My Lords, I have christened this group of amendments, “Mind the gap”. We need some sort of rethink from the Government on a safer way forward.
I support Amendment 143. When I first read the Bill in its earliest form, nearly two years ago now, I thought, “That’s good—the seven-year transition from one system to the next. All will be well; farmers can plan ahead with no problems, and while the single farm payment goes down, they can enter into ELM schemes, with profits, under the new regime.” Defra had three years to get ELM schemes in place, then several years to roll them out to farmers on the ground, which, as others have said, is going to be an almost impossible task. I thought, back then, that it could happen at a manageable place, and all would be well. Farmers would be involved in tremendous changes, but they could survive the transition because the way forward would be clear to them.
But now, two years on, the way forward is still as clear as mud. ELMS have only just entered the pilot stage, farmers have no framework by which to plan and they are saying, “What will ELMS look like for me in my area? I have no idea. What training do I need? I have no idea. Do I need to plan for new equipment or facilities? I have no idea.” No one in the farming community has any clear idea of the future. The details of ELMS will not really emerge from the mist until nearly 2025.
In spite of the delays, we still seem to be stuck with a 2021 start to the transition period. This cannot be right. With the rug of the old world being slowly pulled out from under them, and the new rug unlikely to arrive for some time, I worry farmers will fall down the gap. As others have said, the delay is not really Defra’s fault; we had all the shenanigans around Brexit, and so with this Agriculture Bill doing the hokey-cokey—in, out, in, out—then Covid-19 causing genuine paralysis this year, it is not surprising the timetable has slipped. So, the Government have every reason to take this back and think again before we get to Report. I do not care how they do it, but we need something to close the horrible gap that is looming.