Earl of Kinnoull debates involving the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

There have been 20 exchanges involving Earl of Kinnoull and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Thu 14th January 2021 Biodiversity: Impact of Neonicotinoids (Lords Chamber) 6 interactions (26 words)
Tue 12th January 2021 Animal Welfare and Wildlife Crime Offences (Lords Chamber) 2 interactions (18 words)
Thu 17th September 2020 Agriculture Bill (Lords Chamber) 15 interactions (109 words)
Thu 23rd July 2020 Agriculture Bill (Lords Chamber) 6 interactions (92 words)
Tue 21st July 2020 Agriculture Bill (Lords Chamber) 11 interactions (156 words)
Tue 14th July 2020 Agriculture Bill (Lords Chamber) 6 interactions (65 words)
Tue 7th July 2020 Agriculture Bill (Lords Chamber) 13 interactions (137 words)
Wed 10th June 2020 Agriculture Bill (Lords Chamber) 7 interactions (53 words)
Thu 13th February 2020 Tree Pests and Diseases (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (998 words)
Thu 16th May 2019 Japanese Knotweed (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (75 words)
Mon 10th September 2018 Ivory Bill (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (883 words)
Mon 10th September 2018 Ivory Bill (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (195 words)
Tue 17th July 2018 Ivory Bill (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (806 words)
Thu 28th June 2018 Songbirds (Grand Committee) 3 interactions (610 words)
Thu 2nd November 2017 Agriculture, Fisheries and the Rural Environment (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (679 words)
Tue 17th October 2017 Brexit: Agriculture and Farm Animal Welfare (European Union Committee Report) (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (1,060 words)
Thu 1st December 2016 Flood Defences (Lords Chamber) 5 interactions (121 words)
Tue 22nd November 2016 Agricultural Sector (EUC Report) (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (961 words)
Tue 8th November 2016 Flooding: Defences (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (49 words)
Thu 21st July 2016 Farming: Impact of Brexit (Lords Chamber) 3 interactions (655 words)

Biodiversity: Impact of Neonicotinoids

Earl of Kinnoull Excerpts
Thursday 14th January 2021

(1 month, 2 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber

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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Portrait Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park (Con) [V]
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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.

Earl of Kinnoull Portrait The Deputy Speaker (The Earl of Kinnoull) (Non-Afl)
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The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, has withdrawn, so I call the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter.

Baroness Parminter Portrait Baroness Parminter (LD) [V]
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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?

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Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Portrait Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park (Con) [V]
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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.

Earl of Kinnoull Portrait The Deputy Speaker (The Earl of Kinnoull) (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, the time allowed for this Question has now elapsed.

Animal Welfare and Wildlife Crime Offences

Earl of Kinnoull Excerpts
Tuesday 12th January 2021

(1 month, 2 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber

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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Portrait Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park (Con) [V]
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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.

Earl of Kinnoull Portrait The Deputy Speaker (The Earl of Kinnoull) (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, the time allowed for this Question has now elapsed. We move to the second Oral Question.

Agriculture Bill

(Report: 2nd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords)
Earl of Kinnoull Excerpts
Thursday 17th September 2020

(5 months, 2 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber

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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Gardiner of Kimble) (Con)
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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.

Earl of Kinnoull Portrait The Deputy Speaker (The Earl of Kinnoull) (Non-Afl)
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I have received a request to ask a question from the noble Earl, Lord Devon.

Earl of Devon Portrait The Earl of Devon (CB) [V]
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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lord Holmes of Richmond Portrait Lord Holmes of Richmond (Non-Afl) [V]
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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.

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Earl of Kinnoull Portrait The Deputy Speaker (The Earl of Kinnoull) (Non-Afl)
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We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 45. I remind noble Lords that Members, other than the mover and the Minister, may speak only once and that short questions of elucidation are discouraged. Anyone wishing to press this amendment, or anything else in this group, to a Division should make this clear in debate.

Amendment 45

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Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble (Con)
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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.

Earl of Kinnoull Portrait The Deputy Speaker (The Earl of Kinnoull) (Non-Afl)
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I call the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford.

Lord Marlesford Portrait Lord Marlesford (Con) [V]
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I am not speaking on this amendment.

Earl of Kinnoull Portrait The Deputy Speaker (The Earl of Kinnoull) (Non-Afl)
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Then we shall move on to the noble Lord, Lord Mann.

Lord Mann Portrait Lord Mann (Non-Afl)
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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.

