Date: 19 November 2013
ISBN: Only available online
Committee: Agriculture and Rural Development
Remit and Powers
The Committee for Agriculture and Rural Development is a Statutory Departmental Committee established in accordance with paragraphs 8 and 9 of Strand One of the Belfast Agreement, under Section 29 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 and under Assembly Standing Order 48. The Committee has a scrutiny, policy development and consultation role in respect of the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and has a role in the initiation of legislation.
The Committee has power:
- to consider and advise on Departmental budgets and annual plans in the context of the overall budget allocation;
- to approve relevant secondary legislation and take the Committee Stage of relevant primary legislation;
- to call for persons and papers;
- to initiate inquiries and make reports; and
- to consider and advise on matters brought to the Committee by the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development.
The Committee has 11 members, including a Chairperson and Deputy Chairperson, and a quorum of five members. The membership of the Committee is as follows:
Mr Paul Frew (Chairperson)
Mr Joe Byrne (3) (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Thomas Buchanan
Mr Trevor Clarke
Mrs Jo-Anne Dobson
Mr William Irwin
Mr Declan McAleer (1,4)
Mr Kieran McCarthy
Mr Oliver McMullan
Mr Ian Milne (2,7)
Mr Robin Swann (5,6)
1 With effect from 23 January 2012 Ms Michaela Boyle replaced Mr Conor Murphy
2 With effect from 08 May 2012 Mr Chris Hazzard replaced Mr Willie Clarke
3 With effect from 19 May 2012 Mr Joe Byrne replaced Mrs Dolores Kelly as Deputy Chairperson
4 With effect from 10 September 2012 Mr Declan McAleer replaced Ms Michaela Boyle
5 With effect from 03 December 2012 Mr Danny Kinahan replaced Mr Robin Swann
6 With effect from 21 January 2013 Mr Robin Swann replaced Mr Danny Kinahan
7 With effect from 15 April 2013 Mr Ian Milne replaced Mr Chris Hazzard
KEY ACTIVITIES, OUTPUTS AND ACHIEVEMENTS
1. This report covers the work of the Committee for Agriculture and Rural Development during the 2012-13 parliamentary session of 3rd September 2012 to 5th July 2013.
2. The Committee considered and scrutinised both Policy Proposals (SL1s) and Statutory Rules including approving 29 pieces of secondary legislation dealing with a wide range of topics from animal and plant health, organic farming, fishing and policies for payment of European funding schemes. Two of the more noteworthy pieces the Committee considered are noted below.
3. The Welfare of Animals (Dog Breeding Establishments and Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations – this piece of subordinate legislation introduced standards for commercial dog breeding establishments and a new licensing regime. It was brought forward through the Welfare of Animals Act (NI) 2011 under the affirmative procedure. The proposed legislation caused considerable debate amongst the many stakeholder with a wide and very diverse range of opinion emerging on the standards to be included in the legislation. The Committee informed itself on the issues by holding a stakeholder event, visiting two dog breeding establishments and taking oral and written evidence. The Committee worked closely with DARD officials to clarify the position on a number of the contentious issues. As a result, the Minister made substantial changes to the proposed legislation such as changes to the definition of breeding establishment, the requirement to have an older bitch or dog spayed or neutered after its breeding life was finished and before rehoming and changes to the levels of paperwork required by a breeding establishment. A link to the Assembly debate on this issue is below:-
4. The Agriculture (Hardship Payment) Scheme (NI) 2013 – between the period of 21st – 24th March 2013 a significant and unexpected snow storm caused extensive livestock losses in Northern Ireland with South Down, Antrim and parts of Tyrone experiencing the worst losses. The Committee called an emergency meeting on the 28th March 2013 and was briefed by the Permanent Secretary and his team on the emerging issues, the course of action being taken and the future plans to deal with the situation. The Committee also heard that the Northern Ireland Executive had agreed hardship payment for farmers in the areas worst affected. The Committee also heard from two local farming groups from the Mournes and Glens of Antrim, and from the National Sheep Association and called on the Minister for payments to be made both quickly and in as simple a manner as possible. The Committee also expressed concerns that the cost for removal and disposal of dead animals was to be taken from the monies made available by the Executive. On 16th May, the Committee had a briefing from the Minister on the details of the scheme and were content that, as requested by the Committee, it would be a simple scheme making it easy for those farmers affected to obtain a hardship payment.
5. In the 2012 – 13 session, the Committee agreed to focus its policy scrutiny by undertaking thematic reviews of certain key policy areas as described below. As well as these thematic reviews the Committee undertook ongoing policy scrutiny of other areas such as progress on the DARD business plan, in-depth investigation into the proposed DARD HQ relocation to Ballykelly, PfG targets such as the work of the Agri-food strategy board and investigation into the food supply chain in Northern Ireland etc.
