The Defra Secretary may have sidestepped pre-legislative scrutiny on the Agriculture Bill, but MPs will be doing all they can to hold him to account on farming’s post-Brexit future, says Angela Smith, Penistone and Stocksbridge MP and Efra Committee member.
The summer Parliamentary recess is almost upon us and still no sign of the long-awaited Agriculture Bill.
For farmers, I don’t think it can be under estimated just how important this Bill is. The first Agriculture Bill since 1947, I am told.
Whatever people’s thoughts on Brexit, this Bill needs to establish clearly the Government’s plans as to how it is going to support farmers.
A support scheme which focuses on public money for public goods is right in principle, but farmers will also want to know how the Government is going to help them further the agriculture sector’s substantial economic, social and environmental contribution to the country and strengthen the nation’s ability to feed itself and the world.
The Bill has to be right, there will not be any second chances and failure is unthinkable. It has to be thoroughly tested to ensure it is ‘fit for purpose’.
With that in mind, our select committee looked forward to scrutinising the Bill before it started on its parliamentary journey, as evidence suggests pre-legislative scrutiny by select committees improves legislation.
It is disappointing therefore that Michael Gove has declined the opportunity for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Efra) committee to scrutinize the Bill before the legislative process starts.
We also now know there is unlikely to be any ‘Brexit dividend’ once we leave the EU and even if one did miraculously materialise, we have been told it has been allocated to the NHS.
Nobody will resent extra resources for our sorely pressed National Health Service. But the worrying question in the minds of formers will be, where is the money for farming going to come from once the transitional deal ends?
Another question relates to the fact that there are many other priorities making demands on the public purse. How will farming fare in this context, one wonders?
And can farmers secure a guarantee that a support scheme agreed in 2022 will last more than one parliamentary cycle?
All valid questions the Secretary of State needs testing on and ideal for the select committee to examine. Unfortunately, that now will not be the case before the Bill comes to the Commons.
Once it does though, we parliamentarians must make sure these and other questions are asked and examined.
Our farming future is too important for them not to be.