7 Baroness Meacher debates involving the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Thu 9th Jul 2020
Agriculture Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage:Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Tue 7th Jul 2020
Agriculture Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage & Committee stage:Committee: 1st sitting (Hansarad) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansarad) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansarad): House of Lords

Sewage Pollution: Lakes and Rivers

Baroness Meacher Excerpts
Tuesday 30th April 2024

(1 month, 3 weeks ago)

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Lord Douglas-Miller Portrait Lord Douglas-Miller (Con)
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The noble Lord is quite right: there is a significant issue with chicken manure in the Wye valley. There has recently been a proposal to put together a Wye river plan, and I will ensure that this goes ahead.

Baroness Meacher Portrait Baroness Meacher (CB)
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My Lords, is it beyond an advanced country such as this to have an ambition and a determination to have zero leakage of sewage into our rivers? Have the Government got such an ambition and a plan? If so, I would be interested to know.

Lord Douglas-Miller Portrait Lord Douglas-Miller (Con)
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Yes. I point the noble Baroness to the plan for water, which lays out very clearly the 25-year strategy to reduce storm overflows to zero, and the investment plan that goes with that.

Clothing Sales: Sustainability

Baroness Meacher Excerpts
Monday 11th September 2023

(9 months, 1 week ago)

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Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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What the Government can have the most control over is what happens to clothing when it has finished being used, so we are working with the industry on durability and then diverting it away from landfill. But the noble Baroness is absolutely right that the supply chain comes from right around the world. The amount of clothing produced doubled between 2015 and 2020. This was because of a higher number of middle-class people and their demand for clothing, and it has come at a great environmental cost. The clothing industry may not be the biggest emitter, in terms of carbon and its impact on water, but the Government are working internationally and domestically to tackle this very serious problem.

Baroness Meacher Portrait Baroness Meacher (CB)
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My Lords, as the chair of a new commission on plastics and the environment, I am conscious of the contribution of clothing to the mass of plastics gradually killing off our oceans. Are the Government doing anything to reduce the amount of plastics used in clothing materials in order to begin to address that problem?

Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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We are certainly having ongoing engagement with the industry to try to reduce the amount of plastics. Of course, there is sometimes a trade-off with plastics when you are trying to get more durable garments that are not disposed of so quickly, but the UK water industry research project, which was done by the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, reported in April last year that wastewater treatment plants remove 99% of microplastics by number and 99.5% by mass. We are looking at what France is proposing, which is a mandatory filter in washing machines, and that may be a direction down which we will go.

Agriculture Bill

Baroness Meacher Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Thursday 9th July 2020

(3 years, 11 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Agriculture Act 2020 View all Agriculture Act 2020 Debates Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 112-III Third marshalled list for Committee - (9 Jul 2020)
I believe that nature-friendly farming is central to farming’s long-term survival. To give just one example, we know that, in many places in the UK, soils have been impoverished to the extent that they will support only a limited number of future harvests. Agroecological farming protects the future sustainability of soils, including their biodiversity, while delivering food. It was heartbreaking to hear the figures for the reduction in organic farming and food that the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, laid out so vividly. Can the Minister tell us how farms and land managers who want to implement agroecological principles will be supported from the funding schemes under the Bill and how more farmers and land managers can be encouraged to do so?
Baroness Meacher Portrait Baroness Meacher (CB) [V]
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My Lords, I will speak very briefly in support of Amendment 40, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and Amendment 41, tabled by the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, to which I added my name—it is unfortunate that he is speaking after me. The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, has already said that trees offer a safe, nature-friendly and relatively cheap way to soak up the carbon that we urgently need to sequester if we are to meet our legal climate obligations. Trees have an extraordinary range of other benefits that he also set out. I certainly do not want to repeat what he had to say and what the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, might also say. In view of the extraordinary qualities of trees and the range of their benefits, I hope Ministers will take this very seriously and accept the principle of what the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and, somewhat differently, the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, are putting forward.

Earl of Dundee Portrait The Earl of Dundee [V]
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My Lords, I support and will first comment on Amendment 97, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and others. The new and welcome direction pointed by the Bill is furthering the joint aims of healthy food production and good environmental land management. Whole-farm agroecological systems are central to this. They should therefore be clearly described. That is what Amendment 97 would do.

Following this, and for the same reason of its central consistency with the Bill, I am in favour of Amendment 42, which would ensure that financial assistance is given for whole-farm agroecological systems. I also support Amendment 48, which would properly recompense farmers more than the Bill currently does for converting to organic and ecologically sustainable systems. I am in favour of Amendment 84, on encouraging agroforestry, and Amendment 96, which seeks better to reward nature-friendly farms. I agree with Amendment 120 about monitored targets for integrated pest management, and equally with Amendment 217, which advocates improved productivity programmes related to soil analysis.