Agriculture Bill

(Committee: 6th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords)
Earl of Kinnoull Excerpts
Thursday 23rd July 2020

(7 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber

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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Gardiner of Kimble) (Con)
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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.

Earl of Kinnoull Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (The Earl of Kinnoull) (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, I have received three requests to speak after the Minister from the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes of Cumnock, and the noble and learned Lords, Lord Wallace of Tankerness and Lord Hope of Craighead.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Portrait Lord Foulkes of Cumnock (Lab Co-op) [V]
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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.

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Earl of Kinnoull Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees
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I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate. Anyone wishing to press this or any other amendment in this group to a Division should make that clear in debate. I should inform the Committee that if Amendment 211 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment 212.

Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Portrait Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb (GP) [V]
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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.

Agriculture Bill

(Committee: 5th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords)
Earl of Kinnoull Excerpts
Tuesday 21st July 2020

(7 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber

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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe [V]
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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.

Earl of Kinnoull Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (The Earl of Kinnoull) (Non-Afl)
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I call the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Aberavon. No? We will move on. I call the noble Baroness, Lady Chisholm of Owlpen.

Baroness Chisholm of Owlpen Portrait Baroness Chisholm of Owlpen (Con)
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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.

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Earl of Kinnoull Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (The Earl of Kinnoull) (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, we now come to the group beginning with Amendment 208. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate. Anyone wishing to press this or any other amendment in this group to a Division should make this clear in the debate.

Clause 32: Identification and traceability of animals

Amendment 208

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Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick Portrait Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick [V]
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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.

Earl of Kinnoull Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees
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Lord Clark of Windermere? No? Then I call the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville.

Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Portrait Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville [V]
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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.

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Earl of Kinnoull Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees
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My Lords, we now come to the group beginning with Amendment 209. I remind noble Lords that, if anyone wishes to speak after the Minister, they should email the clerk during the debate. Anyone wishing to press this or any amendment in this group to a Division should make that clear in the debate.

Amendment 209

Agriculture Bill

(Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords)
Earl of Kinnoull Excerpts
Tuesday 14th July 2020

(7 months, 2 weeks ago)

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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Earl of Kinnoull Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (The Earl of Kinnoull) (Non-Afl)
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We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 58. Anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk. I remind the House that anyone wishing to press this or any other amendment in the group should make that clear in debate.

Lord Lucas Portrait Lord Lucas [V]
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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.

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Lord Addington Portrait Lord Addington (LD)
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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.

Earl of Kinnoull Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (The Earl of Kinnoull) (Non-Afl)
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Lord Marlesford, you suggested that you were going to speak on only one group today. Do you want to speak now?

Lord Marlesford Portrait Lord Marlesford [V]
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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.

Agriculture Bill

(Committee: 1st sitting (Hansarad): House of Lords)
Earl of Kinnoull Excerpts
Tuesday 7th July 2020

(7 months, 3 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber

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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Earl of Kinnoull Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (The Earl of Kinnoull) (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, after the noble Lord, Lord Judd, speaks, I will call the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, again.

Lord Inglewood Portrait Lord Inglewood [V]
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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.

Lord Judd Portrait Lord Judd [V]
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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.

Earl of Kinnoull Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees
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I regret that we have been unable to reconnect with the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, so I call the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville.

Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Portrait Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville [V]
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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.

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Earl of Kinnoull Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees
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My Lords, I have received one request to speak after the Minister. I call the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester.

Lord Grantchester Portrait Lord Grantchester
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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?

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Earl of Kinnoull Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees
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My Lords, we now come to the group beginning with Amendment 6. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate. Anyone wishing to press this, or any other amendments in this group, to a Division should make that clear in the debate.

Amendment 6

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Earl of Kinnoull Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees
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My Lords, I have received no requests to speak after the Minister, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Addington.

Lord Addington Portrait Lord Addington
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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.

Agriculture Bill

(2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords)
Earl of Kinnoull Excerpts
Wednesday 10th June 2020

(8 months, 3 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber

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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Viscount Trenchard Portrait Viscount Trenchard (Con)
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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.

Lord Naseby Portrait Lord Naseby (Con)
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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.

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Lord Campbell of Pittenweem Portrait Lord Campbell of Pittenweem (LD) [V]
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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.

Earl of Kinnoull Portrait The Deputy Speaker
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Before the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Trees, I should advise the House that the noble Lord, Lord Judd, will now speak as the first speaker in the second section of the Second Reading of the Agriculture Bill and before the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose.

Lord Trees Portrait Lord Trees (CB) [V]
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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.

