Agriculture Bill

Written evidence submitted by Anglian Water (AB17)

Dear Sir/Madam

Agriculture Bill: House of Commons committee stage

Anglian Water serves an area that is critical to food production in the UK. Around half of England’s grade 1 and 2 agricultural land can be found in our region, and a flourishing and sustainable farming sector is vital to the regional rural economy. Therefore, we have a keen interest in ensuring that as direct payments are withdrawn, famers are rewarded instead for productive farm practices that enhance the environment and deliver benefits for the public – our customers.

Overall, we strongly welcome the core principle at the heart of the Bill – public money for public goods. We also wholly support the EFRA Committee’s recommendation (paragraph 36) in their Health and Harmony inquiry report to maintain the same overall level of funding for farm support during the agricultural transition period and for these sums to be increasingly spent on delivering defined ‘public goods’. However, there are a number of further points we would like to raise to help ensure the bill is as effective in possible in delivering a step change in the health of the water environment and in doing so reduce pressure on customers bills.

A new regulatory baseline, inspection and enforcement, and advice for farmers

The bill lacks the establishment and definition of a strong regulatory baseline.

This is crucial in order to ensure that all farmers meet basic environmental standards in how they manage their land once the current cross-compliance regime comes to an end. Farmers need to know what the rules will be, and the consequences should they not meet them.

Once published, implement the recommendations of the Stacey Review at the earliest legislative opportunity.

Swift implementation of Dame Glenys Stacey’s farm inspection review will offer certainty to farmers and would go a long way to ensuring a strong regulatory baseline. Recommendations should be adopted as part of the Agriculture Bill, rather than waiting for a later legislative vehicle like the promised Environment Bill.

Improve advice services for farmers and land managers .

Farmers are bombarded by advice on different things at different times in a highly fragmented market place. Given the scale of the challenge faced by farmers as subsidies are withdrawn, as the regulatory regime changes, and international trading arrangements develop, the government should consider whether there is merit in greater co-ordination of, and government support for, the provision of advice to farm businesses, especially those who will need to make significant changes to their business model to remain viable.

Resources for inspection and enforcement.

Underpinned by clear and readily-available advice to farmers, the new regulatory regime must be sufficiently resourced so that inspection and enforcement activities achieve near universal compliance. This would avoid a repeat of the problems with the Environment Agency’s Farming Rules for Water introduced in 2017. These rules were well-intentioned but no extra resources were provided to EA to ensure they are widely understood and adopted.

Environmental Land Management (ELM) funding and trade

Clarify whether public goods will be paid on the basis of ‘income foregone’.

Current WTO rules state that funds for ELM are likely to fall within the ‘Amber Box’ aggregate measurement of support unless paid on the basis of income foregone. However, farmers should be able to make a reasonable income from delivering public goods form their land, and unless they can, they are unlikely to participate in environmental land management schemes at the scale needed to make a difference. The government should clarify the basis upon which farmers will be paid for delivering the public goods defined within the bill and state what this means for compliance with WTO rules.

We will gladly provide further information to the committee if it is of interest. Please do not hesitate to contact either myself or my colleague Jacob Wallace in our public policy team at jwallace@anglianwater.co.uk should you have any further questions.

With many thanks and best wishes,

Dr. Lucinda Gilfoyle

Catchment and Coastal Strategy Manager

October 2018

 

Prepared 24th October 2018