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Agriculture Bill receives Royal Assent


Last night on Wednesday 11 November, the Agriculture Bill received Royal Assent. The Agriculture Act 2020, as it will now be known, is the product of over 100 hours of debate over many months and heavy involvement from Peers across the House. After two stages of ‘Parliamentary Ping-Pong’ — where the Bill went between the House of Commons and the House of Lords until they agreed on the contents — it now contains new provisions on trade standards and food security, both critical to wider effort to tackle climate risks and biodiversity loss.

Overview

The Agriculture Bill – now the Agriculture Act 2020 – sets a new framework for agriculture following withdrawal from the EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Throughout the passage of the Bill, Peers have worked to ensure the Bill meet the needs of people, farming, food and the environment, as well as supporting the UK’s roadmap to net zero emissions. The principle of ‘public money for public goods’, where farmers and land managers are rewarded for delivering environmental improvements such as healthier soils, improved habitats for wildlife, better water quality and flood protection, and climate mitigation, is at its heart and is a vital starting point for tackling the dual challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss in the agriculture sector.

Improvements to the Bill are thanks to the insistence of Peers in the Lords, as well as sympathy in the Commons for them. It would not have been possible to make this progress without the incredible work by, and support of, the farming, food and environment sectors, who united over the need for these provisions.

Provisions secured in the Lords

Food security: The Bill now contains a provision whereby the Government will produce a report every three years on food security in the UK. There was much debate over including a clause mandating the implementation of a national food strategy within a set period of time, but ultimately the Government made a commitment in the House to producing a food strategy after the publication of Henry Dimbleby’s upcoming report on the subject.

Trade Standards and the Trade and Agriculture Commission: In response to insistence from Peers, the Government amended the Bill to include a provision requiring the Government to report on each new free trade agreement related to agriculture. The Government will need to explain whether, or to what extent, an agreement is consistent with maintaining UK levels of statutory protection (standards) in relation to: human, animal or plant life or health; animal welfare; and the environment. While this will not mandate equivalent standards to current standards, these reports will inform parliamentary debate and ultimately Parliament’s decision to ratify future free trade agreements, or not. To ensure that there is a body responsible for these reports, the Government have also committed to put the Trade and Agriculture Commission in statute by amending the Trade Bill at a later date. The TAC will be permanent, with a review to be held on its continued existence after three years.

Next steps

The Agriculture Act is a framework piece of legislation and further work is now needed to develop the detail of the specific policies and schemes for which it provides. This includes the detailed development of the new Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMs), which will set out how farmers and land managers in England will be rewarded in the future with public money for “public goods” – such as better air and water quality, thriving wildlife, soil health, or measures to reduce flooding and tackle the effects of climate change. A seven year transition period for farmers to adapt to a new agricultural system begins next year.

Peers will continue to monitor developments and press the case for a sustainable agriculture sector that is aligned with our wider climate and biodiversity commitments.

See information on the previous stages of debate here.

“The UK’s contribution in responding to the climate crisis will be measured not just in the quantity of emissions we reduce, but in the quality of the vision, innovation and leadership we provide."

 

- Baroness Hayman (Crossbencher) 

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