Our Trainee Solicitor, Kashif Aslam, takes a look at the legislation protecting Welsh agriculture - and how it might change post-Brexit.
The Agricultural Sector in Wales employs 4.1% of the Welsh working population. Welsh agricultural land makes up about 10% of the UK’s total – with 35% of active farm land dedicated to livestock.
With Brexit on the horizon, Welsh farmers have raised concerns about the impact on the agricultural sector in Wales. They fear Brexit might lead to the sector disappearing – unless the Government can match the subsidies under the EU’s common agricultural policy (CAP).
The agricultural sector is extremely important to Wales and its economy. Many farmers get involved in farming from an early age, particularly if they grew up on a farm. But, Welsh farmers earn an average £13,000 per year - much less than the national minimum wage.
The Welsh Government has included Food and Farming as a priority post Brexit, hoping the sector will be ’prosperous and resilient, promoting Wales’ present and future wellbeing’.
What legislation is currently in place to protect Welsh agriculture?
The Agricultural Sector (Wales) Act 2014 aimed to support the agricultural sector. The Act is due to expire in July 2018 – unless steps are taken to preserve or amend it.
One of the Act’s main focuses is setting agricultural wages. It also:
- Established an Agricultural Advisory Panel for Wales with a remit to:
- promote careers in agriculture
- prepare draft agricultural orders
- submit to and advise Welsh Ministers on matters relating to the agricultural sector
- Promotes upskilling of the Agricultural Advisory Panels Skill
- Contains a sunset clause so that the Act will cease to have effect after 31st July 2018.
Although the Act only came in to force in 2014, it’s caused controversy.
Firstly, people questioned whether it was necessary to have legislation in place at all. It was also passed through as an emergency bill, following Parliament’s decision to revoke the Agricultural Wages Order 2012 and abolish the Agricultural Wages Board. The Act also contained issues relating to devolved and non-devolved matters – and the Supreme Court ruled that Welsh ministers could set agricultural wages.
How will this legislation change?
With Brexit looming, changes are expected in UK agricultural policy and legislation. The UK will no longer comply with the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) – meaning further legislative policies will need to come in to force.
The Assembly’s Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee reviewed the implications of Brexit on the Agricultural sector. They listed immediate challenges as:
- The risk of failing to achieve a trade deal with the EU allowing access to EU markets without tariffs. Trading under the World Trade Organization Rules will be hugely disadvantageous.
- Providing the same level of funding to the agricultural sector in Wales as the CAP did until at least 2021. The UK should devise a plan to determine how the sector will be funded in the long term.
- Updating the regulatory framework to focus on the production of high quality food and ensuring the widest possible access to markets.
- A transitional arrangement to provide stability. Any changes, particularly to funding arrangements, will require a transitional period equivalent to the current and next CAP cycles.
What happens next?
A consultation will take place between before 4th September 2017 to seek views on the Act’s effectiveness. Questions include:
- Do you think the Act should be preserved?
- Do you think the Advisory Panel has fulfilled its duties since its inception?
- Do you consider Agricultural Wage Orders (which set minimum levels of pay for agricultural workers) beneficial for agricultural workers?
Welsh Minsters will draft a report detailing the effectiveness of the Act as soon as practically possible. If Ministers decide to keep the Act in force, the Order preserving the Act must be in place by July 30th 2018.
With Britain’s exit from the EU nearing its completion, it’ll be important to keep the Act in force – and to ensure that it’s sufficient to maintain growth in the sector.
The sector will lose its EU benefits and funding post-Brexit – and will also lose any benefits from the Act, unless it’s re-engaged. But, re-engaging the Act might not be enough to secure the well-being of the agricultural sector. It’ll need to be amended – to increase funding and allow the sector to survive and grow, rather than collapse.