(1 month, 2 weeks ago)Lords Chamber
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 104 in the name of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, who, alas, cannot be with us at this late hour. With his permission, I shall lay out his amendment, which would reduce the importation of tree disease by ensuring that all trees planted by or for the Government would adhere to a biosecurity standard.
Over the last 30 years we have imported more and more plants and trees, and plant diseases have gone up correspondingly. We have at least 27 new pests and diseases recorded with impacts on native plant and tree species. Wales alone is set to lose more than 6.7 million larch trees because of the spread of phytophthora ramorum—one should not have to say that at this time of night. Sweet chestnut blight is spreading like wildfire. Ash dieback is well recorded, and its impact will see something like 90% of our native ash trees going and a cost to the economy of £15 billion by 2050.
On the continent, xylella fastidiosa is rampaging through the lands and is as near as the Netherlands and Denmark. It eats everything, basically—over 500 species of tree and plant so far. If it arrives in the UK, the effects on our native species could be devastating, so this is a really important issue. However, we do not need to do what we currently are doing, which is to import a very large proportion of our tree and plant supplies. We could be growing these trees in particular here in this country. The Government are one of the biggest purchasers in the market for trees so, if we are to change the way in which trees are sourced and minimise the risk, it is only right that the Government take the first step. The new biosecurity standard that the amendment calls for would set a new standard in sourcing of trees by government agencies and third parties from UK growers, thereby curtailing the risk of importing diseases on tree stock and at the same time delivering investment that would see hundreds if not thousands of new jobs created. I hope that the Minister can consider this amendment.
I support Amendment 92 on agroforestry, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and declare my interest as chair of the Woodland Trust. To give one example, we did a very interesting experiment in Wales with electronic sheep. It is true to say that shelter belts protected the electronic sheep. Now that we are doing it with proper sheep, those protected by tree shelter belts produce bigger lambs with less lamb and ewe mortality. Therefore, there are all sorts of benefits for animal welfare and biodiversity, and I am sure that the Minister is clear about their benefits of hedgerows and very short trees. Farming needs agroforestry, but nowhere is it enshrined in statue as the desirable way forward, and this amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, would do just that.
Amendment 103 in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, whom I have just usurped from introducing his own amendment before I speak to it, is a great amendment. The noble Earl has been doing wonderful work on the UK Squirrel Accord. We really must take effective action on animal damage if we are to see a big increase in protection of ancient woodlands and the increased creation of woodlands that climate change requires. Deer management, for example, is failing in many parts of the UK because of a lack of the co-ordinated action by all landowners in an area that must happen if proper control is to take place. Amendment 103 would ensure that all public authorities play their role and encourage other private landowners to do so in that co-ordinated, area-based way which is essential.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, and indeed all the speakers in this group. On Amendment 103, I have to draw to noble Lords’ attention a study published about three weeks ago by the Woodland Trust and the National Trust of a trial that found that there are practical alternatives to plastic tree guards. I note that the Woodland Trust is planning to stop using plastic tree guards by the end of this year. Given how much we have debated plastics in other parts of the Bill and much discussion of the problem of microplastics, that is very much to be appreciated, while also offering support for the need to make sure we protect young trees.
I will also briefly comment on Amendment 104, so very ably and expansively introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone. I fear electronic sheep may be wandering through my dreams.
(1 month, 2 weeks ago)Lords Chamber
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Brown of Cambridge, for her excellent opening remarks. As she rightly said, a number of us spoke at some length on this matter in Committee. We have had excellent expositions from her and supporting evidence from the noble Lord, Lord Deben, of the merits of this case and why we need these statutory targets. It is not just this House that is calling on them —business is calling on them. This is what it needs to make the changes in the future for our country and for the sustainability of companies. Given that time is tight, if the noble Baroness were to press this to a vote, she would have the support of these Benches.
(3 months, 2 weeks ago)Lords Chamber
My Lords, this is the tree group of amendments: we seem to have quite a large number of them clustered together. I declare my interest as chairman of the Woodland Trust.
My Amendment 258 would give protection to ancient woodland equivalent to that already provided for sites of special scientific interest. Ancient woodlands are at least 400 years old. By their very age, they are one of our most rich and complex communities of biodiversity, both above the ground and below in the soils and mycorrhizal communities. Many of them are also historically and socially important. They have the added value, these days, of continuing to sequester carbon every year that they continue in place. They are known as the cathedrals of the natural world. They are irreplaceable—if you plant a new wood, it will not be an ancient woodland for 400 years at least—yet over 1,200 ancient woodlands across the UK are currently under threat from development: mostly housing, roads and railways. Over the last 20 years, nearly 1,000 ancient woodlands have been permanently lost or damaged. Many of the remaining fragments are small and incredibly vulnerable to pressures from surrounding land or the built environment. They are often much loved, and trampled excessively out of love by dog walkers. They are damaged by fly-tippers and subject to drift from agricultural operations. They currently have inadequate protection, hence the 1,200 currently on the threat list.
Planners and developers are warned away from developing on ancient woodland in the National Planning Policy Framework, except in “wholly exceptional” circumstances. But the NPPF is not always observed and does not apply to major infrastructure projects—and who knows what will happen to the NPPF under planning reform? Developers and planners are supposed to consult the ancient woodland inventory in order to avoid trashing ancient woodland through their development. They can see where there is ancient woodland and try to avoid it. However, the inventory is pretty out of date, it was always geographically patchy, and it does not list a large number of small sites. Very late in the day, it is now slowly being updated.
My amendment seeks to use a well-known, long-standing and comparatively easy and effective model, the system used for protecting sites of special scientific interest, to protect ancient woodland. Planners and developers have been working with SSSI rules for 70 years. SSSI status was part of the post-war settlement introduced in 1949. It is a well-known process, so we would not be inventing new bureaucracy, simply adding gently to existing regulations. I am not saying by my proposal that ancient woodlands should meet the biodiversity standards outlined in SSSI regulations, but that all ancient woodlands entered on the ancient woodland inventory would be protected from development, would be monitored in respect of their condition and would be required to be managed to reach and maintain ecological status, under the same processes that are in place for SSSIs.
I hope the Minister will seek to assure me that the England trees action plan has lots in it to help protect ancient woodland by bringing in measures to support long-established woods—woods established before 1840—for example by bringing in schemes to increase buffering around the smaller fragments, and by the removal of inappropriate conifer overplanting on ancient woodland sites. We may see targets for ancient woodlands, but there is nothing quite like statutory protection on existing highly threatened sites, and it could be so simply achieved by my amendment to stop the rot. Otherwise, our children and their children will judge us harshly for our record of destruction of these very English cathedrals of the natural world. SSSIs were an iconic part of the post-war settlement. Let us have ancient woodland protection as an iconic part of the post-Covid settlement.
I turn to my Amendment 259 on a biosecurity standard when planting trees using public money. Tree disease resulting from importing seeds, young plants, and more mature stock from abroad has been disastrous for the health and existence of our woodlands, their biodiversity and our landscapes. There is now a pest or disease for virtually every species of native tree. Many noble Lords will remember Dutch elm disease and how dramatically it changed the nature of our landscapes. We now have oak diseases, oak processionary moth, and, of course, with ash dieback we will lose millions of ash trees and change the face of the countryside and its wildlife dramatically. The incidence of new pathogens entering the UK mirrors exactly the rise in plant imports.
Amendment 259 would require the Government to draw up and implement a biosecurity standard which would apply to all planting of trees and shrubs by Governments, their agencies and contractors. The standard would include a provision that all native tree stock would be “sourced from UK growers” and be certified as having been grown within the UK for its entire life. At the moment, stock moves backwards and forwards between the UK and Europe for stages of its rearing, with all the risks of tree disease importation. The amendment would be good for woods, trees, nature and landscapes, and would represent a major opportunity for job creation in an expanded UK tree nursery industry.
The Woodland Trust’s UK and Ireland sourced and grown assurance standards will have produced 27 million home-grown trees between 2014 and 2024. More and more nurseries are taking part. We applaud the Government’s commitment to an exponential uplift in the number of trees planted, in the interests of climate change and biodiversity, and major taxpayer money is going to be invested. So there is no time to lose. We need more than a voluntary scheme; we need a statutory basis for the standard. We need a clear future estimate of the number of trees required, so that nursery businesses can grow in the UK and get on with confidence to develop a UK-based capacity to meet the demand for safe trees.
My Amendment 260 places a duty on the Government to prepare, maintain and report on a tree strategy for England and to produce targets for the protection, restoration an expansion of trees in woodlands in England. I welcomed the Government’s recent England trees action plan, which is, to all intents and purposes, a tree strategy. But it is non-statutory and, as we all know, Governments come and go and Ministers come and go. I hope that the Government are going to be consulting on tree targets of the sort I have touched on. So, if there is to be a tree action plan and tree targets, why not just make them statutory? Can the Minister tell us why he is not keen on a statutory basis for these two issues?
I support Amendment 260A in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, to which I have put my name. We will be planting 30,000 hectares of trees a year to meet our carbon and biodiversity targets. This will be severely compromised if damage, not just by disease, but by deer in particular, is not reduced to below its current level. The standard proposed would need to be based on clear evidence on tree losses following proper assessment and to be set in a framework of landscape-scale deer management plans across multiple owners. As the noble Earl will no doubt say, part of the current problem is landowners who do not undertake control and who could wreck the efforts of others around them to control damaging pests such as deer. I therefore hope that he receives support for his amendment.
My Lords, I am very pleased to be able to follow the noble Earl. I declare an interest as an owner of a plantation on an ancient woodland site, mostly replanted in 1986. I reckon that my cumulative loss to squirrels is about 60%. There are areas of the wood where nothing has survived except the coppice regrowth, and a lot of that is damaged. I have been trying to control squirrels throughout that time. This is a really serious problem if we want to take trees seriously, particularly if we want them to be commercial. I therefore very much support Amendment 260A. It would be a really useful way to go, getting us all working together in the same direction.
Deer are important too. Those who know the border between Wiltshire and Dorset will know the troubles the RSPB has had in Garston Wood with the herd of fallow deer it had there. It got zero regeneration at the end of the day because there were just too many deer. It has now excluded them, which is not fun for the local farmers, but at least it solves the RSPB’s problem. However, generally we have to recognise our position in this ecosystem. We are very important as the top predators—the controller of what happens with herbivorous activity—and if we want particular species and kinds of things to grow, we must act on that responsibility.
We need to start to understand how regeneration is working around us. Oak regeneration does not seem to be happening at all, something that is echoed by other people in the south of England. I do not know what circumstances need to change to make the ecology right for that. These are things that, with a big ambition for forestry, we need to understand. We do not want to have to be for ever planting trees; we ought to be able to rely on a pattern of regeneration.
I am very much in favour of the direction of Amendment 259. We need to be quite strict about the diseases that we let into this country. We have a very limited degree of biodiversity when it comes to trees and shrubs; we have about 30 different ones, around one-tenth of what an ideal temperate woodland would have by way of variety—courtesy of the Ice Ages, mostly, and the opening of the Channel but also, subsequent to that, the effect that man has on restricting the natural movement of plant species. We need, as the Forestry Commission is setting out to do, to improve our genomic diversity within species as well as the number of species that we have.
While I do not at all resent the activities of the Romans and others in bringing across chestnuts, for instance, or the buddleia in my garden—a cousin to many that are spread over the south downs—I do not think additional biodiversity hurts us. We are a very impoverished ecosystem and should be able to stand some introductions—but not, please, diseases. We have seen the devastation caused by ash dieback around here in Eastbourne. With a limited ecosystem, each disease is a big hit, and we do not want to risk more of that because it will take a very long time before we have a more diverse forest population.
However, I am not convinced by Amendment 258. As I said, I own a plantation on an ancient woodland site, and an SSSI designation would be a disaster. There is so much needed to do to make it better. The point of an SSSI is that you pick on a bit of landscape that is as you wish it to be, and the focus is then on keeping it as it is and making it difficult for people to change it. A plantation on an ancient woodland site means a lot of restoration to do, and you do not need the level of bureaucracy that goes with being an SSSI. I would be happy to have something to give it greater protection against invasion by planners but not something that stops the woodland owner from making it a better wood.
My Lords, I have had commitments from the MHCLG that our protections for trees will be improved and enhanced, and will not move backwards, but I will continue to press home that case. I am seeing the Secretary of State in a matter of days to talk about this and a number of other issues, and I will raise the points that the noble Baroness raised in her speech today.
(3 months, 3 weeks ago)Grand Committee
Thank you, my Lords. I should like to speak to Amendment 3 in my name and Amendment 16 in the names of my noble friend Lord Kinnoull and the noble Lord, Lord Hannan.
Amendment 3 will sit in Clause 1, which introduces the animal sentience committee, and it seems right, proper and appropriate that the clause then goes on to describe the committee’s remit. That is to some extent covered in Clause 2(2), but my amendment goes further than that clause in two important respects. First, it stresses:
“The function of the Committee is to determine whether, in relation to the process of the formulation”—
and so on. It introduces the word “process”, which is critical to understanding the function of the committee. It is not influencing the policy or commenting on it. It can comment, and it has a remit to comment, on the process by which policy is formulated and implemented with regard to considering animal welfare implications. That is important. It may be a statement of the obvious, but it is perhaps sometimes worth stating the obvious.
Amendment 3, which would extend Clause 2(2), also refers to its remit to look at policy subsequent to the establishment of the committee, which would therefore have no right to retrospective review of policies previously formulated or implemented, even if they are in process at the time. This is an issue that a number of subsequent amendments on the list repeatedly allude to. It would therefore seem sensible to include that provision right at the beginning as a limitation on the committee’s remit.
Those are the main points: the amendment sets out the committee’s remit right at the beginning of the Bill, emphasising that its role is to comment on process, and would limit its remit to policy being formulated and implemented after the committee has been established.
