Industry leaders have been left disappointed by a Government push to pass the Agriculture Bill with little change to its food security measures, despite the coronavirus pandemic.
At the moment, the Bill contains a legal requirement for the Secretary of State to carry out five-yearly audits of the UK’s food security, but food security is not listed as a principal reason for ongoing financial support to farmers.
Tenant Farmers’ Association (TFA) chief executive George Dunn said Ministers were keen to get the Bill through its remaining Parliamentary stages without amendment, because they are concerned they will not be able to make payments to farmers next year unless it is on the statute book.
The Government was already forced to pass a separate piece of legislation, the Farm Payments Act, at the beginning of this year to allow farmers to be paid in 2020 because of the delays the Agriculture Bill faced due to Brexit wrangling and the General Election.
More recently, there had been some concern the Bill could be put on the backburner again as Parliament moved towards virtual proceedings due to the lockdown, but officials now expect the next stage of scrutiny to be scheduled in the not-too-distant future.
Mr Dunn said: “If it is true the Government plans to press ahead with the Bill without amendment, this is both disappointing and inappropriate.
“Those aspects of the Bill around food security, the importance of food production, targeting active farmers and the operation of supply chains should be strengthened to be equal with environmental policies.”
Mr Dunn told Farmers Guardian he did not believe the Bill would be delayed significantly if the Government proposed its own amendments in these areas, and pointed to National Food Strategy lead Henry Dimbleby’s comments that food security would require greater attention in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
The push for the Westminster legislation to be changed came as Stage One of the Scottish Agriculture Bill was debated this week (May 5).
NFU Scotland used the opportunity to reiterate its earlier call for a post-2024 agriculture policy to be developed ‘as a matter of urgency’.
In a briefing to MSPs, the union also requested an update on common frameworks to protect the integrity of the internal UK market.