Tree Pests and Diseases

Earl of Kinnoull Excerpts
Lord Harries of Pentregarth (CB)
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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.

Earl of Kinnoull Portrait The Earl of Kinnoull (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, and his compelling contribution. Ash is a key part of our garden, and the dieback disease is one glen away from us in Scotland. I also thank and congratulate my noble and learned friend Lord Hope. He volunteered to lead the debate, and did so in a far better and more adept way than I could ever have done. Every time we go to New Zealand, we will all remember his story about the pine cone. I fear that I have been a bit guilty of that as well—also from southern California.

We are the stewards of our islands’ environment, and that environment is fragile. The very essence of that environment, and the diversity of flora and fauna it supports, is our native trees. There are today about two oaks for every member of the population. Without the oak, Nelson would have had no ships and this palace would have no panelling and very little furniture. Ash provided the shafts for the arrows at Agincourt, beech gave us the stocks for the muskets at Waterloo, and birch plywood made the wings of the “Wooden Wonder”, the Mosquito.

We enjoy fantastic forestry conditions in these islands. Mild winters, plentiful rainfall, fertile soil and hill-sheltered topography all interact for the good, and growth rates exceed those of mainland Europe. At the end of the First World War less than 5% of Britain’s land surface was wooded. Although this has now risen to 13%, we have far to go. Across the EU, woodland coverage averages 38% of the landscape. I note that France, Germany, Spain and Italy have more than 30% of their landscape covered. All of us in the Chamber are aware of the positive contribution to climate change problems that forestry could make.

Some 44,000 people are employed in UK forestry and primary wood processing, with a GVA of £2.1 billion. How those figures could rise if we were able purposefully to increase our acreage of well-managed woodland—but our native trees have never faced a more formidable spectre of threat than they do today from disease and pests. There are many diseases, and I regret that I do not have time to go into any of them, but, like other noble Lords, I note the absolute necessity for excellent biosecurity and good research.

So I turn to pests. The disease battle is interconnected with pests, as they can be vectors for disease, as both direct carriers and as weakeners of trees, either by opening up wounds that allow secondary attack or simply by stressing the plant. The worst and most destructive of all pests is the grey squirrel. Here, I declare my interests as set out in the register as chairman of the Red Squirrel Survival Trust and of the UK Squirrel Accord. Grey squirrels were first introduced into this country in 1876 in Cheshire. Between 1876 and 1930, around 500 animals are recorded as having been released into the wild. By 1930 or so, awareness had risen sharply of the damage that grey squirrels do to broadleaf trees and to red squirrel numbers, and that was the genesis of anti-grey squirrel feeling. The 500 grey squirrels introduced up to 1930 have grown into a grey squirrel population that 90 years later is estimated at 2.7 million.

The problem where broadleaf trees are concerned is that the grey squirrel ring-barks younger trees to get at the sap. This ring-barking causes terrible wounds to the tree, killing up to 70% of them and making the timber quality of the remainder poor. It is no wonder that grey squirrels and the threat that they pose are, alone, responsible for the dearth of new broadleaf commercial planting in the south-east of England, with all the biodiversity, wildlife and climate advantages that it would bring.

The challenge posed by grey squirrels as the leading threat to trees has given rise to the UK Squirrel Accord with its 37 signatories, comprising the four Governments, their nature agencies, the principal voluntary sector interested parties and the principal private sector representative entities. The Squirrel Accord has commissioned a fertility control project at the Animal and Plant Health Agency which, it is hoped, will perfect a suitable active substance and hopper delivery method to allow simple fertility control to shrink grey squirrel numbers significantly, in turn allowing forestry a chance. We are entering the third of five years of research involving scientists in the UK, the USA and France. Significant progress has been made; I pay a warm tribute to the Minister for his support and encouragement, for APHA reports to him. I look forward to hearing what he will say on this element of the battle against the multiple threats.

The grey squirrel and, indeed, the deer problem—to which the noble Lord, Lord Colgrain, referred—are today well managed by some landowners but not at all by others. In the future, the co-operation of all land managers will be vital. This necessity for land-manager engagement applies across all the major environmental and climate challenges that we face.

Before I close, I will make one further point. The oak processionary moth—to which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, referred—was accidentally introduced into Britain in 2005. The oak processionary moth strips trees bare, leaving them weakened and vulnerable to other threats. By the start of 2019, all 33 London boroughs had had outbreaks. While £37 million has been spent by government on control, I regret that the problem seems to have spread to Bracknell and Virginia Water. While this large expenditure is necessary, I note that the research expenditure requests for pests and squirrels are for far lesser sums. I do hope that this balance—between expenditure on control and expenditure on research to try to combat the problem—is carefully considered by the Government.