Perhaps I may quickly speak to Amendment 16. It would restrict policy, which the Bill does not do; the Bill refers to “any government policy”, which is a huge remit. The amendment would restrict the policy to areas that were defined in Article 13 of the Lisbon treaty, which to some extent is the progenitor of the Bill. It seems sensible to make the scope of the committee more manageable, reasonable and pertinent by restricting that remit.
My Lords, I have tabled three amendments in this group. The first is Amendment 19, supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, and my noble friend Lord Mancroft, which seeks to exclude from the scope of the committee any policy related to the advancement of medical science.
British medical science is at the forefront of the world, as we have seen over the last year or so, as it leads on genomic sequencing, vaccine development and large-scale randomised trials for therapeutic purposes. It must be a cause for concern that the actions and inquiries of this committee could create a degree of inhibition in the advancement of medical science and the actions of medical scientists in continuing to promote medical science, because in some cases, and under the strictest controls and with the greatest degree of humanity, it is necessary for animal experimentation to be undertaken in order for drugs to be established as safe and for other processes, which are beyond my medical knowledge but I think what I am saying is well understood, to be validated and found to be safe.
The difficulty with having a committee that can go roaming around, checking all these things in advance, which this committee in practice could, is that it trespasses on a well-worn, established set of mechanisms for ensuring that those experiments, where they are absolutely necessary, are carried out with a proper purpose and in proper circumstances.
We lead in medical science with the full support of the Government, not primarily because we see it as a source of great lucre flowing into the country—the Government’s insistence that the vaccine developed under their sponsorship should be available at cost is a good instance of that—but for the benefit of humanity as a whole. The whole human race will benefit from what we do. I think most people would recognise that that is a worthy objective and certainly one that could be settled on alongside any claims that may be made on behalf of animals and their rights. I would therefore strongly recommend, suggest and hope that this amendment can be made and medical science excluded so that the current position remains as it is. That is all I am really asking.
Moving on to the two other amendments, Amendment 26 has the support of my noble friends Lord Trenchard and Lord Hamilton of Epsom, while Amendment 33 is merely consequential on Amendment 26. Amendment 26 needs a little explanation. Clause 1 requires the committee and the Government to have regard to “the welfare of animals” and then adds the words “as sentient beings”. It is worth reflecting on what that adds to the claim. When you think about it carefully, it does not add anything at all; it actually subtracts. It is perfectly possible to do harm to animals and to damage their welfare in a way that does not affect them as sentient beings.
The example that most readily comes to mind is to do with background radiation. We know that parts of the country have high levels of background radiation, which can affect humans and, I assume, animals—mammals, at least—detrimentally, but you do not know that it is happening to you. You do not feel anything. You feel neither pleasure nor pain; there is no interaction with the concept of sentience. Your health may be deteriorating, but you have no sentient knowledge of it. It would simply be plainer, and would allow the committee to look at things in the round, if it did not have to be excluded, which it would be, from considering something such as the effects of background radiation on animals. It would simply not be permitted to look at that under this legislation. I thought there might be some support from those who thought that perhaps it should. The deletion of those words would restore us to a more common-sense position of looking at the welfare of animals in general.
Those are my other two amendments, but, before I finish, as this is such a large group I shall comment briefly on three others. Amendment 31, in the name of my noble friend Lord Forsyth, seeks to ensure that the committee at least gives due account to, or respects,
“legislative or administrative provisions and customs relating to religious rites, cultural traditions and regional heritage.”
That is an important point. On Second Reading, I tried to say that there is definitely an attempt here—one may support it, one may not—to shift the hierarchical balance, if you like, between humans and animals to put us more on the same level. I do not think that is too outrageous a claim to make. Of course, part of being human—not for everybody, but for many parts of humanity—is an awareness of, an adherence to and a sensibility about religious belief. With religious belief inevitably comes community adhesion and a certain amount of ritual practice. It takes things too far for the committee to be able to trample over that in the interests of animal welfare, with or without sentience being taken into account. That area should be preserved. The amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Forsyth has that effect. I think that Amendment 35 tabled by the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, would have a similar effect but, as he explained, he approached this more on the basis of restoring the balance that existed in the previous legislation. I am glad to be able to support that as well.
That leads me to what is in some ways the most important amendment in the group, put forward by the noble Earl as Amendment 16. I have heard it said informally by Ministers that all the Bill seeks to do is to carry forward into current legislation the legislation that previously existed that has almost been dropped by accident as a result of the legal manner in which we left the European Union, which he explained, so all that the Government are doing is restoring that position. That, of course, is not the case, because the previous position had clear limitations. If the Government were to take Amendments 16 and 35 from the noble Earl into account, a great deal of the legislation, although not all of it, would cease to be controversial or difficult. In some ways, those amendments are the key to the whole thing. If the Minister were able to say that he would accept them, we could all have a fairly short afternoon and declare victory on all hands.
My Lords, I would never have the temerity to say that anything was perfect in this world, and legislation is a messy process. I assure my noble friend that I believe that we are sailing the right path between creating something that is unwieldy and a burden on government and something that is—I hope he will agree when it is established—proportionate. It can range around government looking at important things and will inform the way decisions are made.
My noble friend mentioned the risk of judicial review. The Bill places additional legal duties on Ministers only in so far as it requires them to submit written responses on the parliamentary record to the animal sentience committee’s reports within three months of their publication. The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is additionally legally required to appoint and maintain an animal sentience committee. This means that the Bill creates only two additional grounds for judicial review: a failure by the relevant Minister to respond to the committee within three months and a failure by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to establish and maintain an animal sentience committee. I hope that gives my noble friend some reassurance.
I can assure the noble Earl that I am open to discussions on any area of the Bill where I feel we can make it better without creating hostages to fortune. I do not want to create a feeding frenzy for lawyers by putting anything in legislation that will increase opportunities for judicial review or any other legal measure. I will clearly be having many discussions with noble Lords from across the House between now and Report. I hope that what will emerge and what we will send to the other place will be a coherent piece of legislation.
(3 months, 4 weeks ago)Lords Chamber
My Lords, I once again refer to my interests: I chair the Cawood group, which has laboratories and analyses raw materials, including soil, and I am a trustee of Clinton Devon Estates.
Amendments 110 and 112 propose that “soil” is included in the meaning of the “natural environment” in Clause 43. I fully support the comments of the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, the noble Lord, Lord Randall, and the noble Lord, Lord Framlingham, who has just spoken. I do not mind which amendment is adopted, but, in my view, the positioning in Amendment 112 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Randall, flows more naturally in the text, following the listing of “air and water”.
The key issue is that “soil” is listed as a key component of the “natural environment”, and it is unbelievable that it is not already included in this definition. How can
“plants, wild animals and other living organisms”
be included, when they cannot exist without depending on soil? Soil is as crucial as air and water and fundamental to support life on earth. The natural world depends on it.
When the Minister responded to Amendment 11 in an earlier debate, he rejected its call to have “soil quality” as a priority area within the Bill on the basis that to do so would involve setting a target and that the definition and descriptor of “soil quality” were still not resolved and were a work in progress. It would not be the first time that the definitions underpinning a Bill were incomplete, and that is no reason not to have it included. A definition of satisfactory soil quality that supports sustainable food production, identifies the essential microbial organisms and life within the soil, and determines the level of organic matter to optimise carbon sequestration will be agreed. This will be resolved.
From current analysis by Cawood, I know that the level of sequestered carbon varies enormously from field to field, never mind farm to farm or region to region. It is essential that we address this opportunity and realise the carbon storage potential that the soil offers. Indeed, in the light of climate change, we would be failing in our responsibility if we did not do so. I encourage the Minister to seriously consider introducing an amendment on this topic before Report to save time, in view of the weight of opinion in support of this subject.
My Lords, it is a great honour to follow the noble Lord, Lord Curry, with his deep scientific knowledge of agriculture and soils. I declare my interests: my family runs a livestock farm and owns a series of SSSIs in two areas of nature reserves.
In this clause, we get to define the extent and, where necessary, the boundaries of what we want the Bill to influence. On soils, I support my noble friend Lord Caithness’s Amendment 110, which is necessary because the government strategy for carbon sequestration is considerably dependent on the soil and peat. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will respond positively to either of these amendments.
I will produce a quote from a rather different angle: 300 years ago, in Gulliver’s Travels, Jonathan Swift expressed the old saying that
“whoever could make ... two blades of grass … grow upon a spot of ground where only one grew before, would deserve better of mankind, and do more essential service to his country, than the whole race of politicians put together.”
That was in his day. This has inspired our farmers for 300 years. To me, it is an environmental principle, but in the Bill the Government have given us as their environmental principles a set of prohibitions, protections and penalties.
The judgment, from the measures contained in the Bill, is that that earlier principle has now gone too far. The protections listed will be necessary, but we need to be sure that our purpose is not simply to put all the processes of the countryside into decline. It would be nice if someone could come up with a phrase that would draw all our aspirations together and point the way forward. The outcome will hang on the wording in these clauses and what we interpret as the meaning of “natural environment”.
I support Amendment 113, in the name of my noble friend Lady McIntosh and the others who have signed it. This draws our attention to the whole marine biosphere, an area that is under great threat at the moment. It is essential that this is not overlooked. The various marine organisations are still drawing up their inventories of what is in the natural environment at present, and a great deal of expense and research will have to be dedicated to that area. I too served on the EU Environment Sub-Committee that my noble friend Lady McIntosh mentioned, and I contributed to the work that was put in. There are huge areas where we have hardly any information.
My noble friend Lady McIntosh spoke of the importance of the marine area to the UK. In December, Scotland published its latest marine assessment report, which has to be updated every three years and which, in turn, covers an area six times greater than the Scottish landmass—so biodiversity is a very important field for that Administration.
At the same time, the Bill will incorporate the policies of species abundance and the encouragement of biodiversity. We have spent so much time discussing targets. Given the role that mankind has taken upon itself over the centuries, targets are necessary. The Secretary of State can introduce almost unlimited targets under the Bill, but Clause 3 has a number of subsections that must be observed if the Secretary of State wishes to reduce them.
However, there is no requirement for the Secretary of State to pay any attention to taking actions if a crisis develops when one element becomes prolific or threatening and the need to cull numbers requires some urgency. The nearest experience that I have had did not have the urgency in question: it was decided that the deer population in the huge Queen Elizabeth Forest Park, which is next door to me, was well above what was good for forestry purposes and that it should be reduced to four deer per square kilometre. They then set about culling 4,000 deer out of this area, which is not something that I would readily support, but it was a necessary management action and is an indication of what might be required if proliferation becomes extreme. In the spirit of the Bill, it will always be preferable to employ nature-based solutions, but, if diseases or threats to biodiversity occur, we must be prepared to act in whatever way will be effective.
My noble friend Lord Caithness’s second amendment raises the important question of defining biodiversity. “Biodiversity” in the Bill seems limited to the abundance of species, particularly in Amendment 22, moved by my noble friend the Minister on day 2 of our deliberations. Amendment 113B would mean that attention could be given to how far biodiversity should be supported.
(4 months, 3 weeks ago)Lords Chamber
My Lords, an independent review of the economics of biodiversity, produced by Professor Sir Partha Dasgupta of the University of Cambridge—I declare my interests—describes nature as “our most precious asset” and finds that humanity has collectively mismanaged its global portfolio. Our demands far exceed nature’s capacity to supply the goods and services that we all rely on, and the last few decades have taken a devastating ecological toll. The review highlights that recent estimates suggest that we would need 1.6 earths to maintain humanity’s current way of life. As Professor Dasgupta said:
“Truly sustainable economic growth and development means recognising that our long-term prosperity relies on rebalancing our demand of nature's goods and services with its capacity to supply them.”
Since 1970, there has been an almost 70% drop, on average, in the populations of mammals, birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians. Some 1 million animal and plant species—almost a quarter of the global total—are believed to be threatened with extinction.
The CBI, of which I am president, has been addressing resources and waste reforms. In the wake of Covid-19, the new UK-EU relationship, rapid technological advancement and climate change, the country has a defining opportunity to set an ambitious target and course for the next decade and beyond. Protecting the environment for future generations should be at the heart of any economic vision for the UK. We have just launched our economic strategy—Seize the Moment: An Economic Strategy for the UK—for the next decade until 2030; climate change, biodiversity and the environment are key pillars of this.
Just as the CBI and our members stand with the Government on meeting the UK’s target for net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, we are supportive of the ambition behind the resources and waste strategy to move towards a circular economy. The drive towards a circular economy, where resources are used efficiently and waste kept to a minimum, presents a genuine opportunity for the UK to be a world leader in sustainability. This could bring huge economic benefits, increasing our lagging productivity and improving prosperity for all. Responsible businesses know that they have a crucial part to play in protecting our environment and are acutely aware of the high consumer demand for firms to be proactive. We look forward to business continuing to work with the Government to ensure that we establish a pathway to a circular economy that enhances business competitiveness and empowers consumers to make positive choices. Does the Minister agree with this?
Some of the key points are that businesses need more visibility over how the reforms will work in practice. Taken together, the Government’s reforms are the most comprehensive overhaul of England’s waste and recycling system in a generation. Reforms on this scale are inherently disruptive, so it is crucial to ensure that their implementation, both logically and practically, take the pressures facing business into account. Many CBI members feel that the pace of reforms and lack of clarity of their design, so close to implementation, mean that many could struggle to make the necessary changes in time. Do the Government agree with that?
There are additional costs and burdens on business that need to be kept to a minimum. Consumers must be encouraged and empowered to make positive choices. The BBPA, which is a member of the CBI and of which my business is a member, says that it is crucial that the implementation of a deposit return scheme does not further hinder pubs, brewers and producers, but provides them with a platform to play an important role in supporting our environment, while continuing to operate efficiently and profitably.
