Agriculture Bill

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Report stage & Report stage (Hansard): House of Lords & Report: 1st sitting & Report: 1st sitting: House of Lords
Tuesday 15th September 2020

(3 years, 10 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Agriculture Act 2020 View all Agriculture Act 2020 Debates Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: HL Bill 130-II(Rev) Revised second marshalled list for Report - (15 Sep 2020)
Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Gardiner of Kimble) (Con)
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My Lords, I thank noble Lords for contributing to what has been a thoughtful debate. I declare my farming interests as set out in the register. I very much look forward to these days spent on Report, building on our consideration in Committee.

In addressing Amendment 1, I will also address Amendments 25, 3, 4 and 24. I am a great advocate of the benefits that access to the countryside and the natural world can bring. Clause 1(1)(b) will allow financial assistance to be given to support public access to and enjoyment of the countryside, farmland and woodland.

The Government are supporting and enhancing access to the countryside in a number of different ways. We are working to complete the England Coast Path and to support our network of national trails, and we intend to create a new national trail across the north of England. We are ensuring that rights of way are recorded and protected, as well as developing ways to support access through the ELM scheme. I say to my noble friend Lady McIntosh that it is estimated that there is around 140,000 miles of rights of way in England and Wales. The ELM scheme will reward land managers for the public goods that they deliver, including beauty, heritage and engagement with the environment. Public access is a key way that people can engage with the environment. Supporting access is therefore an important aspect of achieving this goal.

In her point about balance, the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, reminded us of the clear essence of this—in fact, it is the way in which the countryside is generally successful. How do we balance the many demands on the countryside? Her point was made well and succinctly.

We are looking at how the ELM scheme could fund the creation of new paths, such as footpaths and bridleways, which provide access for cyclists, riders and pedestrians where appropriate. This will be in addition to current local authorities’ rights of way arrangements. The scheme could also support wider access opportunities to, and on, water and waterways, such as lakes and rivers, for canoeists, anglers and swimmers where appropriate. Again, this is about balance. We all know—this is so often the case, in my view—that when this is done through interested parties meeting together, some of the hostility evaporates: they all get round what is perhaps in these times the proverbial table and work through the issues to everyone’s mutual interest.

We will determine in more detail what ELM will pay for as we develop further the scheme; importantly, we are engaging with stakeholders to inform this. The current wording of the Bill allows us to develop, in close collaboration with stakeholders, the best ways of making further enhancements to our exceptional access network, including waterways.

Turning to Amendment 2, I am absolutely seized of the health and well-being benefits that access can bring. All of us have experienced them—many of us throughout our lives—but I think that the nation has particularly found this during the current circumstances. I assure the noble Earl that these benefits can be supported by public access to the countryside. Access provides a huge range of benefits, including improving physical and mental health, but also supports local communities and economies.

I thank the noble Earl for highlighting the importance of access as a public good, which this scheme can support. As drafted, Clause 1(1)(b) will allow for a more permissive approach to meeting the aims of providing greater and more varied access. A broad range of access improvements will be aimed at promoting the benefits of enhancing health and well-being through enjoyment—in the fullest sense of the word, rather than that pertaining to property rights—and understanding of the countryside. I should say that the noble Earl and I discussed this issue with lawyers. The current scope of Clause 1(1)(b) is broader than that proposed by the noble Earl and provides options to develop the best ways of making further enhancements to our impressive access network, including waterways.

Turning to Amendments 19 and 27, rights of way are managed by local authorities and the rights of way improvement plans set out the needs at local levels. When developing schemes such as the ELM scheme, understanding and addressing local needs will be of paramount importance. This is why the Government have proposed that the design of tiers 2 and 3 of the ELM scheme may require spatial prioritisation; in other words, a targeting process to ensure that priority environmental outcomes are delivered in the right places. The Government are exploring the best approach to spatial prioritisation for ELM, including how to ensure that local stakeholders can be involved in determining local priorities. Rights of way improvement plans will already be considered as part of this process.

Clear arrangements are already in place through the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 to allow for the establishment, recording and appeal of rights of way to agreed standards, and local authorities hold responsibility for their maintenance. Indeed, a national stakeholder group is being reconvened, enabling historic claims to be negotiated and resolved while the consideration of other initiatives, such as a coast-to-coast national trail, is also progressing. The ELM scheme is separate from these aspects of rights of way and thus may offer new and different opportunities, such as the creation of new access, easier physical access and clearer information to enable greater public access.

