This Bill will provide the legal framework for the UK to leave the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) after Brexit. The main focus of the Bill sets out how farmers and land managers will in future be paid for “public goods”, such as better air and water quality, improved soil health, higher animal welfare standards, public access to the countryside and measures to reduce flooding.
This will replace the current subsidy system of Direct Payments under the CAP which pays farmers based on the total amount of land farmed. These payments are skewed towards the largest landowners and are not linked to any specific public benefits. The top 10% of recipients currently receive almost 50% of total payments, while the bottom 20% receive just 2%. The Government says that the current system of subsidies paid for the amount of land being farmed will be phased out over a seven-year period between 2021 and 2027.
The Bill also sets out how the Government will strengthen transparency in the supply chain to help farmers get a better deal in the marketplace. By collecting data from across the supply chain, the Government says it will help food producers strengthen their negotiating position at the farm gate and seek a fairer return.
Under this Bill there will also be powers granted to the Government to give financial assistance to incentivise greater productivity by farmers.
The Common Agricultural Policy has attracted criticism throughout its history. Environment Secretary Michael Gove said:
The introduction of the Agriculture Bill is an historic moment as we leave the EU and move towards a brighter future for farming. After nearly 50 years of being tied to burdensome and outdated EU rules, we have an opportunity to deliver a Green Brexit. This Bill will allow us to reward farmers who protect our environment, leaving the countryside in a cleaner, greener and healthier state for future generations. Critically, we will also provide the smooth and gradual transition that farmers and land managers need to plan ahead.
This is a Government Bill introduced by the Environment Secretary Michael Gove MP.
The Bill has already had a mixed reception from both farmers and environmental groups. While welcoming some parts of the Bill, National Farmers’ Union president Minette Batters said the Government must put the business of food and farming as well as the environment at the heart of its new legislation.
The NFU, alongside the whole food supply chain, has been absolutely clear about the essential ingredients for a progressive, profitable and sustainable food and farming sector post Brexit.
Tanya Steele, head of the World Wildlife Fund, said “rewarding farmers for good environmental practices can be one of the best ways to make our soil healthier, save our wildlife and reduce pollution into our rivers.” However Caroline Lucas, the Green Party MP, said:
“While it’s good to see an end to subsidies for wealthy landowners and ideas for encouraging farmers to improve our environment, promised payments for ‘improving productivity’ could end up accelerating industrial agriculture’s destruction of nature. We need a robust and independent system for determining what farmers are paid for to ensure public money doesn’t reward tokenistic gestures.
How to get involved
You can contact your MP, or any of the environmental or farming organisations that will no doubt be lobbying on this Bill.
If I don’t act, will it go through?
This is a Government Bill, so stands a strong chance of becoming law, but this Bill will attract a lot of attention and there will no doubt be many amendments debated in Parliament.