Management of Hedgerows (England) Regulations 2024

Baroness Young of Old Scone Excerpts
Monday 20th May 2024

(1 month, 4 weeks ago)

Grand Committee
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Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering (Con)
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My Lords, I have only one small question for my noble friend the Minister, as we do not have too many hedgerows in north Yorkshire; we mostly have stone walls, which we could have a separate debate on another time.

I am intrigued by the Government’s response to questions posed by the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee in its report. It transpires that the Government are now bringing within the remit of cross-compliance farms of less than five hectares but larger than two hectares. For what reason are we going down that path? Obviously, these are quite small farms. The fields that we used to claim on when we owned a couple of fields would have fallen into this category, I think. I no longer have such an interest, but I wonder why we have gone down the path of including farms of between two and five hectares. Does my noble friend the Minister not agree that this seems like a lot of administration for such small farms?

Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone (Lab)
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I have been having sleepless nights about this, noble Lords may be pleased to hear. I was always a great fan of cross-compliance. It was quite a low-key instrument; nevertheless, it could be deployed. Of course, hedges are vital for wildlife and for carbon. They provide linear routes through our landscapes and join up patches of habitat. Filling the gaps in hedges, for example, is really important, for all these reasons.

Turning to my anxiety, it took ages to establish whether there was going to be a statutory instrument to fill the gap left by the demise of cross-compliance, and it then took some time for that to come forward. In a way, my great regret is that we have not used this opportunity. For heaven’s sake, the benefits of leaving Europe are few enough, but improving the situation for hedges would have been one of them. I would have preferred it if the Government had removed the three existing exemptions: for fields under two hectares, for hedges younger than five years and for the no-cutting period. When you look at the consultation, you see that there was not really much support among the farming community for retaining them. This could have been an opportunity absolutely to re-recognise the value of hedges, particularly in fields of under two hectares, and the importance of hedges younger than five years having protection from the beginning.

Apart from lecturing the Minister on this and lying awake at night worrying about it, I simply want to ask the Minister for four things. First, will he re-examine these exemptions? We have this wretched statutory instrument, and let us get the damn thing in because, at the moment, there is no protection for these hedges; but there is an opportunity here to improve on what Europe is doing and re-examine the exemptions.

Secondly, there should be a real proposition to extend the no-cutting period beyond even that in the instrument. My own wildlife trust, of which I am patron—I declare an interest—the Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire, has done a big hazel dormouse project that shows that there are multiple active nests during the period from September to October. If hedges are cut at that point, it prevents the population really thriving, and this is a very threatened species.

Maintaining hedges and not cutting them for even longer provides valuable berries and other food for winter wildlife and, as the Minister said, for farmland birds that are really in decline, such as the turtle dove, linnet, cirl bunting and yellowhammer. Bedford used to be the yellowhammer capital of the world, as far as I could tell, and you would be very hard put to find one at all now. In these species, late broods are disproportionately important. If they can get a third brood away, the population has a greater chance of increasing rather than standing still or declining. Again, extending the no-cutting period is something farmers would appreciate.

Thirdly, I ask the Minister to think about two matters not connected to hedgerows, but whereby we lose as a result of losing cross-compliance: water body buffers and soil erosion conditions, which are absolutely vital. They are hot in the public mind at the moment, particularly in the light of water pollution. Will he undertake to look at them and produce statutory instruments to reinstate them?

Lastly, I know that the Minister likes to tell me when I ask him things that are not particularly germane to the subject in hand, that are not his brief or are above his pay grade—or he will have another way of sending me away with a sore heart—but I hope that he might bump into his DLUHC colleagues and look in a concerted way at not just hedgerows that are subject to agricultural practice but those threatened by development. I know that one should not take personal examples as the norm, but I cannot help feeling that, in both the planning applications against which I have fought in the last two years, the local planning authority chose to ignore the hedgerow regulations in the planning advice. It destroyed hedgerows that not only are vital for carbon and wildlife but have huge historic lineage. If he were to bump into the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, in order to tell her that, it would be extremely helpful.

Earl of Leicester Portrait The Earl of Leicester (Con)
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My Lords, I declare my farming interests as laid out in the in the register. I congratulate Defra and the Government; a lot of thought has gone into this. It was said that we have not had any regulations protecting hedgerows since we came out of cross-compliance, but I would just like to big up farmers, I suppose. Years and years ago, nearly every single hedge would be cut every year. Then, they were encouraged to cut them every second year; then, a further development was to cut one side a year and maybe leave the other for three years. Now, a lot of farmers in the regenerative movement and others are barely cutting hedges. As the noble Baroness, Lady Young, said, that provides many more berries, habitats and suchlike. So, the fact that we have not had any regulations for six months or so is not the end of the world; I do not think we have lost any great hedges.

I take issue with the noble Baroness, Lady Young, suggesting that we should continue not cutting hedges after 31 August. Two or three weeks later and we will be in autumn; all nesting birds will have nested well by then.

My question is very simple and follows on from what the two noble Baronesses said. It is about really small fields; I am talking now about private householders. While all the farmers are obeying the law and not cutting between 1 March and 31 August, you can drive out anywhere in the countryside or in small towns and villages and you will see plenty of householders cutting their own garden hedges. So, does this rule apply to them? If it does, I suspect that it will be very hard to enforce. I am sure there are plenty of gardeners becoming more aware of the importance of their hedgerows as habitats for nesting birds and suchlike, but I would be very interested to have an answer on this if my noble friend the Minister has one.

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Lord Douglas-Miller Portrait Lord Douglas-Miller (Con)
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Again, I thank all those who contributed because, from my perspective, this has been a really interesting debate to listen to.

I start by picking up on the issue of ash trees, disease and stuff like that. Like the noble Baroness, I take the train—up to and down from Scotland most weeks. If you look out, you see that things are really horrifying right now. All the leaves are out, and there is dead tree after dead tree. It illustrates the importance of our wider biosecurity. I know that the BTOM has not been to everybody’s approval. Frankly, as we all know, if you are in government, you cannot get this right whichever way you go because some people think that you have not done enough and others say that you have done too much. However, this is a really important issue; on ash trees, it is just a horror.

