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Direct Payments to Farmers (Legislative Continuity) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:31 pm on 21st January 2020.

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Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 12:31 pm, 21st January 2020

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

This is a Government who are backing Britain’s farmers. We will always recognise the importance of the work that they do to care for our countryside and our natural environment and, of course, to put food on our plates. We know that, if we are to level up the rural economy in the way we want to for our whole country, we must support the agriculture that is at the heart of our rural communities.

The Bill is a short technical piece of legislation with a simple purpose: to empower the UK Government and the devolved Administrations to pay basic payments to farmers for the 2020 scheme year. It therefore maintains the status quo for pillar 1 for this final period before we start to leave the common agricultural policy behind completely.

The core purpose of the Bill is enacted by clause 1, which puts direct payment legislation for 2020 on the domestic statute book. That provides a legal basis to make such payments for the 2020 scheme year. As hon. Members will be aware, almost all EU legislation was imported on to the domestic statute book by the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, but funding for the 2020 basic payment scheme will come out of the 2021 EU budget. That would therefore have involved the UK in the next EU multi-annual budget cycle. In the negotiations, the EU and the UK agreed that they did not want that to happen, so the CAP provisions providing the basis to issue basic payments in the UK for 2020 were disapplied by the terms of the withdrawal agreement reached last year.

That policy decision has left a legal gap, which we are now proposing to fill. This legislation will provide clarity to farmers on funding support this year. If Parliament were to reject the Bill, no direct payments could be made by the UK Government or by the Administrations in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. That would have serious consequences for farmers across the nation who have planned their businesses on the basis of continuity of direct payments for this scheme year.