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New Agriculture Bill in Parliament ahead of Brexit

View profile for Jessica Newton
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New Agriculture Bill in Parliament ahead of Brexit

On 16 January 2020, the Agriculture Bill was introduced into Parliament, but what will this mean for farmers and agricultural workers?

The Agriculture Bill is intended to replace the Common Agricultural Policy on the UK’s exit from the European Union. This will be with a new system which will be based around public money being used for public goods. The aim of the Agriculture Bill is to boost farming productivity and reward farmers who protect the environment.

The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is a set of EU legislation and practices providing a common policy on agriculture throughout the EU. The CAP provides direct payments to farmers through schemes such as the Basic Payment Scheme and the greening payment.

With the UK set to leave the EU on 31 January 2020, this will also mean withdrawal from the CAP. The Agriculture Bill is intended to facilitate this withdrawal.

The Government’s aims in creating the Agriculture Bill are to free farmers from the ‘bureaucratic’ CAP through a smooth and phased transition. This will include moving away from the Basic Payment Scheme, which provides famers with funds based on the amount of land they farm. The new system will focus on rewarding farmers for work undertaken to enhance the environment, improving animal welfare and producing high quality food sustainably.

The Agriculture Bill provides for a seven year transition period due to begin in 2021 in relation to direct payments, which are to be phased out in England.

Under the Agriculture Bill, farmers are to be rewarded for:

  • environmental protection work,
  • facilitating access to the countryside for the public, and,
  • work to reduce flooding.

This is in contrast to the CAP which simply makes payments to farmers based on the amount of land they farm.

The Agriculture Bill is set to be a landmark Bill which will transform British farming. The Environment Secretary, Theresa Villiers, has commented: “This is one of the most important environmental reforms for many years, rewarding farmers for the work they do to safeguard our environment and helping us meet crucial goals on climate change and protecting nature and biodiversity.”

On the whole, the Agriculture Bill has been welcomed by the industry. Commentary has been mostly positive and supportive of the shift from the current system towards rewarding farmers and land managers who deliver for society and the environment. Stakeholders have, however, stated that they would like more clarity on the transition period. They want to ensure that the Government allows enough time for rural businesses to adjust and adapt to the changes.

This is in addition to the Direct Payments to Farmers (Legislative Continuity) Bill which was introduced into the House of Commons on 9 January 2020. This will incorporate the EU direct payments legislation as it stands into UK law on 31 January 2020. This will provide the legal basis for continuing direct payments to farmers, ensuring that the scheme continues in the UK for the claim year 2020. The aim of this is to provide continuity and certainty for farmers during the UK’s exit from the EU.

If you would like to discuss the proposed changes in the Agriculture Bill and how they may affect your farming business, please contact our specialist Agriculture and Estates team.

I am a solicitor specialising in agricultural law. I am based in our Colchester office and can be contacted on 01206 217312 or jessica.newton@birkettlong.co.uk.

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