Amendment 41 in my name relates directly to Amendment 40 on agroforestry, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson. It encourages a connection between afforestation and agroforestry. Its purpose is for agroforestry development to contribute towards afforestation targets. Although most of the target of 30 million trees which the Government have committed to plant will apply to upland areas, through agroforestry an increasing proportion could be planted on lower ground, which is otherwise, and for good reason, often the sole preserve of agricultural production. Conversely, agroforestry itself, where deployed on low ground, can assist afforestation targets, since it maintains fields of agricultural crops, with trees planted at certain wide intervals between them.

Through agroforestry, as carried out on United Kingdom farmland, it is estimated that 920 million trees could be planted in fields, yet this would cause agricultural output to reduce by only 7%.

Agriculture Bill

Baroness Meacher Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansarad) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansarad): House of Lords
Tuesday 7th July 2020

(3 years, 11 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Agriculture Act 2020 View all Agriculture Act 2020 Debates Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 112-II(Rev) Revised second marshalled list for Committee - (7 Jul 2020)
Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick Portrait Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick (Non-Afl) [V]
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My Lords, I support Amendments 1 and 37. I understand what the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, said about Amendment 1: he seeks simply to probe in relation to financial assistance. We need to end the uncertainty felt by farming folk as we come out of the common agricultural policy and enter a new regime of funding. Therefore, there needs to be greater certainty about funding provided to farmers. Perhaps the Minister will provide some elucidation on that.

I support Amendment 37 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering. To me, many of the amendments in today’s groups deal specifically with how we manage our land environment and new financial assistance powers which are grounded in Clause 1. Amendment 37 gives an opportunity because it gives the Secretary of State the power to issue payments to those farmers who protect or improve and manage the landscape. It is important that farmers are allowed to manage their own land environment for food and livestock production because, after all, they work that land daily, they know about the soil texture and the production levels that the land they farm is capable of. In so doing, they are then enabled to protect the flora, fauna and wildlife, which are all part of the natural environment.

As the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, said, Amendment 37 is about ensuring that that financial assistance recognises and is provided for the protection, improvement or management of landscapes and biodiversity through pasture-fed grazing livestock systems. She referred in particular to upland farming, and I recall that when she was in the other place as chairman of the EFRA Select Committee, of which I was a member, she had a particular passion for the needs of upland farmers. Coming from Northern Ireland and from an area where upland farming is a central part of farming, I fully understand that.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, I believe there needs to be some co-operation between the devolved regions and Westminster, or Defra, on how this funding could be managed, how the less favoured areas classified under the old common agricultural policy, including those upland areas, could be managed and protected, and how farmers using that pasture-led grazing system can eke a subsistence and a living out of it and ensure a good farming life.

Always remember that the world’s soils represent the largest terrestrial carbon reservoir. In the UK, two-thirds of our farmland is pasture. Ruminants can effectively convert this into produce of value to us all. The capacity of pasture to build the fertility and health of the soil and the vital role of grazing animals in that process have been known for a long time. With a growing recognition of the environmental costs, and the cost of concentrate feed around five times that of grazed land, there is a shift to feeding ruminants increasingly on pasture.

Pasture-fed grazing livestock systems show a care for the animals, the environment, the land, the soils and the landscape. They bring value to the land, to the farming industry and to us as consumers. As the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, said, they produce good-quality food in terms of feed production. Pasture also provides a natural and unstressed environment in which ruminants can express themselves while producing nutrient-dense meat and milk that has measurable health benefits for us all and for the wider consumer market.

I believe this needs to be reflected in the Bill and am very content to support this amendment, which I have signed but is in the principal name of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering. I hope the Minister can provide us with some elucidation on adding that as a purpose for financial assistance and ensuring that the purpose of financial assistance in itself is much more, shall we say, mandatory than simply permissory.

Baroness Meacher Portrait Baroness Meacher (CB) [V]
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My Lords, I will speak to my Amendment 79; I thank the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, for his support. This is a probing amendment. It aims to ensure that development of the land around our large towns and cities will feature in the Government’s strategy. By “large towns and cities” I am referring to urban areas with a population of at least 200,000, but of course priority is bound to be given to our great metropolitan cities—London, Manchester, Birmingham and others.

We know that green-belt land represents 13% of England’s land-mass: 1.6 million hectares. I believe the green-belt area doubled in size between 1979 and 1993. According to the Government’s official climate change advisers, the UK needs 1.5 billion more trees to absorb sufficient carbon dioxide and help restore wildlife. We can argue about how much agricultural land should be given over to trees, but there are swathes of undeveloped green-belt land. Surely we can do a great deal better than we do at the moment, not only for our urban populations but for the climate.

