The agricultural transition period for England

Part of Agriculture Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:30 pm on 1st November 2018.

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Photo of David Drew David Drew Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 2:30 pm, 1st November 2018

Again, I do not intend to delay the Committee for long. There are some concerns—dare I say, on both sides—about whether this is the appropriate way to look at the powers. Greener UK feels that there are some issues with what the provision might mean for the direct payment system. The amendment in effect looks at the ability of the Minister to pause or delay the scheme, as operated. The question is, what happens after the agricultural transition period, because it relates to the end of one scheme—the direct payment one—and the introduction of another, the environmental payment?

Amendment 104 is about how to manage the agricultural transition. If things are not working as we want them to, what do the Government do? Do they pause, extend or even reverse the reduction in the direct payments? We know what the Government intend, which is, come 2021, the percentage reduction in the direct payment. That sounds straightforward, but such things are never as straightforward as they sound. Will the Minister tell us exactly how the scheme will come into operation? It needs to be about certainty and fairness.

The danger of uncertainty for, or the potential removal of important sums of money from, farms that are already struggling could have a very deleterious effect on their ability to continue. That matters because we are, potentially, changing the landscape dramatically. If certain small farms go out of business, tenant farms in particular, that will have a major impact on what our landscape looks like.

I accept that the amendment is probing, but were it adopted some people might worry that we could say, “Okay, let’s just go back to direct payments, delay it a few more years.” On the one hand, we need to know for those who are losing payments what happens if the system does not quite work out, and, on the other hand, we need to see for those who are very inclined to see the changes what confidence they can have in the Government that those changes will happen as they should. There is concern on both sides: one wants the certainty that some payment system will be in place while the other believes that this is the wrong system, which is the reason for supporting the move towards environmental payments. I am interested to hear the Minister’s thoughts.

We are discussing everything to do with delinking the payments, moving from a system in which, in effect, we pay farmers to do what they have done to a system in which we pay farmers and others to do things that we want them to do. It is important for the Minister to identify how that is going to work.