Review of the Single Farm Payment Process
6. In October 2012, as a result of numerous concerns about the delays in payments of the 2011 Single Farm Payment (SFP), the Committee undertook a review of the processes and procedures used by DARD to administer the SFP Scheme. The scheme which is worth around £300m is of vital importance to the farming and rural communities in Northern Ireland. The Committee commissioned research and a process map on the SFP, had a closed session briefing from DARD on this and took oral evidence, from NI Agricultural Consultants Association, from Ulster Farmers Union and the Northern Ireland Agricultural Producers Association and from DARD officials. The Committee also commissioned research papers on the use by Ireland and Wales of Remote Sensing within their SFP processes.
7. After it had completed its policy scrutiny the Committee instigated an Assembly debate, on the 14 th January 2013. During this debate the Minister indicated that DARD would, in future, speed up the inspection process and thus the payment process by increased use of remote sensing. A link to the debate on this issue is below:-
Contamination of meat products with Horsemeat
8. Under Standing Order 64B, the Committee for Agriculture and Rural Development and the Committee for Health, Social Services and Public Safety, agreed to sit concurrently when there appeared to be a connection with Northern Ireland organisations and the contamination of beef products with horsemeat. On Tuesday 12th February 2013 the Concurrent Committee held a meeting in the Senate Chamber of Parliament Buildings and took evidence from the Food Standards Agency NI, Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and representatives from Local Government Environmental Health Service. This meeting built on other briefings that the Committee received from DARD and allowed the Committee to take a position of strong support for local industry.
9. The Committee also took written evidence from a range of national supermarkets regarding the processes and procedures they had in place to prevent such contaminated products reaching the shelves, and what the supermarkets are doing to ensure the interests of the farmer at the one end of the food supply chain and the consumer at the other are protected. The information collected by the Committee can be found at the following link.
Review of Bovine TB
10. During the 2012/13 session the Committee concluded its evidence gathering for its review of bovine TB aimed at exploring what measures DARD could take toward the reduction and eventual eradication of Bovine TB. It agreed its report, with 16 recommendations on 13 th November. One of the issues dealt with in the report and which caused debate within the Committee and with stakeholders was how DARD would deal with Tb in wildlife and badgers in particular. Prior to publication of the report and in response to the Committee scrutiny on this issue, the Minister announced that her Department would bring forward a pilot for an innovative and untried concept of catching badgers, testing them for TB, releasing those who tested negative and removing those who tested positive.
11. The report was debated and agreed by the Assembly on 26 th November 2012. The Department responded formally to the report in January 2013 accepting and agreeing to implement all bar three of the recommendations. The Committee has followed up on Departmental progress on the recommendations throughout 2012/13 and will continue to make this a priority for the 2013/14 session. A copy of the Committee report on Bovine TB can be found here
12. A link to the debate on Bovine TB can be found here:
Review of Tree Disease
13. Following the widely publicised outbreak of Chalara Fraxinea (Ash Dieback) the Committee decided to review the approach and policies of DARD and Forest Service on plant health and biosecurity with specific reference to tree disease. The Committee took evidence from a range of stakeholders in the private, public and voluntary sectors and held a stakeholder event on 19 th February. The Committee also visited Belfast Port to see the controls and biosecurity in place around the import of timber, timber products and plant materials, and visited Woodburn Forest to see at first hand the impact of the disease known as P.Rhamorum.
14. As a result of this policy scrutiny, the Committee agreed a position paper in June 2013 detailing nine key issues that the Committee advised the Minister to address. The Committee also agreed to bring the key issues to the Assembly for debate, on 9 th September 2013. The link to the Committee position paper is below:-
15. The Committee examined departmental budgets on nine occasions during the parliamentary session. These sessions included scrutiny of the proposed Monitoring Rounds, the Outturn reports and updates, and the Departmental Budget Settlement and Saving Plans. The Committee noted and approved the Departmental bids in the October 2012, December 2012 and June 2013 Monitoring Rounds. The Monitoring Round bids included increased compensation for Bovine TB, additional revenue for the Hardship Payment Scheme and for the Fodder Transport Scheme.
16. The Committee held 40 meetings in the 2012-13 Session, one of which was external, and received evidence from 215 witnesses from 28 organisations. The vast majority of these meetings, 88.38%, remained in open session for the entirety of the meeting. The Committee held two events and carried out six visits throughout the year as detailed below.
17. Dog Breeding Establishments Stakeholder Event, Long Gallery, Parliament Buildings, 18th September 2012 - The Committee organised this event to hear the views from stakeholders on the proposed Welfare of Animals (Dog Breeding Establishment) Regulations (NI) 2012 which were to be laid by the Department in the Assembly for debate and vote. The aim of the event was to enable the Committee to hear the opinion of a wide and diverse range of stakeholders. The event was based around three subgroups each discussing different key issues and themes within the legislation, with the feedback from each group fed back to plenary session. The information gathered at the event informed and shaped the Committee opinion and scrutiny of the legislation. The information from the event can be found at the following link:-
18. Tree Disease Stakeholder Event, Long Gallery, Parliament Buildings, 19th February 2013 - As part of its work into the thematic review of Tree Disease and to enable it to hear from a wide range of stakeholders, the Committee agreed to hold an event on the subject on Tuesday 19 February 2013. After a key note address from the Woodland Trust, Committee members and stakeholders broke into discussion groups each debating and commenting upon different issues. Members found the information gathered from this event to be very informative and it was extremely useful in shaping its position paper which has been sent to the Minister for comment.