I close by asking the Minister whether he believes that he has sufficient powers and resources for the battle against the many threats that we are discussing today.

Baroness Fookes Portrait Baroness Fookes (Con)
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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.

Japanese Knotweed

Earl of Kinnoull Excerpts
Thursday 16th May 2019

(1 year, 9 months ago)

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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
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The noble Lord raises something really important. A very good practice manual has been published as part of a RAPID LIFE project, showing the varying ways in which this can be dealt with. They all have their issues because of the rhizome’s ability to continue, even dormant, for 20 years. Glyphosate, properly used by trained people—I emphasise “properly”—can kill Japanese knotweed in about two or three years. Biocontrol would obviously be preferable for reducing the aggressiveness of the growth, but there is a whole range of issues. I am happy to share the manual with the noble Lord.

Earl of Kinnoull Portrait The Earl of Kinnoull (CB)
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My Lords, I draw attention to my interests in the register. Of course, knotweed is not the only invasive alien species around. This is Invasive Species Week; indeed, the Minister has been seen in the newspapers digging up skunk cabbages. Can he confirm that the Government are intensifying their efforts to combat invasive alien species in general, and in particular the grey squirrel, which is doing so much, so distressingly, to kill our broad-leaf trees?

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
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My Lords, it is indeed Invasive Species Week, and I would very much have enjoyed it if your Lordships had been with me in a ditch in Kent digging up American skunk cabbage. This is being undertaken by volunteers working in local action groups. Anyone who googles “Invasive Species Week” will find all the places they can go to help and work with the teams. Grey squirrels are one of the reasons people are not planting trees. If we do not find ways of controlling the grey squirrel, we will not have the treescape for future generations. That is why we think the investment in fertility research—I know the noble Earl has been working hard on this—that will make the grey squirrel infertile has a lot of prospects and will be a way of helping to control this very invasive species.

Ivory Bill

(Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords)
Earl of Kinnoull Excerpts
Monday 10th September 2018

(2 years, 5 months ago)

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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Earl of Kinnoull Portrait The Earl of Kinnoull (CB)
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My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register of the House, in particular as a director or trustee of several museums and in respect of the insurance world.

This is a technical amendment to do with some insurance issues, so I hope to gallop through it, as I am sure not many of your Lordships would be that interested. I should like to add my own thoughts to the messages to the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, because I was going to start by citing something that he said in his Second Reading speech. He quoted a figure, which I have also seen, of there being somewhere between 2 million and 3 million objects that have an ivory content in the UK in personal collections and museum collections. He said that he felt that was an underestimate, and I agree with him that it probably is an underestimate. The UK is a heavy buyer of insurance. I can say with confidence that the majority of those objects are the subject of insurance, so I am talking about a large number of objects all round.

As I looked at the Bill, there were three areas where I felt there could be problems for the way in which the insurance world works today. The first was in simply paying a claim. I am sure that many of your Lordships have not made a claim and so may not realise this, but the point is that, when paying a claim, the insurer will pay out a sum of money, but the title of the object insured will transfer to the insurer. There would probably also be another agreement, a release agreement, between the insured and the insurer. Therefore, there is a tremendous amount of consideration moving and, certainly, the title of the object moving. That knowledge was with me as I read Clause 1(3), as I was very worried that the paying of the claim may be problematic under the way the Bill is currently drafted. For museums and private individuals, I thought that was regrettable.

Secondly, another thing that goes across to the successful claimant is a right of repurchase. Certainly all of the specialist insurance markets grant this right and I think all markets now in the UK grant it. This is a right whereby, if an object is stolen and comes back—quite a lot of stuff does come back, particularly the more valuable stuff, because if there are photographs of it, it is difficult for people to dispose of it—people have the opportunity to repurchase the object at the lower of the market value or the amount of money that was paid out in the insurance claim. For private individuals, that is often very attractive because many people are underinsured, so maybe they can buy something back that is worth more at a lower price. Certainly, for many private individuals, it is attractive because the sorts of things that are stolen are often things with great sentimental value to them. This is a very valuable right for private insurance. For the museum-insured area, which I am deeply involved with, it is important because often what is stolen is the key part of one or other of their collections, and it is very difficult to source replacement parts. I feel that this repurchase right is very difficult under Clause 1(3).

