Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Smallholdings estates

Part of Agriculture Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:00 pm on 5th March 2020.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Labour, Cambridge 2:00 pm, 5th March 2020

I do not know the answer, but I am happy to go away and look for it, because that sounds like an interesting idea.

Let me explain what our worry is. We are here discussing major, flagship legislation for the future of the sector, and to us it would seem sensible to ensure that there was provision for this very important part of the sector, particularly when there was such an opportunity, through the local authorities, to deliver a range of public goods, including land management practices that mitigate climate change; public access; and even the promotion of innovative food production systems, such as vertical farms or city farms. If local authorities were to build into their management practices for their smallholdings the aims of aiding nature recovery and carbon sequestration and of promoting biodiversity, county farms could be a very useful tool for local communities, particularly in areas such as mine, where we have such interest in environmental issues being promoted.

It is important that we stop the loss and refresh the purpose of our county farms. I am not sure that that makes it easier for local authorities, because they are making difficult decisions, but it would make it harder for them to make that particular decision.

Last December, a report for CPRE by the New Economics Foundation, Who Owns England? and Shared Assets looked at what would need to be done to revive our county farms. The report said:

“The government should protect the future of the county farm estate by legislating for a ministerial lock on their disposal, and a rejuvenated purpose statement. A forthcoming Agriculture Act should safeguard county farms from extensive disposal by making it incumbent on councils to submit a report to the Secretary of State for the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). This should detail how they plan to best manage their county farms to deliver on a range of stipulated social and environmental purposes, and - if they wish to sell off county farms - how doing so accords with these purposes.”

That is exactly what our new clause would achieve. I invite the Government to support the new clause because they believe in the importance of county farms and they now have the opportunity to put that in the Bill.

As with new clause 5, which was tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East, our new clause 6 would require any authority with smallholdings to submit proposals on how they expected to manage their estate to provide opportunities for new farmers, provide educational and environmental land management practices, ensure opportunities for increasing public access to land and understanding of sustainable farming, and provide support for improved food productions, such as vertical or city farms.