Keeping some of the pests and diseases that affect our flora and fauna out of the UK is absolutely key. If noble Lords get a chance to go to the Chelsea Flower Show, I recommend that they go to the APHA site. It is based on Asian hornets and is absolutely incredible. It just shows you what we are up against every day of every week. At this time of year, everything is coming alive, and it is all on its way over here. The Defra team and the wider Defra family do an unbelievable amount of work to stop a lot of this stuff coming in. I forget exactly what the cost of ash dieback across the country will be, but it is in the tens of billions; it is going to leave great holes in our hedges and in our woods. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, makes a great point: what are we going to do to fill that gap? Perhaps we need to start thinking about that more.

I was really interested in the debate started, I think, by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, on this conflict between farmers and environmentalists—if I may phrase it as crudely as that. Several speakers implied that, because we have had a few months without these regulations, somehow we will be ripping out hedgerows two to the dozen, because we could do that without the regulations. I do not understand that mindset at all; I have never come across it anywhere. I do not know whether the noble Earl, Lord Russell, has; we could perhaps have a conversation afterwards it that is happening, but I have never come across it anywhere and I think most farmers would take proper exception to it being implied. Again, I would be delighted to have a wider conversation.

To answer the specific point, I have heard nothing to suggest that any farmer would remove any hedgerow. On the contrary, there has been a huge increase in people wanting to do better, which is where the farming community comes from.

However, the debate was interesting, because it touched on a few other issues about exemptions, exceptions and so on. There was talk about why we are not protecting young hedges, as if not applying the buffer zone would have a negative impact on young hedges. I do not know if your Lordships have ever planted and looked after a hedge, but it takes quite a long time to get settled in and a lot of careful work each year to keep it there. Buffer zones would overwhelm a young hedge; the weeds would overwhelm it and you would get a properly scrawny hedge with high leaf cover because the understorey would have been taken out completely. I appreciate that some of the exceptions may be counterintuitive, but it is important to do the homework and understand the reasons for some of these things before suggesting that they are somehow improper or not correct. People put a lot of effort and energy into this sort of stuff, so it is perhaps good to appreciate that more widely.

Soil erosion and water body buffers were other issues that the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and others raised. Perhaps I could take them both away, come back with some more information and write to her.

There were quite a lot of questions on people cutting hedges in their gardens. Why can they do that when farmers have to obey the rules? How does that extend to golf courses, public authorities and all the rest of it? Again, this is a pretty challenging area. We do not live in a police state; we are trying to do our best. Education, not enforcement, is the best way of solving this problem. We are consulting on wider issues with hedges. We are just about to start that consultation, which will be an interesting exercise, because the practicalities of enforcing against someone cutting their garden hedge are pretty challenging and I am not sure that we want to get into that space.

A number of noble Lords raised specific issues with the timing of when you can cut a hedge and when you cannot. It is a trade-off between farming and the wider environment. Farmers have other things to do and, by the time we are into September, they are planning for next year and have a lot of other tasks. Sometimes there is a little gap when this can be done. I do not have information on the specific example of a dormouse, but 99% of species have fledged and gone by early September.

Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone (Lab)
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I think the noble Lord needs to look at the latest information about the impact that climate change is having on extending breeding seasons. It is notable; I will send him some.

Lord Douglas-Miller Portrait Lord Douglas-Miller (Con)
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I have not looked at that and I appreciate that these dates are moving, but we have to start somewhere and those dates have been chosen for the moment.

The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, quizzed me on two-acre fields or less, and why they might be exempt. I hope everybody can understand that, if you have a smaller field, taking up a two-metre buffer zone around the edge of it will have a disproportionate impact. The Government recognise that and it came through pretty clearly in the consultation.

Agriculture (Delinked Payments) (Reductions) (England) Regulations 2024

Baroness Young of Old Scone Excerpts
Monday 20th May 2024

(1 month, 4 weeks ago)

Grand Committee
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Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone (Lab)
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My Lords, I welcome the Government’s commitment to keeping up the pace of reform, because it is immutable that we will not be able to tackle net zero or species decline without changing farming considerably and adopting nature-friendly farming practices. It is also difficult to imagine how we can maintain food security without altering farming practices, because climate change and environmental degradation are probably two of the bigger risks to food security.

The basic payment system was always a bit half-baked, if I can use that expression, in that it gave substantial sums of money to large farms and rather less of a share to smaller ones. Many of these smaller farms are the ones that are taking major steps to re-engineer their agricultural practices and businesses in order to maintain future economic sustainability and deliver both for the environment and on carbon. It was quite a worry when various newspapers started banging on about the fact that farmers should not have to lose basic payments at this stage because they were facing the pressures that the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, just outlined—in particular, the lousy weather this year and last.

However, there are other ways of supporting farmers through that. I do not think that we should allow those things to break our stride on the reduction and delinking of payments. The farming resilience fund that the Minister referred to is the sort of proposition that I would dearly like to see in a unified advice system across the board for farmers—one that takes account of advice not just on transition but on all sorts of things that we are expecting, asking and incentivising farmers to do. I am very old so I remember ADAS. Bring back ADAS and modernise it to deliver for the future because at the moment farmers are sometimes bamboozled by the range of advice that they get.

In terms of the immediate financial pressures on farmers as a result of the climate and weather, there needs to be a stand-alone fund that does not get bound up with the delinked payments issue. I hope that we will see the Government’s backbone in continuing to implement delinking as fast as possible until we get to the point where ELMS is indeed the name of the game and there is no other.

Land Use Framework

Baroness Young of Old Scone Excerpts
Tuesday 12th March 2024

(4 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber
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Asked by
Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone
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To ask His Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to make progress on the delayed land use framework for England, when it will be published, and whether it will be subject to consultation.

Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone (Lab)
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I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper, and draw attention to my interests as set out in the register.

Lord Douglas-Miller Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Douglas-Miller) (Con)
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My Lords, I declare my land management interests, as set out in the register. I appreciate that it has been a long wait, and I am happy to confirm that the land use framework will be published before the Summer Recess this year. The Government have made significant progress in the areas that your Lordships’ Land Use in England Committee identified as policy priorities. The Government intend to engage widely on the framework, both pre and post publication, but are not planning to consult formally on the framework.

Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone (Lab)
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I thank the Minister for his response. He said that it had been a long time waiting and, indeed, I have 40 successive Hansard assurances over the last two years that the land use framework would be finished and published by December 2023. The last one dated from November 2023—so that did not happen. I welcome the Minister’s assurance that it will be published before the Summer Recess, but I am not holding my breath.

Can the Minister assure the House on a number of issues to do with the framework? Will it integrate all the key land uses, including infrastructure, housing and transport, not just those for which Defra has a responsibility in terms of agriculture, carbon and biodiversity? Will the Government in their engagement before and after the publication of the framework, as the Minister outlined, engage widely with the 140,000 landowners who ultimately own the land and will decide on how their land will be used? He needs to reassure them that such a framework is not a top-down diktat and that they will still be able to make decisions about their own land and will be incentivised for adopting options that are broadly in line with national policies and targets.

Lord Douglas-Miller Portrait Lord Douglas-Miller (Con)
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I thank the noble Baroness for her questions. She raises some really important points. I think that the noble Lord who has been the recipient of the previous 40 questions on the land use framework might be sitting quite close to me at the moment. As the 41st recipient to respond to this query, I am incentivised to come up with the answer before the Summer Recess, as I said.

There are many uses of our land, and we need to anticipate for the future. Naturally, several government departments have interests, and we are working closely with them to understand their land use expectations and feed them into the framework. The Government support the principle of multifunctional land use—in essence, land sharing rather than land sparing. The framework will provide land managers and farmers, and other interested parties, with guidance, so they can make effective decisions based on local knowledge and local strategies, as well as understanding national requirements. The framework is not intended to be prescriptive or to force people into certain categories. It is essentially guidance.

Animal Welfare (Livestock Exports) Bill

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Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone (Lab)
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My Lords, I declare my interests as chair of the Royal Veterinary College and the owner of two opinionated dressage horses, who have informed me that there is no way that they are getting on a boat, unless it is to travel to the Olympics.

This may be the Minister’s first full Bill in this House, so I welcome him to the joys of Second Readings. As he said, there is widespread support for this provision, so I hope that it will be an easy one for him to cut his teeth on. I thank him and the Government for progressing the Bill to prohibit the live export of specified British livestock for slaughter or fattening abroad. Live exports see animals crowded into vehicles—often the first time they are away from their mothers—on long, stressful journeys, causing them to suffer from exhaustion, dehydration and even death. As the Minister pointed out, those journeys can be very long; they go to Spain —a 60-hour journey—Bulgaria or Hungary. In some cases, journeys from the Republic of Ireland possibly go onwards to Middle Eastern destinations —although that is difficult to establish—where of course very different welfare standards exist. There is a strong case for banning the trade.

In the most recent year in which live exports occurred, between 25,000 and 50,000 sheep and calves alone were exported from Great Britain. The Bill will stop that inhumane practice. Although there have been no live animal exports from GB to the European Union since 2020, that is not due to any lack of wish for the trade to continue; it is mainly due to a lack of suitable post-Brexit border control posts in French and Belgian ports.

New border control posts are now being created or existing posts upgraded, and this could open the door to the resumption of the trade were the Bill not to be passed. The Secretary of State for Defra at Second Reading in another place confirmed that, given the demand from Europe’s slaughterhouses for livestock, and especially British sheep, as the Minister said, there is no reason to think that this trade would not resume at the first opportunity.

I therefore urge the Minister and indeed the House to progress the Bill swiftly to get it through all its stages before the election, whenever that might be. The Bill was introduced in the other place in December 2023 and has got to our House within two months. Let us keep up the pace that has already been set. This legislation was a 2019 Conservative manifesto commitment and a Labour 2019 animal welfare manifesto commitment. It has support from the Liberal Democrats and the Greens, and even the Scottish National Party put it into its manifesto in 2021. The public support it overwhelmingly, so let us get it done—oh dear; I am beginning to sound like a Conservative.

The Bill, however, could shine even more, and, at the risk of being seen to go against what I just said about the need for speed, the Government ought to be pressed to consider a very small and simple amendment to take secondary legislation enabling powers to allow Ministers to add other types of livestock to the list as defined in the Bill, should that need arise. It is a pretty rare event for me to urge Ministers to take additional delegated powers, but things happen. We have to recognise that the trends in exports have been volatile. In a 10-year period, for example, pig exports went from 30,000 to 600,000. We are seeing an increasing amount of alpacas and deer farmed; those might well be other species that we need to take swift action on, and it would prevent Ministers having to come forward with primary legislation. Giving Ministers the power to add other livestock breeds to the list would future-proof the Bill. Secondary legislation is much quicker; primary legislation would always be behind the curve if numbers of exports were rising. Therefore I ask the Minister to press on, but with that small and simple amendment.

There are of course other associated animal welfare issues surrounding animal transport standards, some of which need attention, but we must leave those to another Bill. I thank the British Veterinary Association and the National Farmers’ Union for briefings on these welfare issues. The European Union is beginning to increase and enhance its standards; let us not be left behind. As the Minister said, we have always had a strong pride in our high standards of animal welfare and we really do not want to fall behind Europe—but that is for another day.

There is huge support for the Bill, as I said, except from the National Farmers’ Union, the Farmers’ Union of Wales and the National Sheep Association. However, we should listen and respond to the points being made, particularly by the NFU, that it is vital that the Government, when pursuing trade negotiations with countries that export large numbers of animals for fattening and slaughter, ensure that British farmers are not undercut by imports that do not meet the higher standards achieved within the UK. Let us get this done so we can be even more proud of our humane approaches and standards, and end live animal exports for fattening and slaughter for ever.

Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill

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Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP)
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My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baronesses, Lady Parminter and Lady Hayman, and to speak to Amendments 126 and 130, which they have already so ably introduced and to which I have attached my name, both of which have the fullest and broadest possible range of support across parties and non-parties in your Lordships’ House. I essentially agree with everything the noble Baronesses said, although I would perhaps give the Government rather less praise for what I would say are the extremely limited measures on polluter pays they have so far delivered than the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, did.

First, on Amendment 126, Clause 15 has been described as the “Ministers can do whatever they like” part of the Bill. I note that the Peers for the Planet briefing, among others—I should declare my position on the advisory board of Peers for the Planet—says that the direction of travel of the Bill is deregulatory. We are hearing one set of rhetoric, but ultimately, what we are talking about is the law and what will be written into it. That is what will hold sway, not fine words we might hear about a desire for higher standards. It is important also to stress that both amendments deal with environmental issues, but these are also very acutely human health issues: look at the current parlous state of public health in the UK. We really cannot afford to be going backwards in any such areas.

Amendment 126 tries to address the fact that there are no non-regression clauses in the Bill. This is trying to bring in a non-regression clause in one area. I would like a non-regression clause to apply to every category, whatever a category is, that the Bill might identify, but I will stick with the things that are identified in these two amendments, at least as some kind of starting point. When we come to Amendment 130, it is clear—and we had long and hard fights in your Lordships’ House, as I recollect, in the Environment Act 2021—that we need non-regression clauses, and there is also the power to amend what we are now calling retained EU legislation, so it is there in primary legislation; the power already exists, with rules applying to it.

I am not a lawyer and I am not sure whether the lawyers present in the Committee can explain to me how we can have non-regression clauses applying to a set of regulations in one Bill while another Bill has no non-regression clauses. It depends which Bill you use as to whether regression or non-regression is going to apply. Let me guess which law the Government are likely to want to use. Let us have a guess, shall we?

I turn to Amendment 126, and I am seeking to add to rather than repeat what the other noble Baronesses have said. I want to focus on ensuring that we do not conflict with relevant international environmental agreements. I am actually not sure about that, with the way this is currently written—and indeed this is a fast-moving area. Of course, since this amendment was written, we have finally had, after 20 years of negotiation, very excitingly, the agreement on the high seas treaty. That is a real step forward. We also have a mandate for negotiating a UN treaty on plastic pollution. This is where a significant amount of environmental action is happening. We can surely have something in the Bill to say, “We will comply with the international agreements that we have signed up to”, and, indeed, in many cases that we claim to be, and in some cases are, leading.

It might be said that we do not need to do that, but if it is not a problem for the Government, why cannot we write it in anyway? Many noble Lords will have just picked up the Illegal Migration Bill, on the front of which is a statement from the Home Secretary:

“I am unable to make a statement that, in my view, the provisions … are compatible with the Convention rights, but the Government … wishes the House to proceed”.


I truly believe that we need a statement written into this Bill—perhaps every Bill—that we will comply with international obligations that we have signed up to.

Finally, I turn to the non-regression elements in both amendments and the paragraph in the famous letter about overall regulatory burden and what a “category” is. It might reasonably be thought that regulations applying to plastics are a category, so I will explore a practical example of what these amendments could stop. In the last week or so, some extremely disturbing research has come out on the impacts of microplastics; in particular, the newly identified disease of plasticosis. It has been found in the digestive tracts of flesh-footed shearwaters—that is only one seabird, but the experts tell us that there is no biological reason why what is happening to it is not happening to all of us as we ingest what research suggests is up to 5 grams of plastic a week, depending on your diet.

The disease has been given that name because it is like silicosis and asbestosis: it is an inorganic material causing irritation to biological tissues. This is really serious. A few days ago, the Times quoted Dr Luisa Campagnolo, an expert in histology and embryology, as telling the American Association for the Advancement of Science that

“we should not drink bottled water in plastic bottles.”

That is what someone who is looking at the damage being done to tissues is saying.

Let us imagine that the science gets stronger in the next year or two—we can see the direction in which it is heading—and we want to bring in an SI to end all use of plastic bottles for food materials and drinks. What could be the conceivable counteracting release of regulation to achieve a balance of no greater regulatory burden? What in the area of plastics would you have to abolish to balance that? These amendments attempt to deal with issues such as that.

Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone (Lab)
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My Lords, I support these two amendments and congratulate the noble Baronesses, Lady Parminter and Lady Hayman of Ullock, on the way in which they introduced them. It is slightly ironic that the Government have just published their Environmental Improvement Plan, yet we do not have any sentiment of improvement in this Bill. In fact, we have a distinct deregulatory flavour with this emphasis on not increasing burdens.

In a way, I will miss this Committee, because we have been getting these wonderful letters from Ministers over the last few days. I thank the hot and cold running supply of Ministers wheeled in for this Bill for their correspondence on the issues we have raised on the various days of Committee. I confess that today’s letter from the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, on the safeguards around Clause 15 did not leave me any the wiser on the definition of “alternative provision”, but perhaps most germane to these amendments was the letter of 28 February from the noble Baroness, Lady Bloomfield, on the definition of “regulatory burden”. It left us all, as many noble Lords have said, confused about how not increasing the overall regulatory burden will be assessed—other than, as the Minister has just told us, that it will be up to Ministers to decide whether they are satisfied that the use of the power does not increase the overall regulatory burden in a subject area. I am sure that case law will have to prevail.

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Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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If the noble Baroness will allow me: Britain is revered in many of the fora that I have attended, whether COPs or other UN events, for the leadership we have taken on this. We cannot do it internationally unless we do it domestically as well. That is why our 30 by 30 commitment is so important and why we will achieve proper management of our marine protected areas by the end of next year, which will deliver precisely on the 30 by 30 commitment for the marine environment.

Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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The noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, was before the noble Baroness.

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Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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Forgive me, I think that is dancing on the head of a pin. Taxation is not a matter for this piece of legislation.

Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone (Lab)
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I was going to ask the noble Lord something else, but I support what the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, said.

It is kind of fruitless if we ping-pong across, with Ministers generally saying that we are right behind current levels of environmental protection, international commitments and all that. I wonder whether we could try a little test case on the habitats regulations, which we have made some changes to already through the Environment Act, and a number of changes to them are already embedded in the levelling-up Bill. Some bits of those regulations are left for which I do not know what the Government’s intentions are. Inevitably, for something such as protected areas and our commitment to 30 by 30, not having a clear view from government as to how the habitats regulations will fare in this review process, which is under way through two separate pieces of legislation already, is a bit of a worry when we have to sort that out before the end of the year.

Perhaps we could use the habs regs as a test case and ask the Minister to map out for us what has been sorted in the Environment Act, what will be sorted if we approve it in the levelling-up Bill and what is going to happen to the remainder of the provisions of the habs regs before they fall off a cliff at the end of this year. That would give us a lot more confidence in some of the assertions—which we absolutely accept the Minister is making in good faith—about not diminishing standards and not welshing on or diminishing our ability to respond to our international obligations.

Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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I totally respect the noble Baroness for her commitment on these issues. I know she would not want legislation that sealed the habitats regulations in aspic for ever, because the environment changes and demands change and Parliament has to reflect that occasionally regulations need amending. We may well want to raise the standards of those regulations.

Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone (Lab)
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If I can correct the Minister on that, this retained EU legislation Bill has a hard edge. As of the end of December, if nothing else has been done it does not set it in aspic but sets it eight feet under.

Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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If we maintain it as is, it will not fall at the end of the year. If we want to reform it, it will be in the form of an SI, as before, so noble Lords will have a chance to debate it. The noble Baroness seems to be presupposing that somehow we are just going to allow it to sunset, and we will not.

I will make a bit of progress, if I can. We want to positively—I think this answers the noble Baroness’s point—tailor our legislation to our new status as an independent nation. This is why we do not consider the proposed conditions for such regulations necessary.

Amendment 130 seeks to add a new clause to the Bill relating to environmental standards. This amendment would introduce a new clause requiring Ministers to meet the additional conditions set out within it. It would also specify that, when exercising these powers, the relevant national authority must have regard to the conservation and enhancement of biodiversity, the improvement of water quality, and the protection of people and the environment from hazardous chemicals. I recognise that the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, may have concerns about the powers within the Bill and the impact their use may have on regulations related to environmental standards. I reassure her that such concerns are unfounded.

A number of noble Lords talked about the water framework directive. I shall relate very quickly an experience I had when I came into government with the Liberal Democrats in the coalition. I visited a river that was feeding into the Wye—a river that is often raised in this House for its condition. I visited a mill-house. Its owners said that they had been there for eight years. They pointed at some farm buildings about half a mile away and said, “When we came here we couldn’t see those farm buildings. Two metres of top soil has been lost in the eight years we have been here.” I asked where it was now and they showed me the millpond round the other side of the house which was full of the delicious red soil that comes from that area. I said, “How could this have happened?” The farmer who had allowed it to happen was receiving money from the basic payment scheme, and probably from the countryside stewardship scheme, but no one had visited, or if they had visited they had not raised this issue. The river authority—or whoever was in charge of the quality of the rivers; it was the Environment Agency at the time—had not raised the issue.

That was 12 years ago. Since then, we have produced measures which would require that farmer, if they wanted to continue to get public money, to have soil conditions that would prevent that kind of erosion, and the management of that river would require much higher standards. The water framework directive, which has some very high standards and high bars which we talked about last time, was being ignored, and one of the great rivers of our country was being ruined.

Let us not pretend that everything was perfect in the past. We have got a long way to go to improve our rivers, and it is the determination of this Government to write a new form of the water framework directive which will continue the high standards that we seek for our rivers.

Environmental Targets (Woodland and Trees Outside Woodland) (England) Regulations 2022

Baroness Young of Old Scone Excerpts
Tuesday 24th January 2023

(1 year, 5 months ago)

Grand Committee
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Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone (Lab)
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My Lords, I declare my interest as chairman of the Woodland Trust and thank the Minister for introducing this statutory instrument. I almost did not speak as I was speechless with amazement at this target. The woodland canopy cover target is the only one that has gone down rather than increased as a result of the Government’s post-consultation considerations. This instrument would slash the previous tree targets increase by a third from what was originally consulted on—and that is without any further discussion or impact assessment.

Most of the consultation respondents said that 17.5%, the original target, was unsatisfactory because it was too low. Even if you discount all the respondents who were linked to campaigns, there were still 900 respondents who, off their own bat, said the same. Almost more important than the disappointment of a target that has become less ambitious is the fact that it is no longer aligned with the Climate Change Committee’s recommendation on the forestation rates necessary to achieve a 1.5 degrees temperature rise and the net-zero strategy. In the committee’s view, that needed 18% canopy cover by 2050, and Chris Skidmore’s review of the net-zero strategy re-endorsed the role of trees.

This reduction in the target was not endorsed by Defra’s own expert group, which felt that 17.5% was the right target to try to achieve. It is made worse by another tweak since the original consultation—or at least the way the consultation has worked out—which is that the proportion of conifer woodland incorporated in the target has gone up while the proportion of native broadleaf has gone down. This means that, up to 2050, 30% of the new woodland in England will be conifers rather than the 20% consulted on. Currently, the proportion of conifers in the mix is 14%, so that is a doubling of the current rate of conifer planting as a proportion.

This will have a major impact on both biodiversity and climate change. Irrespective of the claims made by the timber industry, on the basis of the current science, coniferous woodlands provide less return for wildlife and, in the longer term, for carbon. Conversely, native woodlands support a quarter of the UK’s priority species, are more resilient to disease as a result of the diversity of tree species and spend a longer time in the soil, which means more carbon sequestered not only in the wood but in the soil ecosystems.

