Whilst COVID-19 continues to dominate our politics, many government departments have also been working on different bills and legislation as we continue to fulfil the Government’s promises that were made in our manifesto to the country late December last year. In my own department of DEFRA we have been working hard on two of the most important bills to come before Parliament for over half a century, the Agriculture Bill, and the Fisheries Bill.
Last week Parliament reached an important milestone in the progression of the Agriculture Bill with its passing of the Third Reading Stage meaning that it has now gone to the House of Lords for its consideration before a final vote is held. Leaving the EU on 31st December 2019 gave us the freedom to press ahead with our plans to develop this new policy creating one that was fit fir purpose in the 21st century and delivering British farmers and the environment.
Rather than arbitrary area-based payments, where land ownership and tenure is subsidised, we will instead direct future funding to support activities and interventions that deliver for our environment and enhance animal welfare.
We want a package of incentives to support sustainable farming practices and the bill creates the powers to do this. We recognise that Basic Payment Scheme payments currently make up a significant proportion of net farm income. However, rather than maintain a system that just masks poor profitability, the ambition behind our Agriculture Bill is to tackle the causes of that poor profitability.
So, the bill creates the power to make grants available to deliver a prosperous future for farming by helping farmers invest in new technology and equipment to reduce costs. There is a section in the bill to improve transparency and fairness in the supply chain, so that farmers stop being price takers and start getting a fairer share of the cake. Also, we want to make it easier for farmers to retire with dignity and simultaneously help new entrants get access to land.
I grew up on a farm and spent a decade working in the industry. Domestic food production is crucial and plays a vital role in contributing to our nation’s food security. The Coronavirus Pandemic has reinforced this message, and the government takes this very seriously. The revised bill therefore creates a duty to review food security every five years and a duty to consider the production of food when devising policy.
I also know that farming is a risky business and there will always be circumstances where the government must act and intervene in a crisis to support farmers or stabilise markets. The bill makes provisions for that too.
Whilst any change want take place over night, a decade from now, I want the rest of the world to be coming to the UK to see how it is done, and I know we have some of the best farmers in the world.