Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist debates with Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

There have been 24 exchanges between Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist and Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Thu 21st January 2021 Rural Landlords and Land Letting: Reform (Grand Committee) 5 interactions (29 words)
Thu 12th November 2020 Fisheries Bill [HL] (Lords Chamber) 5 interactions (1,010 words)
Tue 10th November 2020 Environment and Wildlife (Miscellaneous Amendments etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020 (Lords Chamber) 2 interactions (37 words)
Tue 20th October 2020 Agriculture Bill (Lords Chamber) 2 interactions (27 words)
Tue 22nd September 2020 Agriculture Bill (Lords Chamber) 15 interactions (3,045 words)
Thu 17th September 2020 Agriculture Bill (Lords Chamber) 20 interactions (2,139 words)
Tue 15th September 2020 Agriculture Bill (Lords Chamber) 14 interactions (1,629 words)
Thu 23rd July 2020 Agriculture Bill (Lords Chamber) 16 interactions (1,144 words)
Tue 21st July 2020 Agriculture Bill (Lords Chamber) 10 interactions (1,473 words)
Thu 16th July 2020 Agriculture Bill (Lords Chamber) 30 interactions (3,923 words)
Tue 14th July 2020 Agriculture Bill (Lords Chamber) 9 interactions (623 words)
Thu 9th July 2020 Agriculture Bill (Lords Chamber) 16 interactions (2,915 words)
Tue 7th July 2020 Agriculture Bill (Lords Chamber) 6 interactions (86 words)
Wed 24th June 2020 Fisheries Bill [HL] (Lords Chamber) 11 interactions (2,087 words)
Mon 22nd June 2020 Fisheries Bill [HL] (Lords Chamber) 11 interactions (2,911 words)
Wed 10th June 2020 Agriculture Bill (Lords Chamber) 19 interactions (53 words)
Wed 11th March 2020 Fisheries Bill [HL] (Lords Chamber) 9 interactions (349 words)
Mon 9th March 2020 Fisheries Bill [HL] (Lords Chamber) 29 interactions (3,285 words)
Wed 4th March 2020 Fisheries Bill [HL] (Lords Chamber) 15 interactions (1,239 words)
Wed 4th March 2020 Fisheries Bill [HL] (Lords Chamber) 7 interactions (1,522 words)
Mon 2nd March 2020 Fisheries Bill [HL] (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (539 words)
Tue 19th June 2018 Bee Population (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (1,366 words)
Thu 2nd November 2017 Agriculture, Fisheries and the Rural Environment (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (692 words)
Mon 16th January 2017 Brexit: Fisheries (EUC Report) (Grand Committee) 3 interactions (736 words)

Rural Landlords and Land Letting: Reform

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Excerpts
Lord Faulkner of Worcester Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Faulkner of Worcester) (Lab)
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We have to stop for five minutes while a Division takes place in the House.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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That was not the Bell—it was the noble Lord’s phone.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Faulkner of Worcester) (Lab)
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I apologise to noble Lords—can the noble Lord resume, please?

Lord Carrington Portrait Lord Carrington (CB) [V]
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I was saying that the Government have not announced in any detail what happens next, so farmers are unable to plan. This could involve both tenancy and tax matters. For example, let us suppose that they want to enter a tree-planting scheme under the ELMS, and their tenancy excludes silviculture, or the ELM scheme that they enter has a 25-year life, whereas their tenancy is a 10-year FBT, and so on. Details of ELMS may be unavailable until 2024. Those are the real issues that must be resolved by the TRIG.

The introduction of ELMS may have adverse tax consequences, as current tax rules operate as a disincentive to diversification in how they treat investment and trading activities differently. Leaving aside that information gap, I congratulate the Government on the reform measures in the Act, which were agreed by the whole industry, rather than spending time on divisive old chestnuts such as reform of AHA succession provisions. These restrictive tenancies, designed for issues of a different age, do not satisfy either landowners or succeeding tenants, who want the flexibility of an FBT where consensual terms are agreed. Other mooted changes such as introducing reasonableness tests and minimum tenure FBTs are unlikely to secure widespread industry support. I urge all reform to be on a consensual basis.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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Please could the noble Lord draw his comments to a close, as there is a Division in the House?

Fisheries Bill [HL]

(Ping Pong (Hansard): House of Lords)
(Ping Pong (Minutes of Proceedings): House of Lords)
Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Excerpts
Thursday 12th November 2020

(3 months, 2 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber

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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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My Lords, noble Lords will be aware that we have worked closely with the devolved Administrations in the development of the Bill. This has led to various requests from them for additions to the Bill, many of which could otherwise have been made under their own legislation. The department’s preference is to be collaborative and constructive when working with the devolved Administrations. Given the pressure that parliamentary timetables are facing it was felt that, in this spirit of co-operation, the Government should make these changes for them. These amendments support a collaborative approach to fisheries management across the UK.

We have waited until now to make these changes as we wanted to ensure that the devolved Administrations’ legislative consent processes had been successfully completed before tabling some of these amendments. It was not until Report in the other House that all three DAs consented to the Bill, allowing for the other place to agree a package of amendments relating to the DAs. The amendments relating to the devolved Administrations’ functions can be divided into seven themes, and I shall explain what each theme does.

At the request of all three Administrations, Amendment 10 and consequential Amendments 23 and 40 will enable a sea fish licensing authority to exercise fisheries and related product movement functions on behalf of another such authority. This would facilitate arrangements for one Administration to become a single point of contact for the fishing industry, or to deliver a speedy process on behalf of the other Administrations. This could be used, for example, in relation to verifying catch certificates. Consequential Amendments 6, 15 and 16, 18 to 20, 41, 69, 71 and 75 move definitions so that they apply across the whole Bill.

Turning to technical SI extensions to foreign boats, the Scottish Government and the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, or DAERA, requested that we extend technical fisheries management measures in some of their secondary legislation to foreign boats, as provided for in Amendment 39. Amendments 29 to 38 make consequential changes to Schedule 4 as a result of Amendment 39. These regulations help protect vulnerable stocks, for example by prohibiting the catching of undersized fish. This is in line with our policy of ensuring that any foreign boats given access to UK waters comply with restrictions that apply to UK boats. Similar provisions have been made in Schedule 2 for England and Wales statutory instruments. Noble Lords will understand the pressures of getting the statute book updated in readiness for the end of the transition period. It would have been very challenging for the Scottish Government and Northern Ireland Executive to have delivered these changes to secondary legislation themselves.

As for procedural changes, at the request of the Scottish Government, Amendment 43 and consequential Amendment 25 confirm that orders made under Section 22A of the Sea Fish (Conservation) Act 1967 can be made under the negative procedure, which is not clear under the current drafting. At the request of Scottish Government lawyers, and following advice from UK Government lawyers, these changes are applied retrospectively to remove any uncertainty about the effect of existing Scottish statutory instruments.

Turning to Wales, the definition change and Senedd competence, Amendments 12 and 24 reflect a change requested by the Welsh Government to the definition of “Wales” in primary legislation, consequential on the extension of Welsh competence provided by the Bill in relation to the offshore zone. Additionally, Amendments 7 and 73 clarify that where the Senedd has legislative competence, subject to the consent of a Minister of the Crown, Welsh Ministers will also have equivalent executive competence, subject to the consent of the Secretary of State. Amendment 72 clarifies that the scope of the Welsh Ministers’ powers to make regulations under Clauses 36 and 38 is specific to sea fishing.

Regarding DAERA marine powers and other technical changes to Schedule 10, Amendment 85 and consequential Amendments 86 to 88, 90, 91 and 93 to 96 provide DAERA with the power to manage fishing activity in the Northern Ireland offshore region for the purpose of conserving the marine environment. Similar provision for England and the other devolved Administrations is in Schedule 10. At their request, we are also making minor changes to the powers of the Scottish and Welsh Ministers in Schedule 10 in government Amendments 80 to 84, 89 and 92. These include changes to the parliamentary procedure for some orders and adding time limits to emergency orders made by Scottish Ministers.

In conclusion, I am pleased that the devolved Administrations have now consented to the Bill, which is an excellent example of collaborative working. I hope noble Lords will appreciate the need for this package of amendments agreed to in the other place, which supports the alignment of fisheries management across the UK. I beg to move.

Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Portrait Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for her introduction to this hefty group of amendments. These amendments deal with requests from the devolved Administrations, as she said. Most are consequential on four main amendments. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, I am interested in the way the devolved Administrations have amended the Bill, when during our debates in Committee and on Report we were told that there could be no amendments that might affect the devolved Administrations.

The main amendments are Amendments 10, 12, 39 and 85, alongside a raft of minor drafting amendments. Amendment 10 and the amendments consequential on it—Amendments 15 and 16, 18 to 20, 23, 40 and 41, 69, 71 and 75—provide arrangements for a sea fish licensing authority, which is the Scottish Ministers, the Welsh Ministers, the Northern Ireland department and the MMO. We support these. Amendments 12 and 24 are consequential on Clause 43 and relate to the interpretation of the Welsh legislation, in both English and Welsh, and to the offshore zone, subject to the Secretary of State’s approval.

Amendment 39, which is extremely important, inserts legislation relating to several regulations affecting shellfish, scallops, sharks, skates and rays, razor clams, et cetera, in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Amendments 29 to 38 are consequential on Amendment 39. The fish and shellfish in the list in this amendment are nearly all endangered in one way or another, and it is important that there is transparency over their protection and that they are not overfished or taken undersized, as the Minister said. The list is extensive; as it is at the request of the devolved Administrations, we are happy to support these amendments, but we make the point that these fish and shellfish need to be sustainable and their stocks carefully monitored.

Amendment 85 and consequential amendments insert new powers into the Schedule for the Northern Ireland department relating to exploitation of sea fishery resources in its offshore region. This also includes consultation with the Secretary of State, the MMO, and Scottish and Welsh Ministers. Consultation has risen rapidly up the fishing agenda on a range of matters, and consultation with the devolved Administrations is essential. The sheer number of amendments we are debating today indicates that some of this can be very last minute—that is a bit of a danger. However, there are legitimate reasons for these amendments and for them being so late, so we support them, albeit at a somewhat late stage of the process.

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Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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My Lords, there has been much debate on the challenges posed by devolution in previous stages of the Bill, and the amendments made for the devolved Administrations in the other place demonstrate opportunities that will be open to us in the future to work positively across the four nations of the UK. I acknowledge the concerns of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, but genuinely feel that this was a timing issue. As the Fisheries Bill was introduced in this House, it gave us more time to introduce them at this stage, when it came back to us, once conversations had concluded and after it became clear that there would be no time for the devolved Administrations to pass their own legislation, and we would therefore be in a position to do so on their behalf.

I am grateful for the comments from the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, and for her support. I am particularly grateful for her comments on Amendment 39. The whole intention of extending this list is for us to preserve stocks from an extensive list of species. I am glad that, through constructive and collaborative working with the devolved Administrations, we have been able to deliver a Bill that is truly for the whole UK. I beg to move.

Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall) (Lab)
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My Lords, I have received a request to ask a short question of elucidation from the noble Lord, Lord Adonis. Lord Adonis?

I have to inform the House that the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, is proposing to speak in Grand Committee and his request has arrived, somewhat erratically, at the wrong Chamber.

Environment and Wildlife (Miscellaneous Amendments etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Excerpts
Tuesday 10th November 2020

(3 months, 2 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber

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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist
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That the draft Regulations laid before the House on 8 and 12 October be approved.

Relevant documents: 31st and 32nd Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. Considered in Grand Committee on 3 November.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park, and with the leave of the House, I beg to move the three Motions standing in his name on the Order Paper en bloc.

Agriculture Bill

(Ping Pong (Hansard): House of Lords)
Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Excerpts
Tuesday 20th October 2020

(4 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber

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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Lord Curry of Kirkharle Portrait Lord Curry of Kirkharle (CB) [V]
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I beg to move and I wish to test the view of the House.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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My Lords, the House will now adjourn until 7.30 pm when we will return to hear my noble friend Lord Bethell answer questions on the Covid-19 update.

Agriculture Bill

(Report: 3rd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords)
Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Excerpts
Baroness Wilcox of Newport Portrait Baroness Wilcox of Newport (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, during the passage of the EU withdrawal Bill in 2017, there were several amendments in the Commons on animal sentience. There were also debates on the issue when the Bill was in the Lords and attempts to table similar amendments to other pieces of legislation. Theresa May’s Government committed to clarifying the legal position on animal sentience as part of their Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill. This Government reintroduced the Bill in 2019, but it fell when Parliament was dissolved for the general election. A commitment to strengthen animal welfare rules was included in the December 2019 Queen’s Speech, and, as I understand it, there is a Private Members Bill which will have its Second Reading in the Commons in October. We hope that it will be similar to the previous Government’s legislation and that if this is a substitute for a government Bill, Ministers and Whips will give it the time it needs to reach us in the Lords.

In the meantime, I express regret that the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, felt that she needed to table the amendment in the first place, given that Her Majesty’s Government have not managed to deliver a Bill in three years on this important issue. We agree that there should be a strong protection for animals and a recognition of their ability to experience feelings and pain, with all the implications that has for our treatment of them. However, we are not convinced that this is the appropriate vehicle for it. As such, I hope that the Minister can clarify the point about the Commons Private Member’s Bill and, if that response is satisfactory, the amendment will not be pushed to test the opinion of the House.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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My Lords, we can be rightly proud that the UK already has world-class animal welfare standards, but this Government are committed to strengthening these further.

We have introduced a ban on the commercial third-party sale of puppies and kittens, known as Lucy’s Law, to clamp down on puppy farming. Through the Wild Animals in Circuses Act 2019, we have legislated to ensure that wild animals can no longer perform in travelling circuses. We supported the Animal Welfare (Service Animals) Act 2019, commonly known as Finn’s Law, to increase protections for police animals, and CCTV is now mandatory in all slaughterhouses in England; this will help maintain and improve welfare standards. We are committed to banning the keeping of primates as pets. We published a call for evidence in October 2019 that ended in January this year. This exercise has informed proposals on which we will shortly be consulting. On Thursday, we reiterated our manifesto commitment to end excessively long journeys for slaughter and fattening.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, that legal obligations towards animals should be enforced. That is why the Government are also supporting the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill, which will increase the maximum custodial penalty for animal cruelty offences from six months’ imprisonment to five years. The new maximum sentence will send a clear signal to any potential offenders that animal cruelty will not be tolerated in this country and provide one of the toughest sanctions in Europe.

I place it on record that it has never been in dispute that animals are sentient beings, capable of experiencing pain or suffering, and this fact is central to our commitment to strengthening animal welfare standards. As the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, should know, this Government have a manifesto commitment to introduce new laws on animal sentience, which we will do as soon as parliamentary time allows. However, this Bill is not the appropriate vehicle to legislate for animal sentience. As the noble Baroness recognises, the Agriculture Bill limits the scope of this amendment to agricultural, horticultural and forestry policy.

The noble Baroness’s amendment also extends the definition of “animal” to include decapod crustaceans and cephalopod molluscs, alongside non-human vertebrates. This is an important step that we should not take lightly. The current science is clear that vertebrate animals can experience pain and suffering. It is on that basis that the definition of “animal” in the Animal Welfare Act 2006 is limited only to vertebrate animals. However, this Act also contains an important power to extend the definition to cover invertebrates where we are satisfied on the basis of scientific evidence that these too are capable of experiencing pain or suffering. Defra recently commissioned an independent external review of the available scientific evidence on sentience in decapods and cephalopods. The outcome of this review will be vital in determining whether our new sentience provisions and other laws should be extended to decapods and cephalopods. This review is expected to report early next year.

In line with our manifesto commitment, this Government will introduce effective, credible and proportionate proposals in due course. I recognise the strength of feeling across the House on this issue, and say to my noble friends Lady Fookes and Lady Hodgson, and to the noble Lord, Lord Judd, that it is imperative that we allow appropriate time for debate to ensure that we get these important measures right. That is why I cannot accept this amendment as an interim solution, as was suggested in last Thursday’s debate.

As noble Lords will all be aware, parliamentary time has been at a premium in recent sessions, and I am afraid that, with other pressures, it has not yet been possible to find appropriate time to introduce these measures. However, I reassure your Lordships that this issue is a priority for this Government, and I hope that that gives the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, some comfort. When our measures are introduced, I very much look forward to discussing these issues in detail again.

I hope that I have given enough reassurance and that my noble friend will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

Lord Duncan of Springbank Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Lord Duncan of Springbank) (Con)
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I have received no requests to speak after the Minister, so I call the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson of Abinger.

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Baroness Wilcox of Newport Portrait Baroness Wilcox of Newport (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, Amendment 79 follows on from previous debates about how the Government and the devolved Administrations can support the agricultural sector and its workers in providing homes, job opportunities and so forth. Its specific focus on smallholdings is welcome and we look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say. The priorities identified by the noble Earl’s amendment are perfectly legitimate, particularly the emphasis on locally grown food and steps to improve environmental performance, which arguably go hand in hand. Indeed, as my noble friend Lord Rooker said, we need national guidelines so that flexibility can be given to local authorities for more modern uses.

Presumably, the amendment extends to England and Wales only, as is the case with Clause 34. It is important to recognise the doubly devolved nature of planning, whereby responsibility is split between national and local government, and for this reason it is not clear how quickly or effectively any new guidance would filter down. As a lifelong educator, I was particularly pleased to hear my noble friend Lord Young of Norwood Green’s suggestion of a buddy or mentoring scheme whereby farmers who are using new technology could be encouraged to support those in the industry who may need help in the use of those technologies. I would be grateful if the Minister identified any existing or planned schemes in this area.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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My Lords, I detect a greater degree of consensus on this amendment than on some others we will debate this afternoon. I am grateful to my noble friend the Earl of Dundee for the amendment. For many years, local authorities and other smallholding estates have provided valuable opportunities for new entrant farmers, enhancing the rural economy and bringing new energy and skills into the sector.

Smallholdings, as we have heard, provide excellent opportunities for sustainably produced, locally sourced food, helping to deliver our environmental objectives and increasing food security, which a number of speakers have described as a priority. That is why this Government are committed to supporting local authorities to facilitate the development of smallholding estates. I assure my noble friend that the Government intend to use the financial assistance powers already provided under Clause 1(2) to deliver the kinds of outcomes he is seeking.

The Government’s future farming policy update, published in February, committed to offering financial assistance to local authorities, landowners and other organisations to invest in the development of small- holdings in order to create more opportunities for new entrant farmers in future. We believe this will provide greater incentives for local authorities and other landowners to invest in the development of more smallholdings than would providing planning guidance. We want to encourage investment that will not only create more smallholding opportunities but provide guidance and mentoring to new farmers in order to develop sustainable and profitable farming businesses.

In addition, local authorities can take advantage of rural exception sites to help the delivery of affordable housing, and the revised national planning policy framework includes new policies to support the building of homes in isolated locations where this supports farm businesses with succession. I say to my noble friend and to the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, who I recognise has a very relevant background in both Defra and housing, that in July 2018 the Government launched the revised national planning policy framework, which offers new support to rural areas. The rural housing chapter gives strong support for rural exception sites and the NPPF has new policies to support the building of homes in isolated locations where this supports farm succession. Indeed, the Government have increased permitted development rights for redundant farm buildings from three to five dwellings.

In April 2018, the Government amended the national permitted development right supporting rural housing and agricultural productivity. The Government recognise that work and home smallholdings are also provided by other organisations and that these require council planning approval. Guidance to councils on planning matters is led by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, with which my department works closely and will continue to engage with on these matters. My noble friend Lady McIntosh raised this issue, which we are well aware of, particularly since my noble friend the Minister has national parks within his portfolio. We recognise the importance of balancing the protection of areas of outstanding natural beauty with enabling the businesses and communities within them to flourish. I hope I have provided all noble Lords, particularly my noble friend, with enough reassurance and I ask him to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Lord Faulkner of Worcester) (Lab)
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No noble Lord has indicated to me that they wish to come in after the Minister, so I call the Earl of Dundee.

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Lord Grantchester Portrait Lord Grantchester (Lab)
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I thank the noble Lords who have returned with these amendments from the debates in Committee on provisions in Part 5, Clauses 35 to 37, on marketing standards. Regulations around marketing, labelling, traceability, country of origin and GI schemes remain critical to providing accurate and appropriate information to the consumer.

The complexities behind the list of EU Commission delegated directives cover various product sectors, including wine, and are the subject of Amendment 89A, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Holmes. These regulations under the withdrawal Act also include country of origin, protection of designations of origin and geographical indicators, and traditional terms are important to facilitate frictionless trade with the EU and enhance the future of UK exports, which have been established so successfully.

The noble Lord, Lord Tyler, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, return with their Amendment 92A on the importance of geographical indicator schemes not only for fantastic products for Cornwall but for many artisan food products, such as Lincolnshire Poacher cheese and Melton Mowbray pies. The House also discussed these schemes on the Trade Bill proceedings in the last Session, as spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Tyler. The adding of value to local specialisms is a crucial element in encouraging skill, pride and prestige in rural entrepreneurship. We agree that it is of considerable importance that a successful trade deal is concluded with the EU. It is also great that my noble friend Lord Foulkes is able to be with us in the Chamber; his words were gin-clear on the merits of Scottish produce.

These regulations will be subject to the affirmative approval procedure, which should not only contain an impact assessment but be subject to consultation. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, the noble Earl, Lord Lindsay, and the noble Lord, Lord Curry, for highlighting the importance of a widespread and exhaustive consultation on their Amendment 91. Alteration of existing requirements should proceed only on the basis of proper and widespread consultation with producers, the supply chain and the consumer to ensure an appropriate balance.

I am sure that the Government appreciate the merit behind these amendments and that the Minister will provide additional reassurances to satisfy the House.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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My Lords, I will start with Amendment 89A. Marketing standards establish detailed rules on the quality of agricultural products and the provision of product information to consumers. They are intended to make sure that products offered to consumers are accurately and consistently labelled and of acceptable quality, and that unsatisfactory products are kept off the market. They are overall in the interests of producers, traders and consumers. They encourage high-quality production, improve profitability and transparency and protect consumer interests. At present, certain agricultural products marketed in the EU must conform to marketing standards and associated labelling requirements set out in EU law. The marketing standards apply at all marketing stages, including import and export.

The noble Lord, Lord Holmes, asked why we could not do nothing. We all despise unnecessary bureaucracy, but VI-1 forms are needed until the end of the transition period under the terms of the withdrawal agreement. We will be looking at these rules again at the end of the transition period. I reassure him on digitalisation: the administration of maintaining marketing standards of imported wine products, including the digitalisation of VI-1 forms, is included in the current scope of Clause 35(1). These provisions do not therefore need to be explicitly added into the clause. The scope to replace VI-1 forms with an electronic document is also covered under retained EU law, specifically Article 27 of retained EU delegated regulation 2018/273. Therefore, the purpose of this amendment is already covered. The Government cannot digitalise unilaterally, but it is already an option under retained EU law, and we are looking at introducing it. It is likely that South Africa will be the first partner we seek to do this with at the end of the transition period.

I turn to Amendment 91. Clause 35 will give the Secretary of State the power to make regulations and amend existing EU and domestic legislation concerning marketing standards to ensure that they are tailored to meet the needs of domestic farmers, retailers and consumers. A full review of the marketing standards is going to be undertaken. As part of this, detailed policy thinking, stakeholder engagement and consultations will need to take place. Any changes would be made with the purpose of tailoring the marketing standards to fit the needs of the domestic farming sector.

I can confirm unequivocally that any use of the powers in Clause 35 would be covered by an existing duty to consult. As for the question about the bias towards consultation, I say that the Government’s preference is to consult the public on these matters. We would never rely solely on the views of representative bodies, and we will not bias our consultations towards one group.

Marketing standards are covered by food law, and a duty to consult is contained in Article 9 of regulation 178/2002. This regulation states that

“There shall be open and transparent public consultation, directly or through representative bodies, during the preparation, evaluation and revision of food law, except where the urgency of the matter does not allow it.”

This regulation will become retained EU law via the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018.

One of the principles of good law making is not to repeat law which already exists, in order to protect the coherence of the statute book. We are aware that there is an exemption for urgent situations in Article 9 of Regulation 178/2002 and I place on record that there are no plans to make any urgent amendments using the Clause 35 power. Urgent changes would usually be made under food law instead. There are specific regulations which cover food information and safety and there is no future intention to broaden the powers in Clause 35 to cover any such areas.

It is standard procedure that a summary of the responses to a consultation be published on GOV.UK within 12 weeks of it closing. Further to this, any statutory instruments made using the power will also be accompanied by an Explanatory Memorandum and a proportionate analysis or full regulatory impact assessment where the net direct cost to business is above £5 million. The Explanatory Memorandum will include details on the outcome of any consultations which have taken place. A more detailed analysis of the consultation outcome will also be published on the departmental website at the time the statutory instrument is laid before Parliament. The impact assessment will provide the rationale for government intervention, details of all the options considered and the expected cost and benefits, particularly for businesses. Clause 35 is subject to the affirmative procedure. Any statutory instruments which are introduced must be actively approved by both Houses of Parliament. This procedure ensures that Parliament can properly scrutinise the statutory instrument before it comes into force.

Turning to Amendment 92A, I assure the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, that we fully expect all 88 geographical indications from the UK to remain protected in the EU after 31 December this year. I understand the point made by the noble and learned Lord, and the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, about the relevance of these to the Scottish economy, particularly whisky and smoked salmon. I am not sure I got the reference to potatoes. Geographical indications do not have to originate from EU member states to be protected under the EU’s geographical indications scheme. The EU currently protects products from many non-EU countries such as Japan and China.

If the EU wanted to remove UK geographical indications from its register, it would have to go through the burdensome process of changing its rules. Of course, the Government cannot guarantee what the EU will do, but it has given no indication whatever that it is considering such changes. It would be, in the words of the noble and learned Lord, “capricious” of the EU to try to do so.

If the UK does not secure a new trade agreement with the EU, we will, under the withdrawal agreement, continue to protect EU GIs in the UK. There would therefore be no incentive for the EU not to reciprocate. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, and the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, asked me to be more specific on that point. I cannot, because we are in the process of negotiating these issues. The UK is definitely not seeking to loosen its GI rules. GIs are very important to the UK and the Government will establish robust GI schemes at the end of the transition period. All UK GIs will continue to be protected in the UK from 1 January 2021. The Government’s objective in trade negotiations with the EU will be to secure the best outcome for UK GIs and, obviously, the UK economy as a whole.

I hope that I have given enough reassurance, and that the noble Lord, Lord Holmes of Richmond, will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Holmes of Richmond Portrait Lord Holmes of Richmond (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have participated in the debate on these three amendments, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes of Cumnock, our own little Ayrshire parliamentary potato. I thank the Minister for her thorough and thoughtful response to all the amendments. I am sure that, like me, noble Lords are extremely grateful for the time and thought she put into the detail of her response. There are a number of issues that I would like to pursue between now and Third Reading but at this stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Baroness Wilcox of Newport Portrait Baroness Wilcox of Newport (Lab) [V]
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I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Foulkes for tabling the amendment to probe the process envisaged by the Government when they use the powers under Clause 40, and, in particular, for his suggestion to consult with the Scottish Government and go forward with agreement. Of course, I add that consultation with Wales and Northern Ireland is also necessary.

