The Agriculture Bill as reintroduced on 16th January 2020, is an improvement on the previous Bill and contains positive amendments addressing some of our previous concerns. It sets a workable basis for future agriculture policy in the UK and we welcome a number of the developments.
However, the Landworkers’ Alliance believes the Bill still falls short of the detail and commitment necessary to achieve the ambition of vision, scale of impact and depth of strategic foresight that the current situation demands.
We urge government to commit to and build on the positive elements introduced in the Bill and work with stakeholders to develop a progressive and visionary program of implementation. This must include concrete and measurable commitments to protecting and increasing domestic agroecological food production alongside targets to achieve a rapid transition to net-zero and to restore biodiversity.
By falling short of guaranteeing to improve the UK’s self-sufficiency in sustainably produced food alongside the restoration of our ecosystem and by not protecting UK producers and consumers from the impacts of imports produced to lower standards, the bill remains open to abuse and neglect in the future.
A trade deal with the US, or any other country, that undermines UK environmental standards would render the positive environmental aspects of the Bill void. We will be campaigning in full support of an amendment to the Bill to prevent trade agreements undermining UK food production.
This Bill give us the opportunity to pioneer a progressive, socially just, eco-friendly, ethical, localised, agroecological food production system, that can provide healthy food, improve livelihoods in agriculture, restore biodiversity and help us transition to net zero. However, we need to support farmers through this transition with ambitious investments in our farming systems and dependable targets and timeframes, we must not pit UK farmers against the multinational corporations that control the global market and hope that we can achieve the same positive outcomes.
In the section relating to England, we welcome the ongoing commitment to move away from direct payments towards the provision of public goods; the commitment to multi annual frameworks for financial assistance; the inclusion of agroecology; the focus on soils and climate mitigation; the emphasis on financial assistance supporting sustainable domestic food production and the improvement of a fair dealing clause.
We are particularly pleased to see that the term “agroecology” has been put into a Bill and that framing of financial support must have regard for the production of food in environmentally sustainable ways. This was the central focus of our campaigning efforts in the first round of Agriculture Bill advocacy and is an essential step in setting the basis for supporting farms that both produce food and protect the environment. We thank all of our members who wrote and spoke to their MP’s about this and our allies who have been campaigning alongside us to promote agroecology. It will lay a strong foundation for us to build on in the future.
We will now be submitting agroecology programmes to Defra to build on this success. The explanatory notes mention that the Bill will support agroecology training, and we are aiming to get support to scale up our training and exchange networks through this. We are also currently working on developing our Horticulture Test and Trial, which was accepted by Defra as part of developing the new ELMS schemes and will also link this to more support for Agroecology.
We are also pleased that a new clause recognising food security has been placed alongside environmental protection as a primary objective, with the duty to report on food security to Parliament at least every five years, indicating a view that environmentally friendly production is compatible with productivity. However, we still feel that the Bill would be stronger if access to healthy, affordable food for everyone was recognised as a fundamental public good and will be promoting an amendment on this.
We are scheduled to give evidence to the Select Committee on this amendment on Thursday 13th of Feb. We will also be strongly promoting amendments regarding changing “may” to “must” in the terminology of the Bill, a commitment to reducing carbon emissions in farming, and a clause protecting county farms.
As an organisation with a focus on promoting opportunities for new entrants, we are disappointed that the England section of the Bill retains the delinking and lump-sum offers for farmers intending to leave the industry. While we support in principle financial assistance for farmers transitioning their production systems, without protections to ensure this is only available to farmers who will continue farming, and without corresponding support for new entrants this risks leading to land and properties being sold out of farming and remaining unaffordable to new entrants. We propose that such transition provision is made conditional on the farms to which entitlements relate being made available to active farmers and new entrants at affordable prices via community land trusts or co-operatives.
Historically, Agriculture has been devolved to Scotland, and the Scottish Government have done some positive things with these powers (e.g. creation of New Entrants Grant schemes through SRDP, setting area of land required for CAP subsidies as 3Ha rather than 5Ha, establishment of Agri Environment Climate Scheme). The Scottish Government wants to retain it’s ability to legislate on agricultural policy, and as such has not given support to the UK Agriculture Bill. The Scottish Government argues that there are parts of the UK Bill which challenge powers of Scottish Government as set out in the devolution settlement between Westminster and Holyrood (particularly in relation to Producer Organisations, and International Trade / International Obligations). So Scottish Government have tabled the Agriculture (Retained EU Law and Data) (Scotland) Bill on 6th Nov, which is currently at Stage 1 of the Parliamentary process. The aim of the Bill is to give Scottish Ministers the ability to modify retained EU law in relation to CAP. It’s currently proposed that there’s a 5 year transition period (up to 2024) with minimal changes to CAP in that period. The Bill does not give detail at the moment about how subsidies should be reformulated, and these details are likely to come out in secondary / future legislation.
The Simplification Taskforce (on CAP) and Farming, Food Production and Future Policy Group (amongst other parliamentary groups) are working on more detailed proposals and Landworkers’ Alliance are working to feed in our views on future subsidy systems.
For over 20 years, Agriculture has been devolved in Wales, meaning decisions on how to implement the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), have been made by Welsh Government. Even within the constraints of CAP, Welsh Government have done many positive things with its devolved powers including setting a limit of €600,000 per year that under the Basic Payment scheme and providing Farming Connect, an advice and support service to farmers in Wales, which is the envy of farmers across the border. Beyond this, Welsh policies such as One Planet Development Planning Policy and the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act are world firsts. It is by no means perfect: Wales still has a 5-hectare threshold for Basic Payment support and certain permitted development rights. There is insufficient support for horticulture, very little attention on creating local markets for food, Welsh councils are selling off county farms, such as Trecadwgan in Pembrokeshire and there is no Community Right to Buy in Wales.
Westminster’s Agriculture Bill 2020 enables Welsh Government to put in place a continuation of the Basic Payment Scheme in the short term until a “Made in Wales” agriculture policy has been passed by the Welsh Assembly. Welsh Government has been consulting on proposals that would form the basis of the Welsh Agriculture Bill since July 2018 and Landworkers’ Alliance Cymru has fed into this process, with a number of our recommendations
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