Secretary of State’s powers to give financial assistance

Part of Agriculture Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:00 pm on 30th October 2018.

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Photo of Philip Dunne Philip Dunne Conservative, Ludlow 4:00 pm, 30th October 2018

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his encyclopaedic knowledge of previous agriculture Bills.

I move on to some brief remarks about amendment 89 and the consequential amendment 90, which would amend schedule 3, “Provision relating to Wales”. Those amendments seek to make it explicit that agricultural support should be payable to those who are responsible for managing the land. Under the previous system, that support has been paid to farmers. We are trying to devise a system of public goods for farmers to do things of environmental benefit that will replace income that they would otherwise derive from growing food, food produce or horticultural forestry products on the land. That aims to provide farmers with some incentive to generate environmental benefits. It is the farmers—all 83,500 of them—who currently receive direct payments through the RPA basic payment scheme who are most deserving of the support that will be made available in the future, rather than other worthy, worthwhile groups who will be able to advise them and generate benefit for the environment. But they are the people who are responsible for delivering most of that public good; that is, the people who manage the land.

That was explained by the Secretary of State in a letter that he sent to MPs when the Bill was published last month. He said:

“For too long our farmers have been held back by the stifling rules and often perverse incentives of the CAP… Our new Agriculture Bill marks a decisive shift. It will reward farmers properly at last for the work they do to enhance the environment around us. It recognises the value farmers bring as food producers.”

He was very clear that the Bill is designed to provide support to farmers in lieu of what they would otherwise do in managing the land by trying to stimulate a greater public good.

I therefore encourage the Government to respond on whether the Bill seeks future support to be able to make payments to those who deliver public benefit from stewardship of the land, or whether it should go to other bodies that do so only indirectly, and for which there may be benefits through subsequent legislation, such as the environment Bill, which might be a more appropriate place for it.