A third problem, which is much more technical, is to do with the way that insurance companies and Lloyd’s syndicates set themselves up, and that is that they move around the salvage rights within themselves. Naturally, this happens in a series of transactions that take place—most famously in the Lloyd’s syndicates, where there is a fresh syndicate every year—and so they move around these rights of repurchase further down. A Lloyd’s syndicate will need to be able to trade with a successor syndicate in order to preserve this right of repurchase. Of course, there are many latent rights of repurchase out there at the moment, which will all be covered, I assume, by this Bill. So this is not about fresh thefts but about stuff that comes back.

Those three issues were circulating in my mind, and I feel that there is a difficulty. I do not think it is the intention of the Bill to stop people from being able to rebuy their own stuff following an insurance loss. That can have nothing to do with the admirable intentions of this Bill, so I drafted a probing amendment, merely to just raise the debate, but not to settle on the precise language of how we deal with this problem that I have identified. I have limited it to providing some sort of route for just the 200 or so professional insurers in the UK. These are carriers who are all regulated by the FCA and who, I can assure your Lordships, if they saw any naughtiness, would be out with the fines book straightaway. I beg to move.

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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My Lords, the noble Earl’s amendment would insert a declaratory statement into the Bill confirming that prohibitions in the Bill would not apply to insurance and reinsurance transactions. I am very grateful to him for our helpful conversation over the weekend, and I confirm that it is indeed the Government’s intention that insurance and reinsurance activities will be able to continue as usual.

As the noble Earl has pointed out, this sector is very important with regard to items containing ivory. We are mindful of the types of transactions that may occur, and indeed we are further investigating other types of transactions and the associated transfers of ownership and the considerations paid and received in the ordinary course of these transactions. We are therefore considering ways of making it clear that financial transactions associated with the insurance and reinsurance of ivory items are not prohibited by the Bill, and we look forward to working with the noble Earl and other noble Lords to ensure that that is the case.

I hope that, in the light of what I have said the noble Earl feels able to withdraw his amendment.

Earl of Kinnoull Portrait The Earl of Kinnoull
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I am very grateful to the Minister, with whom I had a number of amusing conversations over the weekend that involved lawn-mowing as well. I think this is a very constructive approach, and I hope we will be able to deal with the matters quickly when we get to meet. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Ivory Bill

(Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard - continued): House of Lords)
Earl of Kinnoull Excerpts
Monday 10th September 2018

(2 years, 5 months ago)

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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Lord De Mauley Portrait Lord De Mauley (Con)
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My Lords, many of the objects that will require registration under the Clause 10 requirements will be low in value. This will include old pianos offered for sale privately for £50 or small domestic objects such as mirrors with surrounds in mahogany inlaid with thin ivory strips selling for perhaps £30. As I previously indicated, there is no compelling reason for us to discourage the reuse of such antiques. If the registration fee is set too high, only the more valuable ivory items would be worth registering, and lower-value ones would end up being thrown away. Whether or not it is intended to charge the fee as a fixed percentage of the value of the item or a flat fee, I believe it is sensible to impose a cap. If nothing else, it will encourage efficiency in those who operate the database system. I beg to move.

Earl of Kinnoull Portrait The Earl of Kinnoull (CB)
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My Lords, I shall be brief. I will speak to Amendment 31, which is purely a probing amendment. Following Second Reading, it struck me that the success of this Bill would very much depend on the take-up rate of the use of the register, so my amendment is aimed at trying to probe a bit of that. I noted that in the Bill, while plenty of powers are given to the Secretary of State to charge fees for registration, there is no duty alongside that, telling the authorities what they should be trying to do. My amendment is aimed at trying to put a bit of duty alongside the powers.

I noticed that the success of curbing drink-driving in the UK has been very much driven by the fact that people in the country now expect people not to drink-drive. We need to ensure that nothing stands in the way of people developing a feeling that ivory has a special and difficult thing associated with it. Therefore, they should comply with this law enthusiastically, because it will help the problem that we have all been talking about. I do not think I can add any more.

Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Portrait Baroness Jones of Whitchurch (Lab)
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My Lords, I shall speak briefly on these two amendments. I think we all accept that the cost of registration should not be prohibitive. Equally, I have to say that I think a blanket fee of £5 is unrealistic. It should not, however, be used as a money-raising opportunity, as some government fee systems have been found to do. In his letter to us after Second Reading, the Minister made it clear that the fees would be based on a cost-recovery calculation. Fine, but he went on to say that the calculation would be based on the cost of building a new IT system. At that point, alarm bells started to ring. I am sure that the Government would accept that they have a rather shaky reputation for delivering IT systems on budget.

