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Farmers want an end to ‘legislative limbo’ as agriculture bill returns

PUBLISHED: 13:47 15 October 2019 | UPDATED: 13:47 15 October 2019

Farming leaders want to see the agriculture bill fast-tracked after it was reinstated in the Queen's speech. Picture: Ian Burt

Farming leaders want to see the agriculture bill fast-tracked after it was reinstated in the Queen's speech. Picture: Ian Burt

Following its resurrection in the Queen’s speech, the agriculture bill should now be fast-tracked after a “wasted year” of “legislative limbo”, demanded farming leaders.

The bill sets out the future direction of farm policy and funding after Britain leaves the EU, including phasing out the current system of direct subsidies in favour of a new scheme rewarding farmers for providing "public goods" such as environmental improvements, wildlife habitats and flood protection.

But after slow progress through the Commons there were fears it could be thrown out after the prime minister's suspension of parliament last month.

However, the Supreme Court's ruling that the prorogation was unlawful prompted the reinstatement of the bill in Monday's Queen's speech, which said ministers would implement "new regimes for fisheries, agriculture and trade, seizing the opportunities that arise from leaving the European Union".

Rachel Carrington, East Anglia regional director for the National Farmers' Union (NFU), said: "The agriculture bill is crucially important for farmers in East Anglia and it's frustrating that it has been stuck in legislative limbo for so long.

"We must try and make up for this lost time. Farmers need a new domestic agricultural policy that recognises the strategic importance of UK food production and provides the essential ingredients for a progressive, profitable, and sustainable food and farming sector.

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"However, the first priority must be to avoid a no-deal Brexit, with all the serious consequences that would bring for British agriculture and horticulture."

Ben Underwood, East regional director for the Country Land and Business Association (CLA East) said: "The government's direction of travel is robust and ambitious, and will be welcomed by rural businesses.

"Nevertheless, farmers will be dismayed that the agriculture bill has to start all over again having been stuck in the legislative process for the past year.

"It has been a wasted year. Farmers cannot begin to plan for their future until they know what they are transitioning towards, so government must fast track the bill to make up for lost time, and finally give rural business owners some clarity."

The Queen's speech also heralded the introduction of an environment bill, saying: "For the first time, environmental principles will be enshrined in law. Measures will be introduced to improve air and water quality, tackle plastic pollution and restore habitats so plants and wildlife can thrive."

Mr Underwood said the new bill "does a good job of creating an enduring framework for positive action".

"Long-term plans, environmental targets and embedding environmental principles will help provide the stability and clarity needed for the government to meet its environmental ambitions," he said.

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