A number of noble Lords mentioned access. Having have had the privilege of seeing some of the new coastal paths and the opportunities for those of varying abilities and disabilities, I am absolutely seized of the importance of access. As we seek to enhance greater opportunities, wherever possible we should be in a position to help those who do not have the ability that noble Lords here have to enjoy access to the countryside.

Turning to Amendment 5, I again stress to all noble Lords that ELM is a voluntary scheme; I put that on record. Therefore, no farmer will be forced to sign up to the scheme, although they will of course be required to meet their obligations under the law. Ultimately, ELM is a policy delivered by land managers on the ground who know best what their land is capable of delivering. I agree with my noble friend Lord Caithness and the many noble Lords who raised this issue, but again, balance comes into it. There must be balance between food production, the environment, conservation, and the well-being and health of people who want access to the countryside; all these things are the essence of balance.

I understand that, at times, providing such public access can bring about some extra costs or risks for land managers. We will therefore work closely with stakeholders on the full costs of providing access, to make sure that the system works for and is attractive to land managers. My noble friend Lord Randall of Uxbridge and the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, made that point. We want this scheme to work because it is a positive for those who are custodians of the land. It will not work if it is an imposition. Permissive routes—that is, routes agreed for a certain period of time—cannot be claimed as permanent rights of way. Again, this is important in the climate in which we are seeking to do something of strong public benefit by seeking this element of financial assistance for land managers.

I will look at Hansard to see whether there are any further issues. The noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, referred to tests and trials. All this—whether it is access or the range of financial assistance—is going to work only if we have the tests and trials with interested parties, so that there is confidence that when all of these financial assistance schemes are applied for, they will be attractive.

I hope I have answered noble Lords’ questions and concerns with the references I have made, through consideration of these matters between Committee and Report and by taking the advice of lawyers as to the drafting. I hope that this will sufficiently reassure the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, in particular, and I ask him whether he would feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Earl of Caithness Portrait The Earl of Caithness (Con)
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My Lords, I thank my noble friend for what he said. He elucidated the point on which I wanted to question him but, by that stage, I had already sent in my request to speak. He also mentioned consultation on the ELMS. How many farmers are involved in this? Is he convinced that it covers enough respondents to give an overall picture for the country? It is crucial that we get this right.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble (Con)
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I am grateful to my noble friend. I can confirm that the tests and trials will be across all sorts of land tenure in all parts of the country. This is a venture between Government with responsibility to the taxpayer and land managers who are doing—and will continue to do—a considerable amount of work for which, currently, they are not rewarded. I can confirm to my noble friend that we will be working very strongly across the country on access and other matters, so that when the design of the scheme is rolled out, we know that it will be attractive to land managers.

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Lord Grantchester Portrait Lord Grantchester (Lab)
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My Lords, at the start of my remarks on Report on amendments to the Agriculture Bill, I declare my interests as recorded on the register, including as being in receipt of funds from the CAP under the present system. As with the first group of amendments, I thank noble Lords for tabling their further thoughts after Committee with these amendments today. Once again, they highlight the very broad nature of agriculture, which, in many ways, interacts with economic activity from many sectors and interests in the rural economy. This in turn has a bearing on many government departments.

Several of the amendments focus on matters related to food security and, indeed, insecurity. We agree that these are important matters that we will come to later in the Bill. In relation to the Minister’s concessions—which are very much welcomed—and to Amendment 58 on the national food strategy commissioned by the Government, I can add that I too was very impressed with the initial report recently published by Henry Dimbleby.

We consider that the Government have a very clear focus on the issue without requiring the specific Amendment 12 so eloquently spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Northbrook, which we are unable to support from the Labour Benches. However, we have regard to Amendment 11 in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, and others, which overlaps with Amendment 70 in the name of my colleague and noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch on the Front Bench. Ensuring opportunities for young farmers and new entrants is incredibly important and underlines the future prosperity of the sector.

In outlining the purposes for which financial assistance can be given, we consider that Clause 1 gives a fair balance and appreciation of the many options that may be developed over time. It provides a good way forward, rewarding the production of food while protecting the environment. I am sure that the Minister will be able to provide the extra information and assurances that we are all looking for, and that he has taken due note of all the important points raised for sustainable agriculture into the future.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble (Con)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for contributing to what I think has been an extensive and very interesting debate. I turn to Amendment 6, which I shall address along with Amendments 9, 10, 12, 17,13 and 20. I will say—particularly to my noble friend Lord Northbrook and as a fellow member of the NFU, but to all noble Lords—that the Government agree absolutely that the production of food is of critical importance and that this will not be overlooked in the designing of our future schemes. Indeed, this is precisely why the Bill includes a duty for the Secretary of State to have regard to the need to encourage food production and for food to be produced in an environmentally sustainable way. So I say, in particular to my noble friends Lady McIntosh of Pickering and Lord Northbrook, that Clause 1(4) as drafted recognises the strong interdependence of farming and the environment.