As we have seen in relation to certain powers within the internal market Bill, the Government seem to exercise, let us say, a degree of discretion when it comes to their understanding of compliance with international law. While the amendment presents a perfectly sensible proposal, there is a serious worry that the Government’s approach to trade matters—and with it the future prosperity of the United Kingdom—is largely driven by ideology rather than evidence from stakeholders. Indeed, in the Commons yesterday, the former Prime Minister, Theresa May, said she would not back the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill, which contains the provision, and gave a strong warning that it would

“lead to untold damage to the United Kingdom’s reputation”—[Official Report, Commons, 21/9/20; col. 668.]

and threaten the union.

I therefore hope that the Minister can give some indicative examples of how the powers may be used, as well as providing an estimate of how frequently the Government expect to make such regulations. Ultimately, while it is not much of a safeguard and may not be a completely acceptable substitute for meaningful engagement with affected stakeholders, the regulations will at least be subject to parliamentary scrutiny via the affirmative procedure.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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My Lords, as we said in Committee:

“Part 6 of the Bill allows regulations to be made to ensure compliance with the United Kingdom’s obligations under the WTO Agreement on Agriculture”,—[Official Report, 28/7/20; col. 130.]

particularly those related to domestic support. The regulations will set out procedures and arrangements to ensure that the whole of the UK continues to comply with existing obligations under this international treaty.

Amendment 92B seeks to impose a duty on the Secretary of State to consult relevant stakeholders when making regulations under Clause 40. Relevant stakeholders in this instance are the devolved Administrations, since it is they who will be required to abide by spending limits and work together with the UK Government to classify and notify domestic support at the WTO.

We do not anticipate any direct impact on farmers because the devolved Administrations will retain the freedom to design and implement their own domestic support policies within the overall spending limits. As I outlined in Committee, consultation is already well advanced. In answer to the question from the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, Defra Ministries work very closely with their DA counterparts through a regular interim ministerial group on agriculture, which I believe is the same body that he referred to earlier. Government officials work closely with all their counterparts from all Administrations to draft the regulations under these powers. I can again report that good progress has been made and that the views of officials from the devolved Administrations have been taken into consideration throughout the whole of the drafting process. In terms of Scottish consent, we have received confirmation that the Scottish Parliament has recommended consent for provisions in the scope of the LCM procedure.

The Government fully recognise the devolved status of agriculture. Indeed, Clause 40(1) is drafted in such a way as to specify that regulations can be made only for the purpose of ensuring compliance with the WTO Agreement on Agriculture. It is this narrow function of ensuring overall UK compliance with an international treaty that remains reserved for the UK Government and that Part 6 addresses. The UK Government consult the devolved Administrations and all relevant stakeholders appropriately, but it is not efficient or constitutionally proper for the UK Government to be bound to consult on all matters that are reserved.

The noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, asked what functions are envisaged under these powers. In order to ensure that the UK remains in compliance with obligations under the WTO Agreement on Agriculture, it will be necessary to collect data on agricultural support schemes from the four nations of the UK in order to classify and report this information at the WTO. Additionally, spending limits will be placed on each country of the UK to ensure that the UK as a whole honours a commitment to limit spending on certain types of trade-distorting support.

Where reserved matters overlap or intercept with devolved areas of competence, the UK Government of course recognise that the devolved Administrations will have an interest. The Government therefore work with those Administrations, as we are currently doing, to accommodate their comments and concerns when we can, to the satisfaction of all those involved. I am pleased that Defra officials have particularly good relations with their counterparts in the devolved Administrations.

We already have a bilateral agreement in place with the Welsh Government on the making and operation of regulations under Part 6, and we have offered to extend this agreement to the Scottish Government and DAERA ministers in Northern Ireland. Additionally, my honourable friend the farming Minister, Victoria Prentis, placed on record in the other place a commitment to consult with the devolved Administrations on the making of regulations under these powers.

Lastly, I understood that the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, was concerned about how these regulations impacted directly on farmers. These powers allow for a framework of regulations to be made for ensuring UK-wide compliance with existing international obligations. Within this framework and within the boundaries of existing WTO agreements that seek to limit the use of trade-distorting financial support to agriculture, each Administration will still be able to design their own schemes to deliver their policies on supporting farmers and managing the farmed environment.

I hope that I have given sufficient reassurance and that the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Portrait Lord Foulkes of Cumnock (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for a very comprehensive and indeed helpful response. I just want to make two points. First, this is one of many debates that I have been involved in in which Liberal Democrat, Labour and Conservative Members have all raised issues in relation to the devolved Parliaments, the consultation and the roles and responsibilities. That issue comes up more in the House of Lords than anywhere, and it is not always appreciated in the devolved Administrations.

Secondly, I have sat through only a small number of the debates on the Agriculture Bill, but I would personally like to pay tribute to the Ministers and their staff and to the shadow Ministers and their staff for doing a huge amount of work on this very important issue. I hope that that is recognised not just in the parties and in the House of Lords but well beyond this place. Therefore, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Agriculture Bill

(Report: 2nd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords)
Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Excerpts
Thursday 17th September 2020

(5 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber

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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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I thank the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, for tabling this amendment which seeks to use the Agriculture Bill to provide for new socioeconomic support programmes to help fund improved broadband connectivity and digital skills in rural areas beyond the end of the current rural development programme. He is indeed a champion of addressing the very real digital divide.

I reassure this House that we recognise the importance of the issue that this amendment raises. This Government are determined to connect every home and business to the fastest broadband speeds available. As the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, has just said, access to digital is key to helping all rural communities build resilient modern businesses, as well as supporting them in their daily lives. Indeed, the Covid-19 pandemic has shown the integral role that digital connectivity plays in our daily lives, economically, socially and in continuing to deliver essential public services. The Government are investing record amounts to level up digital infrastructure across the UK. We are already connecting some of the hardest-to-reach places in the country, including through the superfast broadband programme and the £200 million rural gigabit connectivity programme. The Government want nationwide coverage of gigabit-capable broadband as soon as possible.

We have also announced £5 billion of public funding—not just in principle; it has been announced—to close the digital divide and ensure that rural areas are not left behind. Only last week, we announced that more than £22 million of additional funding is being invested in the UK Government’s broadband voucher scheme, which subsidises the cost of building gigabit-capable broadband networks to hard-to-reach areas. The Government are working with mobile network operators to deliver mobile connectivity improvements through a shared rural network. Much is therefore already in place to improve connectivity in rural areas, and we have already started the 5G rollout.

We also recognise the importance of improving digital skills in rural areas. There is a wide number of initiatives to support this, including the digital skills partnership launched by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport in 2017, to bring together organisations from across the public, private and charity sectors to work together to close the digital skills gap at a local level. Although the current rural development programme allows for support for broadband and digital skills, these wider government initiatives are the key funding mechanisms for broadband connectivity and digital skills. However, we are also committed to supporting rural communities through post-EU exit funding and the UK shared prosperity fund, which will play a vital role in supporting rural and coastal communities in recovery and renewal from Covid-19.

As set out in the manifesto, the Government intend to introduce the UK shared prosperity fund to replace EU structural funds. Defra officials are working closely with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, which leads on its development, to ensure that its design takes account of the dynamics of rural economies and the challenges faced by rural communities. The final decisions about the quantum and design of future socioeconomic funding will take place after the upcoming cross-government spending review.

With these assurances, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Earl of Kinnoull Portrait The Deputy Speaker (The Earl of Kinnoull) (Non-Afl)
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I have received no requests for further short questions. Accordingly, I call the noble Lord, Lord Holmes of Richmond.

Break in Debate

Lord Grantchester Portrait Lord Grantchester (Lab)
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I thank the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, for returning to the subject of crisis management in his amendments. The clauses in Chapter 2 bring further into domestic legislation the powers that the European Commission exercised to provide emergency assistance in extreme market circumstances. The Secretary of State may modify the retained direct EU legislation from the withdrawal Act. This would usually involve intervention on storage. At this stage, once again, as I join another day’s proceedings on the Bill, I declare my interest as recorded in the register as being in receipt of funds from existing systems derived from the CAP.

We noted the Minister’s reply in Committee that

“farmers already manage the effects of fluctuating everyday weather conditions”,

and that the existing powers contained here and elsewhere

“are sufficiently broad to ensure that agricultural producers will be covered”

should it be necessary to provide emergency financial assistance

“due to exceptional market conditions”—[Official Report, 21/7/20; col. 2184.]

brought about by unforeseen economic, environmental or welfare factors.

The term “chronic conditions” is interesting, as this would suggest exceptional circumstances becoming endemic and longer lasting. This would suggest that the market would need to adapt on a wider basis after any exceptional market disturbances caused by economic or environmental factors had been provided. It would suggest that the adverse effect on the price achievable for agricultural products may not return to normal. This circumstance would become subject to far more extensive dialogue and analysis, and when such a situation may warrant the actions wanted by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, needless to say it would be controversial and subject to much debate.

We understand that Welsh Ministers are aware of these details and have not drawn attention to any aspect with which they are uncomfortable. The Minister has advised the House that the Welsh Government have agreed to these provisions; that would be our position also. We are generally content with the current drafting. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, for her remarks, which reflect many of our thoughts.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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I thank noble Lords for their contributions to this short debate.

I recognise the concern to ensure that farmers in England and Wales are protected against acute and chronic disturbances, including those caused by natural phenomena. The exceptional market conditions powers could be used to address acute and severe market disturbances caused by natural phenomena, such as extreme weather, so long as there is an adverse effect on the price achievable for one or more agricultural products. I hope that that reassures my noble friend Lord Northbrook.

The UK Government and Welsh Ministers are confident that the existing powers are sufficiently broad to ensure that agricultural producers will be covered should they need financial assistance due to exceptional market conditions caused by economic, environmental or other factors. The current Covid-19 pandemic is a disturbance caused by environmental factors and is exactly the type of exceptional circumstance that these new powers are intended to address. We could not have foreseen that this pandemic would be as wide-ranging or prolonged as it has been, and farmers could not have been expected to prepare for the disturbances in daily life that it has caused. I feel confident in saying that if these exceptional market conditions powers were at our disposal now, the Government could have used them to support farmers during these difficult times.

The particular powers in respect to England, in Clauses 18 and 19, and in respect to Wales, in paragraphs 6 and 7 of Schedule 5, are framed to deal with unforeseen short-term shocks to agricultural markets rather than chronic conditions. These powers allow Ministers to act swiftly to deal with a crisis situation. These amendments would lower that bar and risk creating open-ended powers that allow the Secretary of State to make payments to farmers in much wider and undefined circumstances.

In most cases, farmers already manage the effects of fluctuating weather conditions. There are also powers in existing legislation that allow the Government to act in exceptional circumstances to support farmers in the event of extreme weather conditions. For example, the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 could be used to make one-off payments to farmers affected by extreme weather. In response to recent flooding, as my noble friend Lady McIntosh acknowledged, the UK Government launched a new farming recovery fund for England, using powers under the NERC Act.

I have some details about the fund because I was interested to find out why some claims were not being met. I am afraid that I do not have the numbers here for my noble friend but I commit to writing to her with the details of the scheme, which are quite complex, and to furnish the numbers on how many grants have been made available. When I write, I will of course let noble Lords have a copy.

The Government want to encourage farmers to manage their own risk and become more resilient to foreseeable and longer-term disturbances. Elsewhere in the Bill, there are provisions to support farmers to improve their productivity, as well as to provide financial assistance for the delivery of public goods. For example, the Government will help farmers to invest in equipment, technology and infrastructure, and will support high-quality research to promote innovation and productivity in agriculture, horticulture and forestry. Part 3 also sets out powers to strengthen fairness and transparency in the supply chain. This will enable food producers to respond more effectively to market signals, strengthen their negotiating position at the farm gate and seek a fairer return.

I hope that I have given sufficient reassurance and that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Baroness Finlay of Llandaff) (CB)
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I have received a request from the noble Lord, Lord McCrea of Magherafelt and Cookstown, to ask a short question of elucidation.

Lord McCrea of Magherafelt and Cookstown Portrait Lord McCrea of Magherafelt and Cookstown (DUP) [V]
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To clarify, does the Minister believe that the term “exceptional adverse conditions” covers exceptional events such as extreme weather and serious diseases, which can cause major financial problems for farmers and food security? Does this Bill cover them?

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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I assure the noble Lord that this Bill will cover those situations.

Lord Carrington Portrait Lord Carrington (CB)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have participated in this short debate and, of course, the Minister.

I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, that, in moving this amendment, I have the support of the CLA, the NFU and the TFA, so it is a matter of general concern to all farming organisations.

We have heard several examples of problems that have required assistance, whether in Richmond, Sri Lanka or elsewhere. The contribution made by the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, was extremely interesting. His emphasis on farmers’ reliance on income from farming is certainly something that we should bear heavily in mind, because that is what the whole industry is about; it is not about ELMs. As I understood it, the noble Lord’s concern was very much to do with making quite sure that the Government understand the cash-flow implications of these issues and the need to work fast to resolve them.

As has become clear from all the questions we have heard, my real point on this issue is that there is a lack of understanding of what is covered by this clause. The last question very much indicated that that is the case. However, we have received assurances from the Minister. I do not believe that it is worth my taking this any further, so I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Break in Debate

Lord Grantchester Portrait Lord Grantchester (Lab)
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I thank the noble Lord, Lord Empey, for his amendments, for the significance in which he holds them as necessary for the Bill, and for leading the House in returning to Clause 27 on fair dealing obligations. I am sorry he has not been able to stay tonight to make his case due to personal circumstances, and I hope all continues well. Nevertheless, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, for stepping in and moving his amendment. I concur with much of what she said. The distribution of market returns from food between the primary producer and the rest of the supply chain, especially in regard to the retail sector, certainly appears unbalanced. The proportion returned to the farmer has steadily declined over many years.

That regulation is needed to ensure further provision to introduce a greater measure of fair dealing obligations on the supply chain is recognised in Clause 27. Following the establishment and workings of the Groceries Code Adjudicator, the specific task of monitoring relationships between the UK’s largest supermarkets and their direct suppliers has proved very effective. I would go so far as to say it has proved critical in delivering effective change down the supply chain.

We would not be able to support the noble Lord should he wish to press his amendment. The specific details of each statutory code are being developed in consultation with industry and will be set out in secondary legislation. It will be extended across all sectors of agriculture. This is already in progress.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lady McIntosh for introducing this amendment on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Empey. I confirm that my noble friend Lord Gardiner has agreed to meet the noble Lord, Lord Empey, at the earliest opportunity.

There is no doubt that the Government will use these powers. The introduction of fair dealing obligations is vital in the creation of a more equitable supply chain. This is a point on which there is wide agreement. However, the Government believe it is equally important that these obligations are appropriate and proportionate and produce the right outcomes.

To ensure this, the Government intend to consult industry before regulations are made, to ensure that they are properly tailored for the issues at hand. In this regard, a UK-wide consultation exploring contractual issues in the dairy sector has recently been concluded. The consultation invited a broad range of views about future regulations, asking specific questions about various issues. Some of these issues, such as contractual exclusivity, are almost unique to the dairy sector. The Government intend to repeat this approach for any future exercise of the powers in Clause 27, allowing the views from industry and other stakeholders, often about very detailed sector-specific issues, to inform final decisions.

The introduction of blanket obligations across the whole of UK agriculture would hinder the ability to reflect the specific nuances of each sector and potentially fail to address the specific problems experienced by particular types of producer. Also, given that certain agricultural sectors are far better integrated than others, comprehensive obligations could ultimately lead to provisions being introduced into sectors where they are simply not required.

I hope I have given sufficient reassurance and ask my noble friend to withdraw the amendment on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Empey.

Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering (Con)
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I am most grateful to those who have contributed to this debate and am sure the noble Lord, Lord Empey, is grateful for the opportunity to have put forward his views and the sentiments described in these two amendments.

My noble friend is absolutely right that the consultation with the interested parties that has just concluded will be crucial in the development and implementation of the regulations. It would be helpful to have confirmation that these responses will be available on the web so that we can look at them when it comes to implementing regulations before the House at that time.

At this moment, given the confirmation of a meeting with my noble friend Lord Gardiner, I am sure it is the wish of the noble Lord, Lord Empey, with the leave of the House, to withdraw the amendment.

Break in Debate

Baroness Wilcox of Newport Portrait Baroness Wilcox of Newport (Lab) [V]
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We might not strictly be noble friends but I am grateful to my noble compatriot Lord Wigley for tabling Amendment 68, allowing a brief discussion of how the changes contained in Clause 32 will impact on the devolved Administrations. I agree with my noble friend Lord Rooker that, despite the better efforts of some people—Ministers and officials in his Government—generally people do not do devolution 20 years on.

I am also grateful to the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, for his Amendment 68A, which is designed to probe how these traceability provisions will work as animals or their meat move across the UK’s internal borders. I understand that, although agriculture might have always been devolved in a theoretical sense, the UK Secretary of State has, in many areas, tended to act on behalf of all four nations.

These provisions on the identification and traceability of animals are important, and I am sure that the current drafting has the approval of the devolved Administrations. Indeed, I will pass on the Minister’s earlier kind comments to my good friend the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs in the Senedd Cymru. However, I would be grateful to the Minister if, in her response, she could shed greater light on the points of detail raised by those who have tabled these amendments.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, for his amendment, and I am very grateful to him for his advance notice of the points that he made. I will deal with Amendment 68A, in the name of my noble friend the Duke of Montrose, at the same time.

As the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, rightly observed, Clause 32 provides that the Secretary of State may assign functions to a body relating to, first, collecting, managing and making available information regarding the identification, movement and health of animals, and, secondly, the means of identifying animals. These functions are vital for the purposes of disease control, for complete movement traceability of all animals across UK borders and for UK trade negotiations with international partners. The meat and livestock sectors have championed this new service and are strongly supportive of it.

In Committee, we introduced a government amendment providing that the Secretary of State secure approval from the devolved Administrations for orders assigning functions exercisable in relation to Wales, Northern Ireland or Scotland to the AHDB, such as the handling of movement data shared with the AHDB by those Administrations. We have always said that we would engage intensively with the devolved Administrations prior to making any UK-wide orders.

The wording in Section 89A(2) of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006, as inserted by Clause 32, requires the Secretary of State to seek approval from the devolved Administrations for making orders assigning functions exercisable in those Administrations. Where any such function is assigned, it will be following full discussion with, and approval from, the devolved Administrations. These discussions will give the opportunity for any further concerns to be raised. Therefore, any appropriate limitations on species covered or geographical extent for any function relating to identification and traceability of livestock will be specified in the order and, I repeat, subject to approval from the devolved Administrations.

Regarding how livestock traceability will work between UK Administrations, each Administration will run its own multi-species traceability service. Currently, there is a GB-wide service for cattle and a service for pigs in England and Wales, but in the future, traceability will be fully distributed. The Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board needs to be able to process movement data on animals that are not in England, or that have crossed borders within the UK, to provide a complete picture of an animal’s lifetime traceability in disease-control situations. This is termed “the UK view”. It will enable livestock identification and movement data collected by each Administration to be seen by others and to be available to veterinary officials in all UK Administrations. I hope that this reassures my noble friend the Duke of Montrose.

I take issue with the assertation by the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, that this Government do not do devolution. As the Lords’ spokesperson for Wales and someone who is proudly Welsh, I assure him, and the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, that we pay careful attention to preserving the devolution settlement in all three departments of which I am Whip.

The AHDB will also run the livestock unique identification service on behalf of England and Wales. This controls the issuing of official individual identification numbers to animals. All data will be handled in accordance with data sharing agreements and protocols agreed by all UK Administrations. No Administration will be able to use data outside the terms of that agreement.

My noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering asked about the status of the negotiations on the common framework. In the last debate, my noble friend the Minister said that the UK Government have been working closely with the Welsh Government, the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs in Northern Ireland, and the Scottish Government, to develop a UK agriculture support framework. We expect to be able to agree this soon and we will update the House shortly.

I believe that this provides the assurance that the assignment of functions by the Secretary of State under this clause will be fully accountable to the devolved Administrations. With these assurances, and my belief that there is genuinely no clearing up necessary, I ask the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Wigley Portrait Lord Wigley (PC) [V]
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My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Baroness for her response, and to the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, the noble Baronesses, Lady McIntosh, Lady Northover and Lady Wilcox, and the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, for their input in this debate.

Quite clearly this is not a subject area where one is seeking controversy; rather one is seeking to resolve a practical problem which might arise if it is not planned for in a way that avoids such eventualities. There must be clear demarcation of responsibility for all four bodies within the UK that have various responsibilities in these fields. They have to know what their responsibilities are and how far they go. To the extent that from time to time there has to be some cross-border activity, by the nature of the market, there must be clear ground rules on who does what and who communicates with whom.

To the extent that the Welsh Government have indicated that they see a way forward on this, that is fine, provided that it is the same interpretation on the other side of Offa’s Dyke, and in Scotland and Northern Ireland in relation to their powers. If we can get a situation in which it is clear to all what their responsibilities are—where they start and where they end—we can avoid difficulties. If we do not, we will find ourselves in quite a complex situation with a lack of clarity with regard to responsibility.

I conclude with this. There is a saying, particularly in the farming fraternity, that good fences make good neighbours. In this instance, there has to be clarity, understood by all, on who is responsible for what fence and for what function. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Break in Debate

Lord Inglewood Portrait Lord Inglewood (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, as a number of noble Lords may know, I am a livestock farmer, and if you are a livestock farmer you have to try to ensure that the animals in your care have the highest levels of welfare. It seems to me that that is axiomatic, and I believe that, as a general proposition, it is incumbent on all us to treat animals of all kinds properly, whether farmed animals, domestic pets or whatever other category they may fall into. My concerns about the previous three amendments are that, quite honestly, they are very blunt instruments and I could not support them in the form they were drafted, for the kinds of reasons that were made clear by the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, and the Minister.

I remember many years ago there was discussion, when I was a Member of the European Parliament, about whether it was appropriate to introduce the concept of sentience into the legislative codes of the Union in order to underpin and safeguard the position of animals. At that time, I am prepared to admit that I was unsure about that, but since then, I am beginning to think that I was wrong. I do not believe that animals have rights as such, certainly not in the sense that we have human rights, but I do think, as I have explained on previous occasions, that humans have responsibilities—indeed, they should be legal obligations —towards animals and that these should be enforced. Therefore, I have come to the conclusion that something along the lines that we are discussing tonight, and was debated inter alia in the general election campaign, is appropriate, because it means that we can deal with these issues in a much more targeted and specific manner. I think that this would be much more beneficial, both for the society as a whole and for animals, than just simple, very broad, blanket statements, which is the approach that some people have adopted.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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My Lords, I beg to move that the debate on Amendment 74 be adjourned.

Agriculture Bill

(Report stage (Hansard): House of Lords)
(Report: 1st sitting: House of Lords)
Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Excerpts
Tuesday 15th September 2020

(5 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Portrait Baroness Jones of Whitchurch (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Young for moving this amendment and making the case so persuasively. She is raising an important point about what will happen when the environmental standards, which are currently required through cross-compliance, no longer apply when we leave the EU and the existing payments regime is phased out. We agree that it is vital that the standards that apply, such as to hedgerows and buffer strips to watercourses, should not be lost by accident or intent.

It all forms part of the promise made when we left the EU that our environmental standards should be at least on a par with what went before. It is also part of the bigger promise of the Government that they will leave the environment in better shape than when they inherited it. So we cannot afford to go backwards on this issue.

As my noble friend has made clear, these issues are part of a bigger project to review standards and develop a new regulatory regime. This is fine as far as it goes, but the clock is ticking and we know that these reviews take time. The review will be taking place against intense activity to get the new ELMS regime up and running, with all the supportive secondary legislation that will be required to make that happen.

So there is a real danger that the provision of new regulations will be delayed, and a regulatory gap will occur. My noble friend’s amendment provides a neat solution to ensure that those standards not yet required by UK law will be safely assured for the future.

To be honest, as other noble Lords have said, we do not understand why the Government have not put something similar in the Bill, and there is still an opportunity for them to accept this amendment today. But if the Minister is not so minded, I would be grateful if she could provide sufficient reassurance that the review and its outcomes are on a fixed timetable. Can she also guarantee that our environmental standards achieved by cross-compliance will not be compromised in the meantime? I look forward to her response.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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The primary effect of this amendment would be to provide a new lever to oblige recipients of financial assistance under Clause 1 to meet cross-compliance requirements. This includes parts of the cross-compliance regime where there is no backing in domestic legislation.

A large proportion of the rules currently contained in the cross-compliance regime are replicated in domestic legislation. Rules such as those in the Wildlife and Countryside Act, the Control of Pesticides Regulations and the Reduction and Prevention of Agricultural Diffuse Pollution (England) Regulations will continue to provide protection for our valuable wildlife, soils and watercourses. It will remain mandatory for individuals to continue to comply with all domestic regulation, irrespective of whether they qualify for financial assistance.

We understand the important role that regulatory standards play in trade, in protecting our environment and in protecting the health and welfare of animals. That is why the Government will take a proactive approach to engaging with industry. Responses to our landmark Health and Harmony consultation, our wide-reaching review led by Dame Glenys Stacey, and our discussion document on the ELM scheme have informed, and will continue to inform, our regulatory framework. This autumn, we intend to launch an engagement package—the intensive consultation to which the noble Baroness referred—which will provide an update on the thinking around the future regulatory system. We want to use this to start a co-design process with industry, opening the conversation with stakeholders on the best approaches to designing a future regulatory system.

The Government are exploring other possible levers that we could use to encourage more effectively industry compliance, which would deliver improved environmental outcomes. The ELM scheme will cover a range of environmental outcomes to ensure that farmers and land managers improve their practices and are rewarded for doing so. We are considering a range of measures to ensure that we deliver these outcomes, including, for example, requiring individuals to meet certain requirements as a condition of entry within the scheme itself.

Finally, I assure noble Lords and emphasise that we should take the time to get this right—and we have the opportunity to do so. Individuals will be expected to continue to comply with all current cross-compliance regulations until we delink payments from the land or direct payments end, and until not before 2022. The noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Whitchurch and Lady Bakewell, and the noble Earl, Lord Devon, worried about the regulatory gap, but we are striving hard to ensure that this does not occur. Through our engagement process and the development of our ELM policy, we will ensure that our high environmental and animal health and welfare standards continue to remain world-leading.

I hope that I have given sufficient reassurance on this important matter, and that the noble Baroness, Lady Young, will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Morris of Bolton Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Baroness Morris of Bolton) (Con)
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My Lords, I have received no requests from noble Lords to ask a short question, so I call the noble Baroness, Lady Young.

Break in Debate

Baroness Northover Portrait Baroness Northover (LD) [V]
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I, too, would also like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, for moving this amendment. He and other noble Lords are surely right that it will be vital to have training and guidance available in this way. We have heard a great deal about the changes that may be coming down the track and, of course, the ELM schemes will mean a lot of change. It is important that those receiving financial assistance are assisted in delivering the purposes identified, as the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, said.

There has been some discussion today about tenant farmers. We must look in particular at the smaller players in this regard; they are far less likely to be able to access advice, and this will be an important contribution to what they will be able to do and to ensure that they are indeed acting in the public interest. The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, rightly points out that the average farmer is not well-off—he or she. As the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, put it, almost all the rules of engagement will have changed. Both the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, and the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, pointed out how farms and local circumstances already vary, and now we have massive change added on top.

