, in contrast to the view in the Lawton report that better protection for these sites is important in terms of having a resilient ecological network to allow adaptation to climate change and so on. I would just very briefly like to come back to the point about assurance schemes, if I may. I do think what happens in the case of noncompliance is very important. For instance, if a private assurance scheme came across a case of noncompliance where legal requirements were not being met, there would not necessarily be a requirement to tell a statutory regulator that information. The report does actually say that the details of an individual assurance scheme’s audit should be a matter between the farmer and the assurance scheme and would not be passed on to the regulator. That is potentially concerning if, for instance, noncompliance with legal requirements came to light, with there not being any mechanism of passing that on to the statutory regulator.
Q106 Chair If I could just ask the CPRE initially, the Task Force made some quite dramatic proposals on the way that animal livestock movements are recorded. Do you have any concerns about those changes, Mr Stafford?
Ben Stafford: We did not really comment so much on those, to be honest. I think that is probably more one for the RSPCA.
Dr Wrathall: Again, in principle, many of the recommendations are certainly worthy of further consideration because I think they have the potential both to simplify and even possibly improve the current situation, which I think can be very difficult and does not always work very well. I think there are some practical and logistical issues that were touched upon in the report relating, for example, to what effect there might be on some farmers in having a fully electronic recording system. I think those would need to be dealt with and, as with the current regime, there would need to be ways of ensuring that it was working properly, because as I mentioned before, it is an extremely important issue, both for the farming industry and wider society.
Chair Thank you very much indeed for participating and for being so generous with your time.
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: David Clarke, Chief Executive, Assured Food Standards, and Jeremy Boxall, Commercial Manager, LEAF, gave evidence.
Q107 Chair Good afternoon and welcome. Thank you very much for participating in our inquiry. Would you each like to introduce yourselves for the record?
David Clarke: I am David Clarke. I am the Chief Executive of the Red Tractor farm assurance scheme.
Jeremy Boxall: Jeremy Boxall, Commercial Manager for LEAF-Linking Environment and Farming.
Q108 Chair Thank you. Where you agree, do not feel that you have to contribute; but where you disagree-if you would. I would just like to ask at the outset that, bearing in mind 80% of the work of DEFRA emanates from Brussels and the European Union, do you have a positive or a negative comment on the proposals that the Task Force made for earlier and more active engagement with the European institutions? How do you welcome those proposals?
David Clarke: I think the part of the report that concerns us is the two or three pages that discuss what has become known as "earned recognition". I am reasonably comfortable that the EU regulations would accommodate that.
Jeremy Boxall: I would agree. David mentioned earned recognition; that is where we come in. We operate within other countries in Europe as well and there is no issue there.
Q109 Chair Before we go into other lines of questions, it would be interesting to know who makes up your organisations and if you could explain what the purpose of the assurance schemes that you run are, with a particular emphasis on small farmers.
David Clarke: My scheme is probably the largest in the UK, maybe even in the world. It varies a little by commodity sector, but we have about 80% of farm production within our scheme. It started at different times in different commodity sectors, but it started during the 1990s, so we have been going for between a decade and two decades. We are owned by the industry-I do not mean the farming industry; I mean the food industry. We are established as a company limited by guarantee, operating on a notforprofit basis, independent of any particular interest in the food chain, but owned by the farm unions, the British Retail Consortium and some of the processer trade bodies.
Jeremy Boxall: We are a charity. We started back in 1991. The aim of the charity was and still is to promote a better public understanding of food and farming through a farming system called Integrated Farm Management, which is a whole-farm farming philosophy. We have various tools with which we help farmers improve their farming system. We have a selfassessment audit, which was developed back in 1993, which is available to members, and in 1999 and 2000 we started to develop the LEAF Marque scheme, which is a certification scheme based on environmental issues very much building on the assurance schemes of Red Tractor. Red Tractor is the baseline standards for our additional standards on environmental issues.
David Clarke: Sorry-I should have said the technical scope of our scheme is to cover food safety fairly comprehensively. In the livestock sectors we cover animal welfare comprehensively and we cover environmental protection, but I would not say that we cover all of the environmental legislation comprehensively. We cover some parts of the environmental legislation but not all of it.
Q110 Chair You did not say about small farmers. There is a feeling that small farmers are excluded.
David Clarke: We accommodate famers large and small. We have a lot of farmers who are involved in the development of the scheme, the setting of the standards and the procedures, with a view to ensuring that they are as farmer-friendly as possible. In most of our commodity sectors, we now have a banded scale of charges so that the larger farmers pay proportionately more than the smaller ones.
Q111 Amber Rudd: Can inspection by assurance schemes replace Government inspections, in your view?
David Clarke: I think you have to be clear about whether we take on the responsibility, or the task. I think the law is very clear that we cannot take on the responsibility for enforcement. The responsibility for enforcement has to remain with a competent authority, which would be a governmental body. I think what we can do is perform some of the tasks, which might otherwise be done by a Government body, that I believe we can do equally well and avoid duplication by both ourselves and Government bodies.
Jeremy Boxall: I agree with that, certainly.
Q112 Amber Rudd: But how do you check for members’ compliance with your supply standards?
David Clarke: I think as was said in the previous session, we have elected to use this European standard, EN4500011, which is actually built into some of the food legislation; the organic regulations, for example, require EN4500011 certification. We have elected to use that. EN4500011 brings a range of disciplines about the competence of the people doing the inspections, the frequency and the way in which non-conformance is dealt with. All of that is overseen by UKAS. We have embraced UKAS accreditation since the mid1990s.
Q113 Amber Rudd: Does anyone audit the schemes?
David Clarke: UKAS-the United Kingdom Accreditation Service, who were a Government body and are now slightly aside from Government but operating under a memorandum of understanding. They audit the schemes. There is an international network of accreditation bodies that provide a similar function across the world.
Jeremy Boxall: We are going one step further. Our scheme is UKASaccredited here in the UK, but we are also joining the ISEAL alliance. It is an international alliance of environmental social standards, which has a code of practice for setting standards in environmental social areas. It also has an impacts code of practice as well, which we will be following. We should attain full membership of ISEAL by September.
Q114 Barry Gardiner: I think you said that your assurance schemes’ standards do not entirely overlap with regulatory ones. Is that correct?
David Clarke: In some cases they do not, no. I have mentioned food safety, animal welfare and environment; we do not cover legislation outside of those things.
Q115 Barry Gardiner: The Committee has received evidence to suggest that that because environmental standards are harder to inspect, some assurance schemes might ignore those or not inspect them as rigorously. Would you agree that that is happening? Would you agree that there is a risk that that might happen?
David Clarke: If I could just answer that slightly differently; we have not covered environment comprehensively because we have seen historically that we are a productbased scheme, rather than a scheme to examine how a farm is run. Therefore, we have not gone wholeheartedly into that. More recently, we have begun to fill some of those gaps. I think Richard Macdonald yesterday mentioned the work that we are doing in IPPC alongside the Environment Agency, where we have picked up with them some of the gaps that we did not cover in our scheme; but we are adding those on as an additional module and doing that in a single inspection more efficiently than was being done before-and, I should say, more cheaply to the farmer. Where we did not have the skills inherently to do that, our inspectors went through a training programme with the Environment Agency to understand the way in which they would want them to be inspected and implemented.
Jeremy Boxall: We have some concerns about the inspection regime. We do train the inspectors and certification bodies and certification managers on our standards. Our standards are wholefarm as well, so the inspector is going on and looking at all the aspects of the farm, not just its individual enterprise. But we have a close relationship with all our certification bodies. We will be engaging in far more detail with our inspectors and everything going forward. There is room for improvement.
Q116 Barry Gardiner: Take me a little bit further. You are saying you have doubts about the efficacy of the inspection regime that your assurance schemes put in place.
Jeremy Boxall: Farm assurance and inspections happen once a year. An inspector only goes on to the farm one day a year, so they are taking a snapshot of what is going on on that farm on that day.
Q117 Barry Gardiner: Who says that?
Amber Rudd: That is under the scheme, isn’t it?
Jeremy Boxall: That is the scheme. We define the inspection regime.
Q118 Barry Gardiner: So if you think your inspections are not adequate, why do you not change the frequency with which your inspectors go on site?