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16:50

Division 1

Ayes: 130


Liberal Democrat: 74
Crossbench: 35
Conservative: 7
Labour: 4
Independent: 3
Green Party: 2
Ulster Unionist Party: 1
Bishops: 1
Plaid Cymru: 1

Noes: 225


Conservative: 194
Crossbench: 22
Independent: 5
Labour: 2
Democratic Unionist Party: 1

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Baroness Wilcox of Newport Portrait Baroness Wilcox of Newport (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, we welcome the tabling of these amendments, which will allow Ministers to go into more detail on the balance between direct support for agriculture, and other related purposes, and the emphasis that the noble Earl, Lord Devon, puts on the word “agriculture”. We understand that the National Farmers’ Union supports this amendment as a means of ensuring that the Agriculture Bill is truly agricultural in nature.

Following the first two groups, where there were amendments focusing on areas such as countryside access and public health, we understand the concerns of some that, with a limited pot available to Defra, it is important to ensure that the lion’s share delivers for farmers. We certainly want farmers to get the support they need, and to ensure the Government follow through with the many promises they have made to rural communities in recent years. However, as my noble friend Lady Young of Old Scone so clearly noted, there will have to be a wider purpose for land, as it will have to work several times over to deliver its multiple objectives.

However, as we have all said during the Bill’s progress, our departure from the CAP is an opportunity to do things differently. Two of the biggest criticisms of the CAP are about its rigidity and the fact that it has not kept pace with real-world developments. Many concerns stem from the lack of detail and certainty regarding the new schemes that are due to come on stream in 2021. In this respect, my noble friend Lord Grantchester’s Amendment 41, which would require the Government to demonstrate the readiness of year 1 schemes before commencing the seven-year transition, may be of interest.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble (Con)
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My Lords, I thank noble Lords who have contributed to this debate. Wearing my farming hat, as I have declared my interests, I very much hope in promoting this Agriculture Bill that its essence is how we work with farmers and land managers on the quests that we have for food production and enhancing the environment. I repeat that it is about enhancing the environment and providing the ingredients for future agricultural production.

I take this opportunity to reiterate that this Government are committed to supporting the agricultural sector, not only with the promise that the budget for agriculture will remain the same during this Parliament but in supporting that sector through Clause 1 and many other elements of the Bill, which I started to outline in earlier debates today. Interestingly, my figures are that 69% of land in the United Kingdom is farmed and 10% of land is in woodland. As such, we will be relying on our farmers and land managers for the public goods which, in our view, they are so well placed to deliver.

As currently drafted, Clause 1 enables the Government to provide financial assistance to land managers—and I encourage noble Lords to look at the way it is crafted—in return for their delivery of public goods. Indeed, the new ELM scheme is a vehicle to provide such funding to those who manage land and water to deliver these environmental goods. I have no doubt that the overwhelming majority of participants in ELM will be farmers. It is proposed that tier 1 of the scheme will be aimed specifically at farmers and will pay for actions that the majority of farmers can take across their land, such as nutrient, pest and soil management.

However, the Government recognise that environmental benefits can be provided across a large variety of land or water types, including farms, rural properties and estates, woodland and other open or green spaces. Many landholdings and farms will embrace not only land that is farmed but wetlands and woodlands—all of which the farmer will, in the contribution of their own ELM scheme, bring forward in terms of land, woodland and water.

For the ELM scheme to be successful, it needs to work for a wide range of farmers, foresters and other land managers, as it will help us to maximise the environmental benefits that can be delivered. This will ensure that the ELM scheme acts as a powerful vehicle for the delivery of the 25-year environment plan goals and the Government’s commitment to net zero. The noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, mentioned that specific point.

It is also the case that the challenges we face will require landscape-scale change. That is why we have proposed that tier 3 of the ELM scheme could fund projects such as woodland creation, peatland restoration and flood mitigation. My view is that it will be overwhelmingly on land which is farmed by owners or tenants, and be a vital part of that landscape change that we all very much need. These are all examples of large collaborative projects which would allow us to improve the health of our environment, as set out in the 25-year environment plan, while helping us to deliver our commitment to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.

