NFUS pushes for agreement on Agriculture Bill

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NFU Scotland has called upon the UK and Scottish governments to resolve their differences on the Agriculture Bill.

The union has urged the respective governments to end the current impasse and work constructively to ensure Scotland can develop and implement a new Scottish agricultural policy after Brexit.

In letters sent to the secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs, Michael Gove MP, and the cabinet secretary for rural economy, Fergus Ewing MSP, NFU Scotland president Andrew McCornick has called for meaningful progress to break the current political log jam between both governments on how to agree future policy, financial frameworks and repatriation of powers.

The UK Government’s Agriculture Bill was published in September and is currently receiving scrutiny in the House of Commons.

NFUS describes the bill as ‘enabling’ legislation, providing broad powers to current and future governments to provide financial assistance and make other policy interventions around land use and agriculture after the UK’s departure from the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

It says the bill has also given rise to legitimate questions about the ability for governments to continue to make agricultural payments in the immediate aftermath of EU exit in 2019 and 2020.

The NFUS is urging the governments to provide clarification on this in order to give certainty and stability to farmers and crofters.

The main thrust of the bill is to establish a new framework for agricultural policy in England and for the Welsh and Northern Irish administrations who have opted to take schedules within this bill.

The Scottish Government has refused the option to take powers via a schedule in the bill and is keeping open the option of introducing its own Scottish Agriculture Bill to the Scottish parliament.

There are other elements of the bill which will also have a significant impact on agriculture across the UK, whether Scotland takes powers within this bill or not.

NFUS has been clear from the outset that it is not only the outcomes of the legislative process that will shape agriculture in the future but also the decision-making processes that are established via the Agriculture Bill.

It is the view of NFUS that, due to the continued impasse between governments on these issues, the bill has become very politicised and the required policy measures that will secure the best possible outcomes for Scottish agriculture are being put at risk.

As well as writing to UK and Scottish ministers this week, NFUS has provided a position statement to MPs and officials, setting out the areas of contention within the Agriculture Bill where it considers amendments are needed.

NFUS director of policy, Jonnie Hall, said: ‘Less than five months from Brexit, our members are desperate for certainty and confidence. The politicisation of the process has, so far, been unhelpful and we must see meaningful progress between the two governments soon.’

‘We need the very best outcomes for Scottish agriculture, so it is vital that both Holyrood and Westminster act with urgency and establish a satisfactory outcome for all sides.

‘The real prize from exiting the EU is to move away from the CAP, while developing and implementing new agricultural policies that are bespoke to the unique and differing needs of the UK.

‘This will only happen if both governments break the current impasse and play their respective and complementary roles.’

‘We are firmly of the view that the inclusion of a schedule bespoke to Scotland’s needs, and which would enable Scottish ministers to act in such regard, must only be instigated and agreed by Scottish Government.’

‘It is equally clear to us that such an option would only be taken up by the Scottish Government if the bill is amended to reflect the legitimate concerns of Scottish Government as regards the potential for the UK secretary of state to have the power to impose financial constraints on Scottish agricultural policy in areas of devolved competency.

‘Legal advice taken by NFUS has lent support to the Scottish Government’s position on this particular aspect.’

Jonnie Hall, NFUS director of policy. NO_c45jonniehall01_nfus