Jeremy Boxall: We are looking at other ways of assurance. It is not just about the inspection; it is about how we as a scheme engage our farmers in achieving the standards as well. There is a whole range of tools we can use other than just inspections. We receive data back from our own farmers on the outcomes of the standards like water efficiency, CO2 emissions, nitrogen efficiency and various other aspects that we will develop and place into the standard. So there is a whole range of tools.
Q119 Barry Gardiner: Ultimately, the public are relying on you to check that what they filled in in their forms and sent back to you is accurate. Yet you have told the Committee that you have reservations about the efficacy of your inspection regime. As a member of the public, that does not give me a great deal of confidence in your assurance standard, does it? If you are saying, "Well, they fill in a lot of forms with a lot of figures but I am not sure that our inspection regimes are adequate to pick up whether they are telling us the truth or not, and we only do an on-site inspection once a year because we have stipulated that in the contract that we have with them", that sounds very weak.
David Clarke: I am slightly surprised you are saying that. We do have an inspection regime that is different for each commodity, and that we believe is suitable for that commodity. Yes, in some cases we do only inspect once a year, but that is far more frequently than a Government inspector will inspect those farms.
Q120 Barry Gardiner: Mr Clarke, I have no problem with the evidence that you supplied; you did not imply the same criticisms and I presume that that means that according to Assured Food Standards-Red Tractor-you do not have those reservations. Mr Boxall has expressed those reservations and therefore it is incumbent on us to probe why he has got the reservations about his scheme or any other scheme.
Jeremy Boxall: Well, it is just a snapshot of what happens on one day a year. You will get farmers who prepare for an inspection and have the right evidence on that day and everything else, and quite rightly they do it that way, but assurance is much more than just inspection and certification. We have got to look at different ways of ensuring compliance 12 months, 365 days a year.
Q121 Barry Gardiner: Obviously the schemes were developed in response to consumer interests in different aspects of food production. Would implementing the Task Force’s recommendations affect your focus on what consumers want?
Jeremy Boxall: No. We really have got to be clear on what our objectives of the scheme are, what we want to achieve with our membership, what our members want us to achieve with the standard and what consumers want to buy into in the marketplace. That is really where our focus has got to be. There is the opportunity to give greater benefit of being a member of our assurance scheme to farmers. If it is going to reduce the burden on inspection and regulation, then it is a benefit to our members.
Q122 Barry Gardiner: So your primary focus is on your members and the benefit to your members from the scheme?
Jeremy Boxall: And the consumer.
Barry Gardiner: Despite the fact that the push comes from the consumer . I n effect, the demand for your scheme is only there because of the consumer’s concerns with various elements of the production process.
Jeremy Boxall: Yes. The consumer is important and we are satisfying what the consumer requires in terms of environmental enhancement, protection and environmentally responsible farming.
Q123 Barry Gardiner: Mr Boxall, I was not suspicious before, but what you are telling me makes me feel that this is just greenwash, isn’t it?
Jeremy Boxall: No, it is not.
Q124 Chair Can I ask the question in another way? If you don’t make it attractive for your farmers to join the farm assurance scheme, they will not join.
Jeremy Boxall: They will not join.
Q125 Chair So there are gains for the farmers from the assurance scheme , and there are obvious gains for the consumer.
Jeremy Boxall: Yes.
David Clarke: I think our position is rather clearer. Our schemes are driven primarily by the major buyers from farmers, who are responding to the needs of the marketplace and therefore the needs of the consumer. One thing that is absolutely certain in those expectations is that the supplier meets the law. Therefore, we do have overlap with the regulatory process, absolutely clearly, and comprehensively in many cases. The fact that we might enhance the legal requirements because there is a market perception that some legislation is not up to current standards will mean that we add some criteria in there that are over and above the basic legislation, but our bedrock will be the legislation.
Jeremy Boxall: Can I say that we have a technical advisory committee that sets the standard for LEAF Marque certification? That technical advisory committee does include the RSPCA, Freedom Food, RSPB, Natural England, DEFRA and consumer representation. So we engage all our stakeholders in the development of the standard and what it delivers.
Q126 Neil Parish: The whole thrust of the Task Force is very much to try to stop duplication of inspection and how we can work together, and also look at what I believe is more of a risk base-so where there is the greatest risk that a farm is perhaps not up to standard, to inspect it more and perhaps the other farms less. So the question really is how easy would it be for you to share information about your members with Government regulators in order for them to determine individual business risk profile? I think that would be very important.
David Clarke: We have been doing that with local authority trading standards and the Food Standards Agency for four years now on inspections of farms against general food hygiene regulations. It has worked perfectly well; it works today. More recently, since April 2010, we have this arrangement with the Environment Agency on IPPC. The Food Standards Agency is adding to that arrangement on dairy farms and that was featured in Richard Macdonald’s report. Animal Health is consulting at the moment on an earned recognition arrangement for animal health inspections. We are already in detailed discussion with it about data transfer, and I see no problem with that. There are minor technical issues about IT systems, but they are not insurmountable.
Jeremy Boxall: We ran a trial with the Environment Agency last year on transferring data to allow for a lower risk assessment for farms.
Q127 Neil Parish: The Red Tractor, as you quite rightly say, already works very well with Government agencies. Why has this approach not been extended into other sectors already, do you think?
David Clarke: I do not think I am the right person to ask, to be perfectly honest. From my point of view, we are criticised by farmers because there is duplication of inspection. We will make ourselves available to any regulatory agency to try to deliver regulatory inspections more efficiently, and if our data can help to do that we would be willing to facilitate it.
Q128 Neil Parish: That would be open to Government regulators, would it? It is not confidential in any way.
David Clarke: There are questions of detail and I think one paragraph in Richard Macdonald’s report addresses that. But what we would say to begin with is that the fact that a farmer has a certificate testifies to the fact that that farmer complies with a wide range of standards that are documented in our standards manual, available on the website, and there will be full compliance with those standards. Now that piece of information alone-that the farmer is currently certified-implies a wide range of compliance with a lot of different standards. We would say that at one level, more information than that is hardly necessary.
Q129 Neil Parish: The final part of the question is, how does Europe view the use of third-party assurance schemes in monitoring compliance rather than Government regulators?
David Clarke: I have been talking in Brussels for a long time with colleagues about this, through CopaCogeca and other organisations, and to the Commission. I know there has been a system operating already in Belgium for about three years now, again on the same regulation-general food hygiene-that we are working on. I think it is less comprehensive than us; it is only fruit and vegetables. We have also worked with the Commission to develop some bestpractice guidelines for the operation of schemes, which were published in the Official Journal just before Christmas of last year, and I would say that we comply with all of the three-dozen criteria in there. So to establish guidelines for schemes that would be reputable for this purpose is another thing that has been done in Europe expressly for this purpose.
Q130 Chair Just to pursue one point that Mr Parish raised, do you think it would be a good idea, and would you be willing, to share information on breaches of your standards with the regulator?
David Clarke: We can do that. I heard the point earlier that in the case of a very serious nonconformance with the legislation, we would not make that information available to the regulator. I do not think that is true. But I would also say that we can take much swifter action, and in some cases more decisive action more quickly, than the regulator can.
Jeremy Boxall: The data that we supply, in effect, I guess, to the purchaser of the food from farms are compliant to LEAF Marque standards. But there is a system whereby the purchaser-and it could be the Environment Agency or whatever-is informed immediately that there is a change in a certificate status. So there are alert systems there that are used by industry that quite easily could be used by the Environment Agency or whoever.
David Clarke: Can I just elaborate on that? Our system is well used in the industry. An abattoir wants to know almost immediately if a farm that might supply them is no longer in our scheme, and over at least a decade we have online, real-time databases that are used by the industry. So if a farm is inspected tomorrow and fails the scheme, that is on the database today. We are now making that information available to trading standards officers, for example.
Chair I don’t know if Mr Eustice wants to ask about the independent scrutiny that you put to the other witnesses?
Q131 George Eustice: Yes. You probably heard the earlier evidence, but this was picking up on the issue about the extent to which we can have earned recognition, and farmers not have to have as many inspections from the Government if they have them from you. Do you think that would be more acceptable to other groups if there was some independent scrutiny of yours? How much scrutiny is there now?
