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The outcome of the independent Farming Regulation Task Force - Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

Trust and the use of voluntary initiatives

1.  We agree that a non-regulatory approach should be the starting point for addressing a policy issue. We recommend that Defra enshrines this principle in their policy-making process. Policy-making officials in Defra should be explicitly assessed on how they have given consideration to non-regulatory approaches. (Paragraph 15)

2.  While we see the benefits of responsibility-sharing, giving the industry more responsibility means allowing farmers the scope to fail to meet the expectations placed on them. Defra's response to our report should set out the policy areas where it considers increased responsibility-sharing is appropriate, given that this approach entails greater risk. (Paragraph 16)

3.  Evidence on the effectiveness and suitability of voluntary approaches as opposed to regulation is not clear-cut. However, we conclude that voluntary initiatives offer significant potential, which merits further development. Following the end of the Campaign for the Farmed Environment in 2012, Defra's Centre of Expertise on Influencing Behaviours should conduct a review on the success of Defra's voluntary approaches and set out how future voluntary initiatives should be designed to maximise their success. (Paragraph 20)

Adopting an outcome-based approach

4.  We recommend that Defra's default option should be to regulate based on outcomes rather than compliance with processes, unless there is a strong reason for doing otherwise. The supporting case should be set out in the impact assessment accompanying the new regulatory proposal. Suitable justifications for process-based regulation might include the need to adopt a precautionary approach or difficulty in reliably or cost-effectively quantifying the outcome. (Paragraph 24)

Earned Recognition

5.  We support the principle of using earned recognition to better target, and perhaps reduce, Government inspections and conclude that this could lead to a more efficient use of resources. Defra should aim to establish a system of earned recognition to target cross-compliance inspections. Defra should negotiate in Brussels to ensure that the reformed Common Agricultural Policy offers scope to do this without breaching EU audit and control requirements. Defra, in conjunction with the farming industry, will need to commission further research to model the link between assurance scheme membership and risk of non-compliance with regulation. Defra should also periodically review the appropriateness of the models it uses to assess farming businesses' risk profile. (Paragraph 32)

6.  Defra must ensure that the implementation of a system of earned recognition results in a genuine reduction of costs for farmers as well as Government. Where farm assurance schemes are expected to shoulder additional responsibilities, the cost of this should be shared between members of the assurance scheme and Government. If a system of earned recognition is implemented more widely, Defra must ensure that the cost of assurance scheme membership does not result in smaller farms being disproportionately targeted for inspections. (Paragraph 35)

Interactions with European Union institutions and other EU Partners

7.  Defra's Regulatory Assessment should include an assessment of whether regulations with EU origins are over-implemented and identification of ones where de-gilding can be achieved swiftly, ideally without recourse to amending statutory instruments. (Paragraph 40)

8.  We support the Task Force's recommendations that Defra's engagement with EU institutions should be greater, earlier, and in partnership with industry. Defra will need to ensure that adequate staff resources are made available to EU policy teams in order to translate this recommendation into action. In addition, we highlight the importance of seeking allies among the other Member States. (Paragraph 43)

9.  We recommend that the Leader of the House work with the Procedure Committee to take forward the proposal that Delegated Legislation Committees consider a substantive and amendable motion. (Paragraph 44)

The Task Force's Approach

10.  We are confident that the Task Force's approach enabled them to gather substantial evidence, which they have endeavoured to reflect in their report. However, Defra will need to assemble a firmer evidence base, including detailed risk assessment and cost-benefit analysis surrounding recommendations where the risk of a negative impact is high. (Paragraph 48)

11.  Defra will not deliver the full potential of the Task Force's report if it is not willing to pursue the renegotiation of existing European regulations. Defra should build on the opportunities presented by the Commission's own simplification initiatives to engage forcefully with the European Commission and other Member States in this area. We recommend that Defra report, by May 2012, on its engagement with the Commission's Action Programme for Reducing Administrative Burdens in the European Union. (Paragraph 52)

Defra's response to the Task Force's report

12.  While it is important to get the membership of the Scrutiny Panel right, this will be of little significance if the Scrutiny Panel has no powers to hold Government to account. We recommend that Defra's initial response sets out the composition of the Strategic Regulatory Scrutiny Panel and its terms of engagement with Defra to clarify how it will hold Ministers to account for their implementation of this report. In our view, it would be appropriate for Ministers to have to justify why they have not followed the recommendations of the Scrutiny Panel. (Paragraph 56)

13.  Defra's response to the Task Force's report should provide a clear schedule and time-table for implementation of the Task Force's recommendations to enable the Strategic Regulatory Scrutiny Panel, external bodies, and this Committee to hold Defra to account. For each recommendation referring to a specific regulation, the report should set out who the owner of the regulation is, a target timescale for making any changes, a brief statement setting out Defra's initial response to the recommendation, and a description of any additional evidence that will be needed before a final decision can be made. (Paragraph 57)

14.  We recommend that Defra set out the actions it will undertake to achieve culture change, who will champion these, and how the results of those actions will be assessed. We further recommend that the Department report annually to Parliament on its progress in reducing administrative burdens and demonstrate how it has followed the Task Force's guidelines for better regulation. We expect to periodically review Defra's achievements in eliminating unnecessary regulatory burdens. (Paragraph 59)

15.  Defra should consider whether a programme of hands-on experience with farming businesses targeted at the relevant staff would lead to improved policy-making and how this could be delivered, including the cost implications for Defra and participating businesses. (Paragraph 61)