I therefore hope that the Minister will take this opportunity to reassure us that the cost will not be prohibitive and that it will take into account the ability to pay of a wide range of potential traders who might want to use the system, taking on board the points that have been made that they will not always be the professionals and those who are able to pay large fees.

We have referred to the registration scheme several times and I know that the Minister says that we will have further details of it, but it would be helpful if he could clarify the timescale for it. Will we definitely have more details before Report?

Ivory Bill

(2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords)
Earl of Kinnoull Excerpts
Tuesday 17th July 2018

(2 years, 7 months ago)

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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Baroness Fookes Portrait Baroness Fookes (Con)
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My Lords, unlike the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, I did not grow up knowing elephants, but I do have a vivid recollection of a safari trip I made many years ago—not at Treetops but somewhere similar, with a watering hole. We were told that the animals would probably come during the night, a bell would ring and if we wished we could get up to see them. The bell rang and I shot up—I was younger in those days—and one of the things that stood out for me, among the other animals coming, was a little family of elephants: two adults and two very frolicsome youngsters. In fact, they were behaving slightly badly and one of the elder elephants gave them a bit of a cuff—you know, “Just behave yourselves”. That has stayed with me for evermore and it reminded me of the story by the noble Lord, Lord Jones of Cheltenham, about the wonderful ending of that matriarchal elephant. I saw them young; he saw one very old. They are remarkable and something to be cherished and preserved.

I do not take the view of some of those in the debate who fear that the Bill, though well intentioned, really will not do any good. I thought that my noble friend the Minister made a very strong case for the good that the Bill could do, and he was ably and powerfully supported by my noble friends Lord Hague and Lady Chalker. They have an immense knowledge of Africa and have done a great deal and, if I have to choose between the doubters and those two, I am going to support my noble friends: they made very powerful cases indeed.

We have all been horrified by the number of elephants killed, but nobody has actually mentioned the suffering in their deaths. I suspect that the poachers are pretty vicious and I am quite sure that they are capable of bringing an animal down, not killing it completely and still hacking off its tusks. I do not really want to think about that too much, but it is something we should remember because it is all too likely to happen. I realise that the Bill, when it becomes an Act, will not do everything and I think there is a very important case for trying to encourage, perhaps through other departments, the value of providing alternative livelihoods for people in these countries. It will not affect the poachers, who are obviously after something far bigger and more vicious, but we should try to encourage in every way possible that the elephants and other wildlife should be seen as an economic advantage, through tourism and various other ways of using them to best advantage while we preserve them. I hope that my noble friend will look at that, although I realise that it goes far beyond the Bill.

I am also anxious that we should take pretty urgent steps to include ivory from other animals—rhinoceroses and so forth. We can see that if there is a market—and everybody keeps telling us that there is a market for ivory, particularly in the Far East—people will obviously go for alternatives to elephant ivory if it exists. Very often in this place we do not know all the unintended consequences of Bills that we pass, but we can be pretty sure that if we ban ivory from elephants people will look for alternatives. I hope my noble friend will make full use of the ability in the Bill to act fast. I believe there are consultations going on, and I hope they will not take for ever because this is very important.

I have one other, slightly quirky point. As a former chairman of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, I looked with interest at the departmental brief which the committee will be looking at between now and when the Bill comes back in Committee. I notice that there are at least five occasions when statutory guidance will be given by the Secretary of State and there is to be no parliamentary intervention. My antennae twitched slightly at that. No doubt this will be looked at it, and maybe I am worrying unduly, but delegated legislation often has a very important impact on a Bill and how it is to operate. I simply make that passing reference and hope it will be taken on board.

I listened with interest and some concern to those who are interested in the world of works of art, who spoke about the possible impact of the limited exemptions which will exist. That is not something I feel particularly confident about pontificating on, but I hope that during the passage of the Bill reasonable points can be made, perhaps in Committee, to deal with some of that. Broadly, I think the exemptions are right and provide a very good balance between banning all ivory products entirely and allowing exemptions. I look forward to more detailed progress, but in the meantime I warmly support the introduction of the Bill.

Earl of Kinnoull Portrait The Earl of Kinnoull (CB)
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My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, who made another compelling speech in this very interesting Second Reading of the important Bill before us. Like every noble Lord here this afternoon, I am wholly behind the central aim in the Bill of doing what we can to frustrate elephant poaching.