David Clarke: I think there is now. The certification bodies that work in our scheme have to be accredited by UKAS, which means the systems of inspection, certification and signing off nonconformities-all of those issues that were raised-have to meet the EN standard and are scrutinised by UKAS. So there is an overview using an official Governmental process. Secondly, in the systems where we already have earned recognition-and the one we are talking to Animal Health about at the moment-we are not expecting absolutely no inspections of assured farms; we are expecting fewer inspections. I think it is perfectly proper that a small percentage might still be inspected in order to validate the system. That is what we have in place and what we will continue to have in place. Then thirdly, I mentioned the EU Commission guidelines. They have not put in place a mechanism for assessing schemes against those-it is out there but it is for selfdeclaration-but I would be very happy to be scrutinised against those best practice guidelines by any independent party.
Jeremy Boxall: I think we are under scrutiny, and assurance schemes generally are-quite often by a lot of other organisations, research institutes and so on-looking at the impact of assurance schemes and everything else. Hertfordshire have done some work on environmental policy areas on comparing assurance schemes, looking at the number of control points based on various environmental policy areas such as water efficiency or whatever. I mentioned the ISEAL alliance earlier. One of the big issues with the ISEAL code of practice is about the openness and transparency of the scheme. I do know that we have got to change some of the things we do within the next couple of months in terms of information on the website and everything. We are pretty transparent, but there is room for improvement against those codes of practice. They are assessing us. It is not us giving them information; they are seeing how they can find out about us. The ITC-International Trade Centre-have also got a standards database, which is looking at the comparison of I think currently about 70 different global environmental social standards. Our standard is currently being mounted on that standards database, comparing those 70 different global standards.
David Clarke: Can I just mention one more point? Our scheme operates in the market. One of the main reasons for having our scheme is that without the scheme, every individual buyer, every retailer, would want to make their own inspections against their own standards. What we are endeavouring to deliver is a scheme in which everyone can trust. By and large, we achieve that. The most serious level of scrutiny I get is that most of the retailers do some sampling of their own of the farms that are supplying them, just to make sure that we are delivering within the Farm Assurance Scheme what they expect us to deliver.
Jeremy Boxall: I think we must not forget what retailers and purchasers are already doing. There is a lot that happens with retailer protocols and so on, and inspections that go on there. I do also think that we as an organisation have quite a lot of farm visits, particularly with Open Farm Sunday; in terms of scrutiny, 120,000odd people went on to farms. Most of those would have been Red Tractor scheme members; a big proportion would probably have been LEAF Marque as well. There is consumer scrutiny of our schemes, our farms and our members.
Q132 Dan Rogerson: What is the cost to a farm business of joining your respective schemes and do you think that those costs are a disincentive to smaller farms from joining?
Jeremy Boxall: There are three costs involved in joining a scheme, particularly LEAF Marque. As an organisation, we are a charity; we have charity membership. You need to be a member of the charity to participate in the LEAF Marque and use the LEAF Marque label. That starts at £60, going up to £180 depending on farm size. So the smaller farms would only pay £60. Then there is the cost of implementing the standards on a farm. That could vary depending on what needs to be put in place, but there will be some effort required of the farmer to achieve our standards. I could not say what cost that is. But then there is an inspection. The inspectors we use will go on to the farm and do an inspection against our standards at the same time as Red Tractor schemes. So it is one visit up the farm track. Again, that is based on farm size and complexity of the farming business.
Q133 Chair Before Mr Clarke answers, could you give us a ballpark figure of what it would cost a small farm? There are three categories you have given us. What would be the annual cost to a smaller farm?
Jeremy Boxall: For a small farm it is £60 to join LEAF, the charity, and I think it is about £180 for the inspection and certification process.
David Clarke: As I said earlier, it will differ according to the commodity sector, because some inspections are simpler than others and in most sectors we have a banded system according to size. But I have in front of me the price for a small cereal farmer: up to 80 hectares, £150 a year. That includes everything.
Q134 Dan Rogerson: Could we maybe have some information in written form on the banding?
Chair Yes, if you could submit that in writing it would be really helpful.
David Clarke: Yes, I can do that.
Q135 Dan Rogerson: Coming now to the Task Force recommendations, do you think that implementing those might lead to assurance schemes becoming more expensive?
David Clarke: I think it goes back to an answer I gave earlier about the current scope of our scheme. Where our scheme is covering a piece of legislation comprehensively, I do not think it will make our scheme any more expensive at all; because we are covering the same data, we can make that information-that we have inspected that farm against those criteria-available to the regulator. Where there is potential for that is where we do not cover it already, and we might be asked to add additional criteria into our scheme. We would only do that with the greatest reluctance. We would have to analyse the cost and the benefits. Now in the case of IPPC, where we had to do that, the farmer was already having to pay the best part of £2,000 a year for registration and we got an £800 reduction from that. So there was a cost benefit in doing that. But that is where there would be some difficulties for us.
Jeremy Boxall: We have looked at the cost of implementing the Environment Agency data transfer, and there is an initial set-up cost and then a maintenance cost on an annual basis. The setup cost could be anything from £500 to £5,000, depending on the requirement, which we do not fully understand yet, with an annual maintenance cost of about £500.
Chair Could you submit that part in writing as well?
Jeremy Boxall: Yes.
Q136 Chair Could I just ask you to reply to Mr Rogerson’s question about whether you think it is a deterrent to small farmers joining the scheme? I would like to ask it on the part of one of my local farmers, who approached me recently to say that he felt-because of the costs and because he is a tenant farmer and the next generation do not want to carry on farming-that he really is finding that he cannot afford your fees and he is excluded.
David Clarke: My initial perspective is that we are not trying to force farmers into assurance schemes because of the earned recognition. The first position is that a huge number of farmers are in assurance schemes, and the question is why are they being doubly inspected for exactly the same criteria? If a farmer does not want to come into an assurance scheme and has no other reason to come into an assurance scheme, then earned recognition should not be a reason for doing that and there will have to be a regulatory process that picks up those farms. Most farms-probably all farms-come into an assurance scheme because it is a requirement of their trade buyers.
Jeremy Boxall: We do have a small producer scheme for small African farmers in Kenya, for instance.
Chair Unfortunately they cannot vote for us.
Jeremy Boxall: I know, but the principles of how that scheme works could potentially be applied to small UK farmers. We do have a lot of enquiries from small farmers who do not participate in Red Tractor schemes who want to join LEAF. I think assurance is a stepped approach as well. So they could join LEAF at £60. We have the selfassessment environmental management tool, the LEAF audit, that they could do themselves. So for £60 there is a level of selfassessment that they could do very easily.
Q137 Neil Parish: Couldn’t it be argued that, yes, it costs so much to join the assurance scheme that when you sell your product, you should be getting a little bit more for it? Is that not the way that, certainly in the past, the assurance schemes have been sold to the farmer?
David Clarke: No, they have never been sold that way. We have often been told they have been sold that way and we are not delivering. Look at it this way: remember I said that we have got most farmers in the scheme. We have got probably 95% of dairy farmers, so how can you get the premium?
Neil Parish: No; obviously, they think it is beneficial to be there.
Q138 Dan Rogerson: I am intrigued by what you were saying about Kenya there. Given the relative cost of production in this country and that country, and how their businesses work, I am just intrigued to know what fees they are paying compared to what a small farmer in this country is.
Jeremy Boxall: They have to work as groups and producer organisations to start with. So there will be a quality management system in place and they will be managed by technical managers.
Q139 Dan Rogerson: On the fee side?
Jeremy Boxall: On the fee side; up to 23 growers it is still £60; after that, it is the square root of the total number. So it is a reducing scale.
Q140 Dan Rogerson: But they would be paying their £60 collectively, as opposed to in this country, where it would tend to be on a farmbyfarm basis.
Jeremy Boxall: It is still £60 per grower up to 23 growers, and then after that it is based on the square root of the total number.
Chair Can I thank you both very warmly for participating in our inquiry and being so generous with your time? Thank you very much indeed.
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: William Worsley, President, Country Land and Business Association, Meurig Raymond, Deputy President, NFU and Vice Chairman of Assured Food Standards and George Dunn, Chief Executive, Tenant Farmers Association, gave evidence.
Q141 Chair May I give you a warm welcome, in particular William Worsley, whom I have the honour to represent. If we go from left to right, would you like to introduce yourselves, please, for the record?
