The Government remains confident the Agriculture Bill will reach Royal Assent in time to begin the Agricultural Transition and the move away from direct payments in England next year, as planned.
The transformational Bill returned to the House of Lords yesterday to continue its path through parliament. The disruption caused by COVID-19 has led to speculation that 2021 will be too early to begin the transition with calls from within the industry for a one-year delay.
But the Government has insisted the legislation was ‘on track to become law in time to kickstart the agricultural transition period next year’.
The Bill will replace the EU Common Agriculture Policy with a system where farmers are rewarded with public money for public goods. This includes plans for a new land management system, where farmers are rewarded with public money for providing environmental goods, such as improving air and water quality and providing habitats for wildlife, while there will also be measures to improve animal health and welfare.
At the same time, it will help to boost productivity and maximise the potential of land for producing high quality food in a more sustainable way, Defra said.
The recent Second Reading in the Commons was dominated by the controversy over import standards. The Government successfully staved off moves to introduce an amendment requiring in law imported food to meet UK standards under future trade deals.
But this issue will come under the spotlight again as peers get the opportunity to scrutinise the legislation line–by–line and consider any amendments tabled by peers following the Second Reading.
Last week, the government also announced it will establish a Trade and Agriculture Commission, which it said will ensure that the UK’s trade policy ‘fully considers our agricultural industry and our commitment to maintain the UK’s high environmental protection, animal welfare and food safety standards’.
Defra Lords Minister Lord Gardiner will be leading several sittings of the whole House of Lords as part of the Bill’s Committee stage, expected to take place over the next two weeks.
Lord Gardiner said: “The Agriculture Bill is just the beginning of our journey to deliver a once-in-a generation transformation in the way that we farm our land and produce the food that we eat.
“We will put our farmers and land managers at the heart of that journey. This Bill will allow us to support them by rewarding protection and enhancement of the environment, while enabling their businesses to prosper by continuing to produce outstanding British food and drink to be enjoyed in the UK and abroad.
“I am delighted to move this Bill forward and I look forward to working with parliamentary colleagues to move ever closer to writing it into law.”