I say to my noble friend Lord Caithness that existing agri-environment schemes—such as special areas of conservation, sites of special scientific interest and land that supports priority species—are open to those not involved in agricultural production. We feel that accepting this amendment would significantly narrow the scope of future schemes and the benefits they deliver. I emphasise that I have no doubt that the catchment areas and landscape ranges in tier 3 will embrace many farmers. It may be that, as part of that, there is a woodland owner or land managers other than farmers. It is important that we look particularly at those in tier 3, which is why I emphasise it. I raised this specific point in discussion with the noble Earl, again emphasising my farming interests and understanding of the concerns that farmers have about change. In my view, we should not narrowly restrict the ability for financial assistance to go to those other than farmers, although obviously the overwhelming majority of the funding from the Bill will go to farmers and land managers.

On Amendment 26, in the name of my noble friend Lady McIntosh, it is intended that the ELM scheme will provide funding to those who carry out the management of the land or water to deliver environmental public goods being funded. This might be the tenant or landowner, depending on the specific activity carried out and the arrangements in place. I emphasise this important point to my noble friend: engagement is ongoing with a wide range of farmers and land managers, including landowners and tenants, to ensure that ELM is designed in a way that works for all to maximise the delivery of environmental outcomes, while ensuring effective use of public money.

Representatives of landowners and tenants sit on our core stakeholder group on ELM design. We recently ran a number of sessions looking at ELM for different sectors, including those with tenancy arrangements, common land and uplands. We have six tests and trials that are working with farmers to assess how ELM can work best on tenanted land. In the national pilot, we also plan to have participants from a range of tenancies to ensure that we test the scheme from different land tenure perspectives.

We will discuss this on other amendments, but we clearly see a very strong future for the tenancy sector of agriculture. We think it is often a way in which land can be successfully farmed, sometimes by new entrants. I emphasise the importance that the Government place, through the tests and trials, on finding the right way to have an ELM which is successful for tenants and landowners. That is how we will have more and more land coming forward for contemporary and modern tenancy arrangements.

The Government would find it very difficult to restrict the eligibility for financial assistance in the way that the noble Earl has outlined. This is specifically not because I am suggesting that the funding is going to move from farmers to many other resources but because, by tier 3, we are going to need to work with people beyond farmers: for instance, woodland owners. There needs to be that ability to work with those beyond what I would call “the farming community”, who are four-square at the core of this.

The construction of the Bill, in Clause 1(2), is also designed absolutely to ensure that those starting and improving agricultural, forestry and horticultural activity are supported. I have looked through the Bill, and at every turn its clauses are about how we best look after and improve the situation for farmers. Yes, it is in a period of change, and that is why there is a seven-year transition.

But with those points in mind—I am mindful that I have to work quite hard, as there is a suggestion that this may be a matter for consideration by the House—I hope that the noble Earl and my noble friend will understand why the Government wish to have that flexibility, being mindful of the importance of the farmers of this country. I hope that the noble Earl will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

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Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble (Con)
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I shall, of course. I shall start with Amendment 28, as it was moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. I will then discuss much about the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe.

Earl of Caithness Portrait The Earl of Caithness (Con)
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What a wonderful thing flexibility is. I am grateful to the Minister for replying this way. That gets us out of the hole.

I support the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe. There should be an impact assessment. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say.

I thank the Minister for his Amendment 35. As said by my noble friend Lord Taylor of Holbeach, it is a sensible compromise. The Minister has moved some way. I congratulate the Government on having moved on at least one amendment. They refused to move on anything in the Fisheries Bill, but on the Agriculture Bill, we have a slight shift. I hope the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, is as pleased as I am that we are making a little progress.

I must pick up on the little discussion between the noble Lords, Lord Teverson and Lord Carrington, about biodiversity. The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, is right: the species that have thrived over the last 10 years have been the grey squirrel and the muntjac, as a result of which we are hardly able to grow any decent commercial deciduous woodland in this country. Until that problem is solved, we will be able to plant a lot of trees and take away a lot of empty tubes in 20 years’ time when the trees have all failed because they have been attacked by deer or grey squirrels.

I cannot support the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, on reducing the period from seven years to five in his Amendment 32. It will be difficult enough for farmers in the timescale they already have. That is for lots of reasons—we have talked about the age profile. Agriculture is a long-term business that needs a lot of careful planning. We need to know what ELMS will be. There will be such a learning curve for farmers, who will need a great deal of help—we will come to that when discussing the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester. By the time ELMS comes in, there will be little time for farmers to get acquainted with the system, particularly those of the older generation and those still suffering from lack of broadband connection. Without social media and broadband, they will not be able to operate the latest modern machinery, which is all digital and high-tech. This will cause them a lot of problems.