George Dunn: Yes. My name is George Dunn. I am the Chief Executive of the Tenant Farmers Association.
Meurig Raymond: Meurig Raymond. I am the Deputy President of the NFU of England and Wales and I farm in a family business in Pembrokeshire, west Wales.
William Worsley: And I am William Worsley, President of the CLA, and I farm in North Yorkshire.
Q142 Chair You are all extremely welcome. Forgive me if I slip out for a few minutes. No disrespect intended; I shall come back as quickly as I can. Having looked at the conclusions of the Task Force, I note they have given a very robust recommendation that there should be earlier and more active engagement with the European Union. We are very mindful of the fact that 80% of DEFRA’s work comes from Brussels. Do you have a view on how this recommendation could be implemented?
William Worsley: Obviously, yes, a huge amount does come from Brussels, but also a significant proportion of this relates to UK and UK can implement a lot of the recommendations. We were discussing before the proportion. Probably 25% or 30% of the recommendations could be implemented without any need to refer to the EU, but obviously anything to do with the EU regulations does require agreement in the European Union. But there are an awful lot of things, earned recognition being one, that could be dealt with under UK regulations.
Meurig Raymond: We welcome the report, obviously. We have put a huge input into the report and we believe that it can deliver an awful lot, as William has said. But again, it is going to be about engagement: engagement at a DEFRA level, engagement with Government agencies and engagement right down to local authority level as well. We welcome the earned recognition bit, but it will also mean total engagement at a European level and a lot of lobbying on behalf of our Ministers and our industry to deliver a lot of what is in that report.
George Dunn: Absolutely. It can only be right that, when you have a body like the European Union regulating you to the extent that it is, you engage early in the process of ensuring that you have an adequate input. I think we said in our written evidence that the Nitrate Vulnerable Zones were an example of how perhaps in the `80s and `90s, we did not engage sufficiently well; if we only put in the same amount of effort as we have done in recent years in trying to get the regulations to work for us back in the `80s and `90s, we might have had a better nitrates directive. Similarly, though, you have got to think about the way in which the UK implements regulations. Again, we said in our evidence that if you look at the single payments scheme implementation, there was reasonably wide discretion in the way in which the EU decided that member states could set it up. DEFRA chose the most complicated way of doing it, and we know the problems that have been created from that. So yes, early engagement is important, but it is also about not trying to overcomplicate the implementation of otherwise reasonably straightforward regulations.
Q143 George Eustice: As a general overview, do you think that the Task Force has got the balance right between reducing the burdens of regulation on farmers and protecting standards as well?
George Dunn: In terms of the title of the report, it was about better regulation; it was not about simply reducing regulation. There were lots of scare stories about there being a bonfire of the regulations, and wreaking havoc through environmental animal welfare regulations. I really think, from our perspective, that the report has found the right balance. It is not just simply about cancelling regulations; it is about how regulations can be implemented in a fairer, more realistic, more riskbased approach.
Meurig Raymond: I support George on that. We came out with a statement that we believe the balance was right. We do not believe standards are going to be compromised. It was a huge inspection regime-we heard from David Clarke earlier-particularly through the farm assurance schemes. I believe it has caught the right balance. From an NFU point of view, we are not about compromising standards whether it’s animal welfare or environmental, because, again, we are all part of the food chain-whether it is the farmer supplying the processer and the processer supplying the retailer, right through to the consumer. The demands are feeding back down the chain to the farmer. So I do not believe there is any area where the industry could be compromised.
William Worsley: Likewise, we welcome the findings of the Task Force and are very keen to work with Government to reduce excessive regulation and indeed to maintain the high standards of farming and environment. We believe that regulation should be proportionate, targeted and clear. We think that the report helps to do this and will enable farmers and land managers to manage their businesses better, but in a more costeffective and better manner.
Q144 George Eustice: Just on that, you have all obviously spent quite a lot of time dealing with DEFRA in the past. How confident are you that they can make that leap and embrace a different culture when it comes to the way regulations are drawn?
William Worsley: I think culture change in any business is always a challenge. I have been involved in businesses where we have worked to change the culture, and it is a process that needs to be worked through. It needs leadership from the top, it needs monitoring and I believe that by getting culture change, you can actually manage things more cost-effectively and better. I think that it is not just culture change in DEFRA; I think it is culture change in other Departments and also local authority that is needed to bring this through. But I do think it needs leadership and drive and it needs what you might call a change agent to make it happen. I believe any business, properly directed-and that includes Government Departments-can engage with culture change and I believe it is something, looking forward with less money available in government, that Government Departments must engage with.
Meurig Raymond: I would support that. It is going to be about implementing the recommendations at the end of the day, but I honestly do believe that it is a starting point. I believe there is that culture change. It is about the growth agenda, it is about better regulation and I honestly believe through the Minister, through this report, then it is a start. Obviously, as we said, implementation is going to be extremely important, but it is also about avoiding the duplication on farms. That is the biggest frustration that I pick up with our members: the duplication, whether it is the inspector coming on farm, whether it is Red Tractor assurance schemes, then followed by a local authority inspector, Environment Agency inspector and so forth. When I go home at the weekend, I have a 34-year-old son and a 31-year-old nephew, and we run a fairly complex farming business. People want to get on and do the farming, and wish to be professional, and it is that duplication of inspection that needs to change. So it will need a total culture change right through the system, right down to local authority, but I honestly do believe this is the foundation and I believe the determination is there.
George Dunn: From our perspective, a lot of the culture change is about re-engaging with farmers at a grassroots level, who-they believe, and I would agree-are the experts for the land that they are farming. They have been farming it for years, decades, centuries; they know what they have got, they know how that farm land should be managed appropriately for the production and for the environment-for all the things that they are doing. I worry that we have not got the extent of the willingness to re-engage with grassroots farmers to that extent. When we have conversations with officials in Government, we quite often get the answer, "Well, we are in difficult times. Resources are difficult to get." Therefore, finding this culture change is going to be difficult, but certainly from a ministerial level, we have got the feeling that Ministers want to drive this through and therefore there is some leadership. That will need to be sustained, but against the difficult budget, we need to make sure that DEFRA and the other Government Departments, and the local authorities and agencies, properly engage with this report.
Q145 George Eustice: I just wanted to quickly pick up this point about better regulation. It has come up in all of the evidence sessions we have had on this and in many ways it has been like the mantra of regulatory discussion for at least the last decade. Do you not feel you need to win the argument for lower regulation-proper deregulation-in agriculture? Or are you satisfied with the level of regulation-it is just the implementation?
George Dunn: There is a tendency within any organisation to build layer upon layer of regulation, and at some point you have got to ask yourself, "Is all this necessary?" Things like, for example, the Agricultural Wages Board. We now have National Minimum Wage legislation. Do we need that? We don’t think we do. Therefore, we can remove that. So there are elements that you can remove and you need to constantly review that, but there are elements that you can simply be doing a better way, like the earned recognition idea. If you are being inspected for one thing, why do you need to be inspected for another? The two things have to go hand in hand.
Meurig Raymond: I would just reinforce the message: it is the duplication. Better regulation means less duplication-when you are being inspected for similar issues by different inspectors on a monthly basis. Again, as I said, I am proud to be part of the Red Tractor assurance scheme; we are members of LEAF because we grow potatoes, and it feeds through to Waitrose. So again, we will get a random inspection from our retailer and our potato packer. But then when you get these Government agencies-local authority inspector, BCMS-all coming down your farm lane, all within a few months of each other, all ticking the same tick box: I am sorry, but that is where we have got to get better regulation for an industry if we are going to go forward and meet the demand for food, be part of this growth agenda and deliver to feed 9 billion people or whatever it is. There are some big challenges out there. Less paperwork!
William Worsley: I would support Meurig. From experience, the number of inspections and the time inspections take is very time-consuming for a very small business where there are not a lot of people involved. However, there are cases where regulation is so gold-plated-for example coastal defence, where one of our members in Suffolk, for example, spent more money in getting all the consents and everything else than it cost him to do the work required. So I think there are places where perhaps we are overregulating and we need to ask the question why. I would suggest it should be quality rather than quantity of regulation. I am certainly not arguing that we do not need regulation; of course we do. It is how we regulate and how we monitor that regulation that is key. That is where I think this report does give some real lead, and the opportunity for change and to do things better.