A few years ago, I was in the Selous in Tanzania. This area, the size of Switzerland, has no resident human population. On successive days our party saw a recently vacated poachers’ camp and was charged by an elephant in rude health. Those two experiences very much stimulate my enthusiasm for the Bill’s central aim. I declare my interests as set out in the register of the House: in particular, as chairman or trustee of three charities that run between them five museums; and, for reasons that will come later in my remarks, in respect of the insurance industry where I have had decades of experience of insuring heritage objects. I will confine my remarks to the exemption provisions in the Bill and to considering the positions of ordinary citizens, museums and insured parties.

On ordinary citizens, I was looking through the catalogue of a major regional auction house’s fine furniture sale last week and noted that just over 10 items out of 400 or so had ivory inlay or other low-ivory content. Examples from the catalogue were a dressing-table mirror with four small ivory embellishments, a chest of drawers with ivory surrounds to the keyholes and a box with ivory inlay. The estimated prices for these objects were mainly below £200 and the lowest was £80. I visited our local antiques centre last weekend in Perthshire and started looking around for objects with low-ivory content. They started at less than £10 and a substantial number of such objects was available.

I conclude, and I think everyone knows, that the total number of low-ivory-content objects in the UK is enormous. The Explanatory Notes refer to an online government registration website with alternative telephone and postal methods. These could be very busy. Could the Minister give some further detail about the registration system and its cost? I feel that getting this right, with particular emphasis on the low-ivory-content objects, is an important part of encouraging ordinary citizens to buy into the Bill, which involves the change in attitude that the noble Lord, Lord Hague of Richmond, who is not in his place, spoke of. If everyone is to ignore the registration, we will not change any attitudes and the Bill will have little effect.

I turn to museums. In my long experience, the buying and selling of solid-ivory objects is pretty rare. Indeed, in all my time on various boards, I can recall only one sale of a small number of ivory objects a few years ago, which was done because they were not core to the museum’s collections and we needed some help with the roof. Far more common is the lending of objects for specific exhibitions. Again, in my experience the large majority of loans affected by the Bill concerned objects with low-ivory content. For many years, ivory inlay was a popular way of embellishing special items. The standard museum loan agreement does not normally share gate money, although occasionally it does. What is very common is to agree to share money from images sold, for example, from postcards. In addition, the lending institution may receive catalogues and other benefits, and will definitely receive invitations to opening receptions with glasses of champagne. Can the Minister therefore provide some comfort that such loan arrangements, including the sharing of gate money, would not constitute a hire under the Bill and therefore be an offence, and that nothing in the Bill is intended to interfere with current, ethically sound inter-museum lending practices?

I close with some insurance difficulties. The problem here is what happens following a theft. Under an insurance contract, the insurer pays the insured but then becomes the owner of the stolen object. An insured item of low-ivory content may or may not be registered and may or may not have been photographed. I am therefore concerned that the change in ownership under an insurance claim could be illegal, and thus no claim could be paid for an unregistered item. This would seem an undesirable result, given that I do not believe that the payment of such a claim could in any way detract from the Government’s admirable central aim of frustrating elephant poaching. A solid-ivory object owned by a private client would not be insurable for theft. Would the Minister agree to meet to discuss whether a bona fide insurance payout should also be represented in the “Other exemptions” under the Bill, with whatever safeguards are suitable? In the mean time I, along with everyone else, wish this important Bill a speedy passage.

Earl Attlee Portrait Earl Attlee (Con)
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My Lords, I support the Bill for all the reasons that the Minister has skilfully put to the House, and I agree with everything that he said. So far as I am concerned, elephants win over business and wealth. As for the timing of the Bill, I too hope that we can get the Bill passed before the IWT conference in the autumn while at the same time giving the Bill the scrutiny that it deserves. My position on my own ivory is exactly the same as that of the Minister.

The noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso, was the first speaker to make the very good point about online sales. As I read the Bill, a person who offers ivory online is caught by Clause 1. Can my noble friend the Minister confirm that the operator of an online platform is also caught by Clause 12, which prohibits the facilitation of the sale? The difficulty is that an online offer for sale can claim that the article is certified and exempted and therefore not caught by Clause 1, and the online platform operator can therefore claim that Clause 12 does not apply either. In Committee, the Minister will have to convince us that there is no loophole with online sales.

I will seek to tread cautiously, but I detect some vested interests at play. Of course it is vital that we look at this legislation with great care. It is interesting to note that when I recently opposed provisions in a government Bill that would ban the sale of certain deactivated firearms, I had almost no support from my Back-Bench colleagues apart from, ironically, my noble friend Lord Crathorne. However, that Act—as it is now—significantly reduced the value of many people’s collections of deactivated firearms, as they could not be sold. In some cases, the loss was in excess of £1 million. Indeed, I was slightly affected to the extent of about £100. Fortunately, due to the good sense of the Home Office Ministers and officials involved, your Lordships’ House passed amendments which, in time, should solve the problem.