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Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Portrait Baroness Jones of Whitchurch (Lab)
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My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, and all noble Lords who have raised important issues about the application and accountability of multiannual assistance plans. All noble Lords, quite rightly, are seeking to provide some rigour in the allocation of £3 billion a year or more which is being set aside by the Government to fund the farming sector for the future. We all have an interest in ensuring that the money is allocated fairly, in line with the strategic priorities, and is seen to be producing value for money.

At the moment, Clause 4 is remarkably light on detail as to how this will be achieved, so I agree with the noble Baroness that an impact assessment is very important and should be standard practice for a government project of this scale. I also agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, that the public have the right to see how and where this money is being spent. The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, raises an important point, which I very much agree with, about the allocation of moneys to each of the strategic priorities. Underlying all of these contributions is a desire to ensure not only that the money is spent wisely but also that it is all spent, so that we are not left gifting unused moneys which could have been put to good use back to the Treasury.

Several noble Lords, including the noble Earl, Lord Devon, and the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, have raised issues about the timing of the plans and the need to ensure parliamentary oversight. In this regard, the Minister’s Amendment 35 is helpful as far as it goes, and the 12-month advance notice for future plans is welcome, but he will know that the proposal to lay the first plan before Parliament “as soon as practicable” before the start date is not going to reassure many in the sector whose livelihoods depend on the funding. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, that it would be useful to have some clarity from the Minister as to what that phrase means. I would have thought that the proposal from the noble Earl, Lord Devon, of a two-month deadline, was eminently sensible; I hope the Minister addresses it in his response.

I also commend to noble Lords our Amendment 41, which is coming up in a later group and which would require the Secretary of State to report to Parliament about the progress of the tests and trials before the transition can begin, therefore allowing some parliamentary scrutiny of that process.

The noble Lord, Lord Wigley, raises an important point about the internal market within the UK and the dire consequences for all of us if we do not get the balance right and create a level playing field. This is a huge challenge which is not going to be resolved in this Bill, but he is right to raise the consequences for the farming sector and to urge all parts of the UK to work together on this matter.

I said at the outset that there is a compelling case for more detail on how the multiannual financial assistance plans will work. I am very much hoping that the Minister will provide the reassurance we are all seeking that this work is in hand and that we will see more details in due course, and certainly well before the schemes are launched. I look forward to his response.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble (Con)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to what has been a very interesting debate.

Turning first to Amendment 28, the Government believe that it is important that the public can see how financial assistance being provided under Clause 1 is being spent, as part of our ongoing commitment to openness, transparency and accountability. Clause 2(8) allows the Secretary of State to make secondary legislation to provide that specified information relating to the financial assistance given under Clause 1 is published. Clause 2(9) sets out the information which may be specified. This already includes information about the recipient of the financial assistance, the amount of the financial assistance and the purpose for which the financial assistance was given. Sufficient information will be published under the regulations that the Government are currently developing to underpin subsections (8) and (9).

To inform the development of these regulations, on 4 August the Government launched a public consultation on their proposals for financial and beneficiary information publication. Within the accompanying consultation document, the Government set out how they believe that beneficiary data should be published on a publicly available searchable database, and that details of the name of a beneficiary of financial assistance, postcode, amount of funding received and a high-level purpose of the funding payments should be recorded.

The consultation also proposed that the regulations require the publication of the land management plans—LMPs—which will be a key component and requirement of the environmental land management scheme pilot. The Government seek to strike the right balance between accountability and transparency, on the one hand, and the privacy of agreement holders on the other. On that final point, I assure your Lordships that the Government will publish only information that is relevant and limited to what is necessary in relation to the purposes for which it is processed.

Turning to Amendment 18, this is a framework Bill. As a result, the powers in Clause 1 do not in themselves impose a regulatory burden. The Government believe that impact assessments are very important; where the Bill will introduce new regulatory provisions, the Government will produce and publish regulatory impact assessments in line with the Better Regulation Framework guidance. I have reflected on the points raised in Committee by my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch. I assure your Lordships that I am fully cognisant of the important role that impact assessments play in providing a solid basis for scrutiny of government policy. With this in mind, I can confirm that the Government will publish the impact assessment narrative that has been prepared for this Bill. It summarises the measures in the Bill that will have a regulatory impact on business and sets out a clear plan for when more detailed, quantitative assessments will be produced for each of those individual measures. This impact assessment narrative will be published later in the autumn.

