Agriculture Bill

Written evidence submitted by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) (AB62)

Agriculture Bill – Summary of RICS’ Viewpoint

The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) is an internationally recognised standards setter and regulator for the land, property, construction and infrastructure sectors.

We are not a trade body; we do not represent any sectoral interest, and under the terms of our Royal Charter the advice and leadership we offer is always in the public interest. We are therefore well placed to help develop effective policy proposals and solutions for government.

With over 80,000 highly qualified trainees and professionals across the UK, we are ideally placed to advise on the potential impact of any policy and legislation proposal, and aim to embed our standards within local marketplaces in order to protect consumers and businesses. Furthermore, RICS rural professionals are integral to the efficient and effective management of land across the UK.

Bill Overview

1. The Agriculture Bill, in the main, is a move in the right direction.

2. Whilst the Bill recognises the need the suitably qualified professionals to operate the rural systems, which is welcome, at times the Bill loses sight of what it should focus on: improving productivity around, and efficiency of, food production.

3. The UK needs more production of locally produced, healthy food which can be consumed as freshly as possible in the context of a sustainable overall ecosystem; not, as at present, maximisation at the expense of the environment which has caused such damage to water, soils and air.

4. RICS recommends the development of a Land Use Policy, which links to the recently published Food Policy, so that the right use is on the right land at the right time.

5. In addition , there are a number of post-enactment regulations that need to be devised if this Bill passes through the Houses. Whilst regulations are more flexible tha n secondary legislation, they do not contribute to market stability, which is essential for ongoing participation, activity , investment and confidence .

6. We request that the Secretary of State allows suitable parliamentary scrutiny of any future draft regulations and post-enactment legislation , and go through appropriate consultation exercises that will allow the voice of RICS professionals – who are integral to the efficient and effective operation of the UK’s agricultural market – to be heard.

7. Following a prolonged Brexit discussion, RICS is optimistic that through this Bill, the rural market, and the professionals and workforce that operate within it, receive the certainty they require.

Key Points

Schedule 3: Appointment of Arbitrators

8. RICS has delivered an efficient and high-quality rural rent arbitration and expert determination service to the UK farming community for over 30 years.

9. It should be noted that the Appointment of Arbitrators Service incurs a financial cost for RICS, which is not currently covered by the statutory application fee charged for administering appointments of arbitrators.

10. Furthermore, providing this service is not a simple matter. It requires the investment of considerable capital in terms of time, technology and human resources, to establish, train, assess, appoint and continually ensure the quality of a panel of skilled dispute resolvers to the level that RICS has maintained throughout this time. RICS is the leading, internationally recognised land and property body to maintain and regulate professional standards, and is an important consideration in the maintenance of public confidence in the property market

11. Historically, RICS did not seek a statutory monopoly of this service, and in all the other areas in which it operates: commercial rent review, construction adjudication, mediation and conflict avoidance, it holds its own in a competitive market quite satisfactorily by offering a service of the highest standard.

12. RICS is not, therefore, concerned about the entrance of other service providers into the rural arbitration and expert determination sector per se, but would caution that this should not provide an avenue for agricultural tenants and landlords to find themselves susceptible to less well-administered and expert services with the attendant unsatisfactory outcomes, and potentially without the rigorous regulation practiced by RICS.

13. RICS has also raised concerns about the increased cost of these processes and the resultant impact on access to justice, especially for smaller and other tenant farmers. To this end, three years ago, RICS introduced its Low-Cost Arbitration Service for the rural sector, which was designed to, and has where used, succeeded in addressing this issue.

14. We note that the broadening of the service provider base could increase the number of lawyer dispute resolvers as opposed to surveyors. The legal profession, traditionally, is known to charge more than surveyors, and therefore a degree of mandatory fee transparency would be advisable to ensure that first-time tenant farmer users do not inadvertently find themselves exposed to unexpectedly high dispute resolution costs.

Part 2: Food Security Monitoring and Intervention

15. The inclusion of food security and intervention in agricultural markets is very welcome as this will help to maintain confidence in supporting reliable access for consumers to nutritious food and profitable resilience of farmers and rural communities

16. The principle of setting and underwriting a sustainable commodity price to safeguard self-sufficient supply over a ten to fifteen year time period needs to balance high environmental standards of land management and a reasonable prospect of profitability for farmers.

17. This will ensure the many benefits the proposed approach to commodity price could bring - such as helping the balance of payments; enabling inward investment; and, together with an enlightened agro-ecological approach to food production, help attract a new generation of young farmers and land managers into agriculture – will not come at the expense of the environment.

18. There is, however, a risk that the current proposal will not operate rapidly enough to prevent depletion for example of breeding stock that could take several years to replenish, and thus create shortages in supply and price spikes.

19. That said, and as mentioned in paragraph 4 of this submission, RICS encourages the Government to take a further step and provide automatic market support through the development of land use policy which aligns with the recently published food policy. We believe this approach is more proactive and forward-looking.

Research & Development

20. There is little, if any, stimulus for research and development in the Agriculture Bill. This is surprising as it comes at a time when the Government is promoting innovation and increases in productivity.

21. RICS suggests the establishment of a new agriculture research and development organisation to equip UK agriculture with the means to compete in the post-Brexit, global marketplace.


Agricultural Tenancies Succession (Schedule 3, Part 1, Paragraph 17)

22. RICS is supportive of the changes in the suitability test which takes account of the landlords’ views, as well as the applicants ability and capability to farm the holding to a high standard whilst caring for the environment. This view is based predominately on the fact that it is in the public interest that the management bar is raised to ensure optimum use of such a scarce resource.


Establishment of a national land use framework in England inspires cooperation based on the public value of land, mediating and encouraging multipurpose uses

23. RICS believes there is a pressing need for an ‘England Land Use Strategy’ to reduce the potential conflicts between the purposed Agriculture and Environment Bills, as well as realising housing infrastructure, regeneration of ecosystems (to help stem the massive decline in biodiversity) and forestry ambitions in light of mitigation and adaptation to climate change.

24. The strategy should be the foundation of releasing the country’s creativity and innovation, making regulation and incentives across government more effective and efficient.

25. A review of the Agricultural Land Classification system with a wider scope to include for example ecological value  would be a good starting point.

Delinked Payments

26. RICS believes that the provisions within the Bill that delink payments are enabling as they will allow Ministers to make a delinked payment in lieu of a direct payment to farmers during the transition period. This period is set to last from 2021 to 2027 which will afford farmers seven years to adjust to the new system. 

27. During this phase, Direct Payments (in England only) will be phased out with the biggest reductions being applied to the higher payment bands from year one. 

28. The delinking of Direct Payments from the requirement to farm the land will provide farmers with greater freedom and choice of how to maximise their payments. However, whether this provision achieves its aims; such as facilitating retirement, business diversification, improving productivity or helping to promote the desired agro-ecological approach to food production will be down to the detail and the industry's response.

29. It would be prudent of the Government to clearly explain that the proposed delinking is a transitionary measure, and that the process is relatively straight forward to follow.

March 2020

 

Prepared 3rd March 2020