Mass tree planting is just one part of the solution to the green-belt wasteland, if I may call it that. Others include agricultural and horticultural development to provide the nearby urban populations with fresh food, in particular fruit and vegetables—avoiding the climate-destroying long-distance transport too often involved currently. Of course, an effective green policy for the green belt would need a shift in people’s attitudes to eating out-of-season fruit and vegetables. If people continue to demand to eat strawberries in December, however much we grow on the green belt will not help the climate as much as it should and could.

Finally, some investment on the green belt should surely be into energy products: solar panels and wind farms. Again, proximity to our metropolitan areas and other large towns and cities should be a driving factor for that. I hope the Minister will assure the Committee that climate-friendly development of the green-belt land will be an important element in the Government’s plan.

Food Supply and Security

Baroness Meacher Excerpts
Thursday 14th May 2020

(4 years, 1 month ago)

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Baroness Meacher Portrait Baroness Meacher (CB)
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My Lords, I warmly welcome this debate tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott—a true champion of sustainable and affordable food production. I have just two points.

One is the need to create a positive out of the Covid-19 pandemic. We have all woken up to the delights of clean air, almost no aeroplanes and few cars. One way is to reduce food imports and to grow more food locally. As the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, pointed out, at present the UK supplies only about 53% of the food we consume. This means that 47%—in particular fruit, vegetables and meat—comes on planes and ships from overseas. We would surely all welcome a policy to drive down our dependence on food from across the world, but this means all of us being willing to eat seasonal fruit and vegetables and less meat. If ever we are to make such a shift, surely now is the time when people will be willing to do it. Do the Government plan to provide incentives to achieve that sort of change at this strategic moment?

My other point, closely related, is a plea that the wonderful Capital Growth programme of the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, growing food in London, be extended to the rest of the country. Again, if ever there was the right time to do that, it is surely now.

Textiles and Clothing Sectors: Environmental Sustainability

Baroness Meacher Excerpts
Monday 22nd July 2019

(4 years, 11 months ago)

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Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
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My Lords, we must work to ensure that the worst of the waste hierarchy, landfill, is not where our clothes go. I have to say that it cannot be many years ago that the noble Baroness moved to Beckenham; certainly, we need to pay more attention to words such as “reuse” and “second-hand” over fast fashion; I find the ridiculous number of clothes that are used only once absurd. We need to bear down on this. It is about consumer behaviour as well as industry behaving responsibly. We want to work to extend that responsibility, for that very reason.

Baroness Meacher Portrait Baroness Meacher (CB)
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My Lords, we need action on textiles, yes, but we will never rescue this planet unless we repair the huge damage already done. Will the Minister meet me to discuss the urgent need for government funding for the remarkable Centre for Climate Repair, run by Sir David King? It is developing a scientific method to reverse the melting of the ice caps and the damage to ocean surfaces, to name just two of its workstreams. Without these developments, we will not succeed.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
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I would be honoured and intrigued to meet the noble Baroness with whoever she suggests. The reason I say this is that science and innovation will help us enormously—investment in them will help us across the piece.

Food: Adulteration

Baroness Meacher Excerpts
Monday 17th March 2014

(10 years, 3 months ago)

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Lord De Mauley Portrait Lord De Mauley
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My Lords, casting my mind back to the horsemeat saga, I think we were looking at a threshold of 1%. May I take this opportunity to address another of the range of issues raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley? She referred to the West Yorkshire Trading Standards Service. In a six-month period, that trading standards service reported on 873 samples, 331 of which received an adverse report from the public analysts, as the noble Baroness said. However, many of the issues found did not relate to food adulteration. For example, a large proportion were for labelling failures, such as foreign language-only labelling, while others were for exaggerated health claims. Nevertheless, it is true that a material proportion were for fraudulent purposes, such as meat substitution, and the West Yorkshire Trading Standards Service is taking action.

Baroness Meacher Portrait Baroness Meacher (CB)
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My Lords, trading standards officers also very importantly revealed that substances labelled as not fit for human consumption are regularly sold to our young people and children as so-called legal highs. This is not a party-political point, but it is a very difficult area to deal with. In view of the failure so far of our policies to deal with this problem, will the Government’s review of policy in the area of legal highs look at a regulatory system with an enhanced role for trading standards?

Lord De Mauley Portrait Lord De Mauley
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My Lords, very important though that subject is, I am afraid it is off the thrust of today’s Question.