Q146 Chair If DEFRA were to change the culture and reduce the level and better regulate, would that impact on your ability to make a profit in farming?
William Worsley: I think, without doubt. The vast majority of farmers are really engaged. Good management is what you need to run your business. Therefore, engagement with issues such as health and safety, good environmental management and everything else is about running a good business. If one had to spend less time having yet another inspection, actually ticking the same boxes you ticked last week, I think it would mean that farmers could focus more on the management of their businesses. Both Meurig and George have commented about duplication of inspections. It is a complaint we get all the time and I have seen it myself on my own farm. I think this would enable farmers to be far more focused on running good businesses. But a good business requires good management; good management is about complying with regulation.
Q147 Barry Gardiner: I wanted to focus on this transition from regulation to voluntary initiative. You will have seen the Andersons Centre’s comments that farmers have been sceptical about claims by the Government that it would deregulate in response to farmers taking greater responsibility themselves. They pointed out that it perhaps needs to be recognised that there is a limit to what can be achieved through voluntary initiative. They said the farming industry needs to be realistic in what it promises. How accurate do you think they are in those comments and how realistic do you think the industry is being about the potential for that transition from regulation to voluntary initiative?
Meurig Raymond: When I travel around the country and I speak to farmers, I am quite enthused by the willingness and desire to take that responsibility. We have talked about Red Tractor assurance schemes-people have joined up, they have become involved. We can talk about the voluntary initiative; we avoided a pesticide tax by going down that route. That, I think, has been a huge success. Through the Campaign for the Farmed Environment over the last six months, where there were some fairly strict targets set, I would suggest that again, there has been a huge buyin by the farming industry. So here are three areas of voluntary approaches where the farming industry has, in my opinion, become far more professional than it was many, many years ago. Going back to the Farm Assurance Schemes, there was no doubt that the food industry-from the retailer, down through processing, down to the farm-has actually driven farm assurance in lots of instances, particularly in the milk sector, as we heard earlier; if you are not farm-assured, you find it very difficult to find a buyer. It is more or less identical in the horticultural sector if you are going for your vegetables. In the red meat sector it is probably slightly easier, because certain red meat products are exported and there are not quite the same demands on the primary producer.
Q148 Barry Gardiner: Let me take one of the schemes that you referred to-the Campaign for the Farmed Environment. You will recall that the Minister called on farmers to back the CFE, so there was a specific ministerial initiative: "Please come on. Do your bit here. Put your backs into the scheme." But the most recent assessment found that 20% of farmers are currently not doing anything for the CFE, and around 60% of land that could contribute to the CFE voluntary measures target is not being managed in line with the essential requirements. Now, you gave that as an example of farmers doing well by voluntary agreement, and as a justification for why it would be a good thing to move from more regulation to more voluntary initiative. But here the figures do not exactly give one the confidence that, even when the Minister makes a personal appeal, that has been happening.
Meurig Raymond: Can I turn that around? Because if there are 20% of the people not connected, there are 80% who are connected, and, 12 months into the scheme, I would suggest that that has been a huge development.
Q149 Barry Gardiner: 60% of the land that could be managed in accordance with the scheme is not meeting the essential requirements.
Meurig Raymond: It does take time. There were some fairly highreaching targets set. But when I travel around the counties that are expected to achieve, again, the enthusiasm of the people driving this in those counties I admire tremendously, and I see it as a big plus for the industry. One of the reasons why there are certain people who are slightly sceptical-and I say slightly sceptical-is maybe that we have the review of the CAP and we have this debate about whether there is going to be further crosscompliance and further greening of Pillar 1. So are we now going to get involved in a voluntary scheme or the Campaign for the Farmed Environment; or, within 12 or 18 months, is it going to be forced upon us with crosscompliance? So that, I would suggest, is holding one or two farmers back.
Q150 Barry Gardiner: Why would that hold them back? If they are considering going in under the voluntary arrangement, why would the fact that they might be forced to comply in a year’s time stop them getting involved in the voluntary arrangement now? I do not see that.
Meurig Raymond: Because they believe they may be forced in at a later date so they are just-
Q151 Barry Gardiner: I would have thought that that would make them think, "Well, we may as well get involved because we may have to."
William Worsley: I think one of the things that people do-and I am afraid this is a fact of life-is that they think that if they start from a lower baseline, it will be easier for them, and they fear that if they do the work now, it will then just be ratcheted up on what they are doing. That is certainly holding some people back, I agree. I actually think the campaign has been very successful. I think it set very, very high targets to start with and I think that we are moving towards those targets. Yes, there is still a lot of work to be done, but I do see engagement from farmers. Yes, there are those who are sceptical and there are those who are sitting on the sidelines, frankly piggy-backing on others. I think those are the people we should be focusing on. Again, if you go to the riskbased approach-the earned recognition-those are perhaps the farmers that we should be looking at. But I think that one of the things that has inspired me is, where farmers voluntarily go for improvement, the outcomes tend to be better than when they are told what to do. I think it is part of encouraging, rather than telling. Farmers on the whole are very keen to do what is best, but they like to be supported to do it, rather than to be told what to do. I think that is a mood of farmers, who are very independent beings.
George Dunn: We need to bear in mind that the 60% you are talking about is of a very small constituency, because we had to bank what was already going on in terms of good practice regarding the ELS and HLS; that land was already in schemes and therefore could not count towards the CFE targets. So we are not talking about the whole of the farmed environment here; we are talking about quite a small constituency. What I would also say is we should not be just focusing on CFE. The Government should only really be involved where the market fails, and the market is already delivering substantial amounts of assurance through contracts with trade bodies, supermarkets, through FABBL, through AFS, through LEAF, etc. So we need not get focused just on one particular aspect; there is a broad range of accreditation out there. And of course we need to remember that farmers have, over the past 10 or 20 years, felt that they have been talked to rather than talked with. I think the more that we change the culture towards talking with, as opposed to a talking to, we will see much more engagement in the process. If you take the Environment White Paper, for example, the Government has said that it wants more of an outcomebased approach than a processbased approach. Now, we think that is great. How you achieve an outcomebased approach when you have got two very processdriven schemes-the ELS and HLS-we will wait and see. Nevertheless, the mood music is right, and when we have talking with rather than talking to, we will get much more and better engagement.
Q152 Barry Gardiner: Can I just ask Mr Worsley-or any of you gentlemen-you were talking about the success of the scheme. You said that the CFE has been moderately successful, given the short period it has been in train. What percentage targets of land being managed in compliance with the essential requirements, and what percentage of farmers engaging and doing that, would you then say in respect of, "Here is a voluntary scheme"? At what period of time-six months, nine months, another year, more than that? Give us the benchmarks and the criteria of success. And then in a year’s time we as a Committee will be able to say, "Well, here it was. It was a voluntary scheme and either it did work or it did not work according to your own lines", rather than us trying to say, "Well, the figures that we have got do not suggest it has been too successful at the moment."
George Dunn: Just before we move on to that, I think that is the wrong question. What we are saying is, if you are in a voluntary initiative and you are meeting these targets and criteria, why should you be doubly inspected? We are not saying those people who are outside the scheme should not be inspected.
Q153 Barry Gardiner: No, sorry Mr Dunn, but we are not. What we are talking about here is the justification for the transition from regulation to voluntary. That is the key. So if we are going to justify that greater move from regulation to voluntary, we are entitled then to say that we need to know what constitutes success in a voluntary environment. That is what I am asking you.
William Worsley: I cannot give you specific numbers because, to be blunt, I cannot remember them. But the scheme does have targets and they are agreed targets amongst all the bodies that set it up. Some of those targets are very stretching; others are more achievable. I think if we get close to the targets of the scheme, the scheme will have done extremely well. So I think when you come and look at it in a year’s time or more, if the campaign has met or nearly met its targets, it will be a huge success. From a personal perspective-and I said this publicly when it first started-I felt some of the targets were pretty aspirational but in order to get agreement with all the bodies involved we all signed up to them. I have also felt that some of the targets would take longer to achieve than the time scales given. But if we do achieve them-and I am pretty optimistic that we will-then I think you can look and say that yes, the voluntary scheme, the Campaign for the Farmed Environment, has really worked; that has been shown. But to be honest with you, even looking at it now, the engagement that the industry has had with the campaign-and this is both with organisations like ourselves and the NFU and the TFA, but also RSPB and the farming press, which has been hugely supportive of this-shows the desire and the willingness of the industry to engage with a voluntary approach to regulation. I think that in itself is a really encouraging message that you can take away and say, "This is an industry that is willing to engage, that is engaging and is determined to succeed in that engagement."