There can be various sources for guidance, not least from our outstanding agricultural colleges, Natural England, mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, whom I owe much for advice, and experienced farmers in a local area. The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, rightly warns about taking advice from commercial sources with a vested interest, and we looked at that in detail when we looked at pesticides.

There will be a vital need for guidance from the Government because—as the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said—they have a key responsibility here. ADAS did play an important role, as he said, whatever its shortcomings. We support this amendment and look forward to seeing what the Minister says in response.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords for their almost universal acknowledgement tonight of the importance of advice in a time of significant change to the industry. The rules of engagement have, indeed, changed fundamentally.

I reiterate the Government’s view that expert advice and guidance is critical to the successful delivery of future schemes. As currently drafted, the Bill already gives the Secretary of State the necessary powers to fund the provision of advice, guidance and other means of support to recipients of financial assistance under Clause 1. The Government certainly intend to use this ability; advice and guidance is one of the priority areas in the 40 live tests and trials that are feeding into this theme.

I will give some examples of how this could be done. For future tree health schemes, we are looking to refresh and improve our offer of plant health advice to ensure that land managers have the information they need to manage and respond to tree health issues. For animal welfare grants, these one-off payments could cover investment in equipment, infrastructure, technology and training. For animal health schemes, we are also looking at ways to increase advice given to farmers, both from vets and other agricultural advisors, to help them improve animal health. We also want to increase peer learning between farmers through, for example, facilitated farmer groups. The Government have also stated their intention to offer advice to those applying for productivity grants to help them decide which investments would achieve the greatest improvements in business performance.

In Committee, reference was made to the ongoing ELM scheme tests and trials. We are using these to identify the most effective means of providing advice and guidance to farmers and land managers, which will enable them to deliver on their funding agreements with confidence. Since then, the number of ELM tests and trials looking at the provision of advice and guidance has increased to 40, demonstrating the Government’s commitment to designing a scheme that works for farmers and land managers. Evidence shows that, for advice to be effective, it must be trusted, consistent, credible and cost effective. The Government are considering how these principles can be embedded into advice for all schemes and working with farmers and other land managers to do so.

The noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, asked specifically about the availability of training schemes. The ELM trials are exploring ways in which skills and qualifications for environmental land management can be improved.

The noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, also asked how agricultural colleges could be drawn upon to provide advice and dispense information. The Government are supporting the work of the skills leadership group in exploring ways to address the fragmented nature of the existing skills, education and advice landscape. Representatives of the agricultural colleges have been involved in these conversations.

Defra is currently running a £1 million grant funding project to explore how it could provide resilience support to farmers and land managers in England to help them prepare for reductions in direct payments in the transition period. The project, which is targeting some 1,700 farmers and land managers, aims to identify how, where and when they may need to adapt their business models and resilience as a result. Evidence coming from this project will help inform the design of a national scheme, which is currently in development for launch in early 2022.

I was asked about the availability of broadband in some areas. We are connecting some of the hardest-to reach places in the country, including through the SFB programme and the £200 million rural gigabit connectivity programme. We have also announced £5 billion of funding to close the digital divide.

I hope that I have managed to give some reassurance that advice and guidance are already considered in the scheme design, that the Government are committed to their provision and that we have the powers we need to deliver in this area. I hope the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Grantchester Portrait Lord Grantchester (Lab)
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I thank all noble Lords who have spoken on this amendment, especially the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, for their additional reasons for supporting this amendment. As everyone has expressed, this is a fundamental change to the rural landscape and agricultural industries support.

The possible lack of an impact assessment, mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, could be identified as a challenge of detail for what may be required for the successful launch and promotion of this scheme not being fully appreciated. We would want the scheme to be a success.

The amendment is not prescriptive on how the Government may go ahead and deliver that advice. The Minister’s confidence need not be at the expense of caution. My noble friend Lord Whitty drew attention to the withdrawal of advice that, as I was reminded, has reduced the level of the UK’s agricultural productivity in comparison to other EU countries.

The noble Lord, Lord Cameron, emphasised the importance of training to achieve farmers’ engagement. The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, reflected on the quality of advice that could come from more commercial sources, which could be a further challenge. The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, mentioned the digital divide. The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, emphasised, if I am interpreting correctly, that advice must be part of participating in schemes. My noble friends Lady Young and Lord Judd also spoke of the importance of advice in expressing their support.

With all this support, I could be tempted to press this amendment. The Minister assures us that the Government have the power, under Clause 1, to provide advice. This intention should perhaps be promoted more clearly to the agricultural sector. I thank her for her remarks and wider explanations. However, in agreeing to withdraw this amendment, I call on the Government to keep it in mind as the Bill is returned to the other place for further consideration.

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Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Portrait Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville (LD) [V]
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My Lords, during the various debates on this Bill I have made the connection between it and the Environment Bill that is coming down the line. The environment improvement plans and the Government’s 25-year environment plan cannot be divorced from what is happening in the Bill that we are discussing. All speakers have supported the amendment, and have made very similar comments.

The Agriculture Bill provides for multi-annual financial assistance plans, including identification of strategic priorities for assistance, the regard to be had to these strategic priorities when setting the budget, and monitoring the impact of the financial assistance given. There is, however, currently no requirement to take the goals and ambitions of the 25-year environment plan and the Environment Bill into account when setting strategic objectives for financial assistance.

It would be possible for the Secretary of State to set these strategic priorities under the Agriculture Bill, and for that to have no relevance to the key environmental strategy that should be guiding all investment in the natural environment. This appears to be nonsense, and presents a risk to environmental recovery, since the financial assistance schemes created by the Bill, particularly the ELMS, will be one of the main mechanisms for funding and achieving the goals of the 25-year environment plan. The CAP similarly failed to make the structural link to wider objectives, which allowed it to undermine environmental ambitions. But moving away from the CAP presents a unique opportunity to rectify this failure.

The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and my noble friend Lady Parminter, along with noble Lord, Lord Krebs, have set out the case extremely clearly. Amendment 31 would give the Government a duty to consider the country’s environmental improvement plans when setting priorities for financial assistance schemes. This would ensure policy coherence. Environmental improvement plans will be created by the Environment Bill, and the first one will be the existing 25-year environment plan. But we do not yet have the Environment Bill.

The Government clearly intend to design the new environmental land management schemes, which are currently only in pilot stage, in such a way as to support delivery of the 25-year environment plan. However, over the years we have seen the failings of the CAP, highlighting the fact that good intentions do not always lead to the desired outcomes. How often that happens in life. I can hear my mother’s voice in my ear as I speak. Creating structural links between policy areas in law is not only important but vital, with the environment in its current state of catastrophic decline.

The Minister is aware of the concern on this issue, not only in this Chamber but in the whole country. I hope that he is in a position to give reassurance and commitments. If not, we will be supporting the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and others in the Lobby.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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On Amendment 31, I reassure the noble Baroness that the Government will fully take into account the proposed steps and goals of environmental improvement plans, including the 25-year environment plan, when they determine the strategic priorities that will sit within the multiannual financial assistance plans, so the amendment is simply not necessary.

The Government are absolutely committed to achieving their aim of leaving the environment in a better state than when they found it. That is why they are seeking to legislate for environmental improvement plans in the Environment Bill that is currently in the other place in order to drive forward long-term improvements to our natural environment. The 25-year environment plan will be adopted as the first statutory environmental improvement plan and the Government expect it to set the benchmark for future EIPs.

The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, asked a characteristically cogent question about the lack of a proper system of measurement, as identified by the Natural Capital Committee. We are engaging with stakeholders, scientists, economists and environmentalists, including the Natural Capital Committee, to develop comprehensive indicators to measure progress towards the goals set out in the 25-year environment plan.

The planned introduction of the ELM scheme under Clause 1 of the Bill clearly demonstrates the Government’s commitment to look at wider environmental objectives when setting their strategic priorities for funding under their multiannual financial assistance plans. Indeed, the ELM scheme will be a key mechanism for delivering the environmental goal set out in the 25-year environment plan by providing farmers and other land managers with public money for the delivery of multiple public goods.

There are six key public goods that the ELM will help to deliver that correspond directly with goals set out in the 25-year environment plan: namely, clean air, clean and plentiful water, thriving plants and wildlife, a reduction in and protection from environmental hazards, mitigation of and adaptation to climate change, beauty, heritage and engagement with the environment. Defra’s ELM team is currently working on understanding the full range of actions that the scheme could pay for in order to deliver across all the goals in the 25-year environment plan.

Should there be any changes to the plan or a future environmental improvement plan, the Government will review the ELM scheme to ensure that the public goods that it is funding remain in line with delivering the priority goals and commitments that the Government have set out in the plan. The Government will be publicly accountable for the delivery of the strategic priorities in both its multiannual financial assistance plan and the environmental improvement plans. This House will of course have the opportunity to scrutinise the drafting of provisions for the environmental improvement plans when the Environment Bill reaches this House.

I had hoped that with this reassurance I would be able to persuade the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, to withdraw her amendment. However, I cannot make the commitment that she seeks to table a government amendment at Third Reading.

Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Portrait Baroness Jones of Whitchurch (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have added their support today. As the evening gets later, we seem to be finding more and more consensus around the Chamber, which is very welcome.

I particularly thank the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, who rightly reminded us that, as the Natural Capital Committee flagged up, proper systems of measurement are absolutely crucial in terms of the future of environment plans and the crossover with our agricultural activities. We have to have proper measuring systems to measure outcomes and to measure success, but at the moment those links are not obviously made through legislation.

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, for reminding us of the State of Nature report and the RSPB report. They make very depressing reading but show the scale of the task ahead and why the sorts of measures that are in our amendment are so important.

I am very grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Caithness. He is absolutely right that we do not know what the future holds, but we need to get farmers more guarantees and security for the future, and that is why we are attempting to build in those long-term connections. I am also grateful to him for pointing out that the amendment would not cost the Government anything; indeed, there is a very strong case for saying that the integrated policies that we are suggesting should be introduced might actually save the Government money. That should be a welcome outcome.

I say to the Minister that the Government can make commitments but, as noble Lords have often been reminded on other occasions and in other debates, the Government cannot commit future Governments. We are trying to build in a long-term connection between these two separate arms of Defra’s activity. Yes, I absolutely agree that ELMS will be a crucial part of delivering the 25-year environment plan, which is why it is important that that is in the Bill and that it has long-term resonance to it. The Minister was right to anticipate that I would not be happy with her response. I am sorry to say that I am not. I therefore wish to test the opinion of the House.

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Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Portrait Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I congratulate those taking part in this group of amendments on their stamina. Given the late hour, I will be brief. These two amendments in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, and the noble Earl, Lord Devon, deal with assisting farming families through wider rural economy means. I have listened carefully to the interesting and informative debate we have had, and can agree with the majority of the comments made.

However, as the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, said during his contribution on the first group of amendments, this is the Agriculture Bill and should be primarily about land cultivation and management. This is a view shared by many, but not all, noble Lords who have spoken during the first day of Report.

I believe that the shared prosperity fund should support those in very rural areas and provide for them through RDPs, but wish that this should be confined to the transition period. I look forward to the comments on this group by both the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox of Newport, and the Minister.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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My Lords, I beg to move that we adjourn the debate on Amendment 43.

Agriculture Bill

(Committee: 6th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords)
Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Excerpts
Thursday 23rd July 2020

(7 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Portrait Baroness Jones of Whitchurch (Lab)
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My Lords, I shall speak briefly. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, and my noble friend Lord Hain for raising these issues. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, has made an interesting point about extending the levy, but I would like far more detail about the economic and perhaps unforeseen animal welfare consequences of broadening the levy via some kind of impact assessment. I would also like to see the proposal underscored by a commitment to consult on the proposals in advance.

We have touched on the benefits of diets based more on plants and less on meat on several occasions. I believe that measures like this should be introduced as part of a wider national food strategy, rather than in isolation. To the noble Viscount, Lord, Trenchard, I say that there are plenty of sources of vegetable protein; we do not have to rely on eating meat.

My noble friend Lord Hain is right to raise the issue of the repatriation of levies raised to the point of slaughter, rather than where the animals were raised. This is particularly concerning in the case of Welsh lamb, as he very eloquently pointed out, and it will become more of an issue as smaller slaughterhouses close down and animals are forced to travel greater distances for slaughter. This point was made well by my noble friend Lord Blunkett.

It has been good to have this short debate. A number of useful issues were raised, but if we are serious about it, a great deal more work would need to be done. In the meantime, I look forward to the Minister’s response.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, for Amendments 211, 213, 214 and 216. Perhaps I could tell her at the outset that we have the red meat levy; it was established in 1967 under the Agriculture Act.

The term “red meat”, or “cig coch”, is written into Welsh legislation to describe the cattle, sheep and pig industries and has been used regarding the levy for those sectors for many years. Changing the name of the red meat levy in the Bill would necessitate amendments to related legislation across the UK and risk confusion and complications with the existing provisions. A further levy extending to all meats and carcasses of animals slaughtered in the UK would probably require a new levy body to be established, or the scope of the existing levy bodies to be broadened, to cover the additional species, such as goats and deer, that do not fall within the remit of the existing levy bodies. Consultation to determine the need for, and the benefit of, such a levy would also be required. This is set out in the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006. More importantly, agriculture is a devolved matter, as are these industry levies. It would therefore be for the devolved Administrations to choose to take forward their own regulations in this area, should they wish to do so.

Turning to Amendment 215, plant-based food production already benefits significantly from the UK levy system. The Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board collects levies that are used to fund activities in this area, valued at approximately £27 million. Legislation providing for our levy bodies clearly sets out the collection of these levies and that they are to be spent to benefit the industry from which they are collected.

My noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering also asked some questions about how they are collected, and I should say that the red meat levy collected in one country can be spent only to benefit the contributing industry in that country. For example, any pig levy that is collected in England must be spent to the benefit of the pigmeat industry in England. Currently, levy cannot be spent for the sole benefit of producers in another jurisdiction.

Clause 33 addresses an acknowledged unfairness in the GB red-meat levy system that has existed for a number of years. It is not intended to change the way these levies are collected or spent. The Government wish simply to right the wrong that has been identified in the red-meat levy system. My noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering also asked when we would have the government response to the AHDB consultation. The government response to the request for views on this was published in April 2020.

Turning to Amendment 212, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Hain, Clause 33 was introduced to provide for a scheme that allows for the redistribution of red-meat levy between the levy bodies of Great Britain. It will provide a fair approach to resolving an inequity that has been acknowledged by the Governments of these Administrations for several years. The provision in this amendment is based purely on the origin of the animal, rather than where it has gained economic value. It will allow for the repatriation of levy to the devolved Administrations themselves, whereas the scheme established using the provisions in Clause 33 would allow for the redistribution of levy between levy bodies in the three Administrations. By widening the provision of the scheme from that of Great Britain to that of the United Kingdom, the amendment extends the repatriation of red-meat levy to Northern Ireland. However, the scheme is to be made jointly by Ministers of England, Scotland and Wales, and is not needed by Northern Ireland.

In addition, the repatriation of levy is restricted by this amendment to the devolved Administrations. This could create a disparity between the devolved Administrations and England, as the devolved Administrations will be allowed to repatriate levy dependent upon origin, but England will not.

The noble Lords, Lord Blunkett and Lord Wigley, also brought up the question of small abattoirs, and the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, made the point that slaughtering animals close to the point of production is an important consideration in animal welfare. I am delighted to say, since they may not have heard my earlier response to this issue, that they are included in Clause 1(5) of the Bill, which provides for small abattoirs, under “preparing” and “processing”.

With this reassurance, I ask that the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Portrait Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb [V]
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate, which I have very much enjoyed. I spent almost the whole time smiling. I note the comments from the noble Lords, Lord Hain and Lord Wigley, about Wales, and their other comments. As I have said, there is a lot of value in that. I will say to the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, that I am proselytising not for vegetarianism but for the future of the planet and the health of the people who still survive. I am happy to debate that with him.

The noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, seems to have misunderstood my amendment, because I am not doing anything about his citizen’s freedom to eat meat—first, because we do not have citizens in this country but subjects, and secondly, I am a meat eater myself and, were I standing for election anywhere, that would probably lose me a lot of green votes. I was a vegetarian for 20 years and I have stopped. I now eat a minimal amount of healthy organic meat.

The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, made some kind comments. No one has ever accused me of surreptitious means—in fact, quite the opposite usually—so I feel very flattered. I also note that the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, made comments about an impact assessment, which would obviously be a very valuable addition. I note that the Minister has pointed out all the difficulties that this would cause with legislation, but it would surely be just a tidying-up exercise, just like her Brexit Bill, and should not take long at all.

With all those comments in mind, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

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Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Portrait Baroness Jones of Whitchurch
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My Lords, I have tabled Amendment 226 in my name and those of the noble Lords, Lord Randall and Lord Greaves. I also support Amendment 221, which was expertly introduced by my noble friend Lord Whitty. I remind noble Lords of my Rothamsted connections in the register.

Our amendment would require the Secretary of State to monitor the effects of pesticides on livestock and the land, conduct research into alternative methods of pest control and consult on a target to reduce their use. It complements the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Whitty, which focuses more on the impact of pesticides on human health, which is, rightly, also a great cause for concern. As I mentioned in an earlier debate on the agricultural workforce, there are nearly half a million people working on the land who have immediate and worrying exposure to pesticides and herbicides on a daily basis. It is right that that should be properly regulated.

My noble friend Lord Whitty also raised the concerns of those living in rural areas adjoining fields where crops are being sprayed, sometimes indiscriminately. They come with health warnings that are rarely shared with the local population. Clearly these practices can cause substantial pollution, not only to the individuals concerned but to the air quality in nearby areas. It was notable that the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, rightly pointed out the irony that water courses seem to be better protected than human beings. As my noble friend Lady Henig said, it is a sad fact that the health impacts of these chemicals often become clear all too late in the day. This is certainly the case with glyphosate, a widely used agricultural and domestic weedkiller.

This is why we argued emphatically that we should retain the precautionary principle when we transpose EU law into UK law. In response to noble Lords who have been critical of these amendments, my noble friend’s amendment calls not for a ban but for a minimum distance between spraying and homes and schools. That is a reasonable prospect, on any measure. In response to the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, not everybody operates to the high standards to which he referred and aspires. We cannot just assume that human nature will operate to the best and highest standards.

The amendment in my name concentrates more on the effects of pesticides on the land and its biodiversity. The objectives in Clause 1 place a welcome emphasis on managing land to improve the environment, to protect it from environmental hazards and to embrace agroecology. If we are serious about land management schemes that deliver for the environment, we have to be serious about a review of our pesticide use. As we have debated before, this needs to be based on an integrated pest-management principle which, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, said, understands the interrelationship between insects and the need to keep their presence in balance, rather than wiping them out indiscriminately with pesticides. A few months ago, I talked to a farmer who described the success of the beetle banks that had been laid in rows between his crops. The beetles come out in the daytime; they roam around the field eating aphids; and then they return to the bank at dusk, and everyone is happy. These are surely the kinds of innovations that we should be supporting, along with precision application where pesticides are absolutely necessary.

We also need to be aware of the threat from imported foods with lower restrictions on the use of pesticides which might flood our market post Brexit. We need specific measures to ensure that UK farmers cannot be undercut by cheap food from non-EU countries with less strict controls, which might be contaminated by pesticide residues. Will maintaining pesticide standards and the precautionary principle apply to all imported food post Brexit?

When a similar amendment was put forward by my Labour colleagues in the Commons, the Minister, Victoria Prentis, agreed that the use of pesticides should be minimised and their usage and effect carefully monitored. She argued that further details would be included in the 25-year environment plan. But I see no reason why this issue cannot be progressed as part of this Bill. All we are asking for is up-to-date research on the impact of pesticides and alternative methods of pest control. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lilley; it is happening at Rothamsted and a number of other research institutes. But we need to pull that evidence together in one place, so that we have a strategy for alternative and better use. This is necessary if we are to have the good practice that the environment land management in the Bill desires. If we are serious about this, the future is about alternatives to pesticide use. All we are asking is that we capture that and put it in the Bill in a constructive way.

I urge noble Lords to look closely at the wording of my noble friend Lord Whitty’s amendment and mine. They are both very modest in their aspiration and scope. They do not ask for a great deal, but they do ask for practical solutions for the way forward. I hope that noble Lords will support both amendments.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist
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I thank the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, for Amendment 221, which I will take together with Amendment 226 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones. The Committee has heard a number of heartfelt speeches, most notably from the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, when he moved his amendment. A number of noble Lords also mentioned the thoughtful and considered contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, on day three of Committee, when soils, pesticides and nature-friendly farming were debated in the first group of amendments. The Government understand these concerns and recognise the importance of ensuring that the use of pesticides is minimised, that alternatives are developed and that there is monitoring of pesticide use and its effects.

The Government agree that pesticides should not be used where they may harm human health. A robust regulatory system is already in place to deliver that objective. Pesticides are authorised only if scientific assessment shows that their use will not harm human health and will not have unacceptable impacts on the environment. The assessment is carried out by experts at the Health and Safety Executive, with independent input from the UK Expert Committee on Pesticides. The assessment of risks is therefore rigorous, and authorisation is frequently refused—but at this stage I take on board the suggestion from the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, about sensible signage.

Monitoring schemes report on the level of usage of each pesticide and on residue levels in food. They also collect and consider reports of possible harm to people or to the environment. These controls ensure that people are properly protected, and they are based on risks. They allow pesticides to be used where this is safe and will help UK farmers to provide high-quality, affordable food.

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Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Portrait Baroness Finlay of Llandaff (CB) [V]
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The agrichemical monitoring system has lagged behind emerging evidence, partly because the epidemiology is so difficult to do on a population basis. The standard trial model is difficult.

Do the Government recognise that Canada’s largest agribusiness, Richardson International, is banning glyphosate spray on oats and that Bayer, which is the production route now that it has bought out Monsanto, is spending $10.9 billion settling around 125,000 cancer lawsuits out of court over cancers such as non-Hodgkin lymphoma? I worry that we cannot ignore these trends and simply rely on past papers and so on. Do the Government recognise that an amendment to this Bill that flagged up the precautionary principle would be a key plank in safety, would be completely compatible with the type of request that has come from the noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege, in her report on health-related issues, and would move us forward to being a leader in the modern world in food production?

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist
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I acknowledge the noble Baroness’s comments and know that they come from a deep knowledge and understanding of the issues surrounding this sector. We have our own experts in the HSE who are undertaking ongoing research. I am aware of the settlement in the States relating to the use of glyphosates and its potential connection with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Her concerns are being addressed in ongoing research programmes within government.

Lord Whitty Portrait Lord Whitty [V]
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My Lords, I am somewhat disappointed by the Minister’s reply. My amendment relates to several hundred thousand people in rural areas who are not protected by the present law. In so far as there are codes of practice, as referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, those have frequently been breached and, as far as I am aware, nobody is being prosecuted for it. We therefore need something in primary legislation to deal with the situation of residents.

Others are covered. Workers are clearly covered by the health and safety regulations, and, these days, most farm workers observe the need to protect themselves. That they have to, as I said earlier, indicates that there is a serious danger to human health from coming into contact with some of these chemicals.

That danger has been underlined for years. We had a royal commission 12 or 13 years ago which showed the dangers. We have had the chief scientific adviser to Defra report on the global use of chemicals and the dangers they present to human health. On the legal side, we have High Court judgments and United Nations reports. There is no need for any more proof that such chemicals are dangerous, particularly to those who are frequently exposed. Clearly, workers used to be frequently exposed before they adopted protective means and some, regrettably, still are, but the next group who are exposed, rural residents, are not so protected by the law. My amendment would reduce the exposure of rural residents. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, in general supported this approach. He emphasised walkers, bystanders and visitors, but they are sort of protected by the health and safety legislation already because they would be on the premises of the user of those chemicals. People who are a few yards away from those premises are not so protected, yet medical records show that continuous exposure over several applications of spray has caused serious medical problems.

My amendment would protect a group which is not currently seriously protected by the present law or present practice. Clearly, there are different sorts of chemicals, and we are concerned particularly with those which are sprayed across large fields and affect those adjacent to them.

However, there is an overall problem in the use of pesticides in relation both to human health and to adverse effects on soil, water and air quality. We need a strategy. Amendment 226 would begin to give us a strategy, although, if we are to have a comprehensive strategy, we need clear targets for the elimination of chemical pesticides in as many areas as possible and for the development of alternatives.

Yes, there are serious possibilities for replacing these chemicals in the research labs and in industry. Serious strategies on the application of chemical pesticides, insecticides and fungicides are being adopted to limit the exposure to others, but there is no legal protection for those who are most frequently vulnerable to pesticide spray—that is, those who are right next to fields where it is being sprayed across the crops. This is a problem not only when the wind is blowing; the droplets stay in the air for some time, even when there is not a heavy wind. We have a sufficient history of medical problems to prove that those rural residents are seriously affected, but we do not have any serious legal protection for them. One simple way of doing it is in my amendment: to restrict the spraying of crops close by residential buildings and other public buildings.

I want to return to this. I am really sorry that the Government did not see this as a modest but important step for the protection of people whom, frankly, our law does not protect at present. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment and I will decide what to do at the next stage.

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Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist
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I remind the noble Lord of the pressure on time. This is the Government Whip speaking.

Lord Lilley Portrait Lord Lilley [V]
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Sorry—I shall finish in one second. And allowing consumers to buy on the basis of cost.

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Lord Hope of Craighead Portrait Lord Hope of Craighead [V]
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My Lords, I support Amendment 264, moved by the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes of Cumnock. By a curious chance, I spoke to Amendment 267, a mirror image of this one, shortly before midnight on Tuesday evening. I do not need to repeat what I said then, because I am sure that the Minister knows very well the points that I wanted to make. The amendment moved this evening is almost exactly the same, except that in my case, instead of using the phrase, “the relevant stakeholders”, I set out who the relevant stakeholders were. For the reasons I mentioned at about this time two days ago, I absolutely support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist
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My Lords, I beg to move that the debate on this amendment be adjourned.

Agriculture Bill

(Committee: 5th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords)
Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Excerpts
Tuesday 21st July 2020

(7 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber

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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Baroness Wilcox of Newport Portrait Baroness Wilcox of Newport (Lab) [V]
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I thank all noble Lords who have spoken. We have had a varied debate but I wish to raise some further points and questions.

The Government’s communications on the Bill have focused on the principle of public money for public goods—a principle of almost total consensus. However, our current understanding of what constitutes “public goods” is fairly limited and, although widely used in this debate and the previous one, it is not a term used in the Bill. Although Chapter 1 outlines the purposes for which money can be given, our understanding of “public goods” probably differs according to our political emphasis. For example, my party would have a greater focus on food as a public good. It is a long time since I studied A-level economics, but I am sure that I remember a discussion centring around the fact that public goods are particularly apposite to sustaining a well-ordered society. They contribute to social inclusion and strengthen a shared sense of citizenship. In fact, it was debates such as those that fired my interest in politics and led to a lifetime spent working in public service. Therefore, will the Minister seek to define the phrase for the purposes of this legislation?

Amendment 141 proposes introducing an ability for the Secretary of State to order a landowner to participate in a large-scale tier 3 scheme. The Bill already represents a huge shift in how farmers are funded and this process will be much easier if it has the consent of landowners. Can the Minister therefore outline what powers are already available in the event of an owner or land manager refusing to participate in a scheme, even when there is a clear public interest in that scheme going ahead?

