At the time of writing this article (the end of February), the Agriculture Bill is wending its way through the parliamentary process and is expected to receive Royal Assent in June or July 2020.
There are few surprises in the Bill which constitutes enabling legislation and which will be followed, in due course, by the more significant and detailed secondary legislation.
The Bill is broadly similar to the version published in 2018, and maintains the core premise of a migration from an area payments based system to a system based on “public money for public goods”. Direct support is phased out from 2021-2027. By 2028 in England there will be no area aid and this will be replaced by the Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS). Consultation will cover how payments are to be “delinked” from the need to farm and become a personal right to those who claimed BPS in the past. This dramatic shift will certainly have implications for existing agreements and tenancies containing “old style” BPS clauses. The government is also going to consider whether all the remaining BPS payments could be taken as a lump sum.
DEFRA is working on the detail of the ELM Scheme and many objectives overlap with existing agri-environment schemes. There are however, new elements such as climate change, air and soil quality, and minimising environmental hazards. We will continue to report on the detail of these changes as they emerge.
Schedule 3 of the Bill sets out proposed changes to agricultural tenancy legislation in England. These are largely procedural and most amend the Agricultural Holdings Act 1986, the detail to follow in Regulations. Some of the more controversial provisions of the Consultation Paper which we considered in the last edition of Rural News (such as assignment of succession tenancies to third parties and widening of the category of eligible successors) are not included at this stage and will no doubt remain under discussion by the Tenancy Reform Industry Group, along with possible amendments to the Agricultural Tenancies Act 1995. The TRIG proposal relating to short notice provisions under the Agricultural Tenancies Act 1995 enabling a Landlord to terminate a farm business tenancy following breach of covenant without using the cumbersome forfeiture procedure have not be included as yet. One particular amendment of note however, is to provide that tenants are not unreasonably prevented from participating in targeted financial assistance schemes.
The Moore Barlow Rural Services Team will continue to monitor and report on the complex evolving landscape for agricultural support and tenancy reform over the next year and to advise on the impact in particular on existing farming agreements and on arrangements.