The development of a new, post-Brexit UK agriculture policy is a seminal moment for the future of our environment, our food production and our countryside.
I believe we need an Agriculture Bill which ensures, in measurable and enforceable terms, the future of our environment, wildlife and habitats while also providing food security. Sustainability must be at the forefront of a thriving farming, food and drink sector.
I agree with the need to shift financial assistance, from support for simply owning land to the principle of public money for public goods, to help those who work our land to restore and improve the natural environment.
However, I believe that the Agriculture Bill falls short in several areas. In my view, it does not fully recognise the central importance of UK sustainable food production and supply. I fear this may lead to a greater reliance on food imports from countries where we have no control over environmental standards. It is vital that any future trade deals do not dilute welfare standards, environmental protection or labour standards.
I am further concerned that, while the Bill gives wide-ranging powers, it does not make clear how the environmental outcomes that we need are to be funded, delivered or regulated. It offers no targets for improving our environment and no mechanism for setting any targets. This is especially concerning at a time of alarming species decline, soil degradation and increasingly volatile and extreme weather conditions driven by escalating climate change.
It is also the case that the Agriculture Bill fails to legislate for current agriculture funding to continue beyond 2022. I would like to see more certainty on long-term funding.
During the second reading debate on 10th October, I supported an Opposition amendment which set out these concerns. Unfortunately, the amendment was defeated. The Bill has now moved on to committee stage where I hope that several improvements will be made.
I will continue to bear in mind the concerns you have raised, and as the Agriculture Bill progresses, I can assure you I will be supporting amendments to ensure that it properly protects our natural environment and recognises the central importance of sustainable food production.