I can only speculate on why the Government are proposing this diminished target. I beg the Minister’s forgiveness as I am going to paraphrase the Government’s response to the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. Basically, it is this: we are not hitting the current planting target so we will reduce the statutory target to make it easier to meet it. It is rather a major cop-out; the Government have been completely open about that. They are saying, “We are reducing the target because our planting rates are not currently achieving the levels that we said they should”.

The lack of ambition to come up to the mark and this deleterious switch in the conifer-broadleaf proportions also make me sniff the breeze and smell the work of the Forestry Commission somewhere in this, perhaps overly influenced by the forestry industry. The Forestry Commission is supposed to be for all woodlands but, increasingly and worryingly, it is reverting to its name, beating the drum for the forestry industry and commercial industry rather than for woodlands of all types and the many benefits that come from more diverse woodlands with respect to biodiversity, carbon, access, health, water and soil protection, et cetera. Although the forestry industry is right to say that the UK needs to be more self-sufficient in timber, that should not be a zero-sum game at the expense of native woodland benefits for biodiversity and carbon.

Let us return to the Government’s view that, as they have not delivered the targets so far, they will reduce them to make it easier. What should be happening is keeping the 17.5% target and stepping up to the challenge. There are things that could easily be done to achieve this: first, clearer incentives in the ELMs scheme for farmers with longer-term security for their plans for their land to encourage them to plant trees, indulge in agroforestry, create shelter belts, undertake water protection, replant hedgerows that have disappeared and fill in the gaps in existing hedgerows.

Secondly, we need changes in the rules for tenant farmers, as outlined in the Rock report, because tenant farmers are not in a position to make commitments to planting trees at the moment.

Thirdly, we need a sensible land use framework to indicate how the land can accommodate the trees and where. I was delighted to see Chris Skidmore endorse the fact that we need such a framework and that it needs to include the planning system, not just Defra issues.

Fourthly, we need a lot more urban tree planting and measures to support local authorities and developers in this. Local authorities are up for it. They are taking up the measures already on offer from Defra but much more can be done. They have lots of land that is small-scale, close to people, helps with urban air quality, helps with health—including mental health—and absolutely should be capitalised on for both biodiversity and carbon.

Fifthly, we need to simplify the Forestry Commission process of enabling trees to be planted and make it more efficient. I was at the commission’s celebration bunfight in this House last year. When an opportunity for questions was given, everyone duffed up the commission and complained about how bureaucratic, slow, unhelpful and useless it was. It was really quite sad because we need it to be powerful, helpful and effective. It needs better procedures.

Lastly, I hope that Defra is not resiling from ambitious targets for fear of the wrath of the Office for Environmental Protection if it fails. I know that the office is giving Defra a hard time at the moment on the lateness of the targets and environmental principles, and that there is all to go for in the 31 January deadline for the environment improvement plan, but it would be a sad outcome if having a tough new regulator resulted in everybody becoming very cautious in making commitments.

I want to finish by asking the Minister some questions. Some are real and some, as he will no doubt detect, are a bit facetious. First, what are the real reasons for reducing the targets? Are any of my surmises right? Secondly, in Defra’s response to the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, it talked about the first review of the targets. When will we see that first review begin? Tomorrow, I hope. Will the review assess what measures could be introduced to deliver enhanced targets with more sense of urgency? Lastly, does the Minister believe that an ambitious target honestly striven for but marginally missed is better than complacent targets that do not give leadership and signal that climate change and biodiversity do not really matter?

I shall now be speechless with rage.

Climate Change and Biodiversity: Food Security

Baroness Young of Old Scone Excerpts
Thursday 8th September 2022

(1 year, 10 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone (Lab)
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My Lords, I declare my interests as chair of the Woodland Trust, as a commissioner at the Food, Farming and Countryside Commission, and as vice-president of a range of environmental and conservation charities. I commend and welcome the maiden speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Willis; it is really great to have another biodiversity freak on board. I very much endorse the statements made about the powerful contributions that excellent scientists have made in this Chamber—it is great to have the noble Baroness here.

Climate change, biodiversity and food security are totally and deeply interdependent, both globally and nationally. The Armageddon in Pakistan described by the noble Baroness, Lady Mobarik, is absolutely an example of that, and we will increasingly see other examples. Climate change, biodiversity decline, and food and survival catastrophes for people across the world will become more and more frequent.

Right now in the UK, apart from any of the international actions that we can take, we need to ensure that policies are in place that focus on the environment and climate change impact not only of our food production but on our food production. Both are equally important. The current international tensions make it even more important that we address issues of food security in this country. The UK will never be self-sufficient in food production until we learn how to grow pineapples in Kent—that may yet come, of course—but there are some commodity groups where we could produce more of our own food. We are currently only 16% self-sufficient in fruit, 54% in fresh veg and 71% in potatoes, so we could do more. I raise this issue of self-sufficiency in these commodities simply to indicate how that in itself raises a challenge. Expanding potato production, for example, would need more land and water, and potatoes are notoriously hard on soils.

That takes me to the key point on which I want to focus. There are many in the Chamber today who will have guessed that I want to bang on about land use. There are many competing demands for land in this country: agriculture and food production; biodiversity; carbon sequestration; generation of energy; timber production; water protection; development; housing; infrastructure; and land that people can access close to where they live and gain the health and spiritual benefits that those services provide. There are more land needs and pressures than, at the moment, it would seem we have land for. The Cambridge Conservation Initiative has calculated that, if we were simply to use land in the way that we do currently, we would need a third more land than we have. The risk is that we consider all these land-use needs as being in competition and that we continue to make decisions about them in silos.

