The Countryside Alliance sent a briefing note to all MPs in Westminster ahead of the first debate in Parliament on the Government’s Agriculture Bill on Wednesday 10 October. The Bill will set out the framework for a new agricultural policy outside the EU.
Defra Secretary, Rt Hon Michael Gove MP, called it the first comprehensive Agriculture Bill for five decades and said it would offer farmers a platform to modernise agriculture. Over 60 MPs took part in the historic debate which saw a UK agricultural policy debated in the House of Commons for the first time since 1947.
The Countryside Alliance briefing note stated that the food and farming industry is of national importance, generating over £108 billion a year for the UK economy and underpinning our food security. It also pointed out that farming is the cornerstone for many of the activities enjoyed by people in rural areas, and many farmers benefit from the economic and social role which activities such as shooting contribute to the life of the farm.
There are three specific amendments to the Bill which the Countryside Alliance are calling for:
- Replicating in England the new financial assistance powers being proposed for Ministers in Wales which include powers to “support businesses or communities in rural areas” and “support persons who are involved in the production, processing, marketing or distribution of products deriving from an agricultural, horticultural or forestry business”.
- Inclusion of financial assistance for “upland landscapes and communities” in the list of public goods set out in the Bill to ensure hill farmers in particular can be supported in any new agricultural policy.
- The ability to establish new rural development programmes in England, not just powers to modify retained EU law in this area as the Bill is currently drafted.
One of the opportunities of leaving the EU is to simplify the current system of EU payments and grants available for farming, forestry, and rural development. The Government should include powers to support rural development in the Bill, particularly for digital infrastructure and skills training, so that when policy is designed and implemented all options for support can be considered.
This was the first of many debates on the Bill which will now be examined by a Committee of MPs who will make recommendations for improvement before Parliament has the opportunity to debate the Bill again. The Countryside Alliance will be monitoring the Bill throughout its passage through Parliament.