Amendment 130

Part of Agriculture Bill - Committee (5th Day) – in the House of Lords at 2:15 pm on 21st July 2020.

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Photo of Baroness Rock Baroness Rock Conservative 2:15 pm, 21st July 2020

My Lords, I declare my interest as a director of a tenant farming enterprise as set out in the register. I shall speak to my Amendments 150 to 153. Although there is an understandable desire to demonstrate that we are moving away from the old regime of the CAP, we must do so in a way that is effective rather than just quick. The delay in our exit from the EU and the implications of Covid-19 point to a possible delay in the implementation of this new policy framework. These amendments would allow greater flexibility in pausing or even reversing the phasing out of direct payments should, and only should, circumstances require it. This would be particularly important in a scenario where payments to farmers had been reduced but where the funds freed up had not been spent on alternative programmes and remained unused.

Amendment 150 would allow Ministers to reverse reductions in direct payments if they were found to be having a detrimental impact on the nation’s ability to produce food. The Covid-19 crisis will have long-term implications for our country, so this amendment would allow for welcome flexibility. UK consumers, who have valued the domestic supply of food over recent times like never before, will not welcome any dip in that supply. In the event of a pause or a reversal for these reasons, the Government should be allowed to maintain independent financing for the development of alternative schemes, such as ELMS, so that they are not delayed or interrupted.

My Amendment 152 would enable those who have opted to take delinked payments to return to receiving direct payments if the direct payment scheme is extended. If a delinked payment is introduced, the powers to extend the transition period in accordance with Section 8(3) will be used. The status of the farmer would be uncertain. He may be locked out of the system for longer than envisaged. The status of such a person in this situation should be defined in the regulations to provide legal certainty. Given the current uncertainty about what future schemes will look like, this amendment would provide a safeguard against unintended consequences for farmers if the agricultural transition period is extended.

I turn to Amendments 151 and 153 in my name. As any farmer will tell you, cash flow is the number one consideration. This is particularly true for tenant farmers, who have to pay rent twice a year, irrespective of their cash position. A large proportion of farmers are reliant on BPS payments as part of their farm income and any delay to these can have a serious impact on a farmer’s ability to run their business. Ensuring that those entitled to payments receive them within guaranteed timescales will help ensure certainty of cash flow. That certainty will encourage productivity and investment—two clear ambitions of our Government’s wide-ranging agricultural policy.