The UK is to have its first new major Agriculture Act since 1947. There have been minor Agriculture Acts which made amendments to the 47 Act (eg in 1970) and in 1986, but by then agriculture was governed by rules laid down by the European Union (or EC and EEC as it was before it became the EU.)
The Queen’s Speech earlier today announced that the proposed Long Parliament (which will stretch to nearly two years instead of the usual one year) will include Government proposals for a new Agriculture Act.
There is fairly scant detail on how the Government intends to change agriculture after we leave the Common Agricultural Policy in 2019. Although May’s Manifesto mostly lies in tatters, there are some familiar lines in the wording that the Government has released:
In line with the manifesto, the Bill will ensure that after we leave the EU we have an effective system in place to support UK farmers and protect our natural environment
The Bill will:
•provide stability to farmers as we leave the EU;
•protect our precious natural environment for future generations;
•deliver on the manifesto commitment to “provide stability for farmers as we exit the EU.
The background briefing goes on:
The purpose of the Bill is to:
•Provide stability to farmers as we leave the EU.
•Support our farmers to compete domestically and on the global market, allowing us to grow more, sell more and export more great British food.
The main benefits of the Bill would be:
•To support a thriving and self-reliant farming sector that is more competitive,
productive and profitable.
•To protect our precious natural environment for future generations.
•To deliver on the manifesto commitment to “provide stability for farmers as we exit the EU” (p. 25-26).
The main elements of the Bill are:
Measures to ensure that after we leave the EU, and therefore the Common Agricultural Policy, we have an effective system in place to support UK farmers and protect our natural environment.
There are a couple of things to note: while the Tory manifesto webpage may have been recently deleted, I still have a copy. As I described before, the manifesto went into a bit of detail about what a new agriculture policy might look like. This included “a new agri-environment scheme” but no commitment to direct subsidies.
Former senior Cameron aide and Cabinet Office big thinker Sir Oliver Letwin (my local MP) confirmed that this approach was being developed, in an interview with our local paper the Dorset Echo, during the election. Letwin said
“we must maintain cash payments to our farms, but in the form (post-Brexit) of new, home-grown countryside stewardship schemes to protect our landscape without the massive burden of bureaucracy imposed by the CAP.”
Earlier this year People Need Nature published “A Pebble in the Pond: opportunities for food, farming and nature after Brexit.”
I wrote this (and pulled together contributions from experts in their fields) in order to lay out a positive vision for agriculture in England, after the many frustrating years of watching the CAP reform at a pace a glacier would find dawdling.
I could not possibly have imagined that just 6 months later we would be in a position where a new Agriculture Bill is going to pass through a Hung Parliament. There will never be (in my lifetime) a better opportunity to create a new way of supporting farming that works with nature, that gets us away from this obsession with yield at any cost, that pushes the environmental and social costs of unsustainable food production onto the consumer, onto society and onto nature.
While so much about Brexit looks like it is going to be a disaster, this could provide one large silver lining.