19. Kilkeel Fishing Port, 18th October 2012 - The Committee visited Kilkeel Harbour in County Down and met with representatives of the Anglo North Irish Fishing Producers Organisation, and local trawler men. Members also met with a number of the Departments officials who are based in Kilkeel and had the opportunity to board the and view FPV Banrion Uladh (Queen of Ulster), the Departments recently purchased modern fishing monitoring vessel.
Committee Members visit the South Down Port of Kilkeel (left) and meet with the Anglo North Irish Fish Producers Oraganisation and Trawlermen (right).
20. Dog Breeding Establishments, 83 Clabby Road and 59 Lisginny Road, County Tyrone 8th November 2012 - In undertaking scrutiny of the Welfare of Animals Dog Breeding Establishments the Committee agreed that it would be helpful to visit and discuss the proposed legislation with actual dog breeders. Members picked two establishments representing a large scale and small scale breeders.
Committee Members meet with owners of two dog breeding establishments in Clabby (left) and Lisginny (right) County Tyrone.
21. Belfast Harbour and Woodburn Forest Carrickfergus, 11th April 2013 - As part of the Committee review into Tree Disease Members visited Belfast Harbour and Woodburn Forest Carrickfergus. At Belfast Harbour the Committee heard how DARD implement protection measures at the port for timber and wood imports including how to identify and deal with diseased or infected products. At Woodburn Forest Members were able to see the effects of the disease P. Rhamorum and see experimental plantings of saplings designed to test species resistance to tree diseases.
Committee Members examine various species of creatures that can spread disease through importation to our local species (left), and the Committee look at the effects of disease on an actual forest at Carrickfergus.
22. Brussels, Belgium, 24th – 25th April 2013 - At the time of the Committee visit, the European Union was coming to a conclusion on its position on the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and the Common Fisheries Policy. Members taking part in the visit took the opportunity to hear about progress on these and on issues such as Horizon 2020, bovine TB, Tree Disease and the EU response to the horsemeat scandal. Meetings were held with the three Northern Ireland MEPs, with EU Commission Officials and with officials from the UK, Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland Governments. The Committee also took the opportunity to visit the largest Seafood expo in the world and to talk to the only Northern Ireland company represented – Rooney Seafood – about what more can be done to promote and market Northern Ireland seafood.
Committee Members visit the Rooney Fish NI stall at the European Seafood Exposition in Brussels (top left), the Committee and the ETI Committee with the three NI MEP’s (top left), the Committee delegation with the staff of the NI Executive Office Brussels (bottom left), and Members with the Secretary of State Theresa Villiers (bottom right).
23. Balmoral Show, Balmoral Park, Lisburn, 16th May 2013 - In May the Committee visited the Balmoral Show in its inaugural year at the new Balmoral Park. Members attended the Ministers breakfast event before meeting and greeting members of the public, including many farmers, at the NI Assembly marquee.
24. Mount Stewart and Kiltonga Nature Reserve, Newtownards, 13th June 2013 - The Committee held a formal meeting in Mount Stewart where it received a briefing from the National Trust on how they manage tree disease. It also heard from the Rivers Agency regarding the forthcoming Reservoir Bill and considered how it would apply to a local reservoir at Kiltonga . Members also visited the National Trust plant nursery at Mount Stewart and Kiltonga Reservoir.
Committee Members visit Mount Stewart and meet with representative of the National Trust.
25. Over the course of this parliamentary session the Committee has taken three motions to the chamber for debate. On the 8 th October 2012 the house debated the 'Current Crisis in Farming', on the 26 th November 2012 it debated the Committee Report on Bovine TB and on the 14 th January 2013 the Assembly Chamber discussed the Committees review of the 'Single Farm Payment Process'. The link to these debates is below:-
26. The Priorities for the Next Session are :
- The Reservoirs Bill
- Implementation of the Common Agricultural Policy including the new Rural Development Programme 2014 - 2020
- Ongoing consideration of the processes and procedures around the Single Farm Payment Scheme
- DARD response to and plans for implementing the relevant recommendations contained in the “Going for Growth” strategy
- Bovine TB
27. Details of Committee expenditure for the session are contained at Appendix A.
28. Anyone wishing to contact the Committee for Agriculture and Rural Development should do so at the following addresses:
The Clerk to the Committee for Agriculture and Rural Development
COMMITTEE FOR AGRICULTURE AND RURAL DEVELOPMENT
Committee Expenditure for Parliamentary Session 2012 – 2013
Committee Travel - committee members and staff travel and subsistence in relation to visits and meetings outside Parliament Buildings
Includes the cost of committee visits to:
Cost of refreshments for committee meetings, working lunches, seminars, room hire and witness expenses