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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I thank the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, for his Amendment 140. Our new “public money for public goods” policy aims to reward farmers and land managers for goods and services that benefit society but are not currently traded on the market. The financial assistance powers in Clause 1(1) provide the Secretary of State with the power to spend money for furthering certain purposes, which in turn can help to deliver these public goods. The amendment would require the Secretary of State to define the “public funds for public goods” rule. This Bill does not include a definition of “public goods” because it provides powers to the Secretary of State to pay financial assistance for a number of purposes that will enable Defra to introduce its future policies, including productivity grants, as set out in Clause 1(2).

Perhaps I may go further. In terms of this Bill, public goods are goods and services that are valued by society but not provided by the market, including things such as clean water and air, thriving plants and wildlife, a reduction in and protection from environmental hazards, adaptation to and mitigation of climate change, the beauty and heritage of the environment and engagement with it.

The noble Lord asked whether productivity was a public good. The more productive the method of farming, often the more environmentally sound that farming method is. Our priority is a productive farming sector—one that will support farmers to provide more home-grown healthy produce made to high environmental and animal welfare standards. More efficient production has the benefits of lower costs and higher yields and, in many cases, a reduced impact on the environment.

The Government believe that by moving to a new system based on public money for public goods, and by supporting farming through productivity schemes and grants, we will put English farmers in the best position possible to boost sustainable food production. Defining “public good” in the Bill and requiring every pound spent under Clause 1 to meet this rule would unnecessarily restrict the Government’s ability to deliver their goal of a more sustainable, productive sector. Perhaps I may reiterate what Clause 1(4) says:

“In framing any financial assistance scheme, the Secretary of State must have regard to the need to encourage the production of food by producers in England and its production by them in an environmentally sustainable way.”

Amendment 141 seeks to provide powers for the Secretary of State to require landowners or managers to participate in landscape-scale land-use change projects. The Government recognise that the ELM scheme will be most successful if it has very high levels of participation. This could be particularly important when considering locally targeted or landscape-scale projects under tiers 2 and 3 of ELMS, especially where any such projects require collaboration. The Government are therefore working closely with stakeholders, including landowners, to ensure that the scheme is attractive and offers appropriate and sufficient incentives to secure the necessary voluntary participation in projects. Indeed, the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, was correct in saying that the use of coercion in these larger projects is very much against the spirit of the entire Bill.

With that, I ask the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Greaves Portrait Lord Greaves
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I thank the Minister but I have to say that those are the two most disappointing responses I have heard from Ministers during the entire Committee. I have spent a lifetime trying to get practical public projects of all sorts going—some big, some small—and, if I am an expert in anything, it is knowing about obstruction and delays, and overcoming those.

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Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Portrait Baroness Jones of Whitchurch
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My Lords, I will also speak briefly. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, for raising this issue. I had not considered it before so I am grateful to him for drawing our attention to it. I agree that we need provisions in force in the special circumstances of the use of common land; he made a very good case for the need for a multilateral approach to it. On that basis, I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist
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I thank the noble Lord, Lord Greaves for his amendment. He is absolutely right: our commons frequently provide some of the richest opportunities for the provision of environmental public goods and they are an important part of our cultural landscape. The Government are designing future financial assistance schemes to be accessible to as many farmers and land managers as possible. This includes tenant farmers and those who work on common land.

As part of the planned three-year pilot for ELM, the Government will be ensuring that it tests how best to enable commoners to participate and to provide those environmental benefits. To support the development of ELM, we are undertaking a number of tests and trials, working with farmers and land managers to co-design the new schemes. They will help us understand how the scheme could work in a real-life environment. Two of our tests and trials, on Dartmoor and in Cumbria, are looking at issues concerning common land.

The noble Lord, Lord Greaves was correct to identify the particular difficulties that can arise when administering payment schemes on common land. The general powers given by the Bill in Clause 1(1) and (2) will enable us to develop agreement terms which work for common land. I can add a bit more detail. The Federation of Cumbria Commoners, and partners, aims to develop and trial a delivery model for creating common-specific land management plans. These plans will support the pastoral economy and maintain the balance of the delicate ecosystems found on commons. The delivery model will encompass a commons toolkit, including baseline data gathering, producing maps, health checks for agreeing and enabling public good delivery, developing commons management plans and commons-proof recommendations for ELM.

If I can add any more detail to that brief answer, I will write to the noble Lord and put a copy in the Library. With that, I ask him to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Greaves Portrait Lord Greaves
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for her helpful reply. I look forward to getting as much extra detail as possible, particularly from the two trials that are taking place. I remind the Minister that, because of the sort of places they are, commons are all inherently different. What might be right for the large, upland commons in the Lake District, which cover most of the fells in many valleys, may not be right for what looks like just a field on the edge of a village. I look forward to hearing from the Minister again and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Lord Grantchester Portrait Lord Grantchester
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I thank noble Lords for tabling their amendments to Chapter 2 of Part 2, headed “Intervention in agricultural markets” under exceptional market conditions. These clauses—18 to 20—plus their application in Wales bring into domestic legislation the powers the European Commission had to provide emergency assistance in extreme, often weather-related, circumstances. The Secretary of State may modify this retained direct EU legislation by regulations and this would usually involve intervention on storage.

I am sure the Minister would wish to have these fallback provisions included in the Bill. Can she give any guidance as to how the Government might decide whether to intervene? While a member state, the UK was not noted for being eager to apply for these powers to be exercised and assistance to be provided. Do the Government have the inclination to utilise them and can the Minister give any general criteria?

I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, regarding welfare that in the wet weather period during the foot and mouth epidemic that struck the UK 20 years ago, the Government stepped in to provide welfare in buying up stranded animals that could not be moved because of the regulations. That was directly in support of welfare. I am not sure that all circumstances would pertain to the amendment she wishes to pursue.

In the past any support has been forthcoming only very late in an emergency and some considerable distance into a crisis. What assurance can the Government give about the exercise of these powers when a timely response to calls for support can be crucial to stabilise a market?

On the other hand, private storage can be notoriously difficult to bring into operation when required. Is the Minister sufficiently confident the UK has enough capacity in the various market sectors? Data on storage capacity could be included in the food security report. There was much debate and experience last year around storage in relation to stockpiling and the possibility, which still exists, that there could be no deal reached in time for the new trading relationship with the EU to be agreed. Can the Minister outline any conclusions and lessons learned regarding those circumstances?

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist
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My Lords, I begin with Amendments 174 and 285, in the name of my noble friend Lady McIntosh. I recognise my noble friend’s desire to ensure that farmers are protected against chronic disturbances such as structural market changes and disturbances caused by environmental factors such as severe weather or the Covid-19 pandemic. Indeed, a number of other noble Lords mentioned their concerns. The existing powers are sufficiently broad to ensure that agricultural producers will be covered should they need financial assistance due to exceptional market conditions caused by economic, environmental or other factors. In most cases, farmers already manage the effects of fluctuating weather conditions.

There are also powers in existing legislation that allow the Government to act in exceptional circumstances to support farmers in the event of extreme weather conditions. For example, the National Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 could be used to make one-off payments to farmers affected by extreme weather conditions. As we saw in response to recent flooding, the Government successfully launched a new farming recovery fund for England using powers under this NERC Act.

The particular powers in Clauses 18 and 19 are framed to deal with unforeseen short-term shocks to agricultural markets rather than chronic conditions. The Covid-19 situation is exactly the type of exceptional circumstance that these new powers are intended to address. Another example would be the dairy crisis in 2015, when the ending of EU dairy production quotas led to increased production, global dairy prices being low and rationed sanctions on imports of dairy products from the EU significantly reducing demand. This caused a sudden and significant drop in the price of dairy products across the EU. This event was unpredictable and caused a severe market disturbance, which had an effect on prices, and future circumstances such as these could be considered exceptional market circumstances.

The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, asked what we could do to support farmers when more long-lasting difficulties appear, including the after-effects of flooding. The Government want to encourage farmers to manage their own risk and become resilient to foreseeable disturbances. The Government will help farmers to invest in equipment, technology and infrastructure, which will support high-quality research to promote innovation and productivity in agriculture, horticulture and forestry to make farms more resilient. The Bill also sets out powers to strengthen fairness and transparency in the supply chain, enabling food producers to respond more effectively to market signals, strengthen their negotiating position at the farm gate and receive a fairer return.

The second aspect of the amendment seeks to ensure that disturbances caused by environmental factors will be covered by this clause. These powers are triggered by the effects of disturbances rather than by what has caused them. The exceptional market conditions powers could be used to address severe market disturbances caused by economic or environmental factors, so long as there is an adverse effect on the price achievable for one or more agricultural products.

The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, asked what is meant by “prices achievable” under Clause 2(b). The price achievable is to be given its ordinary meaning, and includes not having a product available to sell; in that case, the price achievable on the market would obviously be zero. The current Covid-19 pandemic is a disturbance caused by environmental factors and is exactly the type of exceptional circumstance that these new powers are intended to address. We could not have foreseen that this pandemic would be as wide-reaching or prolonged as it has been, and farmers could not have been expected to prepare for the disturbances in daily life it has caused. I understand that Welsh Ministers are content that the existing powers are sufficiently broad to ensure that agriculture producers in Wales will be covered should they need financial assistance due to market conditions.

Agriculture Bill

(Committee: 4th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords)
Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Excerpts
Thursday 16th July 2020

(7 months, 2 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber

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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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I thank my noble friend Lord Caithness for Amendment 73, with which I will take Amendment 144A from the noble Earl, Lord Devon, Amendment 272 from the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and Amendment 274 from the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. I thank all noble Lords who contributed to the debate.

From listening to many of the contributions, one would hardly think that, last June, the UK became the first major economy in the world to set a legally binding target to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions from across the UK economy by 2050. The UK already has a very strong foundation of action and leadership to build from, having cut our emissions by 42% since 1990, while growing the economy by 72%.

Climate change is a global challenge, requiring action across the whole economy. Unlike the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, I believe that urgency is felt across government. Defra has worked with the industry to reduce emissions through improved productivity. Since 1990, we are producing a litre of milk with 20% less greenhouse gas emissions, and a kilogram of pork with 37% less. Efficiency gains in dairy farming mean that we now produce 9% more milk than we did in 2000 with 23% fewer cows and 9% less greenhouse gas emissions.

Targets are set under the Climate Change Act, but we do not have sector-specific targets under that Act. Indeed, we are following the whole-economy approach advocated so eloquently by the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington. This is to ensure that we meet our climate change commitments at the lowest possible net cost to UK taxpayers, consumers and businesses, while maximising the social and economic benefits to the UK of the transition. To take up the points made by the noble Baroness, we think that the whole purpose of Clause 1 is clear, as expressed in subsection (4). In framing financial assistance schemes, we will have regard to the need to encourage environmentally sustainable food production, which will align the agriculture and food sectors.

However, I note with interest that the Committee on Climate Change’s Net Zero report from 2019 says:

“It is difficult to reduce agriculture emissions to near-zero given the inherent biological processes and chemical reactions arising from crops, soils and livestock.”

Therefore, I cannot reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, that net zero will be achieved by 2050, but we are doing everything we can to let it happen.

In its June 2020 report to Parliament on reducing emissions, the Committee on Climate Change provided recommendations for government departments, including Defra, on policy priorities to address net-zero climate mitigation and adaptation. We will consider this advice and provide a response before 15 October. I believe that the Bill addresses these targets in a very coherent way.

The Government recognise the contribution to greenhouse gas emissions made by the livestock and dairy sectors, while valuing the importance of our farmers in feeding the nation and managing our rural environment. Agricultural greenhouse gas emissions have reduced by 16% since 1990, as I said, with many farms using more efficient agricultural practices. Land use, land use change and forestry continue to provide benefits in carbon sequestration.

The Government recognise the importance of reducing emissions further in these sectors. The clean growth strategy and the 25-year environment plan should reassure the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, since they set out a range of specific commitments further to reduce emissions from agriculture, including through environmental land management, by strengthening biosecurity and control of endemic diseases in livestock, and by encouraging the use of low-emission fertilisers. The Government welcome the National Farmers Union’s ambition on this—indeed, its target is to reduce emissions by 2040—and the fact that the industry is taking this strong lead. Climate change represents a significant challenge, but also opportunities. We work closely on this issue with the NFU and other leading stakeholders, including the greenhouse gas action plan partners.

Clause 1(1)(d) enables the Secretary of State to give financial assistance for the purpose of

“managing land, water or livestock in a way that mitigates or adapts to climate change”,

which provides coverage for the reduction and sequestration of carbon emissions. I believe that that statement is very clear. With particular reference to my noble friend Lord Caithness’s Amendment 73, I note that all agricultural or horticultural activities that contribute towards this purpose would already be in scope of funding support under Clause 1(1)(d). For example, financial assistance could be used to incentivise farmers to manage their livestock in a way that reduces their greenhouse gas emissions by adjusting animal feed practices, or to incentivise crop rotation. This provides a foundation for continued improvements, which the Government will drive forward through giving productivity grants alongside introducing the new environmental land management scheme. ELM will ensure that farmers and other land managers are rewarded for delivering environmental outcomes that benefit us all. This new scheme will aim to deliver a range of environmental benefits, including the mitigation of, and adaption to, climate change. Land management activities that could be funded under ELM to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and sequester carbon include tree planting and peatland restoration.

At present, UK forests capture about 4% of our greenhouse gas emissions. We need those trees and forests to grow to capture more carbon. Defra is taking necessary steps to deliver a step change from current planting rates. I hope that reassures the noble Baroness, Lady Jones. Having announced the Nature4Climate fund, the Government are now consulting on a new England tree strategy. We invite input to shape our proposals to plant more trees, protect those we have and support the economy. I will certainly take on board the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Clark of Windermere, which the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, endorsed, regarding licences for the destruction of trees.

On Amendment 144A from the noble Earl, Lord Devon, the sooner the Government introduce these new schemes, the better for the environment. Reducing direct payments from 2021, as planned, will allow us to do so. Direct payments are untargeted and poor value for money, and deliver little for the environment. All ELMS will come into effect in 2024. Reductions to direct payments will free up money so that the Government can introduce pilots of the ELMS. It can also work to increase the number of farmers who are in new countryside stewardship scheme agreements.

The noble Lords, Lord Foulkes and Lord McConnell, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, also mentioned financial assistance for the devolved authorities. While agriculture is, as they all know, a devolved matter, I would like to reassure them that we are working very closely with officials in all the devolved authorities to establish common frameworks on agriculture. With these explanations, I ask my noble friend Lord Caithness to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Faulkner of Worcester) (Lab)
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My Lords, I have received requests to speak after the Minister from four noble Lords: the noble Baronesses, Lady Gardner of Parkes, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle and Lady Boycott, and the noble Earl, Lord Devon. I call first the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes Portrait Baroness Gardner of Parkes (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I congratulate the Minister on her speech. which covered most of the points I wished to make. However, I want to emphasise the importance of Amendment 75. The Minister drew attention to the improvements that have already been made. The detailed categories are set out in this amendment, but I believe they would benefit all. Public health outcomes must be borne in mind all the time. Our present virus situation has made us all much more aware of the need for this protection of the public. Allying that with improvements in the agricultural world is good. I do not wish to take up more time because this has been a very interesting and complete debate, but I support Amendment 75.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist
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I note my noble friend’s comments. I think she probably meant to refer to Amendment 73, which is in this group. I thank her for her comments.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees
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I now call the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle. The noble Lord, Lord Lilley, will speak after the noble Earl, Lord Devon.

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Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle [V]
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I thank the noble Lord for his comment. I was coming to my last sentence, which is this: does the Minister acknowledge that there is support from all sides of your Lordships’ House for including a commitment to climate change action in the Bill? Will she and the Government at least go away and think again?

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist
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I acknowledge the support from all sides of the House for all that we can do to encourage climate change mitigation, but I believe that that intention is already fully provided in Bill.

Baroness Boycott Portrait Baroness Boycott (CB) [V]
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My Lords, I add my support for Amendment 272. I shall make a few points, while being mindful of what the Minister just said.

Healthy land is also healthy food. At the moment so much of our acreage is given over to growing grains that end up in very cheap, white, processed bread and the like. These fields are covered in chemicals. Any move that we can make in the right direction not only improves our biodiversity—agriculture is to blame for the 80% loss that has been suffered across the world—but is a win-win situation. I do not understand why the Government appear to be afraid of setting a target. We cannot make this target without agriculture being part of it; it is too big a part of our system.

Henry Dimbleby is producing a report for the Government, and I am very proud to say that I am an adviser on it. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, that an interim report is coming soon. If the Agriculture Bill does not set up sufficient pillars and legislation to change the way we farm, which can then change the way we eat, Henry Dimbleby’s terrific report will not have the impact that it needs.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist
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I agree with everything the noble Baroness has said about healthy land meaning healthy food. The Bill is designed to do all that we can to encourage farmers to produce healthy land. We do not have a sector-specific target for agriculture because the Committee on Climate Change advised that emissions reductions would be needed in all sectors. We know that to achieve net zero more is needed from this sector, and we are looking to reduce agricultural emissions controlled directly within the farm boundary with a broad range of cost-effective measures, primarily through improvements in on-farm efficiency and land use change.

Earl of Devon Portrait The Earl of Devon [V]
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My Lords, I am sorry to return to this point—I am being forced to become something of an environmental campaigner. I have a simple question which has not yet been answered. Are the Government satisfied that the agricultural transition will not slow or reverse our progress towards net zero in 2050?

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist
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I can confirm that we are absolutely confident that we are doing everything in legislation and encouragement in order to achieve that end.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees
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After the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, I will call the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, who has requested to speak.

Lord Lilley Portrait Lord Lilley (Con)
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I congratulate my noble friend on being the only person in this debate who has raised the question of whether the net-zero target for agriculture is feasible. Does she agree that probably the most realistic assessment of realistic steps to achieve net zero is the report Absolute Zero by the Universities of Cambridge, Oxford, Bath, Nottingham and Strathclyde, and Imperial College, which said that even a massive expansion of forestry will have only a small effect? It therefore concludes that to achieve zero emissions from agriculture would require,

“beef and lamb phased out by 2050 and replaced by greatly expanded demand for vegetarian food.”

I hope she will make it clear to the House that if we accept these amendments we are mandating the end of lamb and cattle farming in this country.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist
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We are not accepting these amendments. I take my noble friend’s point. We should always have absolute zero as our goal because it will enable us to move as far towards that goal as possible.

Baroness Worthington Portrait Baroness Worthington [V]
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I am grateful to be able to speak a second time. I echo the comments of the noble Earl, Lord Devon, and ask the Minister how she can be confident that we will not see backsliding and an increase in emissions, given that we will lose cross-compliance and we have no sectoral targets for this very important sector. If they were set, it would drive investment into the sector, since it is the sector that can help to offset emissions in other parts of the economy. I simply ask the Minister to reconsider. This would be a beneficial addition to this framework legislation, to prevent backsliding and drive investment.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist
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As I have said already, from next year we will bring forward grants and new countryside stewardship and productivity schemes that will prevent the backsliding that we all want to prevent.

Earl of Caithness Portrait The Earl of Caithness [V]
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My Lords, I am extremely grateful to all noble Lords who have participated in the debate and for the very helpful comments that have been made all around the Chamber. It was interesting to hear my noble friend Lord Marlesford’s statistics. I would only say to him that the whole pattern of rainfall is changing. Last winter, the rainfall in Caithness was significantly below average, whereas in parts of Hampshire it was about 170% or more above average—so the year’s average might equate, but the time and quantity of rain and drought that one is now getting have changed.

The noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, was absolutely right to say that the amendments are of prime importance and something should be included in the Bill. Therefore, I was a little disappointed by what my noble friend said in her reply. I will read with care what she said, but I think that she missed two crucial points that I sought to make in justification of my amendment. Her examples were all of mitigation. I am not worried about mitigation: mitigation is to make less severe or alleviate, which is but one aspect of what we are talking about. Adaptation is to adjust or modify. That is another aspect. What the Bill does not cover satisfactorily, according to the legal advice that I have had, is the word “sequester”, which is a hugely important addition that needs to be made to the Bill at the next stage.

The other point that I sought to make in justification of my amendment was that it should be a condition of financial assistance that sequestration of climate change emissions is included in whatever ELM one is talking about. We desperately need to take more carbon out of the atmosphere, not just mitigate it. I hope that, between now and the next stage, the Minister will meet me to discuss this because, as the Bill stands, it does not meet the point that I have been trying to make. Meanwhile, I am reluctantly content to withdraw my amendment.

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Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Portrait Baroness Jones of Whitchurch
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My Lords, I was pleased to add my name to this amendment, and I will speak briefly in support of it.

Many local farmers have trusted and long-standing relationships with their local abattoir, and it is therefore very distressing when they have to close. As we have heard, it means longer and more stressful journeys for the animals concerned and clearly has a negative impact on their welfare. It also means that the Government are failing in their stated objective to reduce travel times for slaughter.

For farmers wanting to sell their meat as a specified farm product, through so-called private kill arrangements, it also means a more complicated process for retrieving the carcass and ensuring that it is properly labelled. Yet we are all in favour of local food production with specified provenance, which is really appreciated by consumers and can help to add value and boost the rural economy.

Of course, it is important that local abattoirs meet our high slaughterhouse standards and are properly supervised and certified, and this amendment would do nothing to undermine that important principle. I therefore hope that the Minister will feel able to support this small but significant amendment. It is not the total answer to the fate of our small abattoirs, but it would represent a small step forward.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist
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I thank the noble Lord, Lord Trees, for his amendment, which highlights the many activities associated with the production of food along the supply chain. In doing so, I acknowledge the fine work of the APPG for Animal Welfare, which he chairs so ably. The Government are committed to addressing the issues raised by its recent report on small abattoirs.

Given his detailed work as chair of that group, I am sure that the noble Lord will agree that the issues faced by small abattoirs are complex and unlikely to be resolved through intervention alone. I know at first hand the advantages of small local abattoirs from the days when I used to deliver my Black Welsh Mountain sheep to the Witney abattoir on the school run—actually, it was on the return from the school run, as I was a little squeamish for the children.

I am delighted to say that we have had it confirmed that the definition of ancillary activities in Clause 1(5) covers slaughtering under either “preparing” or “processing”.

Noble Lords asked a number of questions, which I would like to address. The noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, asked why micro-abattoirs are not listed as a public good. They are an important part of the agricultural supply chain, but they operate on a commercial basis and therefore do not directly meet the principles of public good. Public goods that may be derived from small abattoirs, such as improved animal welfare or environmental impact, are obviously already covered by Clause 1.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson of Abinger, ably asked many questions about religious slaughter. The Government encourage the highest standards of animal welfare. Although our policy is to prefer that animals are stunned prior to slaughter, we accept the rights of Jewish and Muslim communities to eat meat killed in accordance with their religious beliefs. No regulations require the labelling of halal or kosher meat, but where any information of this nature is provided voluntarily, it must be accurate and must not be misleading to the consumer. The Government expect the industry, whether food producer or outlet, to provide consumers with all the information they need to make informed choices. The Government have committed to a serious and rapid examination of the role of labelling in promoting high standards and high welfare across the UK market and will consult on this at the end of the transition period. I should also say that farm assurance schemes apply standards of production that include slaughter requirements; for example, Red Tractor and RSPCA-assured schemes require stunned slaughter.

I hope that I have given noble Lords sufficient assurance that this issue has already been dealt with. With that, I ask the noble Lord, Lord Trees, to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Trees Portrait Lord Trees [V]
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I thank everybody who has spoken so eloquently in support of this amendment. I am very grateful. I thank the Minister for her response. She said something significant: that slaughtering is covered by “processing”. I would appreciate it if we could have that confirmed in writing or in a subsequent meeting; I am sure that the other noble Lords who put their names to this amendment would also appreciate that. We need to be assured that that is the case; otherwise, we would want to bring the amendment back on Report. Meanwhile, I am happy to withdraw the amendment.

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Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist
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I thank the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, for tabling Amendment 105, with which I will also address Amendments 107 and 104, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and Amendment 127, tabled by my noble friend Lady McIntosh. The Government’s 2019 manifesto guarantees the current annual budget in every year of the new Parliament, which gives significant certainty on funding for the coming years. We demonstrated our commitment to this further when, in December 2019, the Chancellor announced £2.852 billion of funding for direct payments in the UK for 2020.

The noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, mentioned the cut in financial support. The maximum reduction of £150 million will immediately be ploughed back into the new countryside stewardship scheme and the productivity grant, which will be brought in next year. I hope that this also reassures the noble Baronesses, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick and Lady Northover.

The Government have reflected carefully on the scrutiny by the other place during the passage of the previous Agriculture Bill, and we introduced Clause 4 to address the concerns raised about funding. The clause requires the Government to publish a multi-annual financial assistance plan before the start of the agricultural transition. This will set out the strategic priorities for the transition and describe the financial assistance schemes expected to be in operation during the transition. As part of our commitment under Clause 4, and to ensure that we keep stakeholders aware of the latest developments, I can confirm that the Government intend to set out our plans for financial assistance during the first years of the transition in the early autumn.

Clause 4(2)(b) already places a duty on the Secretary of State to have regard to the strategic priorities established when making any decisions regarding what financial assistance schemes are to be supported under Clause 1. The noble Lord, Lord Addington, asked about the Government’s requirements to report. This is covered in detail in Clause 6. In addition, Clause 5 commits the Government to publish annual reports on the total amount spent on financial assistance, as well as the total spent on each financial assistance scheme. Clause 6 requires periodic reports on the impact and effectiveness of spending on financial assistance schemes.

There are existing processes for determining funding arrangements. These will apply to domestic spending when we leave the EU. Parliament has the opportunity to vote on Defra’s budget each year through the estimates process, and of course the EFRA Committee takes a close interest in scrutinising Defra’s accounts.

The noble Baroness, Lady Scott, also asked about the link between public access and the Government’s strategic priorities. I believe that Clause 1(1)(b) embodies this link. Clause 1(1) also covers access. The multiannual financial assistance plan will require the Government to publish information about their strategic priorities and how the financial assistance powers in Clause 1 will be used in future years. The Government make decisions through a structured and comprehensive process, which allows us to assess spending in the round.

On Amendment 123, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, the running costs for Defra and the Defra group are considered separately from the payments being made to beneficiaries. As the Government continue to develop their future schemes, they may find that they need to include some administration costs for third parties, such as those potentially incurred to run farm clusters or other groups that bring multiple farmers and land managers together to work in partnership. There may be very valid reasons why administration or consultancy costs may be higher than 5%. For example, investing in the early years of a scheme, when development and testing are critical, could lead to greater efficiencies and refinements later.

On Amendment 112, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, and Amendment 128, in the name of my noble friend Lady Rock, the Government are determined that farming in the UK should not see a reduction in government support at this very important time. That is why they have pledged to guarantee the current annual budget in every year of the new Parliament. The Government recognise that even with the best financial planning, underspends can happen. The concept the amendments raise would, in principle, be beneficial. However, legislation is not the best route to pursue this. Instead, it is more appropriate that the Government first discuss such an arrangement as part of the spending review process, when they will look at spending priorities across government. We should not legislate now for such flexibility without going through the proper process to ensure that spending can be considered in the round.