Q154 Barry Gardiner: Perhaps you could do a note for us as to the targets and those levels. That would be much appreciated.
William Worsley: I can certainly do that.
Q155 Neil Parish: Just to pursue that point, I think if you can actually take farmers with you on a voluntary basis to sign up to an environment scheme, you are going to get an awful lot more out of those farmers than you are just forcing down a particular scheme. That is just a comment really.
I think we are all in agreement now with the Task Force that we want to try wherever possible, instead of having compulsory inspections done by DEFRA, to actually have them done through the systems of assurance schemes; that would be a good way forward. But are you slightly worried that it might be a way for Government then to shift the cost of inspection away from Government on to farmers?
George Dunn: I want to go back to what I said in response to Mr Gardiner: the report is not talking about replacing Government inspections with voluntary inspections. It is talking about individuals who are already in a voluntary process-be that because they are in a contract with somebody or because they have joined a scheme-earning the recognition that might give them a reduced risk profile to be inspected by the state. We are not talking about replacing state inspections. State inspections are still going to be there. Now, many of our members are involved on a voluntary basis, either under contract or because they have taken the decision to join a scheme to be involved in these arrangements. They will be having those costs anyway. What we are saying-and I think what we are all saying in agreement-is, why should they then face further inspections from a state body looking at the same thing? So we are not talking about complete replacement. The cost is already being borne by our members on a voluntary basis. More people may be encouraged to join because they exempt themselves or have a lower risk profile from a state inspection, but there will still be state inspections. We are not expecting all state inspections to disappear. So we do not see it as a significant issue.
Meurig Raymond: I agree with George. The industry is actually paying to be members of the Red Tractor assurance scheme and LEAF at the present time, so the industry is financing itself to earn that recognition. It is about earning that recognition and that being accepted across all the regulatory departments, whether it is local authority, DEFRA and so forth. We are not saying that will totally replace the total inspection regime, but I would reinforce the message that earned recognition is what we are latching on to in this report, and the farmers are doing a highly professional job. They are paying for the schemes at the moment; that ought to be recognised. It has been recognised through the food chain-from retail to process back to farmer-so if that could be recognised through all the regulatory regimes out there, that would be a step in the right direction.
William Worsley: I would agree with both Meurig and George. I would also like to add that the cost of regulation to Government is very significant. It is not just the cost to the industry; it is the cost to the taxpayer. If regulation can be done more effectively by taking into account the risk of people not complying with regulation, which is why I think earned recognition is an appropriate way forward, the Government can therefore inspect more effectively because it can be much more focused on where it is putting its resource. So where you have people who are members of assurance schemes-members of LEAF, members of other organisations-and have a track record of performance, then Government can focus where the risk is higher. That information is all there. The likelihood is that those businesses are being run properly, efficiently and appropriately. So it is very easy to say that the risk of those people not complying is not great. Therefore, you can focus where perhaps the risk of noncompliance is higher. Therefore, I do see this as not just a way forward of cutting cost to the industry-and the cost of regulation to the industry is very high-but also cutting cost of regulation to Government and therefore the taxpayer, but making it much more effective.
Meurig Raymond: Can I follow with one other point? Again, I think back to the milk industry, where over the last 10 years we have been farm assured. We have had that inspection, we have followed through the protocols and then probably within six to eight weeks we have had the dairy hygiene inspector coming through from the Food Standards Agency. Through the consultation process of late, that hopefully will be an inspection of the past, and that dairy hygiene inspector from the Food Standards Agency will come on to our farm maybe once every 10 years. To me, that is taking out the duplication, and that should save a lot of cost to society. The farmer still has to pay for his dairy farm assurance scheme, but at least that should, from a societal point of view, save a lot of cost in the longer term.
Q156 Neil Parish: This is a slightly leading question. How easy do you think it is going to be to change the culture within the FSA, DEFRA and the Environment Agency, and convince them that these assurance schemes are credible, so that they will take the information that is coming through as to the risk of them having to investigate that farm being much less? We keep talking about changing the culture; what are your three views?
George Dunn: To be honest, it is not going to be easy. This issue of earned recognition has been given a name recently, but it has been going round the houses for quite a long time in terms of discussions within Whitehall and so on. We have seen over recent years the Environment Agency and Natural England becoming much more multidirectional in their conversations with the farming community. It is not going to be easy, but here we have a Minister who has said to Richard Macdonald, "Be bold". Here is a report that brings it all to a head; now is the time to achieve that. So we do not underestimate the difficulties but we have got to get there.
Meurig Raymond: As far as the assurance schemes are concerned, whether it is Red Tractor assurance or LEAF, there is a board and that board is made up of farmers, processers, retailers and consumers. So there is that recognition that that is the direction of travel for the whole food industry. So I believe it is totally accredited. The culture of change would be through Government Departments and Government agencies. I guess that is not going to be easy because-dare I say it?-there is protection of positions, jobs and roles. But it is going to take a fair bit of leadership; it will take some change. I just hope that the drive and the desire are there from the very top down through, to avoid this duplication. It is not going to be easy but I believe that the desire is there to achieve these goals at this time.
Q157 George Eustice: I want to move in to a different area of this in the report. They were very bullish about the opportunities to move more services online, replace paperwork with digital solutions and have this digitalbydefault approach. Do you believe that there is a lot of scope to achieve things there, or are you sceptical?
William Worsley: The first thing is that 20% of farmers have not got adequate capacity broadband. Until you can have that it is impossible for people to engage online. That is the first problem. There are ways of going online but it is hugely costly; there is wireless technology and satellite technology but it is a very, very costly way of doing it and that is not costeffective. So the principle we would support; the principle of doing things online is the right way forwards. But the two problems are first, that, and secondly there is the need for computer literacy amongst certain sectors of the farming community. Quite a lot of farmers are perhaps of a certain age where computers have come late in their lives, and so there is a need to address this and to give training. The final thing I would add is that the forms have got to be much more userfriendly. For example, I was asked to do the June census online. We have done censuses forever. It usually takes about 10 minutes, maximum. But we could not get the password or the username; we spent hours on the telephone trying to get it. Now, this is the right way forward, this is the right way to engage; but Government has got to be much more userfriendly in the way it is doing it. There is a need for better broadband. This goes right across the rural community. If the rural community is going to be put on the same footing as the urban community and is going to be able really to compete, we have to have proper, adequate capacity broadband.
Q158 George Eustice: Are you basically saying, then, that you need to maintain the paper system as well until all rural areas have broadband?
William Worsley: I think until all rural areas and all farmers can have adequate capacity broadband, we will have to maintain the paper system, but it is something that we should be moving towards because it is a much more efficient and effective way of doing this. But it does need to be made more userfriendly.
Q159 George Eustice: Can I just throw in one other point, which I think the report said? They recognised that this was a challenge and they talked about perhaps there being call centres that farmers could ring in the interim to help them.
Meurig Raymond: I totally agree with William. We agree in principle it would be lovely to get a paperless industry, but that is not going to happen, because, again, 25% of the industry are not even linked up to broadband. So it is going to take a fair bit of investment. There is the skills issue as well, with lots of farmers who are not used to IT. But you only need to think back over the last five years and the development in the cattle movement service-BCMS. If you go back five years, very few farmers were recording births and sales online; now I think it is about 60%. That has been a huge development. I think to overcome the issue of skills for some of these people in more remote areas, as the NFU we have a group secretary network. There may be auctioneers and estate agents who may be prepared to be part of a help system. Again, people would have to be encouraged to be part of that, but it might be an opportunity for certain people in the industry to move along the IT route. I think it is going to be a longterm challenge, but I believe we are moving in the right direction and in principle, we agree with moving the industry down the IT route.
