Earlier this year I wrote about the Government’s approach towards our agricultural policy when we leave the European Union in March 2019. This is a very important issue for many in Rutland and I have had a number of conversations with local people and groups about the importance of getting this right.
The Government’s plans have now been consolidated in the Agriculture Bill, which was first formally introduced in the House of Commons in early September and is receiving its second reading in the Commons this week.
For nearly fifty years, farmers have been tied to the fundamentally flawed Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), where payments have been skewed towards the largest landowners. For too long, our farmers have been held back by the stifling rules and often perverse incentives of the CAP. Leaving the EU gives us an opportunity to build a more dynamic, more self-reliant agriculture industry that works for our country.
Our new Agriculture Bill marks a decisive shift. It will reward farmers properly at last for the work they do to enhance the environment around us. It recognises the value farmers bring as food producers, and will help them grow more quality food in a more sustainable way.
The cornerstone of this Bill is a new system that pays public money for public goods – these goods from which we all benefit but the market alone does not provide. The Bill will allow us to devote public money to enriching wildlife habitats, preventing flooding, improving the quality of air, soil and peat, raising standards of animal welfare and planting trees to help manage and mitigate the effects of climate change – all public goods.
In the four months since I last wrote on this important topic, we have seen the results of the Government’s consultation, which took place in the Spring. I am pleased to say the responses contained a good deal of positivity about the approach being taken.
The Government has committed to maintaining the existing budget through to 2022, something that has provided both farmers and landowners with much needed certainty, also ensuring there is ample time to adapt to the new systems that will be put in place. That being said, I am fully aware that many in the industry would like further clarification on future funding post-2022, which is something I will be pressing my ministerial colleagues on over the coming months.
There were also a large number of comments in the consultation that rural areas should have a level playing field with urban areas in the provision of services. A majority of respondents ranked broadband coverage as the major challenge facing rural communities. This is something we have been working very hard on in Rutland, but there is always more to be done.
Brexit offers us significant and exciting opportunities across a raft of sectors, including agriculture. The Government is working hard to support the industry, and whilst the coming years will undoubtedly throw challenges our way, working together I remain confident we can fully exploit the opportunities on offer, to everyone’s benefit.