I will address Amendments 131 and 133, in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Devon, alongside Amendment 132, in the name of my noble friend Lord Lucas. Clause 4 replicates existing multiyear funding cycles, but provides for some flexibility as necessary around the length of individual plans. As the clause stands, it states that future plans must be for at least five years. The Secretary of State has discretion to design a longer plan, which I hope will reassure the noble Lords, Lord Cameron and Lord Wigley. The first plan was designed to cover the whole seven-year transition, to provide certainty to farmers while they adapt to the significant changes that the transition will bring. Although plans must run for at least five years, the Secretary of State has discretion to design a longer plan. The first plan will span the length of the agricultural transition and run for the seven years. This is an example of the Government’s commitment to designing plans appropriately with regard to farmers’ needs.

I was asked by the noble Earl, Lord Devon, why we could not confirm the budget for the length of the agricultural transition. Future funding allocations will be determined through future fiscal events, as is right and proper, to ensure that government spending is considered in the round. The regular cycle of spending reviews, single departmental plans and supply estimates at departmental level is well established. Parliament can vote on Defra’s budget each year through the estimates process.

The clause also states that the first plan period will run for the seven years. It will expire at the end of 2027 and the next plan must be in place by 1 January 2028. Therefore, it is likely that the renewal of plans will happen at a different time from elections, although of course that cannot be guaranteed. I assure noble Lords that there will always be a multiannual financial assistance plan in place, with no gaps.

The agriculture transition will be a key time for the development of government policy. Schemes will be tested and piloted, and the findings from those experiences will inform the development of future schemes and strategic objectives. Accelerating the production of future plans during the agriculture transition period would be counterproductive to our aim of assessing schemes and taking a considered view of what works and what does not.

Clause 4 requires that a multiannual plan be updated and put before Parliament as soon as it is practicable to do so. This requirement will ensure that the plan is a live document that can respond to any necessary changes to financial assistance schemes or strategic objectives.

On Amendment 126, tabled by my noble friend Lord Northbrook, Clause 4 already places a requirement on the Secretary of State to consider in as much detail as considered appropriate each financial assistance scheme that is in or will be in operation during the plan period. If deemed appropriate, this could include how the scheme is to give regard to the production of food in an environmentally sustainable way.

Amendment 138 concerns reports on financial assistance and is in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Addington. Clause 5 as drafted already commits to providing an appropriate level of detail and clarity on the delivery of public goods through each scheme. Furthermore, it is important to note that many of the schemes that the Government are developing, and the individual actions within those schemes, cover multiple purposes. For instance, under ELM we might pay for hedge planting to protect or improve the environment while also restoring cultural or natural heritage and at the same time protecting from or reducing environmental hazards. It would not always be possible to unpick these relationships.

I turn now to Amendment 139 on monitoring the impacts of financial assistance in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs. Clause 6 already requires the Secretary of State to monitor the impact of each financial assistance scheme and make one or more reports on the impact and effectiveness of the scheme, having had regard to the monitoring effects that have taken place.

On Amendment 129 in the name of my noble friend Lady Rock and Amendments 134 and 137 tabled by my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering, the Government are committed to achieving their aim of leaving the environment in a better state than they found it. That is why they seek to legislate for environment improvement plans in the Environment Bill. Environment improvement plans will have the objective of delivering significant improvement to the natural environment. Plans must set out the specific steps that the Government intend to take to improve the natural environment.

My noble friend Lady McIntosh and the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, also asked about the Office for Environmental Protection. Under the Environment Bill, the OEP is required to monitor progress on improving the natural environment. It must produce an annual report on its findings and could, for example, recommend that additional funding be provided to deliver the purposes set out in Clause 1 of this Bill. Where issues are identified, the OEP may engage in constructive dialogue with the Government and advise on necessary remedial measures. The OEP can also investigate alleged serious breaches of environmental law by public authorities and take legal action where necessary. The reports of the OEP must be published and laid before Parliament and the Government are specifically required to address any recommendations made. Therefore, when the Secretary of State determines the funding for the strategic priorities set out in the Government’s multiannual financial assistance plans, they will be able to consider any advice provided by the OEP under its duties as set out in the Environment Bill. The Secretary of State will also have had to respond to any advice. Both the OEP’s reports and the Secretary of State’s responses will be published and laid before Parliament.

The Government are actively engaging with many public bodies about the proposed future financial assistance schemes, for example, 17 environmental land management schemes and tests and trials projects are working with public bodies including national park authorities, Historic England, Natural England, the Environment Agency, the Forestry Commission and the National Association for Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty to provide expert insight and input into the development of policy.

I turn now to Amendment 232 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle. The Government already produce reports that cover a number of these points. For example, Defra publishes a set of England biodiversity indicators to assist in the evaluation of progress on the outcomes and commitments of Biodiversity 2020, our strategy for England’s wildlife and ecosystems. In addition, the Government produce the Agriculture in the UK report annually, which contains a range of data including farm incomes, land use, livestock numbers, prices, the production of key commodities, overseas trade, organic farming and the environment. A new requirement to report on the state of agricultural land would replicate what is already available.

The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, asked a number of rather gloomy questions, which I will endeavour to address. There are a lot of different schemes, and a lot of advice will be provided. The environmental land management scheme is running live tests and trials to test how elements of the scheme will work ahead of the national pilot. Advice and guidance is one of the priority areas, and 34 tests and trials are feeding into that theme. Evidence shows that for advice to be effective, it must be trusted, consistent, credible and cost effective. The Government are considering how these principles can be embedded into advice for all schemes and are working with farmers and other land managers to do so.

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Earl of Devon Portrait The Earl of Devon [V]
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My Lords, I am sorry for keeping us late. I note that I can hear the combine rolling outside my window—today is the first day of combining. The farmers are still working late, so I am sure that noble Lords will not mind working a little late too. I thank the Minister for confirming that the multiannual financial assistance plan will be published in early autumn this year. Does that mean that the Government agree to Amendment 133?

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist
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I am afraid that I cannot give the noble Earl that assurance at this juncture.

Lord Lucas Portrait Lord Lucas [V]
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My Lords, I apologise to the Minister if I did not hear her answer correctly, but I did not detect an answer to my Amendment 132. Surely it is not acceptable for the Government to publish a new five-year plan on the last day of the old one. That would cause enormous disruption to agriculture. People would be unable to plan until the new plan was there and then it would then take them a year or so to put their new plans into place. We would get a year when nothing was happening. Surely there must be a decent overlap.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist
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As I think I said in my speech, we have built flexibility in to the planning stage, although it does not need to be five years, and in all cases there will be no gap between one plan and another.

Lord Grantchester Portrait Lord Grantchester
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I thank all contributors to this debate for speaking to the various amendments. Even the negative comments were interesting.

If the Government commit to having multiannual plans, as stated in the Bill, it would seem conceivable that they would honour a package that financed the plan ahead in its entirety from the start through to the finish. The amendments scrutinise the Government’s plans around financial assistance in delivering outcomes that are sufficiently robust in their application—with the necessary oversight, as stressed by the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra.

I thank especially the noble Baroness, Lady Rock, for her amendment in sympathy with mine and the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, for her emphasis on a robust implementation plan being adopted by Defra. I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, for adding his support.

As with so much in every group of amendments, the Minister has been exhaustive and considerate in responding to the many points raised. Along with other noble Lords, I will consider her reply carefully, but at this stage I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Agriculture Bill

(Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords)
Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Excerpts
Tuesday 14th July 2020

(7 months, 2 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber

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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Portrait Baroness Jones of Whitchurch (Lab)
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My Lords, I declare an interest through my involvement with the Rothamsted agricultural research institute. We have covered a wide range of issues in this group and I thank all noble Lords who contributed to the debate last week and again today. The amendments explore in more detail what we will need to deliver environmentally sustainable agriculture. We have had reference to nature-friendly farming, to agroecological systems, to agroforestry, to organically and ecologically sustainable systems, to the improved nutrient content of crops, to integrated pest management and to the importance of soil health. I agree with all those concepts, but also with my noble friend Lady Quin that we need to be clear about the definitions of these phrases when we use them.

All these systems have detailed research behind them, which reinforces the evidence that harnessing nature can improve farm outcomes, as well as enhancing the environment. Many noble Lords will have seen at first hand the positive impact on farmland productivity that can occur when these techniques are embraced. At the same time, we know that nature-based measures to reduce emissions can make a substantial contribution to tackling climate change while preserving or restoring habitats. We agree that natural ecological processes and agroforestry techniques should lie at the heart of the Bill. When adopted on a whole-farm approach, they will reduce the use of agrochemicals, encourage biodiversity, improve soil health, recycle nutrients, energy and waste and generally create more diverse, resilient and productive agroecosystems.

Last year, the RSA Food, Farming and Countryside Commission report set out the case for bringing agroecology systems out of the shadows and into the mainstream of farming practice. It argued that farmers need to be helped to make that transition and recommended a 10-year programme to provide more research, training and capital grants to make this a reality. This would be an excellent use of the financial assistance in the Bill.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, who talked about the need for a long-term programme of soil monitoring. We face a fundamental eradication of soil fertility that will be difficult to reverse. Our APPG on science in agriculture had an excellent evidence session last year on the numerous research projects taking place on this issue, but what we really need is to bring the evidence together in one place. While I am on the subject, will the Minister update us on the work of the Sustainable Soils Alliance, launched by Michael Gove, that was meant to do just that?

The noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, specifically mentioned the transition to organic farming. I agree that this also has an important role to play. Organic farms have 50% more wildlife than conventionally farmed land and healthier soils, with a 44% higher capacity to store long-term soil carbon. Clearly, if the soil is more fertile, it increases productivity, so organic farming can make a real difference to biodiversity while sustaining food production.

The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and others talked about agroforestry. We agree that this system of planting has huge benefits over traditional forestry techniques. We know that the pressure is on to plant more trees. The Committee on Climate Change has set a target of between 30,000 and 50,000 hectares of new planting a year, but so far the Government have fallen well short of that target. It is important that trees are planted in a way that is sympathetic to the countryside and to the environment, rather than the monoculture plantations we have seen in the past. Agroforestry supplies the answer to this. Mixed plantings of trees and shrubs grown around crops can reduce erosion, increase biodiversity and create complex habitats, so we very much hope that financial assistance will be available to help farmers to create this mixed planting economy.

Finally, the amendments in the name of noble Baronesses, Lady Bennett and Lady Finlay, highlight the need to reduce the use of herbicides and pesticides. The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, in particular, highlighted the potentially damaging impacts of pesticides on health, and recommended looking at the evidence and producing an annual report. These views were echoed powerfully by the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, and the very moving examples he gave. The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, also rightly raised the need to avoid contaminated products being imported into this country. We agree with these objectives and have our own amendments, Amendment 226 on pesticides and Amendment 173 calling for a national food plan that addresses the problem of pesticide residues. I hope that the debates on these amendments will enable us to set out our position in more detail.

This has been a good discussion and I hope the Minister has heard the collective call for a funding priority for nature-based ecological farming. I am sure we will start to narrow down our priorities in this regard as we continue to consider the Bill, but in the meantime I look forward to her response.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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I thank my noble friend Lord Lucas for his Amendments 29 and 217, with which I will also discuss Amendment 224 in the name of my noble friend Lord Caithness. Soil is indeed one of our greatest natural assets and the Government are committed to having sustainably managed soils by 2030, as set out in the 25-year environment plan. Providing financial incentives for protecting and improving the quality of soil will help to protect and improve all the properties that contribute to healthy soil. The 25-year environment plan sets out the Government’s ambition to have sustainably managed soils by 2030. A healthy soils indicator is being developed as part of a framework of indicators under the plan.

My noble friend Lord Caithness asked about spending commitments in the plan. This spend has been allocated to developing a robust and informative soil health indicator and monitoring scheme, and the Government are currently in the process of confirming actions for their work programme to protect and improve soil quality. The Government will develop a definition of soil health with stakeholders. To ensure that it captures the complete picture of soil health, this definition will be a balance of biological, chemical and physical characteristics, and could therefore include characteristics that help define the biodiverse nature of the soil, such as earthworms and fungi, as mentioned by my noble friend Lord Lucas.

To help achieve this target, the Government are considering the development of a soil monitoring scheme informed by natural capital approaches. As such, this scheme will recognise the relationships between soil properties and the ecosystem services that soil provides, such as clean water and carbon storage. A new soil monitoring scheme would provide a baseline national-scale picture of the state of our soils. This will enable the Government to quantify targets for improvements and then monitor progress towards these targets. These metrics could directly feed into ELM to incentivise better management approaches. Maintaining the metrics of measure across national and localised schemes will enable shared data collection, storage and analysis to further inform impacts of management actions.

There are a number of key vehicles through which the Government are working to address soil quality. These include: this Bill, which will provide financial assistance for the protection and improvement of soils; the Environment Bill, which will allow a future soils target to be set; the 25-year environment plan, through which a soil indicator is being developed; and the new ELM scheme, which could act as a lever for incentivising sustainable soil practices. Protecting and improving our soils will involve a wide variety of actions, reflecting the wide diversity in soil quality, soil types and land uses in England. This would include actions to protect our best grade 1 and 2 lands as well as actions to improve the poorer-quality grade land—in the words of the father of the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, farming within the grain of nature, cropping not quarrying.

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Lord Teverson Portrait Lord Teverson (LD) [V]
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I thank the Minister very much for her positive reaction to agroecology and agroforestry. However, one of the main themes of both those practices is whole-farm management. I am concerned that, under tier 1 of ELMS, there is the possibility of a number of environmentally friendly actions taking place but that this not being reflected in a whole-farm environment. Will Defra and the Government, particularly when they award tier 1 ELM schemes, look for a whole-farm approach rather than a bits-and-pieces application of environmentally friendly measures? That is my key concern. Whole-farm management has been a major theme all around the House. Would the ELM scheme mean that it would be applied across all the measures taken?

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist
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I thank the noble Lord for his question about whole-farm management. The ELM schemes are very much in trial stage; nothing has been ruled out or in. That will become clearer over the coming months.

I shall also take this opportunity to give the definition of agroecology that I was looking for earlier and floundering. Agroecology means different things to different people, but in this Bill it is based on applying ecological concepts and principles to optimise interactions between plants, animals, humans and the environment, while taking into consideration the social aspects that need to be addressed for a sustainable and fair food system.

Baroness Henig Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees
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I now call the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, who I understand also has a question.

Lord Lucas Portrait Lord Lucas (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I am extremely grateful to my noble friend for her answer, which was very encouraging. However, on my specific amendments, will she confirm so that it is clearly on the record that the Government consider soil, for the purposes of this Bill, to include all that lives within it? If not now, can my noble friend write to me to say how the soil survey is intended to be set up and funded?

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist
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I would be delighted to write to the noble Lord on the latter matter. On his former point, I believe that my speech actually gave the reassurance that it includes all matters within the soil.

Lord Lucas Portrait Lord Lucas [V]
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I am immensely grateful for the response given by my noble friends and I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Agriculture Bill

(Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords)
Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Excerpts
Thursday 9th July 2020

(7 months, 3 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber

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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Baroness Wilcox of Newport Portrait Baroness Wilcox of Newport (Lab) [V]
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This amendment is to examine whether, or indeed how, a better balance can be struck between the interests of landowners and members of the public who wish to access the countryside.

The ability to access so much of Britain’s countryside is one of our great national traditions, and it plays an important role in leisure, education and our wider economy. I am indeed fortunate to live in a country within the wider UK where so much natural beauty is literally on my doorstep. From the Vale of Usk to the Brecon Beacons and the magnificence of the post-industrial south Wales valleys, the beauty and elegance of our countryside is a joy and treasure that must be protected and balanced for the preservation of our future generations. Indeed, as noble Lords have noted in the debate, rights and responsibilities must be evenly balanced. As a former leader of a local authority, when residents’ complaints came in, I was often quoted as saying that the council does not have a littering department; it is in fact people who litter their rural and urban environments and leave it to councils to clear it up afterwards.

The Countryside Code is a readily available and easily accessible document which aims to ensure that guests are respectful of the local community and to continue the preservation of the condition of the countryside. In addition, we welcome the fact that a revised Covid-19 code was published in an attempt to drive home the key messages at a time when more people may have been visiting the countryside. We hope this simpler messaging will be carried forward, even as the public health situation improves.

However, as with any form of ownership, owning land involves a balance of rights and responsibilities; rights of access are established, and the responsibilities and costs associated with them should therefore not come as a surprise to the landowner. As my noble friend Lord Rooker said, access is here to stay but it has to be managed, and serious fly-tipping must be followed up and traced back to where it came from. Indeed, the police should take a greater role in such enforcement. There may be some merit in exploring what more can be done to minimise extra costs on landowners, but that should not necessarily come at the expense of wider support for agriculture and horticulture.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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My Lords, I believe that we all share the concerns of my noble friend Lord Caithness about the cost to landowners, local authorities and the National Trust and other bodies of littering and fly-tipping. Indeed, the noble Earl, Lord Devon, spoke powerfully about this issue on Tuesday. He was also very generous in not seeking to prevent others enjoying his land so long as no damage is done—a positive approach also promoted by the noble Lord, Lord Rooker. As we just heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, rights come with responsibilities. However, I point out that the provision of access to private land is still voluntary.

As we discussed on Tuesday, public access to the countryside provides a huge range of benefits, including improving physical and mental health and supporting local communities and economies. I understand that, at times, providing such public access can bring about some extra costs and risks to land managers. We will be working closely with stakeholders to understand the full costs of providing access, to make sure that the system works for land managers.

I thank my noble friend for raising this issue. It is important to make sure that the Countryside Code is as effective as possible in promoting responsible behaviour. As my noble friend the Minister said on Tuesday, and my noble friend Lord Cormack also mentioned, Natural England will soon start work on refreshing the Countryside Code to ensure that these messages are communicated effectively.

It is vital that young people are taught about the environment, and a number of noble Lords mentioned the importance of education. For that reason, related topics on the environment and the countryside are included throughout the geography and science GCSE curriculums. As part of that, the national curriculum programme of study recommends that pupils should use the local environment to support their learning in these areas.

A number of noble Lords mentioned enforcement, and a number of bits of legislation that cover littering are already in place. The main piece, which covers littering and refuse, is Part 4 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990. Crucially, Section 87 of that Act states that it is an offence for a person to drop, throw down, leave or deposit litter in a public place, and it carries a maximum fine of £2,500 and can be tried in a magistrates’ court. Furthermore, current by-law legislation allows local authorities to restrict and enforce the use of disposable barbecues in public parks and spaces. There are existing powers in legislation which can be used by authorities. I should point out that in our manifesto we committed to increasing the penalties for fly-tipping.

The Bill includes powers to provide financial assistance to promote better understanding of the environment. Better understanding of the environment could include, for example, help for land managers to communicate to visitors the types of messages which are in the Countryside Code. All these actions will help to ensure that the impact of public access is as positive as possible and that any risk of damage is kept to a minimum.

A number of noble Lords mentioned fly-tipping and the hazards it has created in the countryside. I, too, have observed hideous instances of fly-tipping in my small village where farm gateways are regularly used to deposit mattresses and fridges which then get burned out, so I share the concerns raised by my noble friends Lord Trenchard and Lord Shrewsbury and the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, but I do not agree that it is just laziness, as suggested by the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell. This is criminal behaviour which is addressed through the criminal courts.

It would be good to think that eventually, with education, we can change the culture of whoever it is, from the dog owner in Richmond Park to the people who at the end of lockdown enjoyed the beaches but left so much litter behind. With that emphasis on education and with proper enforcement, littering will become as anti-social as drink-driving has now become.

Lord Bates Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Bates) (Con)
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My Lords, I have received two requests from noble Lords to speak after the Minister.

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Lord Northbrook Portrait Lord Northbrook (Con)
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My Lords, I declare my interest as a landowner and an arable farmer. I support my noble friend’s amendment in principle. However, I would like to distinguish direct damage caused to farmers’ livestock by, for instance, out-of-control dogs and leaving farm gates open. That is definitely connected to agriculture, but I note the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Addington, that the problem of dumping refuse and fly-tipping can be considered more as an environmental issue. They may be more suited to the forthcoming Environment Bill. Does the Minister have a view on that?

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist
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I think many noble Lords will have every sympathy with the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, and her experiences on her smallholding. Damage, theft, poaching and the theft of diesel are all criminal acts. If the perpetrator is caught, they can, as the noble Lord, Lord Addington, correctly suggested, be charged with trespass, which can be brought by farmers and owners for damage done while trespassing. The criminal justice system already has these things at its disposal.

My noble friend Lord Northbrook makes an interesting point about the difference between direct damage to livestock by dogs off leads and such things, but I do not believe that fly-tipping has a place in the Environment Bill. It is already covered in legislation. The key to all this, as many noble Lords have said, is better enforcement and perhaps more video cameras installed by landowners so that some of these perpetrators can be caught.

Earl of Caithness Portrait The Earl of Caithness [V]
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have participated in the discussion of this amendment. I am delighted that I degrouped it from the group that we discussed on Tuesday because it was well worth a discussion in its own right.

Let me first say to the noble Lord, Lord Rooker—I am delighted to see him back with us—that I am not against access. As I said on Tuesday, access to the countryside was essential in getting better after my accident. I was on footpaths in a wheelchair and then on crutches and on sticks, so I am a great believer in public access. What I am trying to balance is the right for us to go to the countryside and get all the benefit from it and what is going to happen to people’s livelihoods and property.

We heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, of some of the problems that she faced. The Minister’s reply was “Well, they’re criminal offences anyway”, but they are not being enforced. Rural crime is rising, and there is great concern among those in rural areas that they are being left out. There are not enough police to go around, and the police are too busy to take rural crime seriously. There is a fundamental problem here that the Government need to address. I hope that the Minister will take this a lot more seriously than she appeared to do when she replied.

The noble Lord, Lord Addington, said that there is going to be no fly-tipping on footpaths. Let me draw his attention to the Defra statistics. In the 12 months up to March 2019, fly-tipping on footpaths and bridleways rose from 164,000 cases to 187,000 cases. That is a substantial increase. Footpaths and bridleways cannot be ignored in this problem. If there is a place that people can fly-tip or drop litter, they will do so. As the statistics from the Royal Parks show, one in five people is prepared to do that. Yes, we are talking about a minority, but it is a minority that can cause severe damage and impinge on people’s livelihoods.

This comes back to enforcement, and I hope that the Minister will spare time between now and the next stage to meet me to discuss this. I think the Government’s intention is right and that their hearts are in the right place, but action is not going with it. I am very frightened, as, indeed, are a great number of farmers, that the provisions of the Bill are not going to help. Yes, they want public access, and I am against farmers who do not give that access and embrace it enthusiastically, but it is only fair that the balance is set out in a better way than it is at the moment.

I thank the Minister for her reply. I hope she will write to me on the questions that she did not answer, such as about what has happened to the fire severity index, and a number of other questions that I posed to her. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Break in Debate

Lord Faulkner of Worcester Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committee
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Is the noble Lord, Lord Clark of Windermere, still on the call? No. In that case, I call the noble Baroness, Lady Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist
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I thank the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, for Amendments 19, 52 and 102 on the subject of rewilding and native species. I am very grateful for his elegant elucidation of what he means by rewilding and what it does and does not include.

I can confirm that the Government are committed to providing opportunities for reintroductions where the environmental and socioeconomic benefits are clear. Perhaps at this stage I should draw noble Lords’ attention to Clause 1(1)(4). In the words of my noble friend the Minister, there is a balance to be struck. Clause 1(1)(4) says:

“In framing any financial assistance scheme, the Secretary of State must have regard to the need to encourage the production of food by producers in England and its production by them in an environmentally sustainable way.”

We understand how the reintroduction of species can play an integral role in increasing biodiversity and restoring natural processes, as well as in other environmental outcomes such as climate change mitigation and adaption. The Government have already supported the reintroduction of native species in this country, such as the pine marten, the red kite and—as I am sure my noble friend Lord Randall and the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, will be pleased to hear—the large blue butterfly. A number of noble Lords also mentioned other initiatives. We are keen to explore, through ELMS for example, where the reintroduction of species could be effective in delivering diversity and carbon benefits. My noble friend Lord Lucas mentioned the excellent work of Kew, with the provision of its seed bank.

However, my noble friends the Duke of Montrose and Lord Taylor of Holbeach and the noble Earl, Lord Devon, all injected a note of caution into the debate. These initiatives can often need more management than is anticipated. Beavers, mink and wild boar have all created some severe consequences for landscapes. Natural England is analysing the results of the Devon trial on the reintroduction of beavers. There are a number of other experiences of beavers across the UK and in other countries. Alongside the trials, there is a beaver management strategy framework that will help to inform decisions on the future of the Devon animals and the status of the beaver in England, including the Government’s approach for future reintroductions, management and licensing.

My noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering raised issues to do with importing diseased trees. She will be reassured that the importation of invasive species is now prohibited. The Government already pay for the control and management of invasive species through an agri-enhancement scheme. We are considering how to manage invasive species as part of the whole ELM design. Clause 1 would allow this.

The purposes set out in Clause 1(1) are purposely drafted broadly and could cover the reintroduction of species, should it align with our strategic priorities, as set out in the Government’s multiannual financial assistance plan. We will publish the first report by the end of this year.

Several other rewilding projects are already under way in England. For example, as my noble friend Lord Lucas, the noble Earl, Lord Devon, and others mentioned, at Knepp, in West Sussex, agri-environment funding has helped create extensive grassland and scrub habitats, resulting in significant benefits for biodiversity. At this stage, I also endorse wholeheartedly the plug from the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, for the opportunities for wildlife watching in Wales.

With these reassurances, I ask the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, to withdraw his amendment.

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle [V]
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I thank the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, for giving us the chance to have this important discussion and the Minister for her answer. In what is ranked as the 189th most nature-depleted country in the world, this is surely something we have to be talking about.

I am really pleased that so many Members of your Lordships’ House expressed excitement about the pine martens. I confess that I saw these from a bicycle, so I got quite close up in France. They are truly wonderful beasts, and I very much hope that someday soon—when we see rewilding of the Peak District near Sheffield, from where I am talking—I will be able to see them closer to home. I will also comment briefly on some of the discussion about the lynx—perhaps to throw a cat among the pigeons, or a lynx among the deer—and say that we may well have to look at that in future when restoring an ecological balance.

I pick up particularly what the Minister just described as severe consequences from some of the rewilding experiences. I have asked the Government a Written Question on beaver strategy, and unfortunately we still do not really have a timetable for that; it would be lovely to see one for them to be reintroduced around the country. Those severe consequences are that when you let nature run free, what is going to happen is not always predictable.

The philosophy of the 20th century has been one of tidiness—putting things in straight lines and everything being under human management. That was perhaps one of the great faults that the common agricultural policy encouraged. Can the Minister reassure the House that the current provisions in the Bill—or possibly a provision such as the one the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, proposed—ensure that we can allow the countryside and land under management to do its own thing, operate according to all the natural systems and re-establish those natural systems?

In more practical terms, we talk a lot about funding for tree planting, but sometimes it is simply necessary to ensure that land is protected and you get tree regeneration. That can be far more productive and effective and produces an appropriate range of species—the right tree in the right place. I am really seeking reassurance that the Bill will ensure that letting nature go will attract financial support when necessary.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist
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I can of course reassure the noble Baroness. Indeed, it is the first point of Chapter 1 that

“The Secretary of State may give financial assistance for or in connection with any one or more of the following purposes … managing land or water in a way that protects or improves the environment”.