The Government continue to work closely with farmers, foresters, other land managers and key stakeholder groups to ensure that they have ample opportunities to inform the design of Clause 1 schemes. For example, the Government recently consulted on their proposals for regulations under Clause 2(8) and Clause 3, which will set out the Government’s approach to financial information publication and the enforcement regime to accompany Clause 1 financial assistance, respectively. The Government will also conduct a public consultation before finalising the design of the full ELM scheme, which is to be launched in 2024. This consultation will be accompanied by a full impact assessment.

Turning to Amendments 47 and 106, the Government are keen that we seize the opportunity of EU exit to remake England’s farming policy so that it is suited to the needs and demand of farmers, the environment and the public at large. Welsh Ministers have decided that it is not appropriate to take powers to allow Welsh Ministers to operate or transition to new schemes in this Bill. These powers will be provided for instead by the agriculture (Wales) Bill. We believe that Welsh Ministers must have the space to develop policy to suit the needs of Wales. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, that in forming the agricultural framework, the Government of course considered other countries’ agricultural policy. As this Government develop these proposals further, we will continue to look across the United Kingdom and internationally to be aware of and learn from agricultural policy in other nations.

I turn to Amendment 32. I should note that Clause 4 was introduced following extensive feedback on the Agriculture Bill 2018, taking into careful consideration what would be a suitable timeframe for multiannual financial assistance plans. The first plan period was designed to match the entire agricultural transition period, providing the necessary details on how financial assistance powers in the Bill would be used. Following extensive consultation the Government have legislated for a seven-year transition, as set out in Clause 8. The Government believe that seven years strikes the right balance between signalling the end of area-based direct payments and giving farmers time to adjust. Certainty, in our view, is very important.

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Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering (Con)
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I ask my noble friend where the business plan that he says will be published in the autumn will be published. I am slightly concerned that “in the autumn” could be interpreted as 21 December, and that the plan could come out after both Houses have risen. Having served on the EFRA Committee for a number of years and looked very closely at the budgets, I am not quite sure which particular spending would be interrupted by Amendment 30.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble (Con)
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I would love to give your Lordships a precise date. The Government understand the need to bring forward this information as soon as possible; I said autumn. We in Defra are seized of that importance. I will look at Amendment 30. All I can say is that our lawyers looked at it and advised me that that was the case but, if my noble friend would permit, it might help to have some legal expertise on why there was that interpretation.

Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Portrait Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb (GP)
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I thank the Minister for his summing up. The noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Whitchurch and Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, have summed up extremely well, but there are a few points that I will add. First, I tried to move Amendment 18 on behalf of the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, because I supported it, but unfortunately I was too slow; that is not something you can often say about me. I was entranced by the argument between five and seven years. Honestly, the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, swayed me with his wartime analogies; they were worthy of the ERG. I was lost slightly by the noble Earl, Lord Devon, and Moses. I thank all Peers who have spoken. It was a slightly mixed group.

The Minister asks your Lordships to trust him and almost every Peer in this House does but, when he asks the House to trust the Government, it is a completely different matter. If it is not in the Bill, it does not exist. It is all very well to talk about what the Government will do later but, if they are not bound by the Bill, I do not trust them to do it. With that in mind, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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21:06

Division 2

Ayes: 258


Labour: 115
Liberal Democrat: 73
Crossbench: 50
Independent: 10
Conservative: 3
Green Party: 2
Bishops: 2
Plaid Cymru: 1

Noes: 208


Conservative: 182
Crossbench: 21
Independent: 3
Democratic Unionist Party: 1
Labour: 1

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Moved by
35: Clause 4, page 5, line 22, leave out “before the beginning of the plan period” and insert—
“(a) in the case of the first plan, as soon as practicable before the beginning of the plan period for the plan, and(b) in the case of a subsequent plan, at least 12 months before the beginning of the plan period for the plan.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment provides that the first multiannual financial assistance plan under Clause 4 must be published as soon as practicable before the beginning of the applicable plan period, and that any subsequent plan must be published at least 12 months before such time.
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Lord Grantchester Portrait Lord Grantchester (Lab)
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My Lords, the lead amendment in this group, Amendment 36, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, and others was subject to much debate in Committee. There were many alternative proposals for the transition period between the present system and the full implementation of ELMS being separated from landholdings. This amendment would delay its start for one year. I thank her for her amendment, as she has foreshadowed many of my remarks.

I will speak to my Amendment 41 in this group. However, before I do so I thank the noble Lords, Lord Carrington and Lord Curry of Kirkharle, for their Amendment 37. Further amendments to it have been tabled, in Amendments 38 and 39 by the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, and Amendment 40 by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington.

