The Government is pushing several pieces of agriculture legislation through Parliament now, and as chair of the Efra committee and an FG reader, I intend to hold their feet to the fire every step of the way, says Neil Parish MP.
It is great to be back here in Parliament as the MP for Tiverton and Honiton, catching up with familiar faces – and meeting so many new colleagues too.
I’ve sat through some excellent maiden speeches in the House and noticed a lot of superb new MPs with rural and busy farming constituencies.
MPs like Fay Jones, Chris Loder, Dr Neil Hudson, Theo Clarke, Alicia Kearns and many others have spoken with great knowledge and depth on issues we Farmers Guardian readers care deeply about.
This bodes well for our new Parliament.
As we leave the EU and reshape our agricultural policy, we will need all the experience and expertise we have on these benches to be directly involved in ensuring laws are ‘Brexit ready’.
Even more, we need first-hand experience of constituents telling us what does and doesn’t work, where we can improve and the opportunities we must seize outside the EU.
Part of that process will involve the formation of our parliamentary select committees so evidence can be taken, legislation scrutinised, and Ministers held to account.
I was delighted, this week, to be re-elected by the House of Commons as chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee.
Having been chair since 2015, I was pleased with what we achieved on plastics, food waste, air quality and animal welfare, but there is still so much more to do.
During this Parliament, we will look again at domestic agriculture for the first time in nearly 50 years.
As someone who has farmed since the age of 16, led the Agriculture and Rural Development Committee in the European Parliament – and been Chair of Efra here since 2015 – I hope I can be of real assistance.
And I hope a number of our new MPs will seek to join the Committee and add their experience too.
There have also been some important Bills progressing through the House.
First, the Direct Payment to Farmers (Legislative Continuity) Bill will allow the Government to continue paying farmers at CAP rates for 2020.
This is vital for certainty – and it will be important to give as early notice as possible about the future payment schemes.
With the Environmental Land Management Scheme incoming, we know a greater focus will be placed on ‘public money for environmental benefit’.
The principle is fine, but how will it work in practice? Defra aims to have enrolled 82,500 farmers and land managers by 2028.
In my experience, this will be a huge challenge for agencies like the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) – and will require significant forward planning and scrutiny.
Second, we have the Agriculture Bill.
There have been some slight tweaks since its first publication, and there might be some more room for change yet.
I hope to have the committee up and running as quickly as possible so we can look in detail at the Bill, line by line.
It seems like more of an enabling Bill, but broadly I want to see food as a more significant part of the Bill.
I also want Defra to work extremely closely with the Department for International Trade as we leave the EU, because standards will be an issue.
Now that the Government has a large majority, the political landscape in Parliament is clearly different, but Ministers will be wise to avoid complacency.
After all, decisions made now will affect the country for years to come.
As chair of the Efra Select Committee for this Parliament and as a Farmers Guardian reader, I will be holding their feet to the fire – every step of the way.
Neil can be found tweeting at @neil_parish