The whole thrust of the Bill is to do just that.

I also take this opportunity to say to the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, that my noble friend the Minister is of course happy to meet him at any time.

Lord Greaves Portrait Lord Greaves
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That answers the first thing I was going to ask. All I want to say is that I was bowled over by the encyclopaedic knowledge of British birds of the noble Lord, Lord Cormack—the good ones, the bad ones, what they do and where. I could wax lyrical to him about the occasion in the Uig hills in south-west Lewis in bright, shining, sunlit mist, when I was the subject of interest of a wonderful golden eagle that could have known a bit more about social distancing for my state of mind. The great thing about birds is that they cannot be kept in by fences. Having seen the white-tailed eagles on the Isle of Lewis, I for one will be delighted if they penetrate to the north of England. That is nothing to do with the amendment, and what the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, said was nothing to do with rewilding as I am describing it.

I thank everybody who took part in this little discussion with great expertise and knowledge. It was an extremely useful discussion—I am thrilled by it—and on that basis I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Break in Debate

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist
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I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in this interesting and important debate on animal welfare. I shall say at the outset that I think we all want the same thing: we want the UK to be known for maintaining the highest possible standards in animal welfare. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Shrewsbury for moving Amendment 26 and thus giving us the opportunity to have this debate.

The United Kingdom is already a world leader in animal welfare, and the Government are committed to retaining that status by maintaining and indeed strengthening our standards. My noble friend Lady Hodgson and the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, were correct about the symbiotic relationship between animal health and welfare, a point also made by my noble friend Lord Dobbs. I assure my noble friend Lord Shrewsbury that the current wording in the Bill is inclusive and provides for funding measures that support both animal health and welfare. The clause allows us to give assistance to make improvements in animal health without there also having to be a welfare benefit, or to welfare without there being a health benefit. An example of animal health without welfare improvement is enrichment through the provision of mechanical brushes for cows, while another might be the proximity of smaller slaughterhouses to reduce the number of miles that cattle have to travel, even if that does not necessarily enhance their health. The noble Lord, Lord Trees, is correct to point out that we intend to provide financial assistance in both areas. His illustration of a Venn diagram of how, when health and welfare interact, they are a smaller part of the whole was quite powerful.

The Government’s animal health and welfare pathway recognises the interconnection between animal health and welfare. It is about working in partnership with farmers, vets and their representatives to develop pragmatic actions that improve the health of livestock. Given that freedom from disease is one of the five key animal welfare freedoms, I can reassure my noble friend that in practice we will support both animal health and animal welfare. My noble friend Lord Caithness was correct to mention the need to build up greater animal resilience to disease, and I underline the credentials of my noble friend the Minister in this area.

I turn to Amendment 44 tabled by my noble friend Lord Dundee and Amendment 68 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. All animals, whichever system they are kept in, are protected by comprehensive and robust animal health, welfare and environmental legislation. This is further supported by species-specific welfare codes. Stockmanship and the correct application of standards of husbandry, whatever the system of production, are key to ensuring the good welfare of all farmed animals. This reflects the advice of our expert advisory body, the Animal Welfare Committee.

In the Government’s Farming for the Future: Policy and Progress Update, which was published in February, a comprehensive set of measures is set out to further improve animal welfare in England. The Government’s approach is based on working on three interrelated areas. The first area ensures that the baseline regulatory requirements will maintain our current high standards and continue their rise in future. Improvements should be sustainable for the sector and should be informed by the latest science and best practice. The second area of work aims to improve transparency for consumers so that they can make informed purchasing decisions that reflect their animal welfare preferences. Finally, using the powers in Clause 1, the Government are developing publicly funded schemes to provide animal welfare enhancements beyond the regulatory baseline that are valued by the public but are not sufficiently supported by the market. We are working closely with the Animal Welfare Committee to ensure that any future scheme is based on the best scientific evidence available. Here I am mindful of the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Rooker. While outdoor rearing might be best for animals, land really is a scarce resource.

I turn to Amendment 95 tabled by my noble friend Lord Lucas. In other legislation such as the Agriculture Act 1947, “livestock” covers domesticated animals and birds that are raised to produce commodities such as meat, milk, eggs, leather, fur or wool. This Bill follows the existing definition of livestock, which is widely understood and relied on by those in and beyond farming.

Considering the case of farm dogs, it is difficult to draw the line between working dogs and dogs which are primarily companion animals. I reassure my noble friend that whatever the purpose of a dog’s presence on a farm, its health and welfare are still covered by the Animal Welfare Act 2006, which makes it an offence to cause unnecessary suffering to any animal and contains a duty of care to animals. That is part of the wider approach the Government have taken to the welfare of animals: for example, the ban on puppy farming, which was brought in through Lucy’s law. I do not have a line on maggot farming.

The Bill is the result of extensive consultation, including responses to the Health and Harmony Command Paper and discussions with the farming industry, vets and others. We have focused on farmed animals as the best way to drive up welfare standards, which is why the current definition is about production animals and does not include working animals such as farm dogs.

On Amendments 125 and 136 from the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, the Farming for the Future policy update last February set out the Government’s work to develop financial assistance schemes to farmers to provide animal welfare enhancements. That work will inform the multiannual plan on these schemes, which are expected to come into operation during the seven years covered by the plan. The Government intend to set out further information on the early years of the transition in the autumn. The annual financial reports required to be published by the Secretary of State under Clause 5 will include the amount of financial assistance given through animal welfare schemes. Under Clause 6, the Government will publish reports that assess the benefits realised as a result of their animal welfare schemes.

On Amendment 225, again from the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, I understand her concerns, but domestic legislation already protects animal welfare and environmental standards. For example, the Animal Welfare Act 2006 provides offences and penalties for those failing to meet animal welfare standards as required by law. Section 4 provides for offences connected to causing unnecessary suffering of an animal, and Section 9 provides for offences if steps are not taken to provide for an animal’s needs. Likewise, the reduction and prevention of agricultural diffuse pollution regulations makes it an offence to fail to meet environmental standards in relation to water. Section 11 makes it an offence to fail to comply with the regulations, and provides that the offence is punishable by a fine. These current rules, which I use as examples, ensure that those responsible for causing the harm, whether that be animal welfare or environmental, are those punished, and we have banned many cruel practices, such as battery chicken farms. It was interesting to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, speaking from his personal experience of looking round a broiler chicken factory farm, about how the farmer identifies his sick birds. I should also say that there has recently been a 53% fall in the use of antibiotics by farmers, which can only be welcomed.

On Amendment 77 from the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, animal welfare is hugely important to the British public and indeed to all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. In addition to the points already raised, I draw her attention to the aspects of the Bill which allow the Government to support plant-based production. Clause 1(2) allows the Secretary of State to give financial assistance in England for the purposes of starting or improving the productivity of a horticultural activity or for certain ancillary activities such as selling, marketing and preparing products derived from horticultural activity.

I have answers to the two other questions that did not fit into my speaking notes. My noble friend Lady McIntosh asked whether there would be funding for alternatives to antibiotics. Having already mentioned the welcome 53% reduction in the use of antibiotics, I say that Clause 1(1)(f)—I think it is paragraph (f)— covers alternatives to antibiotics. The noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, mentioned the worthwhile initiative of city farms, and Clause 1(2) could include those initiatives for support.

I hope that I have given sufficient reassurance and that my noble friend Lord Shrewsbury will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Earl of Shrewsbury Portrait The Earl of Shrewsbury [V]
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My Lords, I am most grateful to all noble Lords who participated in this interesting discussion, especially my noble friends Lord Caithness and Lady Hodgson, who I am delighted felt it fit to support me. I am also most grateful to the Minister and her officials.

All the way through this discussion, which I found very interesting, I kept having déjà vu. Many years ago, when I was much lighter, braver and fitter, and did not have grey hair and a large stomach, I rode in a steeplechase in a wonderful place called Newton Bromswold. All the way around that three-mile course, I knew I was going to win, until I came to the winning post, and was beaten by a short head, having misjudged the thing. My noble friend Lord Denham was the Chief Whip in this House then and I had only just come here. He was in the crowd watching the race, and when I got off the horse, he said to me, “You just rode very well indeed, young Shrewsbury, but you really do need a new set of spectacles.” I will go away, consult, think about this again and read Hansard, and on that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Agriculture Bill

(Committee: 1st sitting (Hansarad): House of Lords)
Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Excerpts
Tuesday 7th July 2020

(7 months, 3 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber

Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Baroness Henig Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Henig) (Lab)
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My Lords, a limited number of Members are here in the Chamber, respecting social distancing. If the capacity of the Chamber is exceeded, I will immediately adjourn the House. Other Members will participate remotely, but all Members will be treated equally wherever they are. For Members participating remotely, microphones will unmute shortly before they are to speak—please accept any on-screen prompt to unmute. Microphones will be muted after each speech. I ask noble Lords to be patient if there are any short delays as we switch between physical and remote participants. I should remind the House that our normal courtesies in debate still very much apply in this new hybrid way of working.

A participants’ list for today’s proceedings has been published and is in my brief, which Members should have received. I also have lists of Members who have put their names to the amendments, or expressed an interest in speaking, on each group. I will call Members to speak in the order listed. Members’ microphones will be muted by the broadcasters except when I call a Member to speak. Interventions during speeches or before the noble Lord sits down are not permitted and uncalled speakers will not be heard.

During the debate on each group, I will invite Members, including Members in the Chamber, to email the clerk if they wish to speak after the Minister. I will call Members to speak in order of request and will call the Minister to reply each time. The groupings are binding, and it will not be possible to degroup an amendment for separate debate. A Member intending to press an amendment already debated to a Division should have given notice in the debate. Leave should be given to withdraw amendments. When putting the Question, I will collect voices in the Chamber only. If a Member taking part remotely intends to trigger a Division, they should make this clear when speaking on the group.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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My Lords, with the leave of the House, I draw to the attention of noble Lords that there is a very large number of participants wishing to speak in this debate, particularly on the first group. If noble Lords could be concise and non-repetitive in their contributions, it would greatly aid the smooth and swift passage of the Bill.

Clause 1: Secretary of State’s powers to give financial assistance

Amendment 1

Break in Debate

Lord Clark of Windermere Portrait Lord Clark of Windermere (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, the Government deserve congratulations for bringing forward this Agriculture Bill. It offers the same potential as the Attlee Government’s efforts in 1947 and the common agricultural policy that has dominated us for so long. I am particularly pleased that the Government have realised that farming is changing and changing quite dramatically. I sometimes feel that those at the centre do not quite understand the subtlety of those changes.

I have an advantage: I live in the area where I started work, on the land, 50 or 60 years ago. I can determine the changes in agriculture. I will come back to that in a moment on these clauses. This has been a particularly interesting eight hours of debate. There were issues in the previous two groups of amendments related to those we are discussing now, but I held back because I wanted to speak on rights of access, which I think are critical.

Before I develop that, it seems as if this has been a Second Reading debate, made even more confusing by the considerate and detailed response of the Minister, who has gone out of his way to sum up, on two occasions, which has been an advantage. One point has kept coming up about forestry and woodland. There is confusion on what the Government have in mind; perhaps they have not got their sights completely set at this stage. I was led to believe that certain parts of woodland, and certain forests—which were a bit different—might receive a public grant. We were certainly looking at huge areas of new woodlands being created up here in Cumbria, just outside the national park. There is a great deal of potential for access in and on forestry land.

I had the honour of being chair of the Forestry Commission for nine years. It will be no surprise to the Minister that I was very keen to promote the right to roam in forests. We were not covered by the legislation—that was mountains, moorlands and heath above a certain height. But, when I was chair, we decided that there would be a legal right of access in all our freehold Forestry Commission land. This has not caused any fundamental difficulties in running our forests. I press the Minister to look at the possibility of permitting access to forestry land as well.

I also want to make the point that, amazingly enough, quite a lot of forestry land is near the centres of big towns, cities and urban areas. There is great potential for access in those areas. You can often get there much easier, but there are difficulties. I remember trying to negotiate access to a large forest within two miles of the centre of Newcastle. The Forestry Commission—we the people—owned the freehold, but I could not grant access, because when the land was bought it was agreed that the shooting rights in the forest would remain with the original vendors. To this day, people in a concentrated, built-up area are not allowed to use that forest, because of the shooting rights. I hope it might even be possible that some of the money available under the new government proposals could be used to buy out those rights. I know that there are difficulties, but I cite this because it is the way we ought to be moving forward. The holistic approach which the Government are taking to agricultural support in the future is the right one.

I mentioned earlier the subtle changes. Just outside the Lake District National Park in the lower levels of the valleys there were a lot of small mixed farms. Those farms provided employment and were viable, but I can tell the House that in the Bowness-on-Windermere area in which I live, I cannot think of a farm that has a single cow. There is the odd steer about, but all the land is grazed by sheep. That means that most of the small farmsteads have been sold off to be converted into country cottages. We are now finding the cost of that. Field upon field which used to be pristine hayfields are now covered in reeds. Stone walls which were maintained and rebuilt if they fell over—you had to do that to keep the cows in—are now left unbuilt. It is a real problem when you are trying to have countryside that deals with so many people. The Lake District National Park—I tell the House this repeatedly, and I do not apologise—has 19 million visitors a year, a vast number.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist
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We have pressures on our time, so will the noble Lord draw his comments to a close?

Lord Clark of Windermere Portrait Lord Clark of Windermere [V]
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I was going to do that. We have 19 million visitors. In order to accommodate them, there need to be facilities. If we are going to have public access, we need small car parks and public transport to get people to the attractive areas.

Fisheries Bill [HL]

(Report: 2nd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords)
Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Excerpts
Lord Grantchester Portrait Lord Grantchester
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My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, for this amendment. She has proposed three conditions that the Secretary of State should meet when making regulations to permit the sale of fishing opportunities in England. The noble Baroness speaks with great authority, having chaired the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee in the other place. She has made a powerful case against potential abuses under proposed new paragraphs (a) and (b). For example, large quota holders could mop up quota as a quota trader and then later resell unused quota, or the other case is where a sofa fisher—that is, a non-active fisher—could trade quota. Incidentally, I cannot quite believe the scurrilous gossip that football clubs would be interested in such activities, especially as they are not registered fishers.

Be that as it may, the amendment might appear to be in difficulty where there might need to be emergency provisions in a given situation. Furthermore, there might be unintended consequences. The amendment does not provide a definition of a non-active fisher. Would someone who inherited a family member’s business and its vessel potentially find themselves frozen out of the bidding process because that vessel had not gone to sea in a previous year? Would this provision exclude those whose boats had been undergoing extensive maintenance, or even new entrants with no previous catch quota?

We support the third provision in the amendment in relation to prioritising the sale of rights to the under-10 metre fleet. This ability is enshrined in our Amendment 29 which we debated earlier. I hope that the Minister will be able to provide detailed assurances that the noble Baroness is clearly looking for in identifying this potential abuse.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for her amendment, which seeks to place additional requirements were the Government to introduce schemes for the sale of rights to use fishing quota in England. These include requirements that rights must not be sold to non-active fishers and are prioritised for sale to under-10 metre vessels. As noble Lords will be aware, Clause 27 relates to the sale to English boats of rights to use fishing quota for set periods of time. It provides the necessary powers for the Government to make regulations in the future allowing the auction or tender of such rights in England. It is important to note that such rights may be sold for only a fixed period and do not give rise to any long-term rights to quota, which will impact on their tradability.

The Bill as drafted provides flexibility for any scheme to be tailored to future needs. This includes broad powers for the Secretary of State to specify persons or descriptions of persons who are eligible or ineligible to buy these fishing opportunities. This includes all of the criteria set out by my noble friend in her amendment. Clause 27(3)(d) allows any scheme to specify the persons or descriptions of persons who are eligible or ineligible to buy rights. Clause 27(3)(h) allows a scheme to permit rights to be sold or not to be sold to a person who meets certain conditions. Clause 27(3)(k) and (l) allow any scheme to permit or to prohibit the transfer of rights.

In England, we will tailor any auction scheme to our marine environment and fishing industry. The criteria to be applied to any future auction or tender could address concerns raised in relation to the under-10-metre fleet. Measures could be introduced to limit the lots being tendered, the amount of time they are tendered for and the groups they are targeted towards. The Government would fully consult on the scheme and any allocation criteria before it was introduced. It would be unhelpful to restrict the scheme before we had competed that consultation.

With regard to my noble friend’s point about whether fishing rights could be sold after purchase, that would be determined when developing any such scheme. The Government could place restrictions on this, including restricting the onward sale of certain stocks upon which different parts of the English fleet place more importance. However, it might be appropriate to allow the onward sale of rights to use some stocks. This could provide flexibility to the industry and allow rights to be exchanged throughout the year in response to market conditions, weather patterns and suchlike. Fishing is not always a predictable business and it is important that the industry can adapt to changing circumstances.

To summarise, under the current drafting in the Bill the Government can already introduce the provisions set out in the amendment. It is also right that the specific arrangements or criteria for any auction scheme are developed in consultation with stakeholders, rather than being prescribed in advance. The scheme will be consulted on and will be brought forward under the affirmative procedure, so noble Lords will have the chance to debate the structure at that point. The consultation and parliamentary scrutiny processes should ensure that stakeholders’ views are fed into the setting up of the scheme.

With that explanation, I hope that my noble friend will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am very grateful to those who have contributed to this short debate, and I thank my noble friend Lady Bloomfield for her remarks.

The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, under whom I have the honour to serve on the EU environment sub-committee, rightly identified the comparison with milk quotas and explained why that would be regrettable. I thought that the scheme that he described for Cornwall was a good one and would not trade the quota for use by anyone other than active fishermen.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, for his kind remarks. He pointed out the slight deficiency in the amendment, which at this stage I tabled more for the purposes of debate. I congratulate him on potentially securing the position of under-10-metre vessels through the adoption of his amendment earlier this afternoon.

I take this opportunity to thank my noble friend Lady Bloomfield for confirming that this issue will be set out in more detail through the affirmative procedure. With those few remarks, at this stage I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Break in Debate

Lord Grantchester Portrait Lord Grantchester
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I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, for her amendment and pay tribute to her determination and dedication in tabling amendments to reinterpret the Bill and seize the opportunity to create new arrangements. Already in Committee the noble Baroness proposed a new Clause 27, and after deliberation has now proposed a slightly different approach in her Amendment 35B. This proposes a key task for the disposal authority of fishing opportunities and nominates the Crown Estate commissioners in a new role as representatives of the Crown who would now hold fishing opportunities in trust for the nation and would have to report on their performance in discharging their duties. While the current Clause 27 would give Parliament a role in approving regulations prior to the sale of fishing opportunities, I do not believe that there is currently any role for Parliament in reviewing the successes or otherwise of this process. The idea of an end of year review is therefore an interesting proposition and I hope that the Minister will address this in her response.

This new proposed approach seems to outsource responsibility for selling fishing rights in England, severely curtailing the opportunities for Parliament to be involved in any meaningful way. Have the Crown Estate commissioners the necessary experience and expertise? There does not appear to be a role in this amendment for the Marine Management Organisation and others under the drafting of new Clause (2)(c). There remain other real questions about how this process will work in practice and how we would ensure that this system would be better than the one we currently have. I believe that the Minister has previously committed to consulting on this—can she set out in any more detail what this process might look like and when it will take place?

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist
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My Lords, I am grateful for the noble Baroness’s amendment, which seeks to establish how English fishing opportunities will be managed. This includes stating that English fishing opportunities are vested in Her Majesty and establishing the Crown Estate commissioners as the disposal authority for English fishing opportunities. I have already spoken on a number of points within this amendment on Report and I will not labour them but will instead focus on the other parts of this amendment.

The first is a technical point: there is no such thing as an English fishery. There are very many fisheries within the English fishing zone and it is not clear whether the amendment is intended to catch fisheries across UK waters, some of which will be managed by the devolved Administrations. It is unclear what the amendment would invest in Her Majesty.

I have already said that the Government are clear that there is a public right to fish in the sea. Indeed, case law has demonstrated that the Crown, through the Government, has the right to regulate the use of fishing rights, as well as other natural resources such as water and oil.

As noble Lords will be aware, most UK and English fishing opportunities are managed through fixed-quota allocations. I have spoken before about FQA units, which have been held by the High Court to be a form of property right, and it is the Government’s current policy to maintain the FQA system for existing quota.

It is unclear how the amendment would work in relation to the disposal authority allocating English fishing opportunities. The Marine Management Organisation is the existing English fisheries administration and is responsible for allocating fishing opportunities and managing vessel licences. As read, the amendment would place some of these responsibilities with the Crown Estate commissioners instead. Replacing the Marine Management Organisation and part of the role that it performs with the Crown Estate commissioners would require significant restructuring of both organisations.

I make it clear that the Crown Estate commissioners are a statutory corporation set up to manage the Crown Estate on a commercial basis. That includes managing the seabed around England and other parts of the UK, and it is very different from managing fisheries. The powers, expertise and operational assets needed to manage these fisheries reside with the Marine Management Organisation. It is not clear what benefit restructuring these two organisations would bring, but it is clear that it would cause upheaval and confusion.

As noble Lords will be aware, Clause 27 currently relates to the sale to English boats of rights to use fishing quota for set periods of time. I have spoken before about the provisions for the Government to make regulations in the future allowing the auction or tender of such rights in England. This amendment would replace the detailed provisions set out in Clause 27 on how such a scheme would work. This would make the Secretary of State’s functions unclear, and any such future scheme in relation to the sale of English fishing opportunities less transparent.

As discussed on Monday, I emphasise that we are in agreement that fish are a public resource held by the Crown for the benefit of the public, and that no individual may own either the fish themselves or any permanent right to fish for them. Equally, let me be clear on why the Government cannot accept the amendment. Although FQA units do not represent a permanent right to quota, the High Court has recognised them as a property right and we do not want to undermine the current regime. I emphasise to noble Lords that, although we are looking at developing a new system for additional quota negotiated during the transition period, the Government want to maintain certainty and stability for the fishing industry and have made it clear that we do not intend to change the FQA system.

The amendment also raises significant concerns around changing the responsible authority for allocating and managing English fishing opportunities, which the Government believe to be unnecessary.

Finally, the Government believe that the amendment would make any future scheme to sell English fishing opportunities less transparent.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, asked how we would guarantee that some of the auction quota supported the under-10 metre fleet and smaller vessels. In England, the decision about whether to tender any quota is still being considered. Clause 27 of the Bill provides for the Secretary of State to make regulations to auction or tender quota in future, and the criteria to be applied to any auction or tender could address concerns raised in relation to the under-10 metre fleet. Measures could be introduced to limit the lots being tendered, the amount of time they are tendered for and the groups that they are targeted towards.

The noble Baroness also observed that a lot of very wealthy fishermen already own the vast majority of quota. All I can say is that auctioning is being considered as a possible allocation, but price would not be the sole criterion. We would consult on any scheme, including the allocation criteria, which could include sustainability criteria, and we would also explore running trials first.

I apologise to the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, if I have not answered all her questions. The line was not very good. I will read Hansard after we finish here and, if there are any other issues that I have not addressed today, I will write to her and place a copy in the Library.

Baroness Worthington Portrait Baroness Worthington [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Apologies if my contribution was not clear. I thank the Minister for her reply, but I am afraid my specific questions were not answered about the legal position of what allocates from the Crown to the Government the right to distribute fishing rights—so I would welcome further explanation.

This is fundamental to the Bill. We understand that we have a system that at the moment is dominated by a handful of very powerful vested interests, and that is distorting our ability to reinvent our fisheries legislation. I feel strongly that we need a new approach. The Minister stated that this would be an upheaval. I agree; it is exactly the sort of upheaval that we should be seeking to enable.

The current system is not working for the benefit of the many; it is working for the benefit of a few. We need to find a better system and ensure that a public asset is being properly managed, not simply handed out for free on the basis of historical allocation. We need a new—[Inaudible.]

This was not intended to be taken to a Division; it was to stimulate thinking and debate. I hope that, through the process of consultation outlined by the Minister, we can continue to explore options to improve the status quo. We have a unique opportunity—a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, most likely—to try to do this differently. There are good examples of how the Crown manages complex issues to do with allowing economic development while, at the same time, balancing environmental considerations and long-term thinking. The current system is not fit for purpose, but it would be great to use this opportunity to introduce something new. An upheaval, to my mind, is a good thing, but at this stage I am happy to withdraw my amendment.

Break in Debate

Lord Grantchester Portrait Lord Grantchester
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I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, for proposing the amendment, which would require Ministers to

“have regard to the fisheries objectives”

in all relevant international negotiations, not just those relating wholly to fisheries. That is a welcome approach, particularly given the added emphasis that we have sought to place on sustainability and climate issues throughout the Bill’s passage.

Just as Ministers have to account for commitments set out in domestic climate change legislation and international treaties, it seems appropriate that they should also have regard to the fisheries objectives that we have spent so much time debating over recent months. I agree with the noble Lord’s argument that fisheries and trade cannot be separated into distinct propositions.

We know from previous ministerial responses that the Government are committed to upholding their international obligations, and that such obligations will feature heavily in the discussions that Ministers and their officials have with neighbouring coastal states. The Minister will no doubt have reasons why this matter does not have to be addressed in the Bill, but it would be all the more convincing to coastal communities to see this commitment enshrined for posterity at this opportune moment. I need not remind the House that the new trading relationships with the EU have yet to be concluded.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I am grateful for my noble friend Lord Lansley’s amendment, which would require any Secretary of State and other Ministers of the Crown to have regard to the fisheries objectives in Clause 1 when negotiating international agreements relevant to fisheries. I note his concerns and appreciate his usual analytical approach in supporting his arguments. I support my noble friend’s desire to ensure that relevant international agreements support the achievement of the fisheries objectives. I reassure noble Lords that there are already provisions in the Bill, along with cross-Whitehall processes, that achieve this. I therefore think that this point is already covered.

As the House heard on Monday in relation to the amendments discussed then, policies on international negotiations on fisheries will be included in the joint fisheries statement, as international co-operation will be essential to achieving the objectives defined in Clause 1. Clause 10(1) requires fisheries authorities to exercise their functions in accordance with the policies in the joint fisheries statement, unless a relevant change of circumstances indicates otherwise.

As a matter of collective responsibility, all UK Government Ministers are required to abide by decisions on government policy. The joint fisheries statement will therefore be binding across government. In exercising their functions with regard to international negotiations, Ministers would have to do so in accordance with the policies in the joint fisheries statement, and thus the fisheries objectives.

My noble friend will also be aware, from his time in government and in the other place, that a proposed negotiating position is subject to government write-round as a matter of course. This ensures that, as part of collective responsibility, the interests of all Ministers are represented and incorporated into decisions, and collective agreement must be obtained.

If a negotiating position on a matter relevant to fisheries was proposed by another department which was contrary to the achievement of the fisheries objectives, the Defra Secretary of State would therefore have the opportunity to resolve this through Cabinet committee discussion. This established process provides a further safeguard to ensure that international negotiations undertaken by other departments, and which may have an indirect impact on fisheries matters—for example, negotiations relating to product labelling and product standards—have due regard to the fisheries objectives.

Further, it is the intention of the Bill to focus on fisheries management and fisheries policies. There is a risk that this amendment, as worded, would significantly broaden that scope, requiring any Minister in any department, during any negotiation, to consider the impact on fisheries, however tangential this might be. The combination of the provisions in the Bill regarding the joint fisheries statement, and the existing collective responsibility obligations on Ministers, ensures that Ministers involved in international negotiations will have regard to the fisheries objectives.