I understand the approach of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and his anxieties concerning cuts in direct payments. I appreciate the emphasis given by the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, to the organic sector by doubling conversion payments, and to the hill-farming sector in the less favoured areas by freezing their reductions below £30,000 per hill farm.

Amendment 40 specifies that the regulations in this amended clause are subject to the affirmative procedure. However, we could not consider supporting these amendments without extensive further information being available to apprise us of their merits.

I would also like to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Rock, for her amendment concerning the importance of cash flow and grants to the viability of farming businesses in today’s increasingly volatile business circumstances.

However, I propose an alternative approach to these amendments. Amendment 41 disapplies Clause 8. In Committee, amendments around a transition period and the multiannual plans were spread between groupings. This has been reflected today with the consideration of Amendment 32 from the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and Amendment 33 from the noble Earl, Lord Devon, being in a previous group. This has meant that the debate has been at cross-purposes with Amendment 41, as these other amendments concern the length of multiannual plans only. However, I recognise that multiannual plans were subject to extensive consultation in the 2018 Bill and set for seven years in conclusion then. This has possibly overshadowed the merits of my Amendment 41. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Addington, for adding his name to this amendment and for his recent remarks. I also thank my noble friend Lord Judd for his remarks in support.

How the changes to the ELM system and the nature of each seven-year period between plans and a transition period interact can indeed be very confusing. This is why I have tabled my Committee amendment with a few changes. Having reflected on the debate, as well as on evidence both formal and anecdotal from recent trials and pilot schemes, we have revised our approach in a fair, common-sense way that is also flexible to circumstances. This is because so much is unknown and the results of any trials have yet to be considered. This appears to be recognised to some extent by the Government’s own Amendment 35.

Amendment 41 removes from the Bill the previous start date of the transition period and gives the Government a degree of flexibility by having a start date set in regulations. There is no need for the Government to define a start date in primary legislation which they could later regret, and which would set the legislation off into a period of uncertainty should ELMS not be adequately ready for implementation—as their Amendment 35 partially recognises. The amendment states that the start date would be set once the Government have confirmed that any scheme to operate in the first year of the transition was fully operable.

Everyone can agree that it is important to get started on the transition phase, but so much preparatory work is yet to be done. There is anxiety already that countryside stewardship schemes starting in 2021 can be withdrawn, yet schemes started this year, in 2020, cannot be withdrawn without penalty. There are also very considerable concerns being highlighted and heightened in relation to Covid-19 and the potential onset of any phase 2 consequences this winter.

I highlight that Defra’s plans are themselves being reconsidered in relation to the transition period. I understand that the department is now planning a new interim or stepping-stone scheme to bridge the gap that may appear between the BPS and the ELM scheme. The sustainable farming incentive, or SFI, will bring in limited elements of ELM tier 1, while avoiding the funding gap that will arise from the Government’s ill-considered cutbacks before full schemes are available. This is some- thing we drew attention to as early as Second Reading.

I understand that claimants are expected by Defra to have lost half of their payments by 2024, when full pilot schemes are expected to be rolled out. Can the Minister be transparent on this new scheme and the amount of cutbacks being envisaged? It is important to the credibility of the Government’s plans, so forcibly expressed by the Minister.

Is this SFI scheme under serious consideration, and where will the funding come from if funding cuts to BPS are to finance ELMS, as repeatedly expressed? Will the Countryside Stewardship entrants be excluded once again, as already mentioned? Surely Amendment 41 is preferable to the uncertainty, complexity and confusion that will arise if these reports are confirmed. I understand that the announcement is held up with the Treasury’s comprehensive spending review. It would be more than unfortunate if the Minister could not be forthcoming tonight when the House is considering this Bill.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble (Con)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to this debate. I will be the first to say, coming from a farming background and being a farmer myself, that I know that change can present these great concerns, and that is why the Government are clear that they want to work with farmers to ensure we get the schemes right. I think we are doing that properly, and I would like to explain why.

On Amendment 36, with which I will also address Amendments 37, 39, 40 and 41, the Government are committed to introducing new schemes that will reward farmers for producing goods that are valued by the public. Our planned reductions for 2021 are intended to send a clear signal of reform. It is important that farmers have certainty about when the agricultural transition will begin. There may be some in this House who do not agree with this. But many people, including those in the farming community, will feel that direct payments are poorly targeted and offer poor value for money. This is something that I have been very seized of, as have many of us farmers who seek to farm well and look after our land. This is a conclusion we all have to draw from the current regime. Therefore, applying appropriate progressive reductions to these payments will free up money that can be used to support farmers better—I repeat, “to support farmers better”—and deliver public goods.