George Dunn: I think we are in a completely different place now. I remember giving evidence to this Committee in its previous guise when it was the Agriculture Select Committee 10 or so years ago, when we were looking at moving to complete digital within five years. That was a complete nono then. But we are in a different place. We do believe that we can get there with some assistance on the broadband issues, as William was saying. However, we need the systems to work and I know there have been huge problems with our farmer members getting onto the HMRC website, for example, to do simple things like PAYE and VAT because of the capacity issues. So it is okay to say "digital by default" and there are demand issues; there are also supply issues we need to think about. Maybe we should incentivise it. We have a system already where people can apply for SPS-single payment scheme-online. Now I know very well that quite a lot of people who did their SPS applications online still had to wait months and months and months to be paid. Why can we not have a faster system through, if you choose to use the online system? That surely must incentivise people to go for online. I do not think call centres are the answer, because they are faceless in the end. We need to have the sort of hubs that Meurig was talking about. I am Chairman of Farm Crisis Network; FCN could provide a role here to assist people with that technology. So there are lots of ways forward and I think there is a willingness for the industry to engage; but we need the supply side to be right.
Q160 George Eustice: Just on that point about incentives, I think the report also recognised that and it talked about incentives to encourage farmers to adopt it. Maybe later completion dates, lower permit charges-do you think that would have much impact, or are farmers basically still going to resist it while they do not trust the system?
George Dunn: No, I absolutely think that it would have a major impact upon people taking up online. If they knew they had a slightly longer time to do it, there was a faster processing that they could rely upon, or there was a different inspection regime or whatever-any incentive that you can provide is going to assist people moving from paper to online.
Meurig Raymond: There are people now involved on IT in cattle, recording births and sales and so forth, whom I would never have dreamt would have been online five years ago. Again, there has been an incentive for these people to move down this route, and again, you are back to a voluntary initiative and the industry taking the responsibility and moving forward.
Q161 George Eustice: Can you trust it on things like cattle movements, do you think?
William Worsley: I was just going to say I was really pleased that George brought up incentives, because when I started out the one thing I forgot to mention was incentives. I believe you have got to incentivise people. The moment you start incentivising farmers, they will wake up and get excited about it and engage. A farmer will engage with a new sprayer because he is going to save cost, to put it bluntly. If we can create incentives for farmers to engage with doing things online, I think that will really encourage them to engage.
George Dunn: That does not have to be financial. Faster processing saves costs.
William Worsley: And it’s easier.
Meurig Raymond: A simple way to do it is, those who fill out online for their single farm payment get paid first-common sense.
Q162 Barry Gardiner: I think this is an easy one. The Task Force recommended that individual farmers be asked by DEFRA to comment on legislation, to contribute to the formation of legislation-really, to sense-check it. Is this something that you would be totally against?
George Dunn: We said in our evidence that the one thing our members say to us time and again is that they feel disfranchised from the policymaking process. It is okay having TFA, NFU and CLA involved in the consultation exercises, but every farm is different and every farm has to comply with the regulations in a slightly different way. So the ability for people at grassroots level to have an input with the people who will be inspecting and regulating them must be a good thing, as well as having the engagement at a higher level with us.
Meurig Raymond: Yes, it would not be an issue for us, obviously. A lot of farmers want to work through their trade associations-they expect us to deliver the message and so forth-but at the end of the day, it is going to be about engagement. You are back to this culture. Please engage with the industry, and the industry then can drive these messages forward.
William Worsley: I would support what both Meurig and George have said, but I think that there are two things here. First, we have responded to 31 different consultations since the beginning of the year. It would be unrealistic to expect individual farmers to do that. So to a degree, the reason people are members of organisations like ours is for us to respond to those. So I think we should not be closing the door; we should be encouraging. But I think our members expect us to be doing this. That is why they are members.
Q163 Barry Gardiner: Indeed, and the Task Force recommended that there should be increased involvement of you, as associations, as well.
George Dunn: I also think if you look at what has happened in the Environment Agency, for example, where there is a need for regulatory inspection, quite often the Agency representative will come on to the farm and say, "I am concerned about this, I am concerned about that, I am concerned about the other." The farmer can then have a dialogue and say, "Well, the reason why it is like that is because of x, but I will do that. Is that all right?" There is a dialogue and the guy says, "Okay. You do that, that and that, and I will come back in six weeks’ time and look to see how it is." That is a good dialogue at a local level to get an outcomebased approach to the regulatory impact. So it is at that sort of level that we are talking about that engagement.
Q164 Barry Gardiner: If there is that increased engagement, then DEFRA obviously has to have the increased capacity to do that. That implies increased costs perhaps to your members from that. Do you think that those costs would be worth it?
George Dunn: It is a cost-benefit analysis, isn’t it? If there is simply going to be a cost on the operation, the answer is going to be "no". But clearly there will be benefits for the way in which those businesses are being operated. So they will see the benefits to their businesses, and therefore it will be a "probably" rather than a "yes".
Meurig Raymond: That engagement is working. If you come back to Red Tractor assurance schemes, when the farm inspector goes on the farm, he has an understanding with the farm: he sits down, he engages and talks to the farmer and the people involved in the farm. Again, that can add greater understanding. So again, that engagement has been there for the last number of years. When inspectors and regulators from Government agencies come on the farm, you need that understanding and engagement, rather than going in there with a big stick. There is a fear within certain people in the farming industry that the inspector comes to beat them around the head, and that is not the way to change the culture.
William Worsley: I absolutely agree. I think the key thing is, farmers tend to be very proud; they are very proud of what they are doing. Where they will really engage is where people come to see them and they see them as being on-side, supporting and helping rather than telling. I think that is a very important culture change and I know the Environment Agency, particularly under Chris Smith’s leadership, has really engaged with trying to change the way they go about regulation. That is an example of where culture change is working through the organisation. Therefore, they are seen as being on-side. I live in an AONB and the AONB officer, who has been there for quite a long time, is very supportive. He knows everybody and he has been seen as being part of the solution, as opposed to part of the problem. I think that is the change of culture and regulation that we need. So farmers see the regulators actually helping them to deliver what they want to be delivering, rather than hindering. I think that is a key culture change we need to try to drive through.
Q165 Chair Can I just turn to farmtofarm livestock movements? The Task Force concluded that these have a lower disease risk and so should not trigger a standstill. Do you agree with that? Do you share my concern about the six-day rule? That is my individual concern, not perhaps shared by the whole Committee; as I have two auction marts I am aware that the sixday rule is having quite a damaging effect on trade at auction marts. But first of all, on the farm-to-farm livestock movements.
Meurig Raymond: I think there is an extremely important bit of work here and the recommendations as a package are a good start for a debate within the livestock industry. The six-day standstill has probably upset more people in the livestock industry than anything else over the last number of years, and if that six-day standstill could be abolished, I think it would be a step in the right direction. I think we do need to look at livestock auction markets because again, if you look at live auction markets across the country, some are extremely good at biosecurity, traceability and so forth. I think if someone can demonstrate that competence, then I question whether we need that six-day standstill for the livestock markets. There is a 10mile radius that has been talked about for movements without recording and so forth. Again, that needs looking at. I think in an intensively farmed livestock area, 10 miles may be the right distance. I do not know what the science is. Again, if you are in an extensive livestock area, particularly in the uplands, then I would suggest to you that 10 miles is not great enough. So again, I think this is a good package where we can have a debate and we can actually relinquish some of the difficulties that a lot of livestock farmers face, particularly around the six-day standstill and the recording that is expected.
William Worsley: I would completely agree with Meurig.
George Dunn: I would just add that I think it is right that there is sufficient evidence to say that farmtofarm transfers represent a low risk, and therefore they should be removed almost immediately. I think for livestock markets, to use a phrase that is wellworn, they should earn the recognition. If a particular livestock market is being used for transfers, if they can prove they have got good traceability and biosecurity, then that livestock market can have the sixday standstill removed from it as well. So I think this is, as Meurig said, a good basis for taking the issue forward.
Q166 Chair I think it is established that farmers themselves recognise their awareness of biosecurity is low. I think it was in Farmers Weekly in 2007 that an independent survey supported the view that 82% of farmers at that time admitted their biosecurity was not up to standard. How do each of you think that that could be improved, allowing the Government to adopt a more trustled approach?