The B7, which I was privileged to chair last month, feeds into the G7. There are important milestones to deliver successful outcomes and build momentum ahead of the B20, the G20 and COP 26. As we address the challenge of reducing carbon emissions, business also needs to consider wider impacts on the environment, particularly biodiversity, where more work needs to be done to understand how business and government can work together to create a sustainable future for all. G7 nations should prioritise national policies to support the development of markets that value diversity, biodiversity, natural environments, natural carbon sinks and nature-positive business activity. Biodiversity loss is occurring worldwide, and the decline is set to continue under business-as-usual patterns of activity. The World Economic Forum estimates that over half of global GDP is threatened by nature loss. Therefore, preserving nature is central to a sustainable future.
The G7 Energy and Climate Ministers issued a joint communique on G7 climate and biodiversity, and it is encouraging that they have taken the B7 recommendations on board. The OECD speaks about natural capital underpinning all economic activity. Greener UK says that the stakes could not be higher for this first dedicated environmental Bill in over 20 years. The World Wildlife Fund welcomes the Environment Bill and calls for a statutory deforestation target. Are the Government considering this? The UK NGO Forest Coalition says that halting the global loss of forests and other natural ecosystems is essential.
I conclude with Sir David Attenborough, the famed Cambridge alumnus, who welcomed the Dasgupta review, saying that it is
“the compass that we urgently need.”
“Economics is a discipline that shapes decisions of the utmost consequence, and so matters to us all. The Dasgupta Review at last puts biodiversity at its core … This comprehensive and immensely important report shows us how by bringing economics and ecology face to face, we can help to save the natural world and in doing so save ourselves.”
My Lords, the stated purpose of the Environment Bill is to improve the natural environment and the 2019 Glover review of the national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty that called for radical change in the way we protect our landscape. The review stressed the need for us to take urgent steps to recover and enhance nature. One thing that is causing damage to the natural environment and to our fragile and precious landscapes is that 4x4 vehicles, motorbikes and quad bikes are allowed to be driven for purely recreational purposes on unsealed tracks all over the countryside, including in national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty. The only reason this is allowed to happen is because the law as it stands states that a countryside track, whatever it may be, which has been used in the past by horsedrawn carts, carries a right of way for any kind of modern motor vehicle.
Parliament attempted to deal with this problem in 2006 in the passage of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act. It put a stop to the historic use of horsedrawn carts, giving rise to the use of cars and motorbikes on footpaths and bridleways, but it left unprotected over 3,000 miles of other tracks in the countryside that have no right of way classification. These are the country’s green lanes. They are all open to use and abuse by recreational motor vehicles, and as a result, great damage is being done, even on the high fells. The amendment I will seek to table does not ask for an immediate change in the law, and if passed, it would require the Secretary of State to return to the business that was left unfinished by the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act and to carry out a public consultation on whether the loophole left behind by that Act should be closed.
The other issue that has recently come into prominence after the recent county council elections is the connection between many large housing estates and the wastewater and sewerage facilities until they are able to process the new load. This leads to an abuse of the exemption in place for exceptional storm water, resulting in the pollution of rivers and streams in the area. Reference has been made by other noble Lords to the thoroughly inadequate enforcement facility. This needs immediate action to stop the present abuse.
The contamination of sewage with wet wipes and other materials should be tackled at once by making a prominent announcement on the packaging of such products showing that they are not for flushing. Yesterday, I examined a number of these products. Many make statements such as “May be recycled as dictated in the locality.” One product, in very tiny letters, did say “Not for flushing.” There is no reason why immediate action should not be taken to deal with this by making a “Not for flushing” sign on all such packaging so that people could at least be advised about what they should do.
I fully agree with the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Finsbury: all new housing estates should be fitted so that they catch and preserve water rather than feeding it into the sewage system. Also, they should all use efficient machines, which will do a great deal more to conserve the water we use than the present system of letting rainwater go to waste and continuing to install inefficient machines.
My Lords, only a few days ago, I was delighted to hear a speech given by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on restoring nature. In it, he lamented the failures of the past 50 years and promised a new approach, announcing plans for
“creative public policy thinking that can deliver results”
“the emphasis away from processes that simply moderated the pace of nature’s decline”.
Of particular note is this comment from my right honourable friend:
“In Natural England, we have exceptional technical expertise on habitats and our protected sites but this precious expertise is often distracted by highly prescriptive legal processes. I would like to get to a position where our talented staff in Natural England have fewer distractions and are able to prioritise the interventions that will make a big difference. I want them to have more freedom to exercise judgment rather than being stewards for a process.”
I was also fascinated to listen to the words of my noble friend Lord Ridley earlier. I propose to continue his theme. Biodiversity net gain is a particularly interesting concept to enable achievement of the Secretary of State’s ambition, as set out in a Written Ministerial Statement of 18 May,
“to deliver a regulatory framework that is fit for purpose in driving forward our domestic ambitions … We need a revised approach to deliver this new species abundance target and better support iconic and much-loved native species”.—[Official Report, Commons, 18/5/21; col. 45WS.]
I propose to focus my remarks on Clauses 92 to 94 and Schedule 14—the part dealing with biodiversity net gain, which I warmly welcome.
Noble Lords may be interested in a case study. As set out in the register of interests, I have an interest in a commercially operated lake in the Cotswold Water Park, as well as other land nearby. Land managers were notified on 7 January that an old 1994 SSSI of 135 hectares was being enlarged to 15 times its size to include all the Cotswold Water Park’s 177 lakes—a total of 2,074 hectares.
I have no doubt that all those managing land there agree that it is a special place for nature and are willing to work with Natural England to preserve and enhance nature and biodiversity. Indeed, for many years, many of us have welcomed the BTO’s volunteers, who have counted the birds there and contributed in many other ways. However, what is relevant to the provisions of the Bill on biodiversity net gain is that there is no doubt that active management will be needed to preserve and enhance the habitat.
Indeed, that is acknowledged by Natural England in its “views on management”, which accompanied the notification. For example, it says:
“For the more sensitive pioneer species suitable habitat conditions require regular management of the early successional stage … These habitats may require some active management … Exposed areas of bare ground on islands should be maintained to provide nesting sites”.
Those are just examples. Much more can and should be done if we are to improve matters for nature. These things will not happen on their own; they will cost money.
Habitat banks for the purposes of biodiversity net gain credits under the Bill offer much promise in that regard. However—I would be grateful if the Minister could check this and write to me—we are advised that Natural England, as a matter of policy, specifically denies land managers the ability to take advantage of the opportunities presented by biodiversity net gain and, I think, ELMS, in respect of land subject to an SSSI notification.
One can understand that, perhaps for pristine wilderness, that may be appropriate, but for a habitat created by human intervention and under active management to preserve its otherwise transient state, it does not sound very sensible. It rather sounds as if, on the one hand, Natural England is telling us that active management is necessary while, on the other hand, it is removing the very tool that the Government are even now fashioning to enable us to fund that necessary active management.
Rather shockingly, it transpires that of the lakes designated in 1994, every one is, in Natural England’s own assessment, at “unfavourable declining” status. However, the large areas of the Cotswold Water Park that had not until now been so designated are, again at Natural England’s own assessment, in favourable conservation condition. This is in spite of—or, it might be argued, because of—activities that have gone on for years, for which Natural England now insists its consent is obtained.
Unless there is a clear and coherent plan to overcome the historic failures, it is unreasonable to repeat the mistakes of the past on a much larger scale, especially when there are now better options available that provide for conservation and enhancement. I do not have time to talk about a number of other controversial matters about the process that has been followed by Natural England here. Suffice it to say, there are several, and they include serious legal errors.
The Bill contemplates innovative mechanisms for true, sustainable development, such as the opportunities emerging from biodiversity net gain as part of development and habitat banks for offsetting. In his speech, the Secretary of State said that if we are to
“reverse the downward trend we have seen in recent decades, we need to change our approach,”
and we need to change it right now.
I particularly welcome the biodiversity net gain provisions of the Environment Bill. I hope that sense will prevail and my right honourable friend’s ambition that Natural England has fewer distractions, is able to prioritise the interventions that will make a big difference and has more freedom to exercise judgment—rather than be a steward for a process—will come to pass.
I thank the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, for withdrawing and allowing me to speak a little earlier. I draw attention to my entries in the register concerning forestry, energy and wider environmental concerns. I want to touch upon three issues—the independence of the office for environmental protection, territorial co-operation, and the wider question of environmental review versus judicial review.
Let me begin at the beginning. The real question is: does the OEP have teeth or just flashy dentures? That is yet to be clearly resolved. As a former Northern Ireland Minister, I am responsible for certain public bodies there. The public service ombudsman was set out in law, not subject to the direction or control of a Minister. It was a genuinely independent body set out in statute. An obligation to be impartial is useful, but it is not the same as statutory independence. We must recognise the difference and ask the question: why are we in a situation in which impartiality is our expected and accepted situation, rather than independence?
As a former Member of the European Parliament, I recognise how important the infraction proceedings undertaken by the European Commission were to bring about change, not just by their intervention but by the fear and threat the intervention can represent. The absence of that independence may yet be a detriment to our ability to deliver the noble causes this Bill sets out. A number of noble Lords have touched upon them—as part of the Defra family, there is a question of how the Secretary of State may offer guidance and how that guidance must be taken into account by that independent office. Those elements strike at the heart of independence. We need to resolve them; I think clarification is probably all that is required, but it is required.
The notion of territorial co-operation is also important in this regard. As a former Minister in the three territorial offices of the United Kingdom, it became clear to me that the green groups in each would have preferred a common UK position to address the issues post Brexit. We do not have that. What we have instead—the Bill is not wholly clear in this area—is how we create legislative consent mechanisms with each of the legislative assemblies and nations in order to bring about co-operation. But as we all know, on many of these issues, borders are meaningless, whether in terms of the archipelago we inhabit, its biogeography, the seas that surround us and the air above us—each requires a common solution and approach. It will be very challenging to secure that if, on each occasion, we need to secure legislative consent Motions to bring them about. We need to find a way of exploring this and finding a mechanism that works to the benefit of all. I think we all share the same common ambition and common cause, but we need to be conscious that the individual Parliaments may have very different approaches. We should recognise that at the outset.
My final point concerns the notion of an environmental review versus a judicial review. Several noble and noble and learned Lords have spoken on this issue and I will not seek to echo their points, but they are valid. I shall touch on the views of the Bingham Centre on this. A judicial review is important because as it begins to explore the issues, the outcome of that exploration voids the law that it casts down, whereas an environmental review simply offers an exploration and the iniquity of the law which is identified is not voided—it can continue. Justifications are given for that in the Bill, but to me those justifications look a little creepy, if I can be frank, because they basically allow a situation in which the individuals affected can find themselves able to assert that they are negatively affected and therefore can continue with an unlawful act in a situation in which that unlawful act will have an environmental consequence. The environmental consequence must be paramount in these situations because that is why we are creating the office for environmental protection. If the environment is not paramount, what is the office for?
That begs the question, if we are looking at creating an environmental review rather than a judicial review, whether the resultant environmental review is not as powerful as a judicial review. We need to consider what that means in terms of the “would be” concerns that an operator in this area should be alert to, conscious of the risk that they face in that they could be found in breach and unable to continue but could have their situation recognised in law and be fined for their behaviour, as would happen in the European Commission through the infraction proceedings. We need to look at this again because we are not quite there yet.
Let me conclude with two points. First, this is a good Bill that does good things. I recognise the passion and the commitment of the Minister and indeed of my noble friend Lady Bloomfield. Both are passionate advocates of environmental protection and environmental reform, and I stand shoulder to shoulder with them. The points I have raised today I will take up in the future because I think that they need to be considered, and I would very much welcome an opportunity to discuss these matters further. I hope that Ministers will take them in the spirit in which they are given because I believe that this House is ready to be assured that our environmental credentials are second to none as we approach the glidepath to the COP 26 gathering and the other international gatherings that will take place on our soil. We have an opportunity to be leaders—let us embrace that.
My Lords, I welcome the Bill, as many other noble Lords have done, but it clearly needs quite a lot of improvement, which I am sure we will be able to do in the subsequent stages. I shall start by commenting on the difference, raised by many noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Whitty and the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, between the EU structure that we used to have and the present Bill. To sum it up, I found from working on transport and the environment from the industry point of view that the difference was that the EU was seen to be totally independent of the Government and had teeth. Those are the two things that we need to look at in discussing the Bill.
The Bill is full of targets, which is a good thing. As many noble Lords have said, they are very wide-ranging and welcome. I believe that many of them need to be legally binding, but we also need to talk about monitoring and enforcement, and all that needs resources. It is not just the targets in this Bill; many other parts across government need to have some kind of connection if we are going to achieve the overall targets that everybody wants, one of which is net-zero carbon.
I shall cite one or two examples from the transport field. The first is biomass. Ministers occasionally say that if we have 100% biomass-fuelled airliners, we can fly as much as we do at the moment, but then somebody else has said that if you want that amount of biomass, every piece of cultivatable land in the world will have to grow biomass and therefore we will all starve. That is not a very good idea. Ditto the latest idea of having hydrogen powering everything. I am told that to create so many kilowatts of hydrogen, you need double the amount of electricity that you need if you use it to power whatever you are trying to do. We have to find solutions for all this. In his wonderful valedictory speech, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Salisbury mentioned a phrase that many people are frightened to mention: there will have to be some change of lifestyle.
The other example I shall give is from a debate we had a couple of weeks ago in your Lordships’ House on electric scooters. I pointed out that by the end of this year there will be 1 million scooters operating illegally in this country and asked how the Minister would suggest that ensuring that these scooters do not go on the roads, cycleways or footpaths could be achieved without a massive increase in the number of people and the budget. I am afraid that Ministers tend to ignore the whole question of enforcement. They say that the allocation of funding is difficult, but it needs to be done if the law is to be respected, and that applies to many things in this Bill.