We believe it is important that this process is not delayed. The Government are on track to introduce new schemes from 2021 while continuing to fund new and existing Countryside Stewardship agreements which farmers can apply for until 2023. Signing a Countryside Stewardship agreement gives a viable, long-term source of income for providing environmental benefits. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, and other noble Lords that no one in a Countryside Stewardship agreement will be unfairly disadvantaged when they move to new arrangements under ELM. I should also say to the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, that the Countryside Stewardship scheme includes a specific uplands wildlife offer.

We will also provide productivity grants to farmers for investments in equipment, technology and infrastructure, which will help their businesses to prosper while improving their productivity and enhancing the environment. These grants will be available from 2021. In addition, the national pilot of the future ELM scheme will also begin in 2021 and will be funded from the reductions in direct payments. The national pilot will be informed by the engagement with farmers, land managers and other stakeholders which is already well under way, including tests and trials.

I have to say again that I think we may sometimes be attending different webinars or whatever, because the impression I have been given is that many farmers have found it stimulating, particularly the younger ones, who have found talking about such matters, and the innovation of the new way forward, refreshing. As I have said before, they will be able to look the taxpayer in the eye and show that we are producing better for the public and better for farmers.

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Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering (Con)
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My Lords, I am disappointed, unless I have misunderstood, that my noble friend did not reply to the basic question of why we cannot have a 12-month notification of the first plan. I am no farmer myself—the closest I got was having two fields on which we claimed a tiny amount, which I have now left my brother to get on with.

I understand that, according to the Companion, I can take this opportunity to put another question to the Minister. The Government have spoken about easing access: how do they imagine easing access to the existing countryside stewardship scheme and new measures to assist improvements in productivity through the transition period? That would go some way to allaying the fears. I have to say that this is a key concern of both the Tenant Farmers Association and the NFU in the briefings I have had from them. Obviously, they represent the lion’s share of farmers.

The Government have talked about a new interim scheme, called the sustainable farming initiative, but surely this would just add to the complexity of an already busy policy space, particularly when existing schemes are available and just need to be improved. Might not such a sustainable farming initiative take Defra’s eye off the ball in properly developing what we all want to see—a good ELM scheme? Will my noble friend reply to that and to my original question as to why we are not having 12 months’ notice of the original business plan?

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble (Con)
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My Lords, I think I have been very clear that we will be announcing the funding for the early years of the agricultural transition period, including direct payments, later in the autumn—I hope as soon as possible. I cannot say any more than that. As I said, that announcement will provide much of the reassurance that I suspect noble Lords and farmers are looking for about those early years. I have set out the maximum reductions for 2021. Those are all designed, as I said, to enable the Government, at the beginning of the transition and the reforms, to provide extra countryside stewardship agreements and productivity grants to farmers, which I think will be very desirable to start next year, and the national pilot for the future ELM schemes.

All this is designed to combine all that we want to do in enhancing food production and the environment. It is sensible to start these schemes next year, and the resources, through the reductions, will be there to work on this. It is a seven-year transition and the Government are very mindful of the manifesto pledges about the resources that will be available to this agricultural budget. We intend to support and work with farmers to make a better scheme, with a public return for it. I do not think there is much more I can say to my noble friend, other than that this Government have shown by our commitments to funding that we are four-square behind the farmer, but I say candidly that the current system is poor value for money.

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Baroness Finlay of Llandaff) (CB)
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I understand that the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, wishes to ask a short question for elucidation.

Lord Grantchester Portrait Lord Grantchester (Lab)
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My Lords, I apologise to the House for asking the Minister a follow-up question. I listened carefully to his remarks but, by the time the communication channels had reached the Deputy Speaker, she had already intimated to the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, that she could have her consideration of the amendments. I had not heard any reference in the Minister’s remarks to the sustainable farming incentive, but the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, repeated that question to him. I understand now and am very grateful to him for the fullness of the reply that he can give tonight.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble (Con)
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My Lords, I have been very clear that the Government are bringing forward schemes of a countryside and environmental aspect, which will be funded through reductions in the direct payments. This is what we want: to start sustainable environmental and countryside stewardship schemes. This is all about what we want to do with farmers, as part of a major plank of this legislation. I am beginning to wonder whether it is me or whether noble Lords do not want to press the receive button for what I am seeking to say.

Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering (Con)
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My Lords, I have to express disappointment that I have not received the assurances I sought, but I do not wish to test the opinion of the House. I wish to withdraw my amendment.