Scrutiny of the Agriculture Bill Contents

Introduction

1.Britain’s imminent departure from the European Union (EU) has provided it with the opportunity to move away from the EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) by designing a new system of support for domestic agriculture. In February 2018, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) put forward proposals in its consultation Health and Harmony: The future for food, farming and the environment in a Green Brexit.1 Our response to the consultation was published in June 2018.2

2.The Agriculture Bill was introduced in the House of Commons on 12 September 2018, had its second reading on 25 October 2018 and was examined by a public bill committee. The Bill would “authorise new expenditure for certain agricultural and other purposes” and “make provision about direct payments during an agricultural transition period following the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union”.3 In addition, the Bill includes a range of other provisions relating to food supply chains, market intervention and compliance with the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Agreement on Agriculture, amongst others.4

3.Given the importance of this Bill in shaping UK agriculture for years to come, it is deeply disappointing that this Committee was not given the opportunity for thorough pre-legislative scrutiny. This unsatisfactory precedent has been swiftly followed by the publication of the Fisheries Bill without pre-legislative scrutiny. The Government should explain why the Bill was not presented in draft form for pre-legislative scrutiny.

4.On the same day that the Bill was presented, we announced an inquiry on Scrutiny of the Agriculture Bill.5 We received around 80 written submissions and held four oral evidence sessions with a range of witnesses, including the Rt Hon Michael Gove MP, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and George Eustice MP, Minister of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. During the months preceding the introduction of the Bill, we also received two private briefings from Defra officials. We would like to thank everyone who contributed to this inquiry.

5.Our intention was that this report would be ready for Report Stage, when the Bill returned to the floor of the House. We hope that our recommendations will be considered by the Government and by Members from all parties when debating and amending the Bill as it continues its passage through Parliament.

6.Because our short inquiry ran in parallel to the Bill’s passage through the House of Commons, we were unable to scrutinise all aspects of the Bill in detail. Therefore, this Report prioritises three key areas, each explored in a dedicated chapter: (i) The transition from CAP to a new system based on public money for public goods; (ii) future trade and (iii) fairness in the supply chain.


1 Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Once-in-a-generation opportunity to shape future farming policy, 27 February 2018

2 Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Sixth Report of Session 2017–19, The future for food, farming and the environment, HC 870

3 Agriculture Bill, [Bill 266 (2017–19)]

4 Agriculture Bill, [Bill 266 (2017–19)]

5 Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, “Agriculture Bill inquiry launched”, 12 September 2018




Published: 27 November 2018