Examination of Witnesses

Part of Agriculture Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:25 pm on 11th February 2020.

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Jake Fiennes:

If we split it into pillar 1 and pillar 2, the current BPS is rather clumsy and, in places, overly simplistic. We have the ecological focus area ruling within that, which, as Jim refers to, is cumbersome. The three-crop rule and hedge-cutting dates sort of tie farmers into a knot; they are unable to be flexible.

In the short term, farmers are preparing for a transition period, which will start in 2021, according to the current Secretary of State, although I know that some are pushing for that to be extended, because we have just seen a delay of this whole process. However, farmers are slowly taking on board that there will be seismic change within their business. It has happened over a very static two years, but we have seen a real momentum, and there is a general acceptance among those within the industry that this is coming around the corner. If they have an ability to prepare their businesses by going into the current schemes—I think the new stewardship scheme was opened today. I have not looked at it, but I think the detail made it easier and more user-friendly.

We have to put the past aside, with all the issues that we had with the RPA, Natural England and late payments. I think we have moved on from that, and I think this year was an example of the RPA demonstrating very swift payments, and the current stewardship payments are being rolled out as we speak. That is all very positive. Again, I see a greater uptake of the current schemes—the countryside stewardship higher tier and middle tier, and also the simplified scheme.

That will get farmers ready through the transition period, which comes on to the Minister’s third point, where I am in full favour of it. A slight redrafting of the Bill—talking about soil and productivity—basically got the entire land-based community on board.