News & Insights

The “Landmark” Agricultural Act 2020 is here

The long awaited agricultural bill was passed into law on Wednesday 11 November.

The Agricultural Bill was introduced to Parliament in January this year in order to provide a legislative framework to replace the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy, focusing on how farmers and land managers will be rewarded in future with public money for “public goods” .

This article follows our preview summary of the Bill, published in the spring (see related articles below).

Following the Bill’s introduction, it has passed through both the House of Commons and the House of Lords, and subsequently went through the “ping-pong” process of amendments between the two Houses. The Lords agreed to the final Commons amendments on 9 November 2020 and it was passed into law on 11 November.

Replacement of the Basic Payment Scheme

The Act provides for a new Environmental Land Management scheme, which will replace the Basic Payment Scheme subsidy system.  The Basic Payment Scheme will be phased out under the Act over the next seven years.  The new scheme should go some way toward achieving the goals of the Government’s 25-year Environment Plan and the UK’s commitment to reach net zero emissions by 2050.

The new Environmental Land Management scheme aims to “incentivise sustainable farming practices, creating habitats for nature recovery and supporting the establishment of new woodland and other ecosystem services to help tackle challenges like climate change”.  Subsidies will be paid to farmers who improve air and water quality, encourage habitat that allow wildlife to thrive, improve soil health, take measures to reduce flooding and to those who actively attempt to tackle the effects of climate change.

Food Standards on Imported Goods

One of the biggest concerns as the Agriculture Bill has passed through Parliament has been the repeated rejection by Conservative MPs of measures to ensure that food standards on imported goods meet UK domestic legal standards, which are some of the highest animal welfare and food safety standards in the world.

A proposed amendment to the Bill, which provided for the safeguarding of food standards on imports, was rejected by MPs by 130 to 290 votes, although the Government did agree to include an amendment which allowed for the strengthening of the role of the Trade and Agriculture Commission.  The Act sets out the details on how the new Commission will report to the Government on new trade policies to guard against undermining animal welfare, food production and environmental standards, increasing parliamentary scrutiny of free trade agreements.  The amendment requires the new Commission to report to Parliament on the impact of each new trade agreement on the maintenance of our food, animal welfare and environmental protection standards.

Environment Secretary George Eustice said: “By putting the Trade and Agriculture Commission on a statutory footing, we are ensuring that the voices of our farmers, as well as those of consumers and key environmental and animal welfare groups, continue to be heard while we are in the process of scrutinising future trade deals.”

The Government’s acceptance of extra scrutiny of trade deals represents a significant concession and a welcome change of direction.

The introduction of the new Act will shape and transform the UK agriculture industry for many years to come.