Power to provide for phasing out direct payments and delinked payments

Part of Agriculture Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:45 pm on 1st November 2018.

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Photo of David Drew David Drew Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 3:45 pm, 1st November 2018

That is a very pertinent point. In a sense, we are talking about trying to balance what the state might provide in support payments against the farm business tenancy. For a lot of farmers, trying to make that judgment is going to be quite difficult. One wants people to go out with dignity, and that means that we want them to go out with a sum that they can invest, which may be in other uses of the land or may be to buy themselves a cottage, or more probably, to rent a cottage in view of their impecunious state. These are real personal stories and we have to be careful that we are not just rushing through and making things unduly complicated, so that people do not really understand what they are entitled to.

I understand where the Minister is trying to get to, but I think this will have to be explained in a much more simplistic way, so that people can take advantage of it. There is no point having a de-linking scheme to enable people to leave the land and get new entrants if people do not see that it is appropriate for them, or do not understand it or think that they will lose out financially. My hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich is absolutely right about the farm business tenancies. We need to look at the links and we have to have a debate on some of the Tenant Reform Industry Group recommendations, which sadly do not feature in this legislation. We very strongly think that they should, given that a third of our farms are tenant farms. It is an important part of our farm economy, yet it does not feature in the Bill, which we think is a lacuna.

I worry that there is potential for policy drift here. We start with the de-linking process for one reason, but it ends up doing something that is not intended—it is the law of unintended consequences. I can see people wanting to access the money without necessarily pursuing what we want them to do, which is to improve their land; the danger is that they will take the money and then new entrants will not be able to take over the holding because it is in a poor state.

These are real-life questions, and I worry about some of my tenant farmers. The quality of the farms they are holding is not good due to generations of underinvestment. This is all well and good, and we are potentially paying less money to do the things that we used to pay out to do, yet farmers are expected to make good with other environmental schemes, which is obviously going to be difficult given that they have limited time, and we are expecting them to improve the quality of the land. There is a bit of a question mark against that.

This is a probing amendment. I am sure will we have more definitive things to say in the next stage. The Minister needs to be aware that this debate is fine at one level, but when the schemes get out there and are interpreted by people, there could be some difficulties. I put him on notice that we will look at this again, and I hope he will reflect on some of the things that have been said. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.