My other point relates to water contamination in the Chilterns caused by HS2, which the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, also raised. I am concerned about the non-disclosure agreements that people have to sign, which mean that all environmental data seems to be confidential. I am sure that many noble Lords would agree that environmental data does not need to be confidential. These poor people in the Chilterns could not even get the information they needed by making a freedom of information request, and they had to go to court. Of course, the documents have now come out saying that six public water suppliers may need additional treatments and asking who will pay for it. I have had similar problems trying to help the people of Wendover, a bit further up the line, get information out of the Government about why they will not talk about putting the railway in a tunnel rather than a viaduct. I have a little bit of experience with tunnelling, but it is still very difficult.
For me, the office for environmental protection needs many more teeth, as the noble Lord, Lord Duncan of Springbank, told us. I want it to be able to force government authorities to produce information, to take people to court, and to support judicial reviews and everything else which would make the concepts and principles in the Bill really work. If we do not do that, we are wasting our time, and it will just be a series of good words. I look forward to many more debates in the future stages of the Bill.
My Lords, as we have heard throughout this thoughtful debate, this is an unprecedentedly significant piece of legislation with very lofty ambitions. Not only does it repatriate environmental policy, but it creates whole cloth the processes through which that policy is to be delivered. As a Devon farmer with interests in heritage landscape and a passion for the environment, I am desperate for this to be a success, but I am sensitive to its impact on existing land management practices and to the danger that complex new policies will be stillborn and ignored by land managers who do not understand them. As a partner at a law firm with a dedicated natural capital practice, I see first hand the practical challenges in implementing and enforcing these ambitions and the hurdles to be overcome when translating these worthy environmental goals into practice.
The Bill contains lots of policy and the long-term holistic approach is to be welcomed, but dangerous confusion remains. The interface between biodiversity net gain, local nature protection strategies, nitrate and phosphate prescriptions, environmental land management schemes, the sustainable farming initiative and the national tree strategy, to name just a few, is incredibly complex and very unclear. The hard-working folk at Defra need to ensure that the schemes are complementary and work smoothly alongside each other, or—[Inaudible] —and land managers will simply ignore them. Local land managers in particular should be consulted in the development of local nature strategies.
I echo the concern of the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, that there is a gaping and inexplicable hole where heritage should sit within the definition of the environment. Our country’s landscape is entirely manmade, from the lakes to the Norfolk Broads. It is unthinkable to set policy for the natural environment without equally considering the manmade structures—the stone walls, levees, canals, embankments and farm buildings—that have brought this landscape into being and are crucial for its maintenance and cultural value. If manmade cultural assets are not recognised in environmental targets, annual reports and funding, this critical infrastructure will inevitably fail in the face of escalating climate crisis and extreme weather, and we will lose for ever the basic building blocks underpinning our natural environment.
The adoption of environmental principles is to be applauded, but they need to be understood and properly implemented. I note major concerns over the aggressive use by campaign groups of the precautionary principle. We have seen in recent months that well-funded campaign groups have taken to judicial review to frustrate the long-standing licensing and management of our natural environment, causing untold disruption to our biodiversity in a bid for high-profile scalps. Policy in this area must be developed by Defra in proper consultation with appropriate stakeholders, not by the courts.
Many farmers are concerned about the potential loss of the right to abstract water without compensation on the basis of environmental objectives rather than environmental damage—a right that already exists. While I agree that large water companies that have never needed their excessive abstraction rights could deservedly have them removed, farmers with more modest rights could be severely impacted. I speak as a farmer who pays for but currently does not use long-standing abstraction licences used decades ago for growing potatoes. We know that we need to diversify our agriculture, to move away from monoculture cereal farming and to grow more fruit and vegetables. This will need water abstraction, and the removal of such licences without compensation will threaten that ability to diversify.
I am a champion of access to and education about our natural environment, which is key to the success of this environmental revolution. Understanding the countryside and its use for well-being and social prescribing will the deliver real benefits that are so essential after this pandemic. We have heard much of Professor Dasgupta’s excellent report, The Economics of Biodiversity. He extols the virtues of education as key to this success. When will the Government respond to Professor Dasgupta? I have asked this of the Minister three times now but have not yet had the courtesy of a response.
The professor also emphasises the need to price biodiversity as the key to creating a working market in ecosystem services. He recommends that the Office for National Statistics should set the basic pricing, as it is the only body capable of doing so. If no price is set, there is a danger that the desired market for biodiversity will be swamped by the well-developed and easily measured market for carbon. As we all know, this will not be good for our environment, to which thousands of hectares of acidic soft woods are testament.
The other key to the market for biodiversity is the conservation covenant—the ability to bind land to conservation commitments for years into the future. I learned as a young property barrister that these covenants simply do not work under English property law, as it is not possible to bind a successor in title with such commitments. The provisions of Part 7 therefore represent a major change in English property law and, if they do not work, the whole edifice will fail. Conservation covenant agreements need to be significant to those entering them, and I will be pursuing amendments to ensure that they are executed by deed rather than by simple contract. A complex 30-year commitment should not be able to be made on the back of a napkin.
We need stronger rules to avoid our centuries-old export of environmental degradation. Producer company legality is far too low a bar for importers and we need to ensure that all naturally derived materials imported into this country meet our own environmental standards, not those of a country with much lower standards. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Duncan, that the office for environmental protection needs teeth, not flashy dentures. It has a crucial role to play and deserves both a budget and personnel that are independent if it is properly to hold the Government to account.
I look forward to working with the Minister and Peers across the House to improve the Bill and make a success of it. Finally, I congratulate in particular the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones and Lady Bennett, whose Green Party has done so much to make this issue front and centre of our global political discourse this important year.
(6 months, 1 week ago)Grand Committee
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, on submitting this Question on the biodiversity emergency for debate today. Like him, I believe that the climate emergency is the twin of biodiversity and that there is a symbiotic relationship between them, because one has an impact on the other. They cannot be addressed in isolation and require urgent and immediate attention.
Every Government, every business, every organisation and every individual must play a part in reducing greenhouse gas emissions; assisting in the adaptation to climate change; halting biodiversity loss; and restoring habitats and species through changes in laws and regulations, policies, behaviours and lifestyles at local and national levels. In my own local area, there is one company doing that through one individual at True Harvest Seeds, which is looking to ensure that the local, indigenous seeds of the island of Ireland are protected and allowed to germinate. It is trying to deal with a lot of the invasive species that are destroying our local biodiversity.
This is an extensive subject and I hope that the Environment Bill will give the Government the opportunity to deal with biodiversity loss and the biodiversity emergency. I would very much like to see the Minister give us answers today about the future content of the Environment Bill. Can he also indicate what actions will be taken to ensure that the national infrastructure bank is pivotal in facilitating the financing of nature restoration and nature-based solutions to climate change?
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, for tabling this timely and important debate. As has been said, it fittingly coincides with Earth Day, when global citizens are taking a stand right across our world on the climate and biodiversity emergency.
Today, noble Lords have provided a depressing indictment of the Government’s record on biodiversity. We are now more aware than ever of the fragility of our own ecosystems. By their own admission, the Government are failing to meet two-thirds of the biodiversity targets agreed at the Convention on Biological Diversity in 2010, while 41% of our species are in decline and 10% face extinction. But here in the Lords, we have a real opportunity not just to talk about biodiversity but to act upon it.
Amendments to the forthcoming Environment Bill could allow us to introduce legally binding targets to halt and reverse declines in nature by 2030. The Bill could allow us to set meaningful baselines against which progress could be measured but also enforced. It could enable us to determine that biodiversity net gain should be a fundamental principle running through all future government investment, without exception. It would enable us also to put the biodiversity crisis on an equal footing to the climate crisis, recognising that action and resources on both are necessary to deliver a sustainable planet.
If we take these actions now, and provide the resources to make them happen, we can go to the CBD in China later this year with credibility to ask others to follow our lead and deliver a radical global programme for action. I hope that the Minister can confirm that he is indeed ready to deliver a more radical version of the Environment Bill which can reverse the decline in nature and produce bold new targets and deliverables by 2030. I look forward to his response.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Teverson for securing this debate and for his passionate introduction. I am currently reading James Rebanks’s book, English Pastoral: An Inheritance. The Rebanks family have farmed in Cumbria for over 600 years. His latest book details the massive change in farming practices and the devasting effect that such change has had on biodiversity. The removal of stone walls, destruction of ancient hedgerows and accelerated use of chemical fertilisers and weedkillers have all taken their toll on plants, insects and birds.
The Government have produced numerous plans to remedy the loss of biodiversity. In 2011, Defra produced a strategic plan for England, Biodiversity 2020. An evaluation in 2019 showed insufficient progress against its targets. In January 2018, the 25-year environment plan appeared. December 2020 saw the development of a new strategy for nature to replace Biodiversity 2020. The Environment Bill’s First Reading in the Commons was in January 2020; it will eventually arrive here. In March 2021, the Prime Minister said that tackling climate change and biodiversity would be his number one international priority. For all this rhetoric, there has been no actual progress.
The Woodland Trust has produced a report on the state of our woods and trees which finds that only 7% are in a good ecological condition. However, some local authorities have risen to the challenge. Bristol City Council has declared an ecological emergency and has a plan to redress the decline by 2030. We hope that others will follow suit.
It is estimated that 75% of the world’s land surface and 66% of the ocean has been significantly altered and degraded by human activity. One million species are threatened with extinction. Are we going to wait until we, as humans, are also threatened with extinction before we take this matter seriously? Will the Minister press the Government to declare a biodiversity emergency now and take stringent action?
Thank you, Lord Chairman. I wanted to say that all of us, I think, are members of the National Trust, wildlife trusts, national trails, the CPRE or the RHS. I implore of the Minister that, whatever new arrangements are brought into being in the Environment Bill, the huge army of volunteers in all those organisations can be empowered. This needs some money and some professional leadership, but if that is provided, a lot more work will be done, much of it to restore biodiversity.
The other subject that I wanted to raise, of which I gave notice, is the horticultural use of peat, about which I am still extremely worried. I have raised this with the Minister before. I am anxious for there to be a goal of stopping the use of peat for horticultural purposes. It is not good practice, but it is very expensive at the moment to use anything else.
My Lords, I thank noble Lords for their thoughtful contributions to this hugely important debate.
It should not need to be said, but we cannot reasonably expect to be able to destroy the natural world in the manner that we are without paying a terrible price. There is no doubt that that is what we are doing. I will not rehearse all the facts and figures of destruction, as noble Lords will be depressingly familiar with many of them, but it is worth reminding ourselves that we are currently losing around 30 football pitches-worth of forest every single minute; that a million species face extinction, including two in every five of the world’s plants; that the grim illegal wildlife trade is now the fourth biggest criminal sector; and that, just as we are stripping the ocean of life at a terrifying rate, we are filling it with trash just as quickly. And all this against the backdrop of an increasingly destabilised climate.
There is an abundance of science telling us that we are heading for disaster. But you do not need to be a scientist to understand that these trends cannot continue without appalling consequences. When ecosystems fail, so too do the multitude of free but hopelessly undervalued services that nature provides—services that each and every one of us depends on. Turning this trajectory around is, without a doubt, the most important challenge that we face by far.
To some extent, that is already happening in relation to the low-carbon revolution. The cost of renewables has tumbled, and zero-emission vehicles are on the cusp of going mainstream. Who would have predicted that the cost of solar would fall by 90% in the 12 years since the banking crisis? To be clear, I am not suggesting complacency: we are asking every country in the world to ramp things up as we head towards COP 26. When it comes to attaching a value to nature and a cost to its destruction, we have barely left the starting blocks, and that has to change because technology alone will not save us.
To put it simply: there is no pathway to tackling climate change that does not involve protecting and conserving nature on a massive scale. Nature-based solutions, like trees and mangroves, could provide a third of the most cost-effective solutions we need to mitigate climate change, as well as helping species recover and helping communities to adapt to become more resilient to the impacts of climate change. But despite that huge contribution, nature-based solutions currently receive less than 3% of total global climate finance. That makes no sense.
It is right that we in this country have put nature at the heart of our response to climate change, domestically and internationally, through our presidencies of both the G7 and COP 26. We are leading by example. Very soon after entering Downing Street, the Prime Minister committed to doubling our international climate finance to £11.6 billion. More recently, just a few weeks ago, he committed to spending nearly a third of that—around £3 billion—on nature-based solutions to climate change. We are encouraging other donor countries to do similarly. On the back of that commitment, we are rolling out a pipeline of ambitious new programmes. There is a new £500 million blue planet fund, for example, which will help to protect fragile marine ecosystems, and we are growing our magnificent “blue belt” of marine-protected areas around our overseas territories, which now cover a protected area the size of India. There is a new £100 million landscapes fund to link threatened ecosystems, providing safe passage for wildlife and green jobs for people. We are trebling funding for our extraordinary Darwin Initiative to £90 million. With other donor countries, we are developing right now an offer for forest protection that exceeds anything that we have seen so far.
We are also investing £30 million to protect species from the grim illegal wildlife trade, which I hope reassures the noble Lord, Lord Jones of Cheltenham, who made this point very clearly. I share his concern about pangolins and was delighted—as I am sure he was—when the Chinese decreed recently that pangolins can no longer be used in traditional medicine. He may also be pleased to know that, in addition to funding via the Illegal Wildlife Trade Challenge Fund, the UK played a defining role in getting proposals past CITES in 2016 that ensured that all eight species of pangolin received the highest possible level of protection from international trade.
We know that change is possible and that nature protection works. It works for people and it works for the planet. Look at Costa Rica: it has doubled its rainforest in one generation, putting more than half the country under canopy and growing its economy alongside its nature. We are leading global alliances to protect at least 30% of the world’s land and oceans by 2030, and we are pursuing an ambitious new UN treaty to establish mechanisms to protect ocean beyond national jurisdiction.
