Eighteenth Report Contents

Instruments of interest

Draft Direct Payments Ceilings Regulations 2020

Direct Payments Penalty Simplification (England) Regulations 2020 (SI 2020/551)

18.These two instruments make changes to the 2020 Direct Payment schemes, the main current form of income-support for UK farmers. The draft Regulations propose amendments to the UK’s national ceiling and net ceiling for Direct Payments for the claim year 2020.7 The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) says that the proposed changes take account of policy decisions made by Defra and the Scottish and Welsh Governments to reduce their share of the UK’s national ceiling for claim year 2020 by 12%, 9.5% and 15% respectively, so that these funds can be made available for rural development measures instead, continuing the approach taken in previous claim years since 2014. In total, around €386.4 million are being transferred from Direct Payments to rural development measures in 2020. As in previous years, the Northern Ireland authorities have decided not to make a transfer. According to Defra, the draft Regulations also reflect the findings of the Bew Review,8 which considered the fair allocation of farm support across the UK between 2020 and 2022, by proposing additional funding to Scottish and Welsh farmers of €60.43 million and €6.11 million respectively over the 2020-22 period.

19.SI 2020/551 simplifies the penalties that are applied to farmers in England where they have made small over-declarations of land under the Direct Payments schemes. According to Defra, small over-declarations occur where the area a farmer declares is more than either two hectares or 3%, but no more than 10%, larger than the area that meets the scheme eligibility rules. Defra says that it remains committed to phasing out Direct Payments in England over a transition period, as provided for in the Agriculture Bill, and that in the lead up to this transition, it intends to simplify the existing schemes where possible.9 This instrument simplifies the system so that all small over-declarations will attract a penalty of 0.75 times the size of the over-declaration, rather than some receiving a higher penalty as has been the case previously. Over-declarations of 10% or more will continue to attract a higher penalty rate of 1.5 times the over-declaration to maintain a deterrent. Defra says it will consider further simplifications to the Direct Payment schemes for the 2021 claim year.

Census (England) Regulations 2020 (SI 2020/560)

20.The Census (England and Wales) Order 2020 (SI 2020/532)10 set the broad topics and the date of 21 March 2021 for the next Census. These Regulations set out the operational mechanics for running the Census and, in Schedule 2, provide the detail of the questionnaires to be used in England. The devolved legislatures will be putting similar statutory instruments in place. In particular, these Regulations set out how the UK Statistics Authority (ONS) must divide England into administrative districts for the purposes of the Census and appoint people to act in various census roles within those administrative districts;11 make arrangements regarding the confidentiality of census data; and describe the system to be used to send out and track census questionnaires whether in paper or electronic form. Online questionnaires will require the use of a 16-digit Unique Access Code (UAC). The ONS tested these arrangements in October 2019, by means of a “rehearsal” in four local authority areas within England and Wales: Carlisle, Ceredigion, Hackney and Tower Hamlets.

7 The national ceiling comprises the total value of all allocated payment entitlements, national reserves and regional reserves and all the financial ceilings calculated for the individual Direct Payment schemes in the UK, while the net ceiling delimits the value of Direct Payments which can be made in the UK in a claim year.

8 The findings of the Bew Review were published in September 2019 alongside the Government’s response. See Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra), ‘Domestic farm support funding (Bew Review): government response (6 September 2019): https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/domestic-farm-support-funding-bew-review-government-response [accessed 10 June 2020].

9 See Defra, Farming for the future: policy and progress update (25 February 2020): https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-future-for-food-farming-and-the-environment-policy-statement-2020 [accessed 10 June 2020].

10 Described when in draft in our 9th Report, Session 2019-21 (HL Paper 38).

11 The Census Co-ordinator Areas (the operational term for the administrative districts) are created to cover areas that are expected to require the same number of hours of work per week for census staff; each Area is within existing Local Authority boundaries.

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