This House of Lords Library Briefing has been prepared in advance of the second reading and remaining stages in the House of Lords of the Direct Payments to Farmers (Legislative Continuity) Bill on 29 January 2020.
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The bill was introduced in the Commons on 9 January 2020 and had its second reading on 21 January 2020. It is due to complete its remaining Commons stages on 28 January 2020. It is then due to complete all its Lords stages the following day. This timetable means the House of Lords Library is publishing its briefing on the bill before it has finished all its stages in the Commons.
According to Forthcoming Business, the bill will be a money bill. The Speaker of the House of Commons certifies a bill as a money bill if in his opinion it contains only provisions dealing with national taxation, public money or loans or their management. A money bill can be presented for royal assent without the consent of the House of Lords if the Lords does not pass it without amendment within a month of receiving it from the Commons. The House of Lords Companion notes that this “does not debar the Lords from amending such bills”, but the Commons “is not obliged to consider the amendments”.
UK farmers currently receive direct payments under the EU’s common agricultural policy (CAP). Under the UK-EU withdrawal agreement, most EU law will continue to be applied in the UK during the implementation (or transition) period due to run until 31 December 2020. However, the EU direct payments legislation will no longer apply to the UK from exit day, 31 January 2020.
The bill would provide the legal basis to continue direct payments to farmers across the UK for the claim year 2020. It would incorporate the EU direct payments legislation as it stands on exit day into domestic law. It would give ministers and the devolved authorities powers to make ‘corrections’ to ensure this legislation remains operable once the UK has left the EU. It would also give ministers and the devolved authorities a discretionary power to make amendments during 2020 if the equivalent EU law is amended.
The bill also includes powers for ministers to increase the total maximum amount of direct payments in 2020, following changes recommended by the Bew Review to the way UK CAP funds are allocated between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
At second reading, MPs across the Commons welcomed the fact the bill would secure certainty for farm payments in the short-term. However, opposition MPs argued the bill would not have been necessary if the Government had made progress with the Agriculture Bill introduced in the 2017–19 session.
The Government introduced a new Agriculture Bill on 16 January 2020. This would phase out direct payments in England over a seven-year period and replace them with a system based on payments for public goods such as environmental protection and access to the countryside.