In answer to a question put to me by the author of this debate, the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, we are working as closely as possible with the Chinese as hosts of the next biodiversity conference in Kunming. Although our representation will be confirmed closer to the meeting, we are doing more heavy lifting than perhaps any other country. We are pressing hard for the highest possible ambition and, crucially, we are pushing for inclusion of mechanisms to hold Governments to the promises they make, which currently is lacking.
We know that public money alone is not going to be enough, so Governments need to identify and use the powerful levers that they uniquely hold to remove the perverse incentives that drive environmental destruction. Consider, for example that the top 50 food-producing countries spend $700 billion a year supporting often destructive land use. That is four times the world’s aid budgets combined. Imagine the impact if that public support could be redirected to help farmers transition to climate-friendly, nature-positive land management. In a world first, that is what we are doing in the UK, and we are building alliances of countries committed to doing the same.
Commodity production is responsible for the vast majority of deforestation, so we are building a global coalition of countries committed to cleaning up commodity supply chains. We are also calling on the large multilateral development banks to nature-proof their entire portfolios. There is no point in having bits of investments here and there in nature if the rest of the portfolio is taking us in the opposite direction. That point was made well by the noble Lord, Lord Sikka, in relation to the private sector, where the point stands just as strongly. We are pulling every lever we have to get private finance flowing, including by accelerating progress towards high-integrity carbon markets.
There is no doubt in my mind that we are driving the agenda internationally, and that is recognised by other countries around the world. However, as a number of noble Lords have said, we need to get our own house in order. We have seen shocking biodiversity loss in recent decades. Last year’s State of Nature review found that 41% of UK species are declining. We have seen an increasing intensity of flood damage caused at least in part by poor land use. We know that meeting our net-zero emissions obligation will require heavy lifting on a scale that we have never seen before.
I know that the noble Earl, Lord Devon, questions the need for us to declare an emergency but I hope that my opening remarks, as well as this bleak picture of declining biodiversity in the UK, persuades him otherwise. I could add that our indicator of pollinator distribution has fallen by 30% since 1980. Our indicator of farmland bird abundance has fallen by more than 50% since 1970. That case was made extremely well by the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone. As the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, said, no matter what we do now, improvements will take time to materialise. In answer to the noble Earl’s question, biodiversity is devolved; however, all the regions are in broad agreement on the need to act. That is a good thing.
We have a packed agenda. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, asked for precise targets and a clear plan, a point also made by the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville. The recently published Dasgupta review provides an extraordinarily important backdrop, and we will be responding to it properly and thoroughly soon. Our plans to boost biodiversity and improve the environment within a generation are set out in the 25-year environment plan. We set the world’s most ambitious climate change target into law to reduce emissions by 78% by 2035, compared to 1990 levels, an announcement made just a couple of days ago.
We are setting out plans for a bold net-zero strategy to demonstrate how we will cut emissions and create new jobs across the whole country. Our upcoming Environment Bill will deliver improvements in waste, air quality, water, nature, biodiversity and more. It lays the foundation for the nature recovery network and creates duties and incentives, such as biodiversity net gain for all new developments, which is also a world first. The Bill establishes spatial mapping and planning tools to deliver nature recovery, creates new nature covenants for the long-term protection of land—another world first—and creates a new body to hold government to account.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, asked about biodiversity targets in the Bill. It creates a power to set long-term, legally binding environmental targets, and we will want to ensure that for biodiversity these targets at least align with international targets to be set through the CBD. We are continuing work on that suite of targets, including in the priority areas of biodiversity and improving the state of nature.
We are switching our land-use subsidy system so that the payments are conditional on good environmental outcomes, just as we are asking the world to do. That, too, is a world first. Incidentally, the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, raised the underappreciated but hugely important issue of soil health. I can tell her that soil health has been identified as a priority for our environmental land management scheme. My noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering asked if the scheme would support farmers to play their role in reversing nature decline. Absolutely. That is the entire purpose of the environment land management system.
In another world first, we are legislating to require big companies to remove deforestation from their commodity supply chains to help shrink our international footprint. Again, we are asking other countries to do the same. We know that to meet net zero we need to establish record numbers of trees, so we have committed to planting 30,000 hectares a year across the UK by 2025, using the new £640 million Nature for Climate Fund. We want to unleash the extraordinary power of natural regeneration as well. Anyone who has seen the wonders of NEP will know why that matters.
In answer to my noble friend Lord Caithness—the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, also raised this—we will be investing in methods to control deer and grey squirrel numbers as part of our efforts to protect new and existing native woodlands. To further protect them, and in answer to my noble friend Lord Lucas, we will be emphasising the huge and critical importance of not only species diversity but genetic diversity. Incidentally, he raised the importance of educating children, and I could not agree more.
Alongside our tree commitment, we have committed to restoring 35,000 hectares of peatland. The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, asked about the use of peat in horticulture. I can tell him that we are committed to phasing it out in England. We told industry that if we had not seen enough movement by 2020, we would look at further measures that could be taken. We are now considering those future measures. We also have ambitious plans to protect our threatened pollinators, a point made well by the noble Lords, Lord Jones of Cheltenham and Lord Sikka. All this goes alongside plans to greatly improve the health and protection of our precious marine environment.
It is often said that we need to weave the environment into our economics but, as Professor Dasgupta’s seminal study explained, that is the wrong way round. Ultimately all economic activity is derived from nature. Without nature, we have nothing and we are nothing. Reconciling our lives and economies with the natural world on which we all depend is really the defining challenge of our age. I am absolutely convinced that this can be the year that change begins in earnest.
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The authorisation that has been provided is for a specific and limited period of time, covering one season, and there are no plans to extend that emergency authorisation. The purpose of this authorisation was to allow time for the industry, as the noble Lord says, to develop alternatives; it is urgently seeking to do so now. As I said in my opening remarks, we have absolutely no intention—and indeed we will not—to go back on the restrictions and bans that were brought in in 2018, which have been translated into UK law.
My Lords, how is this decision compliant with the Aarhus convention on environmental justice, given that the application documents and the chief scientist’s advice to the Government are being kept secret, and that, while the NFU lobbied undercover, the public could not participate in the process?
The noble Lord makes an extremely important point. The Government are guided, as they pursue new free trade agreements and seek to expand our trading relationships around the world, by a commitment to ensuring that imports do not compromise or undermine the standards that we are proud to apply here in the United Kingdom, whether in environmental or animal welfare standards.
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The Government introduced a ban on the commercial third-party sale of puppies and kittens in England, and ahead of that we launched a big national communications campaign strategy called Petfished, which was designed to help people make more informed choices when sourcing a new pet. These are important steps, taken to disrupt the low-welfare trade that supports unscrupulous puppy farming and to tackle the illegal supply of pets. There are already laws in place in relation to pet theft, and it is the view of the Government that the maximum penalties available are sufficient. However, I know that colleagues in government are looking at what changes could be made to sentencing guidelines to reflect the fact that a puppy being stolen is not the same as an inanimate object being stolen. I hope that progress will be made shortly.
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions to this debate. I will take Amendments 43 and 44 together. I would like to reassure your Lordships that we recognise the importance of the issues that these amendments raise. Farmers and farming households make a valuable contribution to our national life, and we recognise that the needs of farming households may change as we move away from the common agricultural policy.
As set out in their manifesto, the Government intend to introduce the UK shared prosperity fund to replace EU structural funds. The manifesto also stated that it will, at a minimum, match the size of those funds in each nation, which was reiterated by the Chancellor in the last Budget. The final decisions about the quantum and design of the funding will take place after a cross-governmental spending review.
The Government have made a long-standing commitment to ensure that all policies are rural proofed—that is, ensuring that policy outcomes work in rural areas. This includes the development and delivery of the UK shared prosperity fund, on which Defra and MHCLG officials are working closely. In advance of the introduction of the UK shared prosperity fund, £60 million of funding will continue to flow to rural businesses via the final tranche of the growth programme, which the RPA is currently assessing.
The fund will play a vital role in supporting rural and coastal communities in recovery and renewal from Covid-19, and our expectation is that the growth programme and LEADER elements of EAFRD will be a component of the fund. This was set out in a letter from the Defra Secretary of State to the chair of the EFRA Select Committee on 7 September. Defra officials continue to work closely with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, which leads on the fund’s development, to ensure that its design takes account of the dynamics of rural economies and particularly the challenges faced by rural communities, as well as the opportunities that I believe rural communities have. We have been in contact with MHCLG Ministers and I can assure your Lordships that MHCLG recognises the importance of these considerations.
I fully recognise the importance of reassuring rural communities and farming households about the future of local growth funding. The Government will look to set out their national approach to local economic recovery and devolution through a White Paper expected in the autumn. We firmly believe that the best way to make progress is to continue to work collaboratively at local and national level. The MHCLG has established an economic recovery working group, which meets regularly, bringing together a range of local growth partners to work on emerging themes and concerns across the country, including those relevant to rural areas. This includes representatives from rural local enterprise partnerships and local authorities.
If new socioeconomic support programmes were to be operated under Clause 16, they would have to operate under broadly the same framework dictated by the existing CAP. Clause 16 provides the Secretary of State with the power to modify or repeal retained EU legislation relating to rural development in England. This clause will not be used to introduce any new schemes, as they will be covered under Clause 1.
I very much hope that the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, and the noble Earl will accept my confirmation that the UK shared prosperity fund will provide great opportunities for growth and investment in rural communities and will include the successor for the growth programme and LEADER elements of EAFRD. I believe this is a cause we all share and hope that, on that basis, given the explanation of the work we are undertaking between the two departments and the imperative of rural proofing, the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
Following up the question from the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, I ask the Minister to confirm whether he considers that government Amendments 45 and 46 might address the issues raised by Amendment 44. It is important to have that clarified. I thought that they did as I read them in preparation for today. That would certainly alleviate some of the concerns behind Amendment 44.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, for tabling this amendment which seeks to use the Agriculture Bill to provide for new socioeconomic support programmes to help fund improved broadband connectivity and digital skills in rural areas beyond the end of the current rural development programme. He is indeed a champion of addressing the very real digital divide.
I reassure this House that we recognise the importance of the issue that this amendment raises. This Government are determined to connect every home and business to the fastest broadband speeds available. As the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, has just said, access to digital is key to helping all rural communities build resilient modern businesses, as well as supporting them in their daily lives. Indeed, the Covid-19 pandemic has shown the integral role that digital connectivity plays in our daily lives, economically, socially and in continuing to deliver essential public services. The Government are investing record amounts to level up digital infrastructure across the UK. We are already connecting some of the hardest-to-reach places in the country, including through the superfast broadband programme and the £200 million rural gigabit connectivity programme. The Government want nationwide coverage of gigabit-capable broadband as soon as possible.
We have also announced £5 billion of public funding—not just in principle; it has been announced—to close the digital divide and ensure that rural areas are not left behind. Only last week, we announced that more than £22 million of additional funding is being invested in the UK Government’s broadband voucher scheme, which subsidises the cost of building gigabit-capable broadband networks to hard-to-reach areas. The Government are working with mobile network operators to deliver mobile connectivity improvements through a shared rural network. Much is therefore already in place to improve connectivity in rural areas, and we have already started the 5G rollout.
We also recognise the importance of improving digital skills in rural areas. There is a wide number of initiatives to support this, including the digital skills partnership launched by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport in 2017, to bring together organisations from across the public, private and charity sectors to work together to close the digital skills gap at a local level. Although the current rural development programme allows for support for broadband and digital skills, these wider government initiatives are the key funding mechanisms for broadband connectivity and digital skills. However, we are also committed to supporting rural communities through post-EU exit funding and the UK shared prosperity fund, which will play a vital role in supporting rural and coastal communities in recovery and renewal from Covid-19.
As set out in the manifesto, the Government intend to introduce the UK shared prosperity fund to replace EU structural funds. Defra officials are working closely with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, which leads on its development, to ensure that its design takes account of the dynamics of rural economies and the challenges faced by rural communities. The final decisions about the quantum and design of future socioeconomic funding will take place after the upcoming cross-government spending review.
With these assurances, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
I thank the Minister for her full and thorough response, and all noble Lords who have taken part in this short debate. All I would add at this stage is that the Minister consider further whether there is anything in this space which could be considered for Third Reading. The Agriculture Bill provides a real opportunity to focus on such an important bedrock—as important as the soil will be the fibre which enables food to grow, economic development and the social and psychological well-being for farmers all across our rural communities. So I urge her to consider whether there is anything that can be brought at Third Reading. Also, will she consider convening a round table with colleagues from DCMS to see whether there are any further specific support ideas that can be deployed in this space? I once again thank noble Lords who participated and the Minister for her full response, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendments 46, 107, 110, 111, 122, 123, 124 and 125 in my name. Following new legal advice from the European Law Group and the Office of Parliamentary Counsel, these technical amendments are being tabled to put beyond doubt that a body of retained EU law relating to multi-annual programmes under rural development and common market organisation will be created at the end of the implementation period, where this is not created automatically by virtue of the interrelationship between the withdrawal agreement and European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018.
Clauses 14, 15, 16 and their equivalents in the Welsh and Northern Irish schedules all rely on a body of retained EU law being created on implementation period completion day that can then be applied in domestic law and modified as required. Article 138 of the withdrawal agreement means that rural development programmes and some parts of the common market organisation will continue to operate under EU law after the end of the implementation period. However, Section 3(2)(a)(bi) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 prevents EU legislation that is directly applicable in domestic law as a result of the withdrawal agreement under Section 7A of EWA also becoming retained EU law. I am sorry about this, but I want to go into some technical detail so that it is very clear to your Lordships.
This created a legal doubt as to whether the legislation governing the relevant rural development and CMO aid schemes would roll over to become retained EU law. These amendments therefore put that question beyond doubt by ensuring that a body of retained EU law relating to multi-annual agreements and programmes in rural development and CMO will be created at the end of the implementation period. They also provide a payment power to continue paying existing holders of agreements or programmes once the EU funding ends. This power to pay does not depend on modifying retained EU law. Such a power is necessary to ensure domestic funding can step in when existing EU budgets are exhausted in circumstances where these agreements and programmes continue to be regulated under the withdrawal agreement.
