Aims of the Bill
The Government introduced an Agriculture Bill 2017-19 in the last Parliament which fell at dissolution in October 2019.
This Bill does several key things that the 2017-19 Bill did:
First: it provides enabling powers for Ministers to develop new farm support approaches in England. Direct payments to farmers are currently based on how much land is farmed. These will be phased out starting in 2021 over a seven year period. New schemes to pay farmers for producing ‘public goods’ such as environmental or animal welfare improvements will be introduced. New items have been added to the list of purposes in the previous Bill that can be given financial support, notably soil protection and improvement;
Second: it gives Ministers powers to intervene in agricultural markets in exceptional conditions, such as to provide farmers with financial support or operate public intervention and private storage aid schemes;
Third: it sets out measures to increase transparency and fairness in the supply chain for farmers and food producers. It does this by: introducing new requirements on collection and sharing of data; by placing fair dealing obligations on business purchasers of agricultural products; and by introducing new measures on Producer Organisations. However, this Bill has increased the reach of the fair dealing measures so that any business purchaser must comply and a wider range of people selling products can benefit from the provisions;
Fourth: the Bill includes measures on marketing standards and carcass classification. For example, to amend or revoke EU and domestic legislation or to set new standards tailored to suit UK agricultural sectors. New clauses are included in this Bill on certification of organic products. These are important for imports and exports as well as domestic sales;
Fifth: the Bill sets out provisions to enable the UK to meet its obligations under the World Trade Organisation Agreement on Agriculture. The WTO Agreement sets limits on how support that is considered trade-distorting a country may provide.
There are several additions to this Bill compared to the previous Bill. New measures include:
A requirement for Ministers to consider the need to encourage the production of food in England, in an environmentally sustainable way;
A requirement for Ministers to set out multi-annual plans about how they will use their financial assistance powers. The first plan will start in 2021 for seven years. Beyond that plans must be of at least five years’ duration;
A requirement to report on food security at least once every five years; and
Several varied measures in a new Part 4 on matters relating to farming and the countryside. Measures relating to agricultural tenancies, fertiliser regulation, identification and traceability of animals, and the Red Meat Levy are included.
How does this Bill apply to the UK nations?
The provisions on new farm support schemes mainly apply to England. Powers are included in a Schedule for Northern Ireland to enable preparation of replacement schemes. Some provisions in the Bill apply to Wales (for example to amend Direct Payments rules) but these are intended to be temporary. Notably provisions mirroring English provisions on new support schemes that were in the previous Bill have not been included in this Bill. Welsh Ministers intend to introduce this Assembly term a Wales (Agriculture) Bill. The Scottish Government introduced legislation in November 2019 which proposes to keep farm support approaches largely the same until 2024.
Aside from farm support, some measures such as those on food security and fair dealing in the supply chain apply to the four nations, while the various measures in the new Part 4 have different applications. Measures on meeting WTO obligations also apply across the UK. It is reported that the Scottish Government considers these matters to be devolved so intends to withhold legislative consent.
Follow the progress of the Agriculture Bill
The Agriculture Bill 2019–21 was introduced to the House of Commons on 16 January 2020. Second reading was held on 3 February 2020.
This Bill has now been committed to a Public Bill Committee which will hold its first meeting on Tuesday 11 February 2020. Oral evidence sessions will be held on 11 and 13 February.
Guidance on submitting written evidence
Deadline for written evidence submissions
The Public Bill Committee is now able to receive written evidence. The sooner you send in your submission, the more time the Committee will have to take it into consideration, and possibly reflect it in an amendment. The order in which amendments are taken in Committee will be available in due course under Selection of Amendments on the Bill documents pages. Once the Committee has dealt with an amendment it will not revisit it.
The Committee will meet for the first time on Tuesday 11 February 2020. It will stop receiving written evidence at the end of the Committee stage, which is expected to be not later than 5.00pm on Tuesday 10 March 2020. However, please note that when the Committee concludes its consideration of the Bill it is no longer able to receive written evidence and it can conclude earlier than the expected deadline of 5.00pm on Tuesday 10 March 2020. You are strongly advised to submit your written evidence as soon as possible.
Your submission should be emailed to email@example.com.
Further guidance on submitting written evidence can be found here.