As I said, many noble Lords will have heard me banging on for years about the need for a land use framework for England, which would provide support for decision-makers at all levels in breaking down the silos of decisions about land use. I simply say that Scotland is on its third land-use strategy. I know that our new Prime Minister does not think a lot of the First Minister of Scotland, but she may have got it slightly more right on this occasion in having a third land-use strategy. It brings into one policy framework the land aspects of a whole range of issues: food production, biodiversity, climate, economic development and social justice. We are not making any more land. I thought it was really fascinating that we have lost sight of the theme of the post-war settlement in this country—of the three capitals: of labour, capital and land. We have lost sight of the fact that scarce land is as important a national asset as capital and labour. I commend that thought to the Treasury and the new Chancellor.

As has been said, the Government recently agreed, in their response to the Dimbleby food strategy, that England needs a land-use framework—hurrah—but we appear to have rather a different Government today, so I ask the Minister to reassure the House that the Government are still committed to developing and launching a land-use framework by 2023. I urge him to widen the perspective of the strategy to cover not just the narrow range of Defra issues of carbon biodiversity and food production, but also the whole range of land-use pressures, especially infrastructure, housing, the built environment and energy generation. In particular, the framework needs to be completely seamless with whatever changes to the planning system the Government are working on. I also press him to give us an indication of the Government’s current intentions on planning reforms, because at the moment they have kind of gone into a hole.

Some other wider government policy currently seems a bit confused as well. As the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, said, the solar panels versus food security argument is unreal, although I do not think the new Prime Minister has yet twigged that. If the Government were to tackle, systematically and urgently, a major programme of energy efficiency and retrofitting in all domestic and commercial properties, and if they were to restore their own zero-carbon new homes policy that was cancelled in a rather cavalier fashion by George Osborne in 2015—if these two things were done—we would need less energy and we would not need solar panels on farmland, because solar power would be generated intrinsically on buildings.

The biodiversity versus food security and carbon action versus food security dichotomies are also unreal. Modelling commissioned by the Food, Farming and Countryside Commission shows that multifunctional land use, where the same land delivers for a range of purposes, means that we can have enough land for all our needs and one land use need not be at the expense of another. Many of the decisions about the best multifunctional land use are made, in reality, at local level by myriad land managers. Whatever framework the Government develop needs to be able to inform decision-making processes below national level, at regional and local level, involving land managers and landowners of all kinds.

Let the science speak: when the land is used effectively in a multifunctional way, we can see a wholly revitalised landscape that is rich in both food and nature and combats climate change. This is about being smarter with the finite land we have. At the risk of a pun, we need to be able to have our land and eat it. Perhaps the Minister will be able to tell me whether he is still committed to a land-use framework that will be broader than just the Defra issues and how the planning reforms are going.

Before I finish, at this tense time for the country in a whole variety of ways, I commend the Queen’s Green Canopy initiative, which Her Majesty has hugely supported and has very graciously allowed the Woodland Trust to be involved in. Her Majesty knows about these things.

Government Food Strategy

Baroness Young of Old Scone Excerpts
Monday 13th June 2022

(2 years, 1 month ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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I am sorry that my noble friend does not feel that this hits the button. I hope that, as we take it forward, he will see that we are serious about ensuring that we reflect on what Henry Dimbleby produced in his two excellent reports—for the first time linking the food we eat and the health of our nation with how it is produced, and how we avoid the huge and extremely regrettable percentage of the food we produce that we waste.

As my noble friend knows, the Government are committed, because it is the law, to reaching net zero by 2050. We published our Net Zero Strategy last year, which sets the UK on a clear path to achieving that. The food strategy supports the delivery of a net-zero strategy, for example by making clear our commitment to publishing a land-use framework. This will play a critical role in setting out how we can best use land to meet net-zero and biodiversity targets, as well as helping our farmers adapt to climate change.

I hear what my noble friend says about peatlands. I was in the Peak District National park last week looking at extraordinary levels of peat restoration, which will gladden his heart and perhaps make him feel that, working together with land managers, we are going to get to the target his committee sets.

Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone (Lab)
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My Lords, I was going to raise a question about the land use strategy, which I welcome—a small crumb of thanks, if I may put it into this pudding of a strategy. However, I cannot ask that question because I am so appalled by how awful the strategy is. When I was chief executive of Diabetes UK, we worked endlessly with the supermarket sector on any information that it gathers in profusion. It became abundantly clear to me that that was a tiny part of tackling the epidemic of poor health in this country, which is killing the health service. Diabetes is now the biggest cause of premature death, from heart attacks to strokes. It causes blindness. People’s legs fall off. A shedload of things are draining the resources of the National Health Service as a result of obesity, which is simply solved if people can access the right food at the right price. I do not believe that this strategy will do that.

I will ask my question on the land use strategy, nevertheless. I am very grateful that we are going to have one. I am worried that we should not just focus on climate change, biodiversity, the environment and agriculture because there are other things that land is important for, such as the built environment, infrastructure, energy generation, flood risk management, health and mental health. How will these other objectives be taken into account in preparing the land use strategy—for which I am very grateful, with my small crumb of thanks?

Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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I am very grateful to the noble Baroness for her support, but I understand that that support is conditional on it being a good land use strategy that reflects the wider uses of land in a property-owning democracy, which is what we are. You cannot order farmers and land managers to use their land a certain way. You can regulate them in certain ways and you can control them through the planning system but, most of all, you can incentivise them.

It is not only the Government who are doing that. I was talking to a dairy farmer the other day who told me that he was way ahead of the Government in getting to net zero, not because the Government were telling him to do it, but because to continue to sell his milk to a particular buyer he had to get to net zero. That made him make land use decisions that were in the public good. There is a lot happening, but it does need pulling together in a clear, coherent strategy and I hope, working with people on all sides of this House, we will get a land use strategy that will be fit for the decades to come as we tackle the huge challenges we face.

