On 16th January 2020 the Government reintroduced the Agriculture Bill which, if passed through Parliament, will shape future domestic policy for years to come.
The document itself is an expansion on the previously proposed Agriculture Bill and, whilst much is identical, there have been some important additions. The below applies currently only to England. Wales and Northern Ireland are working on their own devolved policies whilst Scotland has brought forward a Bill to manage the inherited Common Agricultural Policy with any significant change to come later.
What has not changed?
The fundamental principle remains “public money for public goods” with a statement on expectations anticipated shortly which builds on the 25 year Environment Plan.
These will run unchanged and at their current level for this claim year, although the Bill gives the Secretary of State authority to simplify the systems where possible.
From 2021 to 2027 an “Agricultural Transition Phase” will see the Secretary of State granted:
Countryside Stewardship Scheme (CSS) – this will continue but with scope to be simplified where possible with the potential for shorter term agreements. Some Higher Level Schemes may be offered extensions. Existing agreements could be converted into new Environmental Land Management Schemes (ELMS) agreements.
Environmental Land Management Scheme contracts – these remain the replacement for CSS and will be targeted towards measures which:
Funding could be multi-annual agreements or capital grants. It remains unclear what value is to be ascribed to the benefits delivered by the new ELMS and how that will compare to current funding.
Rural Development – the priorities remain similar and there will be funding for areas such as business development, risk management and improving productivity, albeit delivered by a different mechanism but likely to remain administered by the Rural Payments Agency. However, such funding may be time limited to the Agricultural Transition Phase.
What is new?
There will now be a requirement for the Government to report to Parliament regularly on food security to include:
There is no mention of what further measures may be taken nor of any specific requirements to ensure that domestic food production is supported or protected. However, there is provision for the Secretary of State to intervene in agricultural markets in the event of severe market disturbance by providing financial assistance to farmers in England.
Monitoring of financial assistance
The Secretary of State will now report regularly to Parliament on the impact and effectiveness of financial assistance schemes, both provided by Government and third parties. There is no clarification on the procedure if such schemes are found not to be delivering value for money.
Soil is now specifically mentioned in the Bill with financial assistance targeted towards protecting and improving soil quality most likely through ELMS or research.
The Agricultural Holdings Act 1986 is proposed to be amended as follows:
As with the first introduction of this Bill in 2018, the one caveat to all of the above is that it has yet to be passed through Parliament. Whilst there is now a considerable Conservative majority which should facilitate the Government passing its legislation and much of the content of the Bill already enjoys cross party support, there will remain questions to be answered which may lead to amendments. However, the fact that the content of the Bill remains largely unchanged is a clear signal that this is the direction of future policy, and businesses should prepare accordingly.
If you would like further information on any of the above, please contact our Rural & Property Business team.Back to articles