My noble friend mentioned the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster’s Statement in the other place, on 19 May. He said that:

“The EU, essentially, wants us to obey the rules of its club, even though we are no longer members, and it wants the same access to our fishing grounds as it currently enjoys while restricting our access to its markets.”—[Official Report, Commons, 19/5/20; col. 503.]

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster was actually setting out the EU’s position, not advocating it as the UK Government’s position.

I would also like to mention at this point that we have had several rounds of discussions with Norway about our future fisheries relationship. Those discussions have been very constructive, and we look forward to concluding an agreement with Norway in the coming weeks. As my noble friend also observed, there are indeed grounds for optimism, about both pace and compromise, in our negotiations with the EU.

With this explanation, I hope that my noble friend will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Lansley Portrait Lord Lansley
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am most grateful to all noble Lords who participated in this short debate. It was an important one, not least for the assurances that my noble friend has given us in response. That was very helpful in making it clear how government processes will ensure that while the fisheries policy authorities might apply to the Secretary of State, they will be treated as the responsibility of government as a whole in any international negotiations relevant to fisheries policy.

In customary times, my noble friend Lord Naseby and I are neighbours on the Benches back here. In best “Yes Minister” fashion, I shall say that, in future, I will always have regard to his views and take them into account.

I completely understand what my noble friend said about the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster’s remarks. He was describing the European Union’s position, and he was also describing the reality of negotiations. In these negotiations, trade, market access and quota will all be leveraged, one against the other; we have to understand and accept that, and deal with it. But that is a matter for the negotiations; what we are looking for in this debate is that the fisheries objectives are not pushed to one side. I am heartened by my noble friend’s response and her assurances. On those grounds, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Fisheries Bill [HL]

(Report stage (Hansard): House of Lords)
(Report: 1st sitting: House of Lords)
Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Excerpts
Monday 22nd June 2020

(8 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber

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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Lord Grantchester Portrait Lord Grantchester (Lab)
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My Lords, the amendments tabled by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, and the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, raise interesting points on the economic benefits that we want fishing-related activities to generate. This is an area that was touched on by several groups of amendments and it is the core focus around Amendment 22, tabled in the name of my noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch. Fishing might be a small sector when compared to other parts of the economy, but that should not diminish its importance, particularly at the local community level, where it is key to many people’s sense of identity as well as their employment opportunities.

The measures in this Bill are supposedly designed to help fisheries flourish. It therefore struck me as slightly perverse that the original version of the Bill included employment as part of the sustainability objective but not as part of the national benefit objective. I cannot believe that the Government, who have so often claimed to be on the side of coastal communities, do not believe that boosting employment in the fisheries sector is in the national interest and that fishing activities have to be so managed as to contribute to economic well-being.

In Amendment 4, there is a case for looking at the revision of the national benefit objective, and for including something on economic and employment benefits in relation to licensing conditions. I am sure that the Minister will say that employment is implicitly included under the socioeconomic heading. If that is the case, why did the Government include explicit reference to it elsewhere in the Bill?

While these amendments are important, I believe the later amendments will have a more significant impact when it comes to strengthening the social, economic and employment benefits of fisheries and aquaculture activities.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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My Lords, I thank my noble and learned friend for Amendment 4, which seeks to make sure that fishing and aquaculture activities contribute to communities around the UK. I share his optimism with regard to reaching an agreement soon.

These are indeed very important sectors. This is in part due to the role they play in the communities in which they are located, largely in coastal areas, but also because of the wider contribution they make in providing a vital source of food for the nation. I am therefore grateful for the opportunity my noble and learned friend has provided for me to highlight that the Government have already included provisions in the Bill to address these matters and so to illustrate why this amendment is not required.

One limb of the sustainability objective in Clause 1 already seeks to ensure that fish and aquaculture activities are managed so as to achieve economic, social and employment benefits. The Bill requires the fisheries administrations to set out their policies for achieving this objective and the other objectives in the legally binding joint fisheries statement. I suggest that this regime already provided for in the Bill is more appropriate for the development and implementation of socioeconomic policies than is the use of vessel licence conditions. Vessel licence conditions are more commonly used for matters relating to where a vessel can fish, how it can do so and where it must land fish. In England the Marine Management Organisation is the licensing authority. While it may be appropriate for the MMO to impose conditions relating to fishing activities, policies on socioeconomic and employment matters are for Ministers.

Amendment 23 in the name of my noble friend Lord Lansley sets out an approach very much in line with the Government’s general policy on the economic link, in that it seeks to clarify that the sea fish licensing authorities have the power to ensure that an economic link exists between the vessels they license and the United Kingdom, or parts of the United Kingdom. I reassure my noble friend that the licensing provisions in Schedule 3 to the Bill reproduce but give greater clarity to the licensing powers provided for in the Sea Fish (Conservation) Act 1967. Lawyers have confirmed that these powers already provide sufficient scope for the sea fish licensing authorities to include in all licences issued to UK fishing vessels an economic link that ensures that economic benefits accrue to the United Kingdom.

As I have explained previously, this condition can be met by vessels fishing against UK quota through a variety of ways: landing at least 50% of their quota stock catch into UK ports; employing a crew at least 50% of whom are normally UK resident; spending at least 50% of operating expenditure in UK coastal areas; or demonstrating an economic link in another way, usually through the donation of quota to the under-10-metre pool.

I hope it will reassure my noble friend that the Government have been clear that they intend to review the economic condition in England this year, with a view to it following the end of the transition period. This was noted in our fisheries White Paper, and I have restated this intent in earlier debates on this Bill. Vessel licensing is a devolved matter, and the Scottish Government carried out their own consultation on proposed changes to economic link conditions in their licensing in 2017.

I would like to reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, that the Government fully intend to encourage the regeneration of coastal communities and that this is the purpose of the economic link. Indeed, this Bill reflects the Government’s vision for a thriving, vibrant fishing industry in all four nations. The noble Baroness also asked about the Home Office adjudication on migration and people who could be employed by the fishing industry; I believe we have been able to provide some reassurance in that regard.

In answer to my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering, the Government have worked closely with all the devolved Administrations to establish the fisheries objectives for the whole of the UK, including the setting of the sustainability objective. Economic and social benefits are the key pillars of these objectives, and policies in these areas will be set out in the joint fisheries statement. As I have said already, vessel licensing is a devolved matter and the Scottish Government have already carried out their own consultation.

In summary, this Bill provides the powers necessary to continue including the existing economic link in vessel licences. It also provides powers to introduce other measures for ensuring that economic and social benefits accrue to the UK from the fishing activity of the UK fishing fleet. I hope that this will assure my noble and learned friend that this is an area that has already been carefully considered by the Government and provided for within the Bill and that he will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Mackay of Clashfern Portrait Lord Mackay of Clashfern [V]
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My Lords, I am highly satisfied with that answer and with pleasure I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Break in Debate

Lord Grantchester Portrait Lord Grantchester
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My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, for tabling these amendments. My noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch tabled similar elements in Committee following discussions with the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations, and we welcome the opportunity for the Minister to elaborate on the earlier response.

As was said on the last group of amendments, there are clear benefits to promoting jobs in fisheries and aquaculture. If we want to encourage new entrants into the sector, as my Amendment 29 seeks to do, we need to ensure that the infrastructure is in place to support that. Amendments 5 and 6 outline steps that may help to move things forward. The new clause of the Bill proposed in Amendment 6 would require the Government to publish a strategy outlining steps to enhance the safety of crew and provide better training opportunities that will surely be needed in activities to adapt to climate change. The Minister assured the House in Committee that all these points are covered and that responsibilities exist across various departments and agencies, as spoken to by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh. That may be the case on one level, but the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations would not have felt the need to push for such amendments to the Bill if it felt that the current system was working properly and producing results.

The Minister said in Committee that this is an area where we have a duty to coastal communities to show that we are on their side. I hope that the Minister can do that by going further in response today, including acknowledging that demands for safe working practices need to be reflected here and that there is always more that can be done.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist
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My Lords, I am grateful for my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay’s proposed amendments on two crucial aspects facing the fishing industry—namely, making it safer and more attractive to work in. As my noble friend Lord Lansley said, we can all only agree with the spirit of these two amendments.

I will address the issues in turn, but first I want to clarify my comments to the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick. I will write to her specifically on the question of Filipino crew, but on 28 January this year the Migration Advisory Committee published its report to the Home Secretary on a points-based immigration system. The Government are currently considering the report’s recommendations before setting out further details on the UK’s future immigration system. As I have said, I will write with further details and put a copy in the Library.

I will address in turn the issues raised by my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay. As we reflected at Second Reading, commercial fishing is without doubt one of the most dangerous occupations in the world. The industry still loses too many lives and fishermen suffer too many often life-changing injuries. I think we all agree that more needs to be done. However, I am not convinced that more legislation, or indeed yet another strategy, is the way forward here. What is perhaps needed is better implementation of the existing and extensive framework of legislation and training and, above all, behaviour change from within the industry itself.

I am pleased to see how innovation has also helped in the design of personal flotation devices, which are much better designed and interfere less with what is often a very manual job. These modern PFDs, as they are known, can include personal locator beacons, which can speed up the search in the unfortunate event of someone going overboard. Technology and innovation are helping, and attitudes are changing, albeit slowly. However, I am afraid there are still pockets where the wearing of personal flotation devices is ridiculed or where, perhaps through habit or poor judgment about risk, they are not worn at the most appropriate times—for example, when getting on and off vessels.

It is perhaps helpful to again set out briefly that extensive support and material are already available. The Maritime and Coastguard Agency publishes a guide to fishermen’s safety, which is updated regularly. This comprehensive guide covers over 100 pages of responsibilities, obligations, risk assessment, vessel safety, personal safety, fishing operations, health and welfare, emergencies and training, and this helps to navigate through the comprehensive legislation already in place. On top of this, the Sea Fish Industry Authority collaborates closely with the industry, with government and with other organisations to help reduce the number of fatalities and accidents that involve fishermen, and to improve overall safety at sea. Working closely with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and the RNLI, this work includes the development and delivery of safety training courses for fishermen. I am pleased that the industry itself is taking the issue seriously, with the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations having a dedicated safety and training officer. The NFFO and Scottish Fishermen’s Federation have both produced a wealth of material on the subject, and also represent the sector on a number of boards and committees relating to safety.

Clearly, Covid-19 has created new challenges for the fishing industry to remain safe while working at sea. The Government’s outdoor working guidance provides guidelines for businesses to conduct risk assessments and to create a working environment that is as safe as possible in these difficult circumstances. The Government have also set up a safer working group for the English industry, with representatives from across the different sectors of the fishing industry, local government, the MCA and the MMO to help industry bodies collaborate with each other and with enforcement bodies on safer working practices and materials. We will continue to support the industry to disseminate messages on safer working from the existing Government guidance and industry-led initiatives.

Turning now to the issue of ensuring that the infrastructure for a sustainable work force is in place, Seafish has a fishermen’s training team which again produces a plethora of material and co-ordinates training opportunities, and which works very closely with the industry. I am pleased to note that Seafish and the training providers have adapted this, given the Covid-19 situation. In answer to the question from my noble friend Lord Lansley about our work with Seafish, both the Department for Transport and the MCA have funded almost £3 million-worth of safety training for free since 2008, and this has been matched by Seafish using European funding schemes, delivering nearly 4,000 training courses and over 26,000 training places.

I would also point to the very good work of the seafood industry leadership group, again established by Seafish, to deliver Seafood 2040, a strategic framework for England. This initiative will deliver a single cross-sector seafood training and skills plan, aiming to support businesses in the seafood supply chain to recruit workers with suitable skills. The industry has to take responsibility, too, for the sustainable development of the sector, thinking about how it can make itself more attractive to new entrants, perhaps through pay and different contractual and employment practices, and also looking to the future, thinking about automation and technology. With this explanation, I hope that my noble and learned friend will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Mackay of Clashfern Portrait Lord Mackay of Clashfern [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am very happy to withdraw Amendment 5, and not to move Amendment 6. I thank the Minister for her very helpful comments on both groups of amendments I have spoken to this evening, and I thank all noble Lords for their contributions. I am glad to think that I am going to be silent for a little while now.

Break in Debate

Lord Cameron of Dillington Portrait Lord Cameron of Dillington [V]
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My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 14 in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, and I apologise to him that I did not add my name to it. Somehow, in my muddle of the various sheets of amendments, I managed to miss this one until I saw it on the Marshalled List.

When I made my plea in Committee for the need for much firmer links between the aspirational objectives in Clause 1 and the more practical implementation details in the rest of the Bill, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, was sympathetic to the principles that I tried to set out but, rightly, with his superior expertise, was not in favour of the way that I approached it or, for that matter, the wording of my amendment.

This, of course, is a much better amendment, which is why I should have added my name to it. Instead of starting from the objectives and looking forward to the various plans and statements, as I did, it takes the fisheries management plans and ties them in and back to the objectives, which is a much more sensible way of doing it. The same applies to Amendment 51, which we will come to on Wednesday and which ties international agreements on fisheries back into the fisheries objectives. Therefore, rather than repeating myself then, I announce now my support for that amendment.

In the same way as the Government have just accepted that the principles inherent in the objectives should be spelled out in the new Clause 25 with reference to the distribution of fishing opportunities, it seems to me that Amendment 14, tying the fisheries management plans back to the objectives, would be a very useful improvement to the Bill and worthy of government support.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist
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My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for moving Amendment 10 and I welcome the opportunity to clarify how the Bill already meets its aims.

I reassure your Lordships that the Bill already enables fisheries managers to ensure that stocks are restored to MSY levels, and it is flexible enough for that to be future-proofed. Sustainable levels are at MSY or better, and this is made clear in the definition of “sustainable level” in Clause 48. Therefore, I cannot agree with the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, or my noble friend Lord Randall that we are not being ambitious enough. Indeed, where scientific evidence indicates this, the provisions would allow more ambitious alternatives to be used, and that is the direction of travel in which we are taking fisheries management in the UK.

The potential prize here is high. Hake stocks in the north-east Atlantic are an example of how stocks can be rebuilt when managing fisheries to maximum sustainable yield principles. Between 1985 and 2003, these stocks were in continual decline owing to overfishing. As a result of international action, supported and encouraged by the UK, we have successfully reversed the decline in the stocks. They are now around five times larger, and the value of hake landed by the UK has grown in real terms from £7.6 million in 2003 to £28.2 million today.

I turn to Amendment 14, tabled by my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern. I recognise that this amendment is intended to help provide assurance that fisheries management plans complement the policies of the joint fisheries statement and are proportionate and balanced in their pursuit of the objectives contained in the Bill. I am grateful to my noble and learned friend for giving me the opportunity to explain how the Bill already seeks to address this aim.

Clause 2 integrates fisheries management plans into the structure of the JFS, requiring that the JFS contains a statement setting out how the fisheries authorities intend to make use of fisheries management plans to achieve the objectives. Each individual plan must then comply with this overarching statement. Fisheries administrations will also be bound by the provisions in Clause 2(2)(c) to explain how the objectives of the Bill have been interpreted and applied proportionately in relation to not only the joint fisheries statement but fisheries management plans. I think that that demonstrates the discipline that my noble and learned friend requires.

I turn now to Amendments 15 and 17, which deal with consultation matters. As your Lordships are aware, the Government will be under a statutory duty to consult on the draft joint fisheries statement, including on details of the Government’s proposals for fisheries management plans. Furthermore, there is a statutory duty to consult on those plans. Given that the JFS will set the policy framework that the fisheries management plans will help implement, it would not be desirable or practical to consult on the plans separately from, and potentially ahead of, consulting on the JFS. Using different timeframes would risk creating unintended consequences from a lack of consistency between the content of the plans and the statement.

The Government are committed to working in close collaboration with the fishing sector. We already regularly meet stakeholders from across the spectrum to discuss matters of interest. For instance, we are active participants in the Future of Our Inshore Fisheries project, as well as in industry-led groups, such as the scallop industry consultation group and the newly created shellfish industry advisory group. We have a monthly external advisory group, and meet stakeholders and industry on specific issues, ranging from the landing obligation to the impacts of Covid-19.

I very much agree with the principle that local stakeholders and industry representatives will often have the best understanding of their area and can offer more practical solutions to tackle pressing local issues, but I believe that the existing consultation requirements in the Bill are actually wider than those mentioned in the amendments. Schedule 1 to the Bill makes it clear that all the fisheries administrations must consult

“any persons appearing to the fisheries policy authorities to be likely to be interested in, or affected by, the policies contained in the consultation draft”.

This is true both in respect of the joint fisheries statement and individual fisheries management plans.

I can therefore confirm that the Bill already requires the Government to consult with all those parties listed in Amendment 17 on fisheries management plans and on policies in the joint fisheries statement. Furthermore, the provisions in the Bill would include other interested parties where relevant, such as environmental NGOs, recreational anglers or other sea users.

On Amendment 16, I reassure the noble Lord that the Government are committed to using the best available scientific advice. However, the drafting of this clause was a conscious and considered choice, and not an oversight. It is intended to ensure that we are able to take a flexible approach, and that includes considering all the available scientific evidence that can be turned into best advice. For example, if evidence suggested that a fish stock was suddenly in steep decline, the precautionary approach might necessitate that we take urgent action based on available evidence, even if, in parallel, we sought to commission new research to improve our evidence base. In these circumstances, we would not want uncertainty to lead to inaction.

Finally, turning to Amendment 54, we discussed a very similar amendment previously, and I welcome the opportunity to reiterate how the Bill, as drafted, with the objectives carefully balanced, will help us secure economic and social benefit for our fishermen and for the country. Economic benefit is already integral to the fisheries objectives and will be a key element of the joint fisheries statement. The sustainability objective explicitly includes an ambition to ensure that fisheries activities are managed to achieve economic and social benefits, and economic benefits are also explicitly recognised in the national benefit objective.

As my noble friend the Minister outlined earlier in this debate, the Government are committed to a balanced Bill, in which economic, social and environmental benefits are considered collectively. As your Lordships know, the Government believe that the joint fisheries statement is the right mechanism through which to balance these three equally important pillars of sustainable development. I am concerned that a statement on economic benefits, so early, and by the Secretary of State alone, would undermine the balance between the objectives and the consensus that we hope to achieve through the JFS. Furthermore, with the Bill not likely to receive Royal Assent before the autumn, the requirement to produce a statement by January 2021 would leave very little room for considered policy development in any event.

This is not to say that the Government cannot act in the meantime. For instance, as your Lordships will be aware, they have provided £10 million to support and sustain the industry through the current difficult times. That said, in setting out something as important as our longer-term policies to realise the environmental, economic and social benefits that the Bill enables, the Government believe that these belong in the joint fisheries statement.

With this explanation, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Teverson Portrait Lord Teverson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for that reply. I have looked at Clause 48 and I have to admit that she is right. There we are: I am wrong; the Minister is right. It is unfortunate that the Bill reads so unambitiously, but I accept entirely that the definitions in Clause 48, which I have used in other amendments, are right.

I thank the Minister for responding to Amendment 17, which I entirely forgot to talk to because I did not turn over the page of my brief. In many ways it is the most important of the amendments I tabled because consultation is really important. I was reassured, to a degree, by the various organisations that she mentioned. As we know, government consultation can sometimes be just to avoid a judicial review and other consultations affect policy. I thank the Minister for stressing the positive side, rather than the other. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Agriculture Bill

(2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords)
Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Excerpts
Wednesday 10th June 2020

(8 months, 2 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber

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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP) [V]
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My Lords, we begin this debate at a time when the subject of the Bill is of acute urgency. That is not just for the obvious reason—the looming threat of a crash-out Brexit and the need for farmers to have certainty about what is happening in a few months’ time—but because it is being debated with our countryside and food system in a state of emergency, The nature crisis, the collapse of biodiversity and bioabundance, that has left the UK one of the most nature-deprived nations on earth; the obesity and health crisis associated with nutrient-poor diets; and the dominance of the supermarkets in what we eat: these are the issues that the Bill could and should be tackling.

Instead what we have is a shell, a statement of a few principles that are not generally bad in themselves and are sometimes even admirable, and certainly somewhat improved since earlier iterations of this legislation, but there are few commitments to action. This is a grade D effort, not even a pass mark, when what we need is a sterling, standout, brilliant Bill, something—I am sure the Government will agree with me on this—that is world-leading.

The limitations of our arrangements in your Lordships’ House, imposed not only by Covid but by the usual channels, have ensured that many Peers with valuable contributions to make—my noble friend Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb among them—have been excluded from this debate. I know they are pushing for a second day of this debate and I hope that is secured. Given the extreme time restrictions on today’s speech, I am going for a checklist of issues that my noble friend will be covering: safeguards on import standards, ensuring that agriculture reaches net-zero carbon as soon as possible, and animal welfare standards.

My focus will be on the farming system and the food system. When farmers hear criticism of the system they often take it as criticism of themselves, but we know that they have been betrayed by decades of failed government policies. They need a Bill that gives them a real choice to build back better. The Government say they support agroecology. Words are good but a direction to the Secretary of State to support whole-farm agroecological systems is far more important.

The Bill also lacks a commitment to organic agriculture. The EU’s 2030 biodiversity strategy plans for 25% of agricultural land there to be organic. The EU is also looking at a 50% reduction in the use of pesticides and cuts to mineral fertiliser use. If the Government want to be world-leading, they have to do better than that. Crucially, we need to ensure that the payments for productivity in Clause 2 do not undermine progress on biodiversity, climate and animal welfare.

Some are arguing that we should downplay nature and sustainability and dial up food production, but that is a false dichotomy that risks doubling down on a food system that is contributing to a perfect storm of a spillover of diseases from wildlife to people, and, like the proponents of genetically modified organisms and crops, it chases after a failed industrialised monoculture. Just as there is a growing consensus on the need to measure economic progress with indicators far more useful than GDP, we must adopt new indicators for agriculture. We need to think about people nourished per hectare, not tonnes of biomass.

Protection for the basic infrastructure of farming—farmers—is also missing. They need financial security for long-term planning. The idea of multiannual financial assistance in the Bill is good but guarantees are needed.

Let us see a commitment to many thousands of new entrants. We need to see the county farms supported. We need to see the green belt used to the best advantage and, as other noble Lords have said, a comprehensive land-use strategy. Then there is democracy. Let us give Northern Ireland control, and let us bring in people’s assemblies to oversee agricultural policy.

We have learned that our holidays this year will be significantly curtailed. Good. Now we need the department and the Government to take the time to listen to the expertise of this House.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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I remind the noble Baroness of the speaking limit.

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle [V]
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We need to stand up for what the people and the environment desperately need: a good, world-leading agriculture Act.

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Lord Burnett Portrait Lord Burnett (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register. I live in a rural area and for many years I used to farm on my own account. I had the honour to serve as Member in the other place for Torridge and West Devon, where I still live. It is one of the most rural constituencies in England and part of it comprises a large swathe of the Dartmoor National Park. I have observed over many years how the United Kingdom’s agricultural industry has made substantial investments of time and money into animal welfare and environmental protection. We rightly have high animal welfare and environmental standards. We concentrate whenever possible on the extensive rearing of livestock and we produce high-quality products.

Given the time constraints in the debate, I shall concentrate on the beef and sheep sector. If there is no agreement with the European Union by the end of this year—and media reports suggest this is likely; even the Governor of the Bank of England has warned banks to prepare for no deal—then the prospects for UK agriculture are extremely bleak.

The sheep sector faces a very damaging period, lasting for years. Approximately 40% of our total sheepmeat production is exported to the European Union. We import very little sheepmeat from the European Union. If we leave the EU without a deal and on WTO terms, our exports to the EU will carry an ad valorem tariff of between 40% and 60%. This product is very price sensitive. Exports will be severely cut and there will be chronic oversupply in the UK. The price of sheepmeat will plummet, leaving our sheep farmers’ stock values decimated. The continuation of the basic payment scheme and other support will not even start to make up the difference.

As to beef, we are net importers from the EU. I understand that we are proposing an ad valorem tariff of approximately 12% on imports of beef into this country from the EU, whereas our exports of beef to the EU will carry an ad valorem tariff of between approximately 40% and 60%. This means that we shall be in the ludicrous position of subsidising imports. Trade in beef products will be severely disrupted, and with dire consequences for our farmers. Stock values may drop substantially.

The pressure will be on the Government to make alternative tariff-free or low-tariff arrangements with non-EU countries. There will be overwhelming pressure on the Government from other sectors of the economy to complete a trade agreement with the United States. My understanding is that any trade agreement would have to be ratified by both Houses of Congress. Senators and members of the House of Representatives from rural areas could refuse to ratify the agreement if the necessary access for their constituents to agricultural products from the UK was not included. The pressure on the Government to conclude an agreement with the US will be overwhelming. Despite their fine words, Ministers come and go. Unless we impose the most compelling and robust statutory prohibitions on the Government, we shall be flooded with cheap, hormone-fed beef that is reared with scant regard for animal welfare and with other products that are equally substandard. For example, there are many crop sprays permitted in the United States which have been outlawed in the EU, and therefore in Britain, for years.

The Government should agree an extension on the transition period until satisfactory arrangements between us and the EU have been agreed, for all businesses in the country not just the agricultural sector. It is not in our interests to import substandard food that will be damaging to the British people. Agriculture in the UK employs, directly or indirectly, approximately 4.1 million individuals. If the Government do not heed those of us who counsel caution, there will also be substantial consequential losses for rural and urban Britain, of jobs, business and other opportunities.

Our farmers produce, and should be encouraged to produce, the basic necessity of life: namely, food.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist
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Please can I remind the noble Lord of the speaking limit?

Lord Burnett Portrait Lord Burnett [V]
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We owe it to everyone in our country to ensure that we maintain an agricultural sector that continues to provide high-quality, safe food and which continues to respect the environment and animal welfare.

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Baroness Mallalieu Portrait Baroness Mallalieu (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I remind the House of my interest as a small-scale upland sheep farmer and as president of the Countryside Alliance. This is potentially a good Bill that travels in the right direction, and I am grateful to my friend the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner, for introducing it, but it is a very bare framework with far too many delegated powers and far too little real detail. It could and should be improved by some additions.

First, our current food, environmental and animal welfare standards were surely not put in place simply to protect the market for our farmers or because we were required to adopt them while we were in the EU. They are there for the benefit of our consumers and we are keeping them post-Brexit presumably because we think they are good and necessary. The Conservative Party’s manifesto at the last general election stated that there would be no compromise on them in our trade talks, and the letter we all got yesterday from the two Secretaries of State said the same, as did the Minister in opening. To allow products which do not meet our standards—even if, as has been suggested in the press, tariffs might be imposed on them to help our producers compete financially—would betray the promise made to the people of this country that they would have good, safe, ethically produced food to our own high standards. If, as we are being repeatedly told, there will be no compromise, will the Minister tell us why that is not simply being put in the Bill? As the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, and the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, said, the amendment in the other place proposed by Mr Neil Parish was supported on all sides of the House and it, or one like it, needs to be put in the Bill.