As I said, these are technical amendments required to ensure the Bill works as it was originally intended, so that modifications may be made to existing programmes where appropriate, simplifications and improvements may be made to schemes and scheme beneficiaries can continue to receive payments. These government amendments are supported by, and made with the approval of, the devolved Administrations. That is most important and the schedules for Wales and Northern Ireland are at their request. I also emphasise that there is no change to the policy intent of Clauses 14, 15 and 16. I beg to move.
My Lords, I appreciate that I may be in a tiny minority in this House. I do not intend to press anything to a vote and I fully understand the detail and the logic of these amendments. But I heard the Minister refer on a number of occasions to manifesto policy at the election and, having in another life represented a 500 square mile rural consistency, I have taken the opportunity to see whether there was any misprint or printing problem in the election leaflets, because I saw or heard nowhere a proposal for retained EU legislation. It illustrates a rather different approach, albeit by consensus across political parties, when it comes to agriculture as opposed to, say, manufacturing industry and other areas of state aid. Of course, this is still one of the two unresolved issues for negotiation in advance of the forthcoming EU Council, although the detail on state aid has been less clear.
I do not recall anyone ever telling me when they voted to leave the European Union that they were voting to keep the common agricultural policy, albeit with a different name, or to retain through legislation, funding and priority the same systems, or indeed that there would be a seven-year transition period. Actually, I think I would sooner have supported leaving the European Union. Transition periods, even ones of seven years, may be very sensible. I am happy to have voted for a seven-year transition period, but I do not think that I am in a minority across the country in being wary of us adopting some elements of what the EU created and what some of us would regard as the worst elements, because the common agricultural policy was the most incoherent form of state aid, the most invalid and antiquated, and one that did not serve the future interests of this country. So I put it very politely to the Minister that I am not suggesting that he should be circulating leaflets saying that the Government are proudly retaining EU legislation and what goes with that in terms of funding, but there needs more thought in debate, particularly in relation to state aid, that what might serve one community might well serve another community. I am quite sure that steel communities, which are part of rural communities in many parts of this country, would be keen to hear similar principles being applied on an ongoing basis.
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My Lords, what an interesting debate we have had. I am most grateful to all noble Lords who have contributed.
On Amendment 263A, Defra Ministers meet on an almost monthly basis with counterparts from the devolved Administrations as part of the inter-ministerial group for EFRA. Any potential changes to food standards would be discussed here first. I am also pleased with the progress officials have made in developing the food information to consumers, fish labelling and food compositional standards common UK framework. The framework will focus on consensus-based decision-making but will also include dispute prevention and resolution mechanisms.
On Amendment 267, the powers in Part 6 allow for regulations to be made to ensure compliance with the United Kingdom’s obligations under the WTO agreement on agriculture. The regulations therefore set out procedures and arrangements to ensure that the UK as a whole complies with existing obligations under an international treaty. We have a bilateral agreement with the Welsh Government on the making and operation of regulations under Part 6 of the Bill. We have offered to extend this agreement to the Scottish Government and DAERA Ministers in Northern Ireland.
In addition, my honourable friend the Minister for Farming, Victoria Prentis, committed in the other place to consult with the devolved Administrations on the making of regulations under Part 6. I say in particular to my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering that draft regulations have already been shared with devolved Administrations and strong and productive discussions are continuing. Defra officials have been working closely with them; this is another important and positive point.
On Amendment 284, the powers taken by Welsh Ministers through the Bill are intended as a temporary measure while the Welsh Government continue to develop their own legislation. Financial assistance under Clause 1 may be given by the Secretary of State only in relation to England. Welsh Ministers are not taking similar powers in this Bill to operate or introduce new financial assistance schemes. It is the Welsh Government’s intention that these powers will be provided for by a future Senedd Bill.
On Amendment 283, Schedule 5 contains powers requested by the Welsh Government to simplify the existing schemes and improve them for farmers, not to change or reduce standards. The underlying animal welfare standards to which all farmers must adhere are not found in this domestic payments scheme legislation; rather, they are found in underlying domestic and retained EU legislation. Therefore, these underlying protections will continue for all.
I found Amendment 289 an interesting element of our discussions. The Northern Ireland Assembly debated and agreed the legislative consent Motion on 31 March 2020. The DAERA Minister made it clear to the Northern Ireland Assembly in that debate that he did not support a sunset clause at this stage with respect to Northern Ireland provisions in the UK Agriculture Bill. It is the Government’s very strong view—I must say, we have been reminded by all noble Lords who contributed of the importance of this—that we must respect the devolution settlement. I find it difficult to construe how the Government could accept the amendment proposed and respect the desire and wish of the DAERA Minister and, by that token, the Assembly. Therefore, we do not believe that Parliament should seek to override the constitutional view already agreed by the Assembly on 31 March 2020. If we are to be consistent in our respect for the devolution settlement, it is difficult to believe that your Lordships or the Government should seek to impose something on a devolved Administration when they have given their legislative consent Motion to legislation. To be very clear, my noble friend and I are honest brokers for both the Welsh Government and the Northern Ireland Assembly in the schedules before us.
On Amendments 290 and 291, the UK Government have created IMG EFRA, as I have said, and a series of specialist official-level working groups to deliver effective joint working with the devolved Administrations. This has proven a highly successful governance mechanism. The UK Government have collaborated closely with each devolved Administration on a UK-wide framework for agricultural support based on the Joint Ministerial Committee on EU Negotiations principles agreed in 2017. The framework is planned to cover policy areas such as agricultural support spending, crisis measures, public intervention and private storage aid, marketing standards, cross-border farms and data collection and sharing. I think the point about cross-border farms was raised in particular.
Good progress is being made on the framework. The UK Government shared their first draft with officials from the devolved Administrations this February. Since then, there have been continuing discussions with officials in the devolved Administrations on a common framework for agricultural support. In our view, placing additional statutory requirements in this area risks disrupting an ongoing process of what has been described as excellent collaborative working, which is working extremely well. It would also create inconsistency with wider framework discussions.
I think the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, first used the word “sensitivity”. We are all of a view that we must deal with these matters with sensitivity. When I meet fellow Ministers from all parts of the United Kingdom, I see this as an endeavour of equal partnership. We believe that it is inappropriate for the UK Government to seek to legislate on frameworks, certainly without prior discussion and consideration with the devolved Administrations.
I also say to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd—and I repeat this from my opening remarks on Tuesday—that we remain wholly committed to seeking legislative consent for all provisions that engage the convention in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. That is why I was pleased to make those amendments.
The noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox of Newport, and other noble Lords raised the budgets for the devolved Administrations. Intra-UK funding is being discussed as part of current Treasury settlement discussions with Defra. Her Majesty’s Treasury will discuss this directly with the devolved Administrations. I absolutely understand the importance of certainty on funding for all parts of the United Kingdom and, from the visits I have had, am well aware of the importance of farming to all parts of the United Kingdom, and its importance in terms of UK internal markets.
To answer my noble friend Lord Empey on the Northern Ireland border, the Government are working very closely with the Northern Ireland Executive to ensure unfettered market access between Northern Ireland and Great Britain while meeting our obligations under the Northern Ireland protocol. I also say this to my noble friend, because of my biosecurity interest: as an epidemiological unit in itself, the island of Ireland has some advantages. Also, we already have requirements, as does Northern Ireland, as part of that unit. Obviously, we want to make sure that the biosecurity arrangements for the island of Ireland are as strong as they can be, but our working with Northern Ireland will be absolutely imperative for the frameworks. The success of that is where I believe we will find a satisfactory resolution for all parts of the United Kingdom. I say that as a unionist.
The UK Government believe in close collaboration in the coming months to agree and implement administrative frameworks to set out future working and co-ordination on agriculture. The noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox of Newport, asked when that will happen; the answer is, by the end of the transition period. We think that close collaboration is, to pick up on a word used earlier, the respectful way to work. I am conscious that the relationship between all four parts of the United Kingdom needs to be strong and positive. If it is not, it makes things much more difficult.
I want to bring forward the fact that the relationship that all of us as Ministers in Defra have with our colleagues in the devolved Administrations is strong and positive. There is a common endeavour to ensure that we have vibrant agriculture and strong food production, and that we make a success of it all and make a success of the United Kingdom.
My Lords, the Minister mentioned his meetings with his counterparts in the devolved Administrations. Does he or any of his colleagues have any such meetings planned between now and Report to discuss and get their views on these amendments, and others, before we come to discuss them on Report? If not, would he consider arranging some meetings? It would be very helpful for the House to get the results of these sorts of discussions.
My Lords, here we are, back again with renewed energy and enthusiasm.
My Amendments 211 and 213 to 216 seek to improve Clause 33. I can also see the power and value in Amendment 212 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hain. My amendments would require an animal slaughter levy to be established for all animals slaughtered in the United Kingdom. The funds raised from that levy would then be used to support farms to transition from livestock to plant-based food production.
As many Peers have said, meat consumption in the British diet is, on average, far too high. It is too much meat for our health. If all other countries in the developing world aspired to eat as much meat as we do, we would need dozens more planets to accommodate that meat production. As we have only one planet, reducing meat production and promoting plant-based foods are major steps in creating a fair and sustainable world.
Tucked into Amendment 211 is a requirement that the animal slaughter levy actually be set up, since the current drafting of Clause 33 grants the power to establish a red meat levy but places no duty on the Government to implement it. It is worth noting that creating a red meat levy is a big step for the Government; it is the kind of thing that, until very recently, us Greens have been mocked for even suggesting. Can the Minister be bolder than just red meat and go the whole hog to make this a full animal slaughter levy? I beg to move.
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It is always a great pleasure to follow my noble friend Lord Dobbs, a Wiltshire neighbour; my maiden speech in this House was in a debate led by him.
I support the Government’s proposal, added in response to widespread concern in the countryside and the other place, for a report on food security, underlining the importance of UK food supply and farmers’ role in feeding the nation. Covid-19 has underlined the importance of this, as the noble Earl, Lord Devon, said. However, the supermarkets and the food supply chain did a great job. The empty shelves referred to by my noble friend Lady McIntosh reflected an initial lack of confidence by consumers, but they soon realised that this reflected a surge in demand, not a real shortage of supply.
Today there are a number of amendments trying to make the food security report more frequent—for example, once a year in Amendment 162—and to broaden its scope; for example, to bring in specific reference to household food security, which I disagree with, or waste in the supply chain, to which I am more sympathetic because of the personal interest I take in waste minimisation and recycling but with which I also disagree in this context. We should keep the review’s remit as simple and focused as possible so that it can be adapted to the needs and concerns of the day.
As a farmer’s daughter and a businesswoman involved in most aspects of the food supply chain in my time—I refer again to my interests in the register—I am strongly against a review more often than every five years. I cannot think of anything more likely to generate constant tinkering with the regulations that affect farmers and the countryside and continued uncertainty in a sector that faces huge change, economic difficulty and fragility —as we have heard during the passage of this Bill. By all means collect and publish data every year and have the first review in 2021 or 2022, but the major review proposed in Clause 17 should not take place more often than once every five years. As my noble friend Lord Hodgson said in a fine and wide-ranging speech, frequent reports would also lose their impact.
My Lords, I will speak briefly on the amendments dealing with the timings of the first report and subsequent reports on food security to be laid by the Secretary of State. It is vital that there are regular reports. Otherwise, of course, there is no proof that the obligations for farmers and horticulturalists have been carried out and had the desired effect, but a report is as good only as the data it collects.
As my noble friend Lord Hodgson mentioned, it should be an event. This is particularly relevant when it comes to farming. A report must be able to observe long-term trends, which will enable future policy development to be of the best. Agriculture and horticulture are areas in which many of the trends are slow moving, with little noticeable year-on-year change.
A report in the first year would arguably be of little use, and it is worth noting that many data services on food security publish annually—for instance, on the resilience of the UK supply, and on food safety and consumer confidence. These are only two of a long list that report annually.
In conclusion, it is vital that, along with the existing annual reports, there is a report that has time to look at the long-term trends. No report is worth the paper it is written on unless there has been enough time for in-depth analysis.
My Lords, I support the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, because this area of animal traceability needs to be strengthened. I served in the other place under the very able chairmanship of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, when she was chair of the EFRA Select Committee. At her instigation, we as a committee undertook a direct inquiry into the horsegate scandal at that time. For me, that was a very instructive period and it told me that there was a need for a stronger body, an animal food product traceability authority.
Like the noble Baroness, I want to ask whether the Minister feels that Clause 32 as is significantly strong to combat the problems that could occur along the way in relation to those who may wish to flagrantly abuse animal traceability standards. Hence my support for the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, because I feel we need very strong legislation and an authority equipped with the legal armoury to protect our food production. I am quite happy to support that, but seek that information from the Minister.
My Lords, these two amendments in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, and the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, deal with the identification and traceability of animals. The highest standards of traceability are essential. The British public, whether they live in Northern Ireland, Wales, Scotland or England, are very interested in where the food they eat comes from. Does the pork in their sausages come from Denmark and Holland, or does it come from British pigs raised in outdoor fields? Does the steak they buy for supper on Saturday come from beef cattle raised in Hereford, in Devon or north of the border in Scotland? The purchaser is generally interested, so it is important that all animal food products are properly labelled as to the country of origin.
Small independent butchers and farm shops proudly announce where the meat they are selling that week has come from; which local farm has produced the lamb, which the pork, et cetera. The information is vital to their survival and to that of the farms that supply them with meat. The proper labelling of meat and meat products is going to be all the more important as the UK enters into trade deals with countries outside the EU. I hope the Government will rise to this challenge and provide the transparency that we are all seeking and set up an animal food traceability authority.