Tree Health in England

Baroness Young of Old Scone Excerpts
Thursday 9th June 2022

(2 years, 1 month ago)

Grand Committee
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Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone (Lab)
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My Lords, hear, hear. I declare an interest as chairman of the Woodland Trust. Ash dieback is very serious. The study in 2019 showed that the long-term economic and environmental cost would be about £7 billion over the next 10 years. Ash supports more than 900 other species, of which 44 are entirely dependent on ash. They are very important—particularly, in my view, because they are the most prevalent form of standard trees in hedgerows, and hedgerows with standard trees are vital for the movement of species across the countryside that will be required with climate change.

The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, outlined how some trees appear more resistant, or at least tolerant, of ash dieback, but there is a long way to go before we are in a position where we will have tolerant seed stock on a widespread scale and are able to plant trees that will persist in the environment. The reality is that we should not hold our breath on the research. We need to take steps now. One of them is not to cut down trees that have ash dieback unless they are a risk to human health and safety. We are unnecessarily destroying trees that may recover or show signs of tolerance or resistance.

Ash dieback is only one of the diseases that affects trees. There is now a pathogen, pest or disease for almost every single species of tree that we have in this country—and if not here already they are lurking somewhere on the continent, ready to come. It is vital that we take tree health and biosecurity seriously across the board, particularly in view of the fact that we are dashing to plant and regenerate trees in the face of climate change: there is no point in increasing the tree cover if it is promptly going to die.

In conclusion—I have already had two minutes and 15 seconds on my timer—I urge the Minister to think about three things in terms of tree health measures. First, let us really have a drive to reduce imports by promoting the UK nursery sector. Will he support—as he is already doing—and promote even more firmly the UK and Ireland Sourced and Grown accreditation system, which aims at all tree stock, from seed to mature tree, being grown in this country or Ireland?

Will he tell us and get on with—this is more of a government-wide issue—the delayed last stage of implementation of the UK sanitary and phytosanitary regime? We still have distressing examples of new pests getting past port controls: the recent introduction of the pine processionary moth in April is just one example. So, when will we finally get the SPS fully implemented?

Lastly, will the Minister tell us when we will see the new version of the GB plant biosecurity strategy and, particularly, its associated industry plant health accord? It is vital that the whole tree planting and nursery industry, along with the conservation world, is massed behind this effort if we are to see healthy woodlands providing places for biodiversity, places for people and combating climate change—and I have finished before the end of my alarm, which was going to quack like a duck.

Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill [HL]

Baroness Young of Old Scone Excerpts
Lord Howard of Rising Portrait Lord Howard of Rising (Con)
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My Lords, I have a number of amendments in the group. Amendments 24 and 30 both probe why “all” is required. Would not “due regard” by enough, as in other legislation? The extra word may risk the committee not reporting on whether due process has taken place but instead starting to opine or comment on the merits of policy and government decision. That is not its role, but it has the potential to create unnecessary delays and complications for legislation, as the remit of the committee is widened to such a degree that there is almost nothing on which it cannot express views.

Amendments 25 and 32 would give the committee a further remit—the power to consider both a positive and a negative impact on the welfare of animals. That is crucial when we consider policy that relates to pest control. The formulation and implementation of policy, having all due regard for the welfare of animals as sentient beings, must consider the particular circumstances of all animals, the welfare of which the committee is considering. Lawful pest control activities are undertaken to stop the spread of diseases and to protect livestock. The positive effect of those actions should be noted if the policy is to be reported on.

As I am sure the Minister knows, the animal world can be pretty brutal. If some of the gentler species are to survive, there needs to be control of predators. It is no accident that, where there is such control, there is a far broader range of species. I hope this will be recognised by the committee. How it seeks to balance the demands of the various sentient species is of great importance.

Amendment 34 would limit the remit of the committee to future policy and prevent it considering existing law. Amendments 18, 23 and 29 in my name, to which I shall speak later, cover the point of existing law. Limiting reports to future policy would be a sensible limitation, because if the committee was suddenly given the job of reviewing all existing policy, large amounts of government business might have to be stopped for review by the committee. Such a standstill could cause severe disruption and would place a huge burden on government departments and the committee. It is difficult to think how the committee could possibly cope from scratch with looking at large swathes of policy. The potential damage and the massive cost of stopping government work would be immensely onerous and impractical.

Amendment 36 probes why the Bill does not cover the devolved Administrations. There seems to be somewhat of a blind spot in that reports of the committee may not include any policy falling within devolved competence. After all, this debate on animal sentience only began with our departure from the European Union, as there would no longer be an explicit reference to law applicable in the United Kingdom on the sentience of animals. Should the Bill therefore not apply to the policy of all Governments?

Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I declare an interest as chair of the Royal Veterinary College and speak to Amendment 47 in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Hayman of Ullock. Basically, what the Bill does is set up a committee. For the animal sentience provisions to be effective, the committee has to be effective. Both my amendments, one of which is in a later group, would ensure that committee could do a good job.

Amendment 47 would ensure that committee could call witnesses, commission research and get proper access to information across government, and make sure that all government departments co-operated. It is very straightforward, and I hope the Government will accept it.

On Amendment 39, in the name of my noble friend Lady Hayman of Ullock and the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, the remit of the committee and the range of policy on which it can report must remain wide if it is going to spot animal sentience challenges. I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Trees, and the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, about restricting the scope of the committee. I do not often fall out with the noble Earl, but I find it slightly quaint that we are harking back to the Lisbon treaty. I was very much against Brexit, but it seems rather strange that we are clinging to the terms of the Lisbon treaty.

The range of policy on which the committee can report has to remain wide, but it needs a helping pointer from government departments to areas of policy which they are beginning to develop which could have animal sentience implications. Such a heads-up by government departments needs to be especially early in the process for the committee then to do its work to help the Government in good time and before things become too wedded within the department. The amendment therefore aims to be helpful to government departments rather than to hinder. It would have a beneficial effect in encouraging departments to think in advance about the animal sentience implications of policy right at the start of the policy process.

I also support Amendment 45, which would enable the committee to work with government on a framework for forward planning and review. It would mean that government was not offshoring all thinking on animal sentience to the committee and avoiding its responsibilities for being at the centre of that process.