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)|
(1 month ago)Grand Committee
We have to stop for five minutes while a Division takes place in the House.
I apologise to noble Lords—can the noble Lord resume, please?
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.
(3 months, 2 weeks ago)Lords Chamber
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.
Break in Debate
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.
(3 months, 2 weeks ago)Lords Chamber
(4 months, 1 week ago)Lords Chamber
(5 months ago)Lords Chamber
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.
I have received no requests to speak after the Minister, so I call the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson of Abinger.
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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.
No noble Lord has indicated to me that they wish to come in after the Minister, so I call the Earl of Dundee.
Break in Debate
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.
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.
Break in Debate
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.
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.
(5 months, 1 week ago)Lords Chamber
I have received no requests for further short questions. Accordingly, I call the noble Lord, Lord Holmes of Richmond.
Break in Debate
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.
I have received a request from the noble Lord, Lord McCrea of Magherafelt and Cookstown, to ask a short question of elucidation.
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?
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
(5 months, 1 week ago)Lords Chamber
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.
My Lords, I have received no requests from noble Lords to ask a short question, so I call the noble Baroness, Lady Young.
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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.
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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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.
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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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.
(7 months, 1 week ago)Lords Chamber
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.
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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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.
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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?
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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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.
(7 months, 1 week ago)Lords Chamber
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?
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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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.
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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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?
(7 months, 2 weeks ago)Lords Chamber
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.
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.
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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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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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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.
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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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?
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.
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.
(7 months, 2 weeks ago)Lords Chamber
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.
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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?
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?
(7 months, 3 weeks ago)Lords Chamber
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.
My Lords, I have received two requests from noble Lords to speak after the Minister.
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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?
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.
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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.
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.
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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.
(7 months, 3 weeks ago)Lords Chamber
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.
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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.
(8 months ago)Lords Chamber
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.
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.
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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?
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.
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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.
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.
(8 months, 1 week ago)Lords Chamber
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.
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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.
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.
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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.
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.
(8 months, 2 weeks ago)Lords Chamber
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.
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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.
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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—
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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—
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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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.
(11 months, 3 weeks ago)Lords Chamber
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.
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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.
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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.
(11 months, 3 weeks ago)Lords Chamber
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.
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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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.
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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.
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.