George Dunn: From our perspective in terms of talking to our members, I would say that biosecurity is a big concern. Indeed, I have had conversations with members when inspectors have come on to the holding who have not cleaned their boots, not put on an overall in a pig unit, etc. where biosecurity has been a big concern. But we need to remember that these farmers are operating in the open air. If they could box their farm operations and put them into a factory, biosecurity would be easy, but they have to deal with wildlife, members of the public, open gates and so on. So my view is that farmers are aware of their biosecurity and do as much as they can to manage it. But there will always be things that are outside their control.
Meurig Raymond: It is a big issue. When I travel along to pig and poultry farms, I am always amazed by the level of biosecurity; you have basically got to have a shower before you can enter the premises and so forth-remove all your clothes and all that goes with it. So that part of the industry is highly professional and there is exactly the same level of biosecurity on lots of dairy farms. The expectation is there; the demand is there. On livestock farms it might be slightly different because cattle are more extensively grazed and so forth, but there is no doubt that on the farms that I speak to, biosecurity is very much on their agenda at the moment. You only need to see the issues around bovine TB and the spread of bovine TB, where people are extremely concerned about biosecurity. It is very much on farmers’ agendas, I can promise you that.
William Worsley: I think also we have seen considerably greater awareness of the issues of biosecurity as the years have gone by. Certainly since 2007, I think that farmers-a lot of it is education-are much more aware of the importance of and need for biosecurity. I think that certainly farmers have engaged with it.
Q167 Neil Parish: Right, gentlemen, we have got the Task Force report; so what should DEFRA’s response be?
Meurig Raymond: We would hope at the NFU that if you look at the 215 recommendations, what can be delivered and delivered quickly by the Minister, let’s deliver and implement. That sends the right message and the right signal to the industry, and back to earned recognition. Then our guess is that a percentage of the recommendations are going to take parliamentary time and debate, and a fair percentage of the recommendations are going to take a fair debate at a European level through the European institutions. I would hope that Secretaries of State and Ministers will start that debate, because we are on a long road to delivering those 215 recommendations. But the industry out there has some great expectations, so let’s start delivering some of these recommendations, free up the industry, let the industry go ahead and produce the food that is going to be required. Let’s deliver some implementation.
Q168 Neil Parish: I agree with a lot of that. Just before anybody else answers, the RSPB felt that the Task Force recommendations lacked a sound evidence base. Would you agree or disagree with that?
Meurig Raymond: I would disagree with that.
Neil Parish: I thought you might.
William Worsley: I agree with everything Meurig said, including his last statement. I completely disagree. I think that there is an awful lot in this report that could be implemented now and I think we should get on with it, particularly the risk base-the earned recognition. I do think that there are issues that require the European Union to change and I think we need to be engaging and negotiating on these points. But I also think we need to be encouraging culture change. That is going to be a big thing, because we should not assume that all regulators are invariably objective about this and that they are all free of selfinterest. I think that culture change is needed and this is something that needs leadership. This is again something that Government could give. I think that will be a really good sign. Then, it is for the industry to show that it can deliver.
George Dunn: From my perspective, those people who are crowing about this not being a very evidencebased approach had the same opportunity as everyone else to put in their evidence to support whatever regulations they wanted to support. This was not an industryled approach; this was an independent body of Government-there were consumer representatives on the panel and so on. We had to make our representations as much as the RSPB or anybody else had to. So let’s not pretend that this was not an open, fair and reasonable process to reach this report. What I would say is that we need to have three columns: A, B and C. A are the things we can do immediately because we do not need changes in legislation-this is just policy and practice; B are those issues where we need to change national regulations or national primary legislation, which might take a little bit longer; C are those areas where we need to engage with Europe to change rules and regulations, which might take longer still. That whole process needs to be governed by this wonderful thing that the Minister talked about: the Scrutiny Panel. We do not know much about it; we do not know who is going to be on this or what the remit is going to be. We think there needs to be a proper process for ensuring that the Government is held to account on implementing this within a reasonable time scale, rather than allowing it to sit on a shelf somewhere in Whitehall and gather dust.
Meurig Raymond: Can I come back as well, Mr Parish? There is that great expectation within the farming industry because this has been a huge consultation process over the last couple of months, and at the NFU we have delivered a basic spreadsheet of what we think can be delivered and what will need some extra time, and if the Committee would wish us to pass that on, we are quite happy to do that. Can I pick up George’s point on the Scrutiny Panel? Again, it is so important that it is not just us who are being scrutinised here today, but the independent stakeholders around the industry. I think we all need to get together and deliver what we can as soon as possible. Something has just been passed to me for the Chair’s benefit. I have just been told that a west midlands partnership is being set up around training and professionalising the farming industry, and biosecurity is very much on the agenda. I am told there is a huge take-up from the livestock farming community in biosecurity and the training that goes with it. So again, that is very much part of the culture change that William talked about earlier. I am extremely optimistic that the industry is up to taking on board that responsibility. Just give us the tools to do it.
Q169 Neil Parish: Can I just press all of you on the review panel? I think the make-up of this review panel and how it acts and looks at what is happening with the whole reduction of regulation and better regulation is essential. Whom would you ideally like to see on it, and how do you see it properly scrutinising what is going on?
George Dunn: My view-and it may differ from the views of William and Meurig-is that Richard Macdonald has a role here to be an advocate for his own report. He should certainly be involved in the process of ensuring that the report is delivered, by chairing such a Scrutiny Panel, in our view. I also think that we need to have proper representation from industry, from environmental bodies, from animal welfare bodies and from consumer interests, and that it is not just the usual suspects within the Government quangos that are on this group-that it is a proper external Scrutiny Panel that says, "Here are the recommendations. Here are the three columns. How is the Government doing in achieving this?"
William Worsley: I would support everything George has said, including the name. I noted it was appropriate that this Committee is meeting in the Macdonald Room; I thought it was a highly appropriate place to have the meeting. But I think the key to it is that it is independent. It needs a chairman who is of a stature to hold Government to account, but it does need to have the breadth of members that gives it a real credibility. It should not be full of the usual suspects who would just nod, and it needs to have people from all the different areas involved on it, so that it can be seen to be doing the job properly. I think that is very important. So it needs to have independence and it needs to cover all the areas-from farming and environment to the food industry. We are not pushing for no regulation; we are just arguing for better regulation and a better way of doing it. I think that will be the way forward.
Meurig Raymond: Could I reinforce that message? I think there is an important role here for the Chairman of the Task Force, Richard Macdonald. It does need to be independent, and I also would like to see it connected into the Better Regulation Task Force in BIS as well as DEFRA-better regulation; deregulation. For every new bit of legislation, one has got to drop off at the side; I think the Prime Minister talked about two. So I think we do need to move forward with the Task Force recommendations. Let’s start delivering, and let the farming industry get on with farming and producing the food and managing the environment, which we are very good at.
William Worsley: If I may, I would just like to add to what Meurig has said. It is really important that this is crossdepartmental. It is not just about DEFRA; it is about DCLG and particularly local authorities, but it is also about issues like planning and the constraints that planning brings to the rural economy. It’s about breadth, the rural economy and the importance of trying to deal, particularly at the local level, with the constraints on rural businesses.
Q170 Chair I think we have established that biodiversity is an issue-that we want a cultural change and better regulation-but do you think the food processing industries are sufficiently locked into the process? I know the TFA are very keen to see the Task Force recommendations be implemented by DEFRA sooner rather than later, but do you think your industry has a responsibility as well to make the recommendations happen without leaving it to the Department alone?
William Worsley: I think we as an organisation have a responsibility to give leadership to our members, and indeed it is something we have tried for many years to do. I think part of the Campaign for the Farmed Environment is an example of the associations giving leadership. So yes, I do think we have a role to play in this. I think it is very important that we stand up and encourage our members and farmers to play their part. So I do not see it as just Government; I see it as all of us engaging. I think that is the way forward.
Meurig Raymond: I think it is extremely important that the whole food supply chain is brought into this. I still come back to where we started: I believe as an industry we have earned that "earned recognition" over the last number of years through Red Tractor farm assurance schemes and LEAF because, again, the whole food supply chain is brought into the concept of farm assurance. So I think that has got to be a very good starting point. It is about the food industry and making certain that the consumer has great faith in British food. That is what the Red Tractor stands for.
George Dunn: I would absolutely agree. I have nothing to add.
Chair Thank you all very much indeed for being so generous with your time and contributing to this inquiry.