Power to provide for phasing out direct payments and delinked payments

Part of Agriculture Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:00 pm on 1st November 2018.

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Photo of Philip Dunne Philip Dunne Conservative, Ludlow 4:00 pm, 1st November 2018

Thank you for the clarity of your guidance, Sir Roger. I rise to speak to clause stand part and to pose some questions to the Minister following the comments of the hon. Member for Stroud. The proposal is very complex and the explanatory notes make it clear that this is a novel system. The concept of de-linking payments is welcome, but because it does not exist at the moment, it is hard for us to get our minds around it, so when the Minister responds, I encourage him to give us as much clarity as he can about the intent of how the de-linking scheme might work.

First, hon. Members have raised several challenges about how the structure of ownership and tenure of land might be affected by such a de-linking payment, which is designed to facilitate the transfer between one generation of a farming family or of a farming business and another. Farming businesses are very diverse, however, as is the nature of all businesses in this country, so it is difficult to assume that they will all fit in a neatly prescribed and, dare I say, bureaucratically designed structure.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby referred to his farming business with his wife. My farming business is in partnership with my wife too, but I was previously a partner with my father. The advantage of a partnership structure is that it allows generations to come in and to retire in the same business. If the scheme is not capable of coping with that kind of structure, it will not apply to several family-run farming businesses. We need clarity about how the scheme will be designed to cope with the business structure.

Secondly, it is unclear to me, although I might not have picked it up in the drafting, whether the de-linking payments will cover the entire transitionary period or just a number of years that are yet to be determined and spelt out through the regulations. Any clarity about whether they are likely to be for a limited number of years or the entire period would be helpful.

Thirdly, it would be helpful to understand whether, when the regulations are proposed, the way the transition payments are reduced over the period will be determined through regulation and fixed, or whether they will be capable of adjustment. If they are adjustable payments, that will not provide the clarity that would help somebody to make a decision about whether to accept the de-linking payment at the beginning of the period, or whenever it is first allowable, because they will not know whether that is the right judgment to make.

Fourthly, if a payment is made in relation to a farming business, does that make the land to which it relates sterile in relation to other payments in future? Does that land become eligible only for public goods payments under the new scheme, or is there flexibility? If a business is sold, and the land is sold to an existing or neighbouring farmer, will that preclude them having any access to the transition payments? Those are my main points and I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say.