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BLOG: View from the Riverbank - British Canoeing Work in the House of Lords

Places to Paddle Manager Ben Seal tells us about a key piece of work the team has been doing to put forward changes to the new Agriculture Bill which will be debated today in the House of Lords.

Over the last two weeks, British Canoeing has been working with Peers in the House of Lords and alongside colleagues in the Ramblers and British Mountaineering Council, to put forward changes to the new Agriculture Bill. This week, the suggested changes (or ‘amendments’) to the Bill will be debated in the House. Amendments that have been tabled include measures to address the issue of public access to inland waterways.

Despite delays due to Brexit, the General Election and the Covid-19 pandemic, the Agriculture Bill has been progressing through its various stages en route to becoming UK law. After passing the Commons, this major piece of new legislation is now receiving scrutiny in the House of Lords.

The new Bill aims to set out how landowners and farmers are to be paid once the UK exits the European Union. Currently, farmers receive their funding under a ‘Single Basic Payment’ scheme. This is to be replaced by a system that would see farmers paid in return for delivering certain ‘public goods’. As well as food production, this would include things like higher animal welfare standards, environmentally friendly farming practices and importantly, greater access for the public to enjoy the countryside.

British Canoeing is extremely proud to be working on the Bill with Lord Addington and Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson. In all, 13 amendments to the Bill have been tabled at the ‘Committee Stage’ and will be debated today in the House.

The amendments all aim to strengthen wording within the Bill around provisions for public access to the countryside. Some of the amendments specifically identify enhanced public access to ‘water’ as something that farmers could receive support for providing. For paddlers, this could potentially include more places to access the water, improved facilities and also waterways that are better maintained for the benefit of both people and nature.

Places to Paddle Manager, Ben Seal, said: 

“This is a hugely exciting piece of work for us. It is our first real opportunity to influence new legislation and lay some foundations on which we can start to build a better relationship with farmers and landowners.

“The Agriculture Bill will commit the Government to providing the necessary funding and certainty for the farming community – a sector that has a critical role in enabling all of us to benefit from connecting with nature. If we can build a much stronger relationship with landowners and farmers, we can begin to address and overcome some of the major challenges to access on inland waters in England”.

Work to prepare for the debate, which is to take place between 7th & 9th July, has been done in collaboration with the Ramblers and BMC. On the timing of this debate, Stephen Russell, Policy & Advocacy Officer at the Ramblers commented:

“Enabling more people to connect with nature has never been more important. Access to the countryside, especially water can help tackle some of the biggest, long standing challenges we face: from the climate emergency to rising obesity and the mental health crisis. The Covid-19 outbreak, and the necessary restrictions on movement and outdoor activity, have brought into even sharper focus just how important it is for people to be able to connect with nature as part of their daily lives”.

The debate this week will see all 13 amendments debated in the House of Lords and responded to by the Government Minister, Lord Gardiner. Depending on how the amendments are received, the ‘Third Reading’ of the Bill, which follows after the current ‘Committee Stage’, offers another chance to table amendments and vote on those to be taken forward to the final ‘Report Stage’.

Proceedings are scheduled to be broadcast live on Parliament TV, from midday on Tuesday 7 July 2020. British Canoeing will provide a summary of the events shortly after.