(1 year, 3 months ago)Lords Chamber
My Lords, in moving Amendment 58 I shall speak also to my other amendments in this group. There are two basic ways of managing the flow of funding under the Bill: through penalties or through encouragement and advice. I hope that the Government’s intention is to focus on incentives—broad-brush, bottom-up, banded, with plenty of room for local initiatives and a clear understanding that initiatives will often fail—rather than opting for top-down micromanagement. I hope that the Government will institute a strong supply of advice and the funding for it, so that good practice and ideas find it easy to spread, rather than relying on audit and enforcement.
The management of chalk grasslands is a challenge local to me. These are a potentially immensely rich, if sometimes rather small, environment. They were created by a pattern of agriculture that has gone: cattle and sheep herded in large open areas, then folded in the lowlands at night, with a plentiful supply of shepherds and rabbits to keep the scrub from spreading. That has all gone, but we still want the chalklands ecosystem. It is the principal objective of the South Downs National Park.
We have to take the overloaded pastures that have resulted from wartime needs and subsequent agricultural policies, with lots of parasites and consequence high use of biocides, and end up with fields full of insects and wildlife, and a profit for the farmer. We have to find ways to allow the public to enjoy the results of the system that we create; to allow larks to nest undisturbed and people to listen to them; to have fields full of orchids that people can picnic in; and to combine dog walkers and sheep, and old ladies enjoying the outdoors and a herd of bouncy cattle.
Finding a way to do that will take lots of experimentation and there will be lots of failure. Farmers will participate in this over the whole of the chalklands. We do not need, “You can have money to do this, but if you don’t succeed, we’ll be after you”; we do need lots of advice, recording and sharing of data, experimentation and supported failure. That is expensive. The Government would have to fund a team of people over decades. To hazard an estimate, £10 million a year might be the basic level for 200 field staff. However, that £10 million would multiply the benefit of the hundreds of millions being spent elsewhere, because it would make that larger expenditure much better focused and better directed. It would also set the tone of the whole agricultural support system and make it a pleasure to interact with, since it would look for ways to make better things happen. That would make a huge difference to compliance and effectiveness in a fragmented industry.
Of my three amendments, Amendment 135 is key. That is the one I want the Government to get behind.
My Lords, I put my name to these amendments on a very simple principle: if you are asking people to change how they go about their business or the way it happens, you will need some advice or guidance to get you through. If you have not done it before, you will need to be given some guidance, some advice or pathway, on how to get through so that you can do it correctly. Also, if you are giving assistance, you need to be told what you are expected to do for that.
This will be a very complicated mesh—two speeches have been made already and I cannot think of anything I disagree with. If you are trying to do this, you will have to give guidance through very different pathways which will change in every type of landscape you come across. The South Downs, the North Downs where I live, and the fields of East Anglia where I grew up will all need different structures. As the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, brilliantly said in introducing this, you must allow for, if not failure, then less successful schemes to be tried to see how long they take to develop.
We will need this to make sure that the Government’s actions work. It might well be that the Government will not smile on these amendments, but could the Minister embrace the principle here and tell us whether the Government expect to be a place where good information is brought together and passed on? Could he also say what is unacceptable—what will not be supported, financed and encouraged? That would also be beneficial.
The Government are changing stuff. They are basically creating a new rulebook. It would help if everybody could read it before we start.
I have one thing to add. There is the inescapable fact that after 2021 farmers will not get money under the basic payment scheme in the same way as they have done. That money is on average around 70% of their taxable profit. Without it, many would not be able to continue. They therefore must be helped into what they will do instead and how they will diversify their farming operation to get themselves a living. That is why I back these amendments.
(1 year, 3 months ago)Lords Chamber
My Lords, with the first group of amendments, we did the easy bit: we discussed the generalities. Now, as we move towards specifics, it becomes harder. I will not speak to a specific amendment, for the simple reason that I agree with them and I disagree with them. It is all a muddle. My starting point is very much the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, and my noble friend Lord Marlesford. After all, at the end of the war, it was clear that agriculture was coterminous with the rural economy. That is no longer the case. The remarks of my noble friend Lord Marlesford about the Rural Business Unit, merit very serious consideration and have an important part to play in the evolution of policy in this area.
As far as the immediate matters we are discussing are concerned, the crucial thing is to think about the provision of public goods. This is not a form of outdoor relief, but an arrangement for the acquisition, in the public interest, of things it is desirable for the public to have. Their acquisition divides into two separate things. First, it is an ongoing product which is essentially a function of maintaining land, but to do that, in certain circumstances it is necessary to invest capital. If you start looking at the economics of it in that way, it becomes more understandable.
The other thing that I have learned from farming is that just about all you can be certain of is that things go wrong. In this country, as we know, an awful lot of agriculture is conducted under the landlord and tenant system, but this disguises a whole range of arrangements between landlords and tenants. In those arrangements, the various parties contribute very differently and the risk is carried differently. In any event, if you are thinking about these subjects, how do you deal with the landlord and tenant system separately from that of owner-occupiers? How, in financial terms, is an owner-occupier with large borrowings different from a tenant who is borrowing “money” from a landlord? That makes it very difficult.
In addition, there is not only one form of land tenure. In the north, where I come from, there is a great deal of common land, as we have heard this afternoon. The problems with common land have caused considerable injustice in the way in which they have locked, or failed to lock properly, into environmental payments. The noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, spoke about conacre in Ireland, which I have heard about but never come across personally.
Furthermore, in looking at public money for public goods, we have to be clear that what is suitable in place A is not suitable in place B. Different bits of Britain are completely different from one another. I live in Cumbria, on the edge of the Lake District, but I spent a number of years in East Anglia on the edge of the Fens. They are as different as the automotive industry and the aerospace industry. We have to be very specific and careful and start by thinking about what advantage the public can gain from any particular place.
In terms of money, it seems axiomatic that there should be proper audit. This must be accounted for properly because, in any commercial transaction and wherever public money is involved, you have to be able to see what is going on and trace it properly. However, confidentiality is also important, a point which I think has been made. I am a dairy farmer; we have had our supplier on to us about security in the face of animal welfare activists.
At the end of the day, it is for the Government to work out what they want to buy under the principle of public money for public goods. As I and others have said, they are pretty vague in their own mind about what they want to do. In dealing with the consequences for the people on the ground, as much as possible—this has been touched on by a number of speakers—if it is appropriate to find an agreement between the various interests involved in the use of land, that must be a very good starting point to take it further forward.
My Lords, I return to the basic amendment for this group from the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market. It makes sense. It spells out more fully the range of activity which I am sure the Government intend to cover and specifies some of these areas more clearly. At this point in our economic history, which is not very cheerful, horticulture may become very much more important than it is even today. It may become an important part of our way of life and an important way of generating income for a cross-section of people. This will not be altogether a bad thing. It will lead to a better quality of life for them, frankly, than what they may have been involved in before. For all these reasons, we should be grateful for this amendment. I certainly support it.
My Lords, this group of amendments moves us to the question of what type of land will qualify for financial assistance. My noble friends Lord Addington and Lord Burnett are arguing for a widening of this to include agriculture, horticulture, forestry and land management. Along with the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, and the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, I have added my name to Amendment 65, which would ensure that the Secretary of State focuses his financial assistance on the issues we believe should be covered in the Bill: agriculture, horticulture and forestry.
I look forward to clarification from the Minister on this matter, especially around the rights of tenant farmers, so well set out by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, and my noble friend Lord Burnett. As I am nearly the last speaker on this group of amendments, all the relevant arguments have been successfully made by others, but I wish the Minister to be aware of the depth of feeling over this issue and of just how important it is to be absolutely clear what functions and services are to be eligible for financial assistance.
I support Amendments 118 and 121, in the name of my noble friend Lady Parminter. I believe that consultation and what is to be consulted on are vital.
I turn to Amendment 103, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, to which I have added my name. Others have already spoken on this amendment, so the Committee will be pleased to hear that I will not speak to all its proposed paragraphs. I would like to draw attention to paragraphs (a), (b), (e), (f), (h) and (j) in subsection (2)—but do not worry, I will not be that long. This is not to say that the other paragraphs are not important; I just do not want us to be here at 10 pm this evening.
Mitigating the risk of flooding is very important, not only on the uplands. Rural communities are rarely flat and the way in which a farmer ploughs his sloping land has an impact on how the water drains away during heavy storms. Although I have seen leaflets encouraging farmers to consider run-off from their land, some seem unable to grasp this. Beautifully neat rows of soil look good, especially when planted with maize, except during heavy rainfall. Then, the water streams down the furrows, through the gate and out into the roads—where, carrying topsoil and silt as it goes, it cascades down them and into the drains, blocking them completely within a short space of time. This ensures that the water continues on its way down into the village, causing distress and mess to those living there. Financial incentives seem to be the only way to alter the behaviour of some farmers.
The Minister will be expecting me to mention peat bogs. In Somerset, the extraction of peat on the Levels has been a local industry for a very long time. However, we now see a move away from peat extraction and towards improving and enhancing what is left behind. In many Somerset villages, the peat workings have been enhanced so that there are now wildlife and wild-flower sanctuaries, with public access along and between the lakes which have been created. The county council, along with the peat producer organisations, has been key in assisting this to happen. Financial assistance should not be given where peatbogs are exploited and not restored. Peat moors and bogs are essential in carbon sequestration, and this should form part of the financial equation.
Paragraphs (e), (f), (h) and (j) are interlinked. Environmental enhancement and protecting the environment improve air quality and contribute to addressing climate change. The noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, has long been a champion of rural proofing and productivity; I have heard him speak eloquently on the subject on many occasions. But still we find that the government policies handed down have a detrimental effect on those of us living in rural towns and villages. Under the Bill, we have the opportunity to ensure that the financial assistance to be linked to the various measures in it is fully rural proofed, ensuring the protection and sustainability of the environment and contributing to addressing climate change.
Finally, I will state what we all know: during April and May and the early part of June, the roads were quiet. The skies were not full of aircraft and even the railway lines were much quieter. Those of us lucky enough to have gardens heard the birds singing and watched them collecting materials for their nests. The air we were breathing was clean. Those of us with asthma found that we did not need our medication as often as previously. We all want this to continue. For one thing, our physical and mental well-being is dependent on it. We do not want to return to wholesale pollution. Air quality and climate change must move to the top of the agenda. I look forward to the Minister’s response to this important group of amendments.
I rise merely to press the Minister on his statements around the different levels of tiers and how payments may differ as the higher tiers are approached. I wondered whether this was going to become clear in the regulations or whether there is a bit of experience of how many people will be applying under the different tiers. Will it be defined in regulations?
My Lords, the Minister has done his usual thing of being thorough and charming at the same time—and I have now damned him with praise. However, I cannot help but feel that we should take a look at how we expect these trials to go through and see whether we can clarify that at a later stage. With that caveat, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
(1 year, 4 months ago)Lords Chamber
My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for introducing this important debate and I declare my interests as listed in the register.
As the second-largest net contributor to the European Union, for many years we have complained vociferously about the common agricultural policy, which still accounts for around 40% of the EU’s budget. The Government have undertaken to maintain the level of financial support received by farmers during the current Parliament, although the basis for the payments will change. Farmers need to plan for the future and they need to know how the Government’s new land management scheme will work. Can the Minister tell the House how farming businesses will be able to replace their lost income for the three years from 2021? I also ask him to resist the misguided calls being made by some noble Lords to introduce into the Bill measures that would bind this country into retaining full dynamic alignment with EU rules, including its controversial SPS regime. I am not advocating in any way that the UK should lower its food standards, but standards are not two-dimensional: higher or lower. The EU applies some unreasonably strict rules that do not make standards higher, but they do make them more expensive and cumbersome to comply with.
In some areas, the rules are protectionist in their effect, which means that EU consumers have to pay higher prices than they should. For many years, the EU has put too much weight on the precautionary principle. I cannot understand why we have become obsessed with chlorinated chicken as being symbolic of poor standards in animal welfare. Aside from the fact that US poultry farmers tend to use peracetic acid nowadays, the evidence shows that the incidence of campylobacter infection in the UK is nearly five times the level in the US, as already mentioned by my noble friend Lord Ridley. Further, the level of salmonella infections is significantly higher in the EU than in the US. If there was any doubt about the safety of using chlorine to wash vegetables for sale in supermarkets or to keep drinking water and swimming pools safe, it would obviously be banned.
I do not have time to mention the large number of myths which have been put about with regard to US animal welfare standards, but actually, permitted poultry stocking densities in the US and the UK are roughly comparable. As for beef, the UK Veterinary Products Committee concluded that it was unable to support the opinion of the European Commission that the risks from the consumption of meat from hormone-treated cattle may be greater than previously thought.
The UK, as an advocate for free trade and for proportionate regulation at the WTO, should ensure that its own SPS rules, unlike those of the EU, are compliant with the WTO’s SPS regime. This allows countries to maintain standards that are stricter than international ones, but only if those standards are justified by science or by a non-discriminatory lower level of acceptable risk that does not selectively target imports. The UK buys chicken from Brazil, Thailand, and Poland, which is an EU member state. Noble Lords who disagree with me should perhaps investigate stocking densities in any of those countries.
Our new free trade policy, including agreements with the US and Japan, will provide new opportunities for farmers to export their high-quality food products, especially those including lamb, to new markets where they will rightly find strong demand.
My Lords, I welcome the Minister to the Dispatch Box because I know that he is absolutely dedicated to the whole of the farming industry. I have lived in Bedfordshire for half a century or thereabouts and I represented a part of Northamptonshire for a quarter of a century or thereabouts. I talked recently to our local farmers and heard one simple message: they are worried. They are worried about the transition and climate change, but they wished me to communicate to the Minister that despite all that, they support the NFU’s proposal for a UK trade, food and farming commission.