At long last we have an opportunity to shape our own agricultural destiny, and the choice is stark, facing, as we do, the end of direct payments under the CAP. It is no exaggeration to say that the single farm payment has been the difference between a loss and break-even for many small and medium-sized family farms, particularly in the uplands where there is very little but livestock farming to turn to. That point was made by the noble Earl, Lord Devon, and the noble Lord, Lord Carrington. If you cut direct support to those small farms, as New Zealand did, they go under, and farming becomes the province of large commercial enterprises. Under the Bill, that direct support is reducing and is guaranteed for only a very short time. As others have pointed out, there is then a lacuna in support, and we have no details or figures with which farmers can plan for the future, as plan they must.

The Bill must recognise that the production of food to a high standard, which British farmers primarily do, is the main benefit to us all from our agricultural industry, as well as landscape maintenance and enhancement, wildlife habitat preservation, access to the countryside and so on. We, the public, directly or indirectly, derive benefit from that we should all contribute to its cost. However, productivity and profitability have to go hand in hand with the new environmental land management schemes or they will fail. In my area, Exmoor National Park, I am very encouraged by the trial and test called Exmoor’s Ambition, which is partly funded by Defra. It has been running since 2019 and goes on until next year. It works closely with farmers and land managers to define and develop the public good outcomes which will be required under the ELM scheme, and how farmers will be paid for them. We all want to know the results, and I hope the Minister will be able to tell us how those trials are going and if anything is emerging from them as yet. Those schemes must be devised and designed—

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist
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Perhaps the noble Baroness could bring her remarks to a close.

Baroness Mallalieu Portrait Baroness Mallalieu [V]
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I hope they will be devised by farmers, not just by recent environmental studies graduates sitting in an office, which has sometimes been the case with other schemes.

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Lord Judd Portrait Lord Judd (Lab) [V]
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My apologies for the disruption to services, but I am afraid that my computer went down completely just before I was called. I record my warmest appreciation to everybody who has worked so hard to make sure that I am able to join the debate— thank you. My relevant interests are all unremunerated and are in the register. I should perhaps specifically mention that I am a vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on National Parks and a vice-president of the Campaign for National Parks.

While there is a great deal to be welcomed in this Bill, and the Minister is personally to be congratulated on the part he has played in bringing it before us, there is still a great deal to be put right. Too much is aspirational or only indicative. With teeth and sufficient scope, ELMS could prove a significant step forward. Does the Minister therefore not agree that this must inescapably entail more effective alignment of the Bill with the Climate Change Act and Paris Agreement?

We need practical provision to meet the challenge of food security and muscular methods of enforcement to ensure that public payments for public goods are really delivered and not just a theory. We need specific identification of such public goods: for example, quality of air and soil, reduction of pollution, well-being of uplands, provision of our vital precious landscapes, enhancement and development of woodland and remaining wilderness, peat bogs, the countryside in general, public access to that countryside and rights of way, and urgent regeneration of biodiversity—plants, animals, insects and wildlife. As has been mentioned by several noble Lords, we need stringent regulation of imported foodstuffs, to make certain that our higher standards are not in any way undermined, not least in any trade deal with the United States. We should also spell out and reinforce the responsibilities and duties of the national parks, areas of outstanding national beauty and other special sites in developing a complementary policy in these spheres.

The National Trust has reminded us that soil degradation in England and Wales cost the economy £1.2 billion per year, that between 2009 and 2014 the distribution of British bee species declined by 49% and that farmland birds—

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist
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May I remind the noble Lord, Lord Judd, of the speaking time limit?

Lord Judd Portrait Lord Judd [V]
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My Lords, it would be sad if this potentially very significant Bill were to become, in the end, just another recycling of good intentions. It needs muscle and teeth. This House must now get down to the task of providing that muscle and teeth. That is very much our responsibility in the weeks and months ahead.

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Lord Curry of Kirkharle Portrait Lord Curry of Kirkharle (CB) [V]
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My Lords, my interests are as listed on the record. I have farmed as a tenant in Northumberland all my life. Much has been said already about the significance of this Bill: to take a blank sheet of paper and have the opportunity to shape how our countryside is going to be managed for the next two, three or four decades is a huge privilege and an immense responsibility. The Bill must be fit for purpose. The direction of travel as outlined in it is absolutely correct.

In 2001, I was responsible for a report on the future of food and farming, and on page 74 I wrote these words:

“Public funds should be refocused on public goods.”

I am therefore delighted that after nearly 20 years, we are making progress. This Bill, along with the Environment Bill, present an opportunity to create an exciting new vision for the management of our precious countryside. There is huge ambition within our farming and food sectors to re-establish ourselves as world leaders in agri-food science and to be innovators in sustainable food systems; to be renowned for our health, safety and high welfare standards and ethically produced food; to have consumers both here at home and abroad who value what we produce; and to be connected with the countryside and the value and the benefits that it delivers. We can clean up the water and the air and we can improve the quality of our soils and help to capture a lot more carbon. We can help to restore habitats and deliver a wide range of vital outcomes, targeted on a geographical basis. We can help to mitigate the impact of climate change. Why should we not be first past the post in achieving net zero carbon emissions? We can deliver these outcomes if the schemes are designed correctly and if the Treasury recognises the huge potential of investing far greater than the current level of spend in the countryside.

I would like to address three concerns and to support many more which have been referenced in this debate. First, we will not realise this exciting ambition if our market and our confidence are undermined by the importing of cheap food, negotiated in hastily signed trade deals which are not subject to our standards. Repeated reassurances by Ministers, even in recent letters, that this will not happen are not enough. We need a commitment in the Bill or a standards commission.

Secondly, I turn to the proposed timetable. Seven years of transition looked like a sensible approach when it was announced four years ago, but the distractions which have taken place since put that in serious doubt. The pilot ELMS have just got going. Farmers know that their current support systems are going to be dismantled but they have no idea how the new schemes will be designed. They have no knowledge of the definition of the value of the public goods that they will be encouraged to deliver, and there is much to do. The scale of the change is unparalleled and time is short. Farmers need advice and time to make correct decisions about their future. We are not ready. If the Government are wedded to the transitional process which is to start next year, an additional year should be added to allow a smoother transition—eight years instead of seven. The gap between the demolition of the BPS and the availability of ELMS in 2024 is a serious problem, so my plea to the Minister is, “Mind the gap.” It is better that we take time and succeed in delivering this exciting new programme, than rush it and fail. There is too much at stake.

Thirdly, despite the focus on productivity, there is no reference in the Bill to skills and training, as mentioned by my noble friend Lord Carrington. Having a highly skilled and professional industry is essential to improving productivity, reducing carbon emissions, maintaining high welfare standards and the successful application of ELMS. This should be included in the Bill.

Like the noble Earl, Lord Lindsay, I regret the fact that there is no impact assessment attached to the Bill. I also support concerns that have been expressed about tenant farmers, and will raise these in Committee.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist
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I remind the noble Lord of the speaking time.

Lord Curry of Kirkharle Portrait Lord Curry of Kirkharle [V]
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In closing, I thank the Minister for his willingness to discuss the Bill in his usual open and friendly manner. It is appreciated.

Fisheries Bill [HL]

(Committee: 4th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords)
Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Excerpts
Wednesday 11th March 2020

(11 months, 3 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber

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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Lord Grantchester Portrait Lord Grantchester
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My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Young of Old Scone for moving Amendment 121, which allows the Committee to probe into the consultation process, the input consultation and from where it comes, in relation to the regulation-making process powers in the regulation concerning fisheries and aquaculture, and to the devolved Administrations and the joint fisheries statements.

This proposed amendment to Clause 41 widens the consultation process to include Parliament in a quasi super-affirmative, as well as wider industry bodies under proposed subsection (1A)(d). The drafting of subsection (2) makes the resolution affirmative—that is, with the express approval of Parliament—in certain fundamental aspects only. Yet this does not include the wider industry. Can the Minister confirm whether the affirmative procedure necessitates a wider industry consultation in this respect only?

As my noble friend has said, this wider consultation allows for ideas and concerns to be fed into the system and duly considered before a final instrument is laid. I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Randall, for his remarks. The Committee, over the past three sessions, has expressed disappointment at the lack of ambition in the Bill: it does not take UK fisheries much further than replicating the CFP. It is vital that forthcoming regulations have the full scrutiny that this wider consultation would demand.

Should the Minister consider that there are adequate opportunities for scrutiny and consultation in this clause—and the Bill in general—I hope she will provide additional assurances by specifying how this would work.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone; I understand her desire to support better scrutiny of secondary legislation.

Amendment 121 would add a new enhanced parliamentary procedure for regulations made under Clauses 36 and 38. Under this amendment,

“The Secretary of State must … have regard to any representations”

made during the consultation period, and respond to any resolutions of either House and any recommendations made by the Select Committee. The powers under Clauses 36 and 38 will, among other things, allow us to continue to meet our international obligations as members of the regional fisheries management organisations, make amendments to technical requirements in retained CFP measures and keep our aquatic animal health regulations up to date.

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Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone
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I thank the Minister for her reply. I did not really hope or dare to dream that the Government would roll over on this one. I take the point that flexibility and improvements are important and that many of these pieces of secondary legislation will be about technical issues. But the question of ambition in this Bill comes into play here. The reality is that there could be instances where consultees would want to see more rather than less ambition in some of these technical solutions. When there is no ability to look at these statutory instruments in draft before they are laid, it becomes impossible to insert anything at that stage of the process. I am distraught and disappointed as usual when I talk about scrutiny of secondary legislation.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist
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I reiterate what I said about the amendment. It also replicates a duty in Clause 41(1) to consult the devolved Administrations and all other interested parties before making regulations.

Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone
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I thank the Minister for that clarification. I shall read Clause 41 more closely and beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

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Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Portrait Baroness Jones of Whitchurch
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My Lords, I will speak very briefly. I am grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Teverson and Lord Randall, for proposing these amendments.

As the noble Lord said, Amendment 123 seeks a consultation exercise on how fisheries regulation activities can be rationalised or better shared. The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, made a very good case for better co-ordination, particularly between the IFCAs and the MMO. Again, we all acknowledge his considerable experience in this regard. We would hope that this is something that the department is doing anyway, particularly as part of the repatriation of policy from the EU. However, I agree very much with the noble Lord that there is further work to be done on this and that this information should be made available to Parliament for further consideration and debate. Therefore, it would be helpful to have this as a requirement in the Bill.

The noble Lord, Lord Randall, has made a very simple proposal about changing the Short Title of the Bill to “Fisheries and Marine Conservation Bill”. It is a simple idea, but we very much support the amendment. It encapsulates many of the preceding debates we have had. It is clear that we do not want to put an artificial divide, with marine conservation being dealt with in the Environment Bill rather than as part of the Fisheries Bill, as we think it should be. This is important and it is a central principle here. As the noble Lord, Lord Randall, made clear, this Bill is not just about the industry; the decisions we are making have all sorts of wider ramifications and knock-on effects.

We have so much more to do in delivering the rollout of the blue belt of marine conservation areas. The amendment underlines the importance of marine planning in the conservation of our fishing stocks. As the noble Lord said, changing the title of the Bill would send an important message in this regard, so we share the hope that the Minister will see that this simple and helpful suggestion is something that the Government could support. Therefore, we add our support to the noble Lord’s suggestion.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist
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My Lords, I am grateful for Amendment 123, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson. I welcome the opportunity to set out the arrangements already in place for ensuring such co-ordination, because I believe the Bill supports the aims of the noble Lord’s amendment. I will address the amendment as two parts.

First, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and the Marine Management Organisation have distinct and separate regulatory functions. The MCA is responsible for providing a 24-hour maritime search and rescue service around the UK coast, as well as producing legislation and guidance on maritime matters, and certification for seafarers. The MCA is sponsored by the Department for Transport, as its responsibilities relate to vessels and infrastructure. By contrast, the MMO licenses, regulates and plans marine activities in the seas around England to ensure they are carried out in a sustainable way.

Notwithstanding this distinction, there are areas of shared interest where these organisations already co-ordinate and work jointly to achieve their regulatory purpose effectively. This includes the operation of aerial assets for monitoring and surveillance, the collocation of personnel in the Joint Maritime Operations Coordination Centre, and intelligence sharing. Opportunities for further collaboration and efficiencies are still being identified.

Fisheries Bill [HL]

(Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard - continued): House of Lords)
Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Excerpts
Monday 9th March 2020

(11 months, 3 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber

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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Lord Cameron of Dillington Portrait Lord Cameron of Dillington (CB)
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My Lords, I add my support for Amendment 81 on the equitable treatment of British and foreign-licensed boats. I would have added my support to the previous group of amendments on remote electronic monitoring, but the mood of the House was not for another person to stand up and agree. But I will do so now.

We will be in close negotiations with the European Union, and—we have been looking into this on our Select Committee—equitable treatment of our boats and foreign boats will be an important part of those negotiations. The point that this might involve the enforced application of REM can be made to the European Union. As I said in the debate on discards a week or so ago, the prevention of discards is European Union law. It is its policy; the EU passed it, not the British. So it cannot, in all equity, claim that having cameras is an ask too far, because it is its law we are trying to enforce.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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I am grateful to noble Lords for this short debate, particularly to the noble Lord, Lord Teverson. He is right to emphasise the need for proper safety regulations for all vessels fishing in our waters.

Amendment 81 seeks to ensure that all vessels, regardless of nationality, follow the same technical conservation measures when operating in UK waters. Schedule 2 to the Bill extends domestic legislation containing technical measures, such as restrictions on the size of velvet crab that can be caught, to foreign vessels. Under the common fisheries policy, this legislation has been able to apply only to British boats, so this change provides for the first time the level playing field between British and foreign vessels sought by the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester. Further, Schedule 3 provides the powers to set conditions on licences and to extend those conditions so that they also apply to foreign vessels. I make it clear that our intent is to ensure that equitable approaches for licence conditions apply to both domestic and foreign boats in the future.

This amendment seeks to mandate additional licensing criteria for foreign vessels. We regard this as unnecessary, as measures to achieve equitable treatment are already provided for by the Bill.

Finally, the amendment does not take into account the devolved competence of the fisheries administrations to set their own licence conditions in their waters, where they do not conflict with delivering what has been agreed internationally.

Amendment 82 seeks to address two very serious issues. As my noble friend the Minister noted in his opening speech at Second Reading, and as we have discussed previously in Committee, fishing remains one of the most dangerous occupations. I regret that too many deaths and injuries still occur in our waters. However, safety at sea—for all vessels, not just fishing boats—falls within the remit of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency—the MCA—which has powers to enforce safety regulation.

Under the Fishing Vessel (Codes of Practice) Regulations 2017, a non-UK fishing vessel must not enter UK waters unless,

“if its registered length is 24 metres or over, it has been certified by its flag State as complying with the requirements of the Torremolinos Protocol”

on the safety of fishing vessels,

“or … if its registered length is less than 24 metres, it has been certified by its flag State as complying with the requirements of that State applying to vessels of that length”.

If a foreign vessel does not comply with these requirements in the future, it will not be granted a licence to fish in UK waters.

The MCA is also working to implement the International Labour Organization’s work in fishing convention into UK law. Its aims are for all fishermen to have decent living and working conditions, regardless of employment status. It entitles all fishermen to written terms and conditions of employment, decent accommodation and food, medical care, regulated working time, regular payment, repatriation, social protection, and health and safety onboard. It also provides minimum standards relating to medical fitness.

Lastly, I note that the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, mentioned discards and European law. This will be covered at a later stage.

With this explanation, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Teverson Portrait Lord Teverson
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I am very convinced by the Minister. However, coming back to the fact that this is devolved, I must admit that the thought of Scottish waters insisting on it and English waters not doing so rather boggles the mind. But I am very happy to withdraw the amendment, given those assurances.

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Lord Grantchester Portrait Lord Grantchester
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My Lords, I shall move Amendment 88 and speak to Amendment 89. These are the subject of this group. Clause 19 provides for penalties to be imposed for offences under various other clauses. I am using these amendments to probe the sentencing regime in relation to offences and the relevant merits and parity between the UK Administrations.

Clause 19(1) deals with having a licence and licence conditions, as well as the part of Schedule 3 concerning complying with information. It specifies that, on conviction, the penalty will be a fine in England and Wales. The amount is not specified. In Scotland and Northern Ireland, information penalties can be up to the statutory maximum but do not exceed £50,000 for any other cases.

It may be that this is a little confusing—merely a fine being given in England and Wales and that fine being a maximum of £50,000 or, in Scotland or Northern Ireland, the statutory maximum for information breaches. Can the Minister explain these discrepancies across the Administrations? It may be that each have their own powers that they wish to defend certain aspects of, or it may signify that there are certain fundamental differences in approaches between the Administrations in their penalty schedules. Can the Minister also explain why fundamental licence breaches receive only a fine rather than any other sanction? I beg to move.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist
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My Lords, this amendment had me a little puzzled. I wondered whether the noble Lord had, like me, been a magistrate prior to 2012, when the law changed in England. That is at the root of the differences.

Amendment 88 would bring fines in England and Wales for offences committed under Clauses 12(3), 14(6) or 16(6) or paragraphs 1(4), 3(2) or 3(3) of Schedule 3 in line with those in Scotland and Northern Ireland. It would similarly limit fines on conviction on indictment to the same amount through Amendment 89.

In England and Wales, the fines for offences align with the provisions of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012. Section 85 of that Act removed the statutory maximum fine on summary conviction and replaced it with a fine of any amount. This gave magistrates, who impose the vast majority of fines, greater flexibility to identify the most effective and proportionate punishment appropriate to the offences and offenders before them. These are not custodial offences in other areas of fisheries legislation, so this is the only penalty that can be imposed. The approach that we have taken on penalties in the Fisheries Bill is consistent with Section 85 of the 2012 Act and other existing fisheries legislation, and ensures a consistent and coherent sentencing framework in England and Wales. The reason for the difference in Northern Ireland and Scotland is that they are separate jurisdictions and the changes made by the 2012 Act applied only to England and Wales.

The reason no limit is placed on fines for conviction on indictment in the Bill, as Amendment 89 probes, is that the enforcement provisions mirror those in the Sea Fish (Conservation) Act 1967. The offences under that Act and other fisheries legislation provide that, where someone has committed an offence and been convicted on indictment, the court has the discretion to impose a fine without a limit. Not only is this consistent with the approach taken in other fisheries legislation, it is consistent with the underlying policy that the Crown Court should not be constrained in its ability to set a fine, in order that it may take into account both the seriousness of the offence and the financial circumstances of the offender. Finally, this amendment would change the position in Scotland and Northern Ireland, which would cut across devolved competencies.

With this explanation, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Grantchester Portrait Lord Grantchester
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I am grateful to the Minister for her complete explanation. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

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Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Portrait Baroness Jones of Whitchurch
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My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, for tabling his amendments, which address the issue of enabling new entrants to come into the sector, giving priority to the under-10 fleet. That is an issue which we will cover in our own amendments in the next group.

The amendments tabled by the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones and Lady Worthington, explore the criteria used to allocate new fishing opportunities. They stress the importance of using transparent criteria and the economic and social contributions that the new allocations will make to local communities. The noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, goes one step further and identifies the need for incentives to fishers to use selective fishing gear and techniques which will reduce environmental and habitat damage. I am very grateful to her for her considerable efforts in rewriting Clause 25, which clearly is flawed and inadequate in its current form. We all feel that she has done a sterling job in having a go at that, although as this process goes on we are all discovering that it is not as easy as it first appears.

I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, for his efforts to add his list of improvements that could be made in that clause. In that melting pot, we have enormous agreement for all the arguments being put. These are important principles; we spoke about many of them at Second Reading. We must just find the right place for them in the Bill. We are still struggling with what the Bill’s final architecture should look like.

All noble Lords who have spoken are keen for this Bill to create a fairer distribution of quotas. That is what is needed if we are truly to regenerate our coastal communities. It follows from the debate that we had earlier in this Bill about the principle that our fishing stocks are the property of the nation rather than a select few individuals. The point has been echoed today. The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, said that we should recognise that the current system of quota allocation is broken; I agree. Half the English quota is held by companies based overseas, the small-scale fleet holds only 6% of the quota, and the five largest quota-holders control more than a third of the UK fishing quota. We can all see what is wrong with that. These disparities did not happen overnight. They have historic roots which may not easily be dismantled, but this should not stop us from aspiring to deliver a more fundamental change; we could use the Bill as a vehicle for it.

A number of noble Lords are, like me, still unclear about the extent to which the new licensing regime will enable action to be taken on the ownership of the existing UK quotas. In his letter of 25 February, the Minister makes it clear that the Government do not intend to alter the allocation methodology for existing quota, but as the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, said, what does this mean in practice? For example, will we ever be in a position to challenge the overseas ownership of some of our quotas, even if they are not seen to operate in the national interest? Can we reset the dial on who owns what? Is this something that could be covered in the trade negotiations? It would be helpful if the Minister could clarify some of this.

The noble Lord, Lord Lansley, was anxious to be clear on the sequencing and the processes for landing many of these issues. We are all trying to find the sequencing and the processes. I know that we are just talking of principles at this level so I will not go into enormous detail, but he felt that it was set out in Clause 23 but now we are discovering that it is not Clause 23. We are chasing the holy grail and will carry on doing so. Clearly the new quota allocations provide an opportunity for change. We can and should use this Bill to lay down a more equitable system for distributing them in the future.

We remain concerned about how quota auctions could work in the future. In his letter, the Minister says that it is not intended for an auction scheme to be used to sell fishing opportunities exclusively based on price. I hope that they would not be based on price; this would perpetuate the discredited schemes that we have already, and there would be no real benefits from leaving the common fisheries policy.

We have amendments in a later group about the need to boost the small-scale fleet. Our aim would be to redistribute the new quotas proportionately in favour of the under-10-metre fleet, the backbone of our coastal communities and ports. We will set out the arguments when we come to that group. In the meantime, we support the general principle of broadening quota ownership and rewarding those vessel owners who demonstrate good practice and a commitment to our sustainability objectives. We therefore support these amendments.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist
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My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, for bringing forward Amendments 94 and 106, which seek to secure the position of the under-10-metre fleet and for new entrants. We all want to achieve the same thing. However, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, just said, often putting this into the Bill is more complicated.

The Government recognise the importance of the under-10-metre fleet as a cornerstone of our local coastal communities. However, managing our inshore fisheries is a complex task. The fleet is diverse; they catch an assortment of quota and non-quota species using a variety of boats and gear in conditions that differ considerably around the country. Non-quota species are particularly important to the inshore fleet. In 2018, around 77% of the weight and 78% of the value of their landings were from non-quota species such as brown crabs and lobster.

The Government want to support all fishermen, including the under-10-metre fleet, to fish more sustainably, improve our collective understanding of stock health and adapt to technological innovation. That is why they were fully supportive of last October’s Future of Our Inshore Fisheries conference, organised by Seafish. Themes discussed by fishermen and stakeholders included greater collaboration, responsibility sharing and devolution of decision-making responsibility.

Turning specifically to quota allocation, in England we have already taken action to increase the quota the under-10-metre fleet receive. Since 2012, we have realigned fixed quota allocation units from the sector to provide a 13% increase to the under-10-metre quota pool. In 2018, the under-10-metre fleet was allocated an extra 1,281 tonnes of quota uplift, which equated to an additional £3 million. These combined actions have helped the under-10-metre fleet to land 36,000 tonnes of fish in 2018.

In England, we are already exploring new methods to allocate any additional quota we may secure. Last summer, Defra ran a call for evidence to seek views on the values and processes which underpin good quota management. As may be expected, views expressed were very broad-ranging and there was no overall consensus. More work is needed with industry and other stakeholders to further develop this approach throughout 2020.

The quota needs of the under-10-metre fleet will be a key consideration here. It is right that we wait until this further engagement is complete before deciding how to allocate any additional quota in England, to ensure that we are allocating it fairly, proportionately and in support of the fisheries objectives, and—to address the concerns of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb—considering the needs of the community.

This amendment particularly concerns English quota allocation, and amends Clause 23, which relates to the determination of fishing opportunities at a UK level. These are two separate matters and it is potentially confusing to link them in this way. I will address Amendments 104 and 105 together. The UK Government share the desire of the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb and Lady Worthington, to see improvements in sustainability. We have already set out a range of key commitments to achieve this. The noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, asked why Article 17 of the common fisheries policy started off Clause 25. It might be helpful if I read out what the Explanatory Memorandum says:

“This clause amends what will be provisions in retained EU law setting out criteria for the distribution of fishing opportunities. Article 17 of the Common Fisheries Policy Basic Regulation requires that Member States distribute fishing opportunities domestically according to transparent and objective criteria including those of an environmental, social and economic nature. The effect of the amendments is to maintain the existing requirements in UK law and to apply them to the Fisheries Administrations and the MMO.”

The Bill ensures that Article 17 of the common fisheries policy basic regulation works in UK law as retained EU law. Article 17 requires the allocation of fishing opportunities on the basis of transparent and objective criteria. The Secretary of State follows these criteria when distributing quotas to the fisheries administrations, using the methodology set out in the publicly available UK quota management rules. Each administration is then responsible for distributing its quota share to industry. In England, the methodology is set out in the publicly available English quota management rules. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland also publish their own quota management rules. Changes to these rules are normally consulted upon. In fact, Defra recently ran a consultation on the options for allocating reserve quota which is the uplift in quota we get to account for the reduction in discarding within England.

Given that these documents and evidence are already publicly available, it is unnecessary for the Bill to explicitly set out that it will not be exempt under the Freedom of Information Act 2000, as Amendment 105 would provide. The Bill would not be the correct vehicle to seek to exempt the Freedom of Information Act in this way. It is also likely that such information would be covered by the Environmental Information Regulations 2004. The Fisheries White Paper made it clear that we will continue to allocate existing quota on the basis of FQA units. This ensures stability and provides certainty to those who have invested in such units. However, we also said that we will work with the devolved Administrations, industry and other stakeholders to develop a new methodology for the allocation of additional or new quota. These criteria will also be published in the relevant quota management rules.

The amendment would put into statute the principle that fisheries are public property held on trust for the people of the UK. This risks further complicating the legal regime. International law, through the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, recognises the rights of coastal states over resources, including fish, in their waters. There is a public right to fish, but this right has been restricted as the regulation of fisheries has been added to over the centuries. The last century saw a significant increase in the powers devolved to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. This Bill seeks to ensure as joined-up an approach across the UK as is appropriate. It contains a set of shared fisheries objectives which have been developed by the fisheries administrations and which will be used to ensure that fisheries are managed sustainably.

Imposing a further principle on this regime will complicate things and could undermine this agreed approach. It is not clear what public property held on trust for the people of the UK would mean and what it would add to the sustainability and national benefit objectives. I am concerned that any lack of clarity over the criteria which can be used to distribute fishing opportunities could result in uncertainty for parts of the industry which have invested significant amounts of money in fixed quota allocation units. We recognise that fish are a public asset which should benefit the country as a whole.

Baroness Worthington Portrait Baroness Worthington
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I have heard that phrase before that fish are somehow held on trust. Fish are considered to be wild animals and cannot be held by anyone as a property right. We are talking about the allocation of the right to fish, not the fish themselves. They cannot be owned by anybody, but fishing rights can. I want to make sure that that is well understood.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist
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It is understood.

The issue of public property would, we believe, be covered by the socio-economic and other criteria which the Secretary of State is already required to consider. I have just asked for a reply to the question on how the future quota will be dispersed.

Additionally, while I recognise that quota allocation in En