I want to concentrate on three niche areas, the first of which is horticulture. It was once a thriving and booming industry until rising energy costs and competition with Holland almost killed it off. As you look around the landscape of Bedfordshire and the south of Northamptonshire, you see that it is one of decaying glasshouses. There must be a way to restore horticulture, which is so important to us for food production. This means that obviously we will have to work with renewable energy, and I hope very much that that will be done with further financial and other extra help from Her Majesty’s Government because it will help enormously on our food security. Alongside that, we must have an understanding of the need for temporary labour to be imported in and out of the country to help with harvesting.
The second area is forestry. I declare an interest as someone who has 40 acres of woodland where I have been working with the Forestry Commission through a 10-year management agreement with a small local company called Astwick Forestry, which is run by a wonderful man, Mr Hart. There are exciting opportunities in the world of forestry. The Urban Tree Challenge is strongly supported by my noble friend on the Front Bench, and we now have the exciting round two coming up for open and small woodlands. There is the woodland carbon scheme where others could buy the sequestration to offset their existing emissions. The market for this is one of huge potential and demand, and it is good to see that the Government have set up an additional scheme worth £50 million—the Woodland Carbon Guarantee scheme—to accelerate the growing of trees for carbon capture. That is an embryonic area of forestry which has so much potential for the future. However, I worry a bit about the frequency with which diseased rootstock comes into this country from, dare I say, the continent and other parts of the world.
Thirdly, I turn to a real niche industry. Here I declare another interest in that I have 100 vines at home, which make about 24 bottles of English sparkling wine a year, so I am a niche grower. But there are far bigger growers in Sussex, Kent and other parts of the United Kingdom. We should remember that the Romans produced wine here with great success, so I think that this is an excellent and exciting area. It is interesting to note that in a blind tasting, some of our best production comes alongside, dare I say, French champagne, although I am a member of the Ordre des Coteaux de Champagne. This is a young industry which needs understanding and I hope that the ministry will listen carefully to the pleas of this really niche industry.
My Lords, I declare an interest: my stepson is a farmer in Scotland. I also associate myself with a remark made originally by the noble Earl, Lord Lindsay, and followed by the noble Lord, Lord Duncan of Springbank: that it is surprising that no impact assessment is before us.
Noble Lords may, like me, have received a briefing from the National Farmers’ Union of Scotland—16 of the Bill’s clauses apply to Scotland—and it has sought to have a particular point made in this debate: that where the Bill, or indeed Brexit, creates new financial and regulatory frameworks, Scottish interests must be represented.
It is plain from the debate so far that there is real anxiety that little protection is offered to domestic producers from cheaper imported food produced to lower standards. We heard what the Minister said, which I of course accepted; we have seen what Ministers have written about, but I have had a lot of ministerial letters in my time and, to be quite blunt about it, their effect normally lasts only until the subsequent letter, which begins “In view of changed circumstances…” I cannot understand why the all-party amendment proposed by Neil Parish MP in the Commons was not accepted by the Government. At one step, they could have removed the anxiety and suspicion that the Bill has created in this matter.
But of course, it is more than ministerial letters; the Government’s manifesto promises that
“we will not compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards.”
We know the extent to which the Government feel obliged to meet the terms of their manifesto, so how can they possibly meet them in the circumstances that we are discussing? There is only one way in which it can be done, and that is that in any trade treaty it should be an essential—and I use that word in the legal sense—condition that the promise is met in terms.
I have already said that 16 clauses in the Bill apply to Scotland, and I want to finish by referring to Clause 17, on the duty to report to Parliament. Food security has been a live issue in recent weeks, but it seems to give the Government far too wide a measure of discretion that the obligation arising under that clause should be only at five-yearly intervals. I heard what the Minister said, that there might well be occasions when an earlier report was made to Parliament, but is this not a matter of such significance and importance that the obligation should be met annually? Food security is a strategic requirement of every Government; this Government should recognise that.
My Lords, this Bill is of colossal importance. It will involve a revolution in our countryside and affect our food supply, the environment, the rural economy and the lives of many thousands of people. I have never before had so many emails from the public about amending a Bill. Thus, it is regrettable that we are given such little time to scrutinise it in the House.
That said, there is much to welcome in the Bill, but it also raises major questions. I will focus on those pertaining to animal health and welfare and the sustainability of livestock farming, notably of cattle and sheep.
The Bill proposes support for
“protecting or improving the health or welfare of livestock”.
As a vet, I welcome this. While it is intrinsically the ethical thing to do, it also addresses other key goals in the Bill, notably increasing productivity, safeguarding food security and mitigating climate change. Proper control of enteric worms in sheep, for example, can reduce greenhouse gases by 10% per unit of production. It would however be helpful to know more about how this support will be delivered, what the baseline is, and how improvement will be measured. I ask the Minister to answer those questions, if need be in writing.
Cattle and sheep farming are a pillar of the rural economy, particularly in our upland areas, and help maintain the countryside we love. But there are more than just aesthetic or sentimental reasons to value this activity. Cattle and sheep turn grass into products that we can eat, and which provide wholesome, nutritious food, contributing to our food security. Cattle and sheep are maintained at high standards of welfare and husbandry, from birth to slaughter. The use of antibiotics is minimal, and only for disease control. In the UK, across all animals, antibiotic use has fallen by 53% in recent years, and is well below the O’Neill commission target. What about greenhouse gases? Data from the FAO shows that UK cattle emit 75% less CO2 and methane per kilogram of meat than the global average. Finally, grazing animals put back into the soil nutrients and essential fibre.
Our grazing livestock enterprises are not only important for our rural economy and the maintenance of our countryside but are incomparably good for animal welfare, compatible with afforestation and initiatives to improve biodiversity, which I welcome, and produce food in a much more environmentally friendly way than many other global systems—think of cattle reared on cleared rainforest. Yet this aspect of our farming is most vulnerable to the reduction in direct payments. If we allow the importation of livestock products without requiring the same high level of animal welfare, environmental standards and food safety that we demand of our own farmers, we risk destroying our indigenous system. This would be to export poor welfare and poor environmental standards, and would be deleterious to climate change mitigation globally. It would be a classic example of knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing.
I would like to hear from the Minister how the Government will respond to calls either to enshrine legal minimum standards in the Bill, or to establish a trade, food and farming commission, to which a former Secretary of State was committed, and what powers it might have.
(1 year, 8 months ago)Lords Chamber
My Lords, I too thank the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, for introducing this very important subject at such a crucial time.
I will concentrate almost entirely on ash dieback. We were slow in waking up to this terrible threat to our ash, and I am not sure that, even now, we are fully aware of the scale of the devastation upon us. Writing in 2012, George Monbiot pointed out that there had been clear signs of the disease for the previous three years and nothing had been done about it. Since then, the Government have taken a number of valuable initiatives, as outlined in the Answer to my Oral Question on 25 June last year. However, the rapidity of the spread has taken everyone by surprise. There is now hardly any part of the country unaffected. I spent last summer in west Wales, on the edge of Cardigan Bay. Normally, I look out over a field lined with the most glorious green ash on either side.
In the Bible there is a little-known form of poetic literature called a lament. The sight of those devastated ash trees provoked in me nothing less than such a lament:
“Thin branches stripped bare, stark against the sky,
Dry sticks prodding the air
Through leaves once fair,
Now drooping. O why?
Dying back. Dying back.
Fresh leaves once so green and fresh
Sagging in defeat,
Once you rose so high above the fern.
Great green Wales in slow retreat.
Dying back. dying back”.
What is happening to our trees is indeed an occasion for lament. I have mentioned ash, others have mentioned chestnut and oak, and I am sure we shall hear more about that.
We are waking up to this, but I am not sure that we have even now ascertained the scale of it. At the moment the ash is a major feature of our landscape. There are 123,000 hectares of ash in stocked woodlands, second only to oak in extent. Outside woodlands, the UK has an estimated 60 million ash trees, which represent 12% of our broadleaf. However, the ash is important not only for itself but for the species associated with it. There are 955 species associated with ash and 45 of these are thought to have only ever been found on ash trees.
This disease will be devastating not only for the look of the countryside but for all the ecological and environmental benefit trees bring. As we know, trees are fundamental to the ecosystem and play a major role in counteracting the effects of global warming and climate change by absorbing and storing carbon.
There is also the effect on human health. Trees are not only good to look at but are good for our health. Recent studies in medical journals show a correlation between the spread of ash dieback and the increase of respiratory diseases in a given area. In all, Defra has estimated that ash has a social and environmental value of £230 million per year.
One lesson to be learned from what has happened to ash dieback is the need for stricter controls on all imports of seeds and saplings. Ash dieback entered the UK from East Anglia only a few years ago and, as I mentioned earlier, spread with extraordinary rapidity. One question for the Government is whether import controls are stricter now than they were then. I am sure other noble Lords are better qualified than I am to judge whether the steps the Government have so far taken are adequate in this area.
My major concern is, first, with research. It is vital that we identify, develop and plant strains of ash which are resistant to the disease. The Government say that they have put £6 million into this but I wonder whether this is adequate for the scale of the crisis. What success has there so far been in identifying types of ash that are tolerant of the fungus Hymenoscyphus fraxineus, which blocks water getting to the leaves and causes the ash gradually to die back from the branches. When a strain of ash that is tolerant to the disease is found, a replanting programme must begin. This should be on a massive scale.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Colgrain, some noble Lords will remember—as I do—when our fields and hedgerows were resplendent with the English elm. As a result of Dutch elm disease, 60 million trees were lost in the UK in two epidemics. Only 100 were left after the last one. Now, a variety that is resistant to the disease has been identified. What is the Government’s policy on replanting elm, and what success have they had in replacing those millions of destroyed trees? It was good to hear from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, about the success he has been having in Scotland not only with ash but with elm.
I hope the Government might be spurred by the example of Ethiopia, where there is a programme to plant 4 billion trees in a single year; last year, 330 million were planted in one day alone.
At the moment it is the policy in some areas—for instance, the Ministry of Defence—to fell these trees when they are diseased. Is this really the best policy? It could be argued that if they are left standing—or, at least, if they are left on the ground—all the insects we need in this country could be saved. We are now hearing about an insect apocalypse: 80% of them are about to be lost. We need to retain insect life, on which the whole of the ecosystem depends, in this country in any way we can.
Ash dieback is devastating our countryside, causing significant damage to our ecosystem, to our health—spiritual, mental and physical—and to the economy. There needs to be a sense of urgency, both in research and replanting, which we can but hope will spring from this.
I first declare my interest as co-chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Gardening and Horticulture Group which, interestingly, produced a report about 18 months ago. We had a kind of mini Select Committee, but without all the resources. We saw and had written submissions from a number of key people in the horticultural and arboricultural worlds; this was very helpful to us.
What is germane to today’s discussion is that we looked at the problem of pests and diseases, which is of enormous concern in relation not only to trees but to all other plants. We concluded that one key way forward would be to try to home-grow plants as import substitution. We realised that this would not be undertaken overnight, although I must say that Kew botanical gardens gave us a wonderful example by reducing to the absolute minimum any imported trees. Those they do have to import are placed in quarantine for at least 12 months. Maybe others cannot quite match that example, but it is something to which we should aspire as a country, particularly those of us involved in planting trees.
We discovered to our horror that oaks were imported —I imagine they still are. We had details from 2013 to 2015, whereby oaks were imported to the tune of 1.6 million trees. Oaks, the signature tree of the British Isles, are being imported on that scale. There is much to be done regarding oaks and other imports that carry these risks. In that connection, we suggested that there should be a far more robust health assurance scheme for all plants. I hope the Minister will be able to give us more details of what the Government may have in mind because that is key in establishing a healthy population of trees and other plants.
We also looked at how we might help with the issue of imports, which are extremely worrying. One thought that occurred to us was that there should be some tax incentives—something along the lines of the film industry, which has a tax relief on the making of films, subject to various conditions. That would surely help both commercial nurseries trying to grow trees and organisations such as the Woodland Trust and all the other bodies that have an interest in native trees and, above all, in not importing trees. I hope the Minister will look at that very closely.
In addition, we would be anxious to see very different arrangements made for procurements for major government projects. For example, and this is a good example, the Olympic Park got orders well in advance of the needs. As a result, no fewer than 4,000 trees were procured for the park, together with innumerable other plants. All the people in the industry say, “If we are going to grow trees we need a fairly long time lead, so if we are going to do it for commercial purposes we need to be sure that we have that before the capital cost of all this is embarked upon.” I imagine, for example —though this is much contested—that the new high-speed railway will need innumerable trees. Surely we should be getting on with orders for those early, to give our native growers a chance to contribute.
I turn to another matter touched on by others in this debate: research. It is extremely important that research should be dedicated to dealing with pests and diseases in all their various forms; others have given indications of that. Earlier this week I met a gentleman closely concerned with Woodland Heritage. He told me—I think he knew that the Minister was interested in this—that among its other objectives, it has contributed to research funds for acute oak decline. I understand that other bodies, including the City of London, have also contributed and I was told that £2 million has already been raised. However, money does not go too far in these expensive projects, and I hope the Minister can give a clear indication of how much research funding will be available for these purposes in the next few years.
Others have touched on being much more severe about import controls. I should like to add a small, though not particularly technical, point: people import in other countries, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, found when he came across very severe measures. I think we could do with severe measures such as those he had to endure to deal with that pine cone. Notices at all airports and ports of entry should not merely say “Imports of these things are forbidden”; they should explain, in a short manner, why that is important. To the average person, bringing the odd bulb or two in does not seem important. What is involved needs to be spelled out in very clear language. I hope we take that on board. It is not particularly scientific; it simply needs to be drawn to the attention of people who otherwise, quite innocently, would not know what they were doing.
Mention has been made of the importance of growing trees and adding to our list of trees, so the last thing in the world we want is to lose the ones we already have. I look forward to the tree planting that will go on. Like somebody else here, I have done my own small bit by planting some in my garden; I will certainly continue to do so. It would be well advised, in addition to the major schemes, to encourage others individually to do the same.