In this debate, we now have several experienced Members of your Lordships’ House quite properly expressing concerns about the loss of value to collectors and individuals. I have to say that in many cases the answer surely is to give the items away, not sell them. There is no need to discard the items, although I recently did so for a very small item. I hesitate to say this, but could this difference in interest be something to do with the relevant socioeconomic groups of those who collect deactivated firearms and those who collect antiques and ivory?

I have some concerns about the detail of the Bill. The first concerns inheritance tax. I declare an interest, as my family is winding up my late mother’s estate, but the effect of the Bill is at the bottom end of negligible so far as it concerns IHT—I know IHT affects only certain socioeconomic groups. Does the Minister agree with my noble fried Lord Carrington that the correct probate value now for an item of ivory caught by the Bill is zero because it will not be possible to sell it in the future?

It must also surely be possible that IHT has recently been paid on a genuine ivory antique that the family concerned would never want to sell. However, with the passing of this Bill, even if they were in severe financial distress, they could still not sell the item. It would be purely an ornament and not an asset, but nevertheless IHT had recently been paid on it. Is the Minister sure that this is a fair situation?

In principle, I have never been happy about civil penalties, except for matters such as motoring offences. Civil penalties are provided for in the Bill, and I share the concerns of my noble friend Lord De Mauley. The overall aim of the Bill is to reduce the international value of ivory in order to reduce the poaching of elephants. Once the Bill is passed, in reality no respectable person or business will sell ivory, and the desired effect will be achieved.

As I see it, three things can go wrong in terms of compliance. Perhaps two individuals might make a very small sale of ivory between themselves. If caught, a caution would be appropriate, or it could be dealt with summarily in the magistrates’ court by means of a modest fine. If an individual is contemplating making a higher value sale then the magistrates’ court, I suggest, is a good deterrent. In the case of a business illegally trading in ivory, that might be a matter for indictment that attracts unlimited fines, as noble Lords will be aware. Therefore, it is not clear to me why we need a civil penalties regime, and I fear the scenario outlined by my noble friend Lord De Mauley. I hope that my noble friend the Minister can either explain that this evening or perhaps write to me.

In conclusion, I support the Bill and will do so during future stages, while helpfully ensuring that the Bill does what it says on the tin.

Songbirds

Earl of Kinnoull Excerpts
Thursday 28th June 2018

(2 years, 8 months ago)

Grand Committee

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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Earl of Shrewsbury Portrait The Earl of Shrewsbury (Con)
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My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Caithness on securing his debate today. He is a great supporter of all rural and agricultural matters. I listened to him carefully; his contribution was excellent and most knowledgeable. Forgive me if my glasses fall off—they have stretched. My noble friend discussed a wide variety of issues from habitat and land management, through winter feeding to predator control. Personally, as a countryman I was fascinated and impressed. I agree with everything that he said. I refer noble Lords to my interests as a member of the NFU and the Countryside Alliance, and to my involvement past and current with various shooting associations.

Before I go slightly off piste, I must concur with my noble friend about the enormous contribution that the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust makes. I have known it for many years and was a local chairman. The late Dr Dick Potts was a world-class act and a titan in his area of knowledge. He was the guiding light behind Loddington Farm and the GWCT’s working farm in Leicestershire, from whence so much expert advice has come over the years. I should declare my interest as a member of the GWCT.

I am a shooting man. I know that shoots, by their nature, whether you love them or loathe them, are conservationists. They have to be. They have to provide a good habitat for a wide variety of wildlife. In the process of establishing and enhancing hedgerows, conserving and promoting woodland, promoting insect production, vermin control, coppicing and a raft of other practices, they do all the things that assist in the promotion of songbirds.

Plenty of predators prey on songbirds. Where I live, on the borders of the Peak District National Park, we have numerous magpies. I watch them at nesting time sneaking down the hedgerows, robbing eggs and fledglings. The magpie is a thoroughly vicious bird. We cull them as much we can. Buzzards, too, although protected, cause many problems. I am told that the buzzard is purely a carrion gatherer. That is not so. I have watched him take young chicks and pheasant poults. He will circle over a release pen and all the poults will cower in a corner and smother to death. The buzzard population is out of control. Indeed, just the other day, I counted 11 over the 15-acre wood behind my house.

Among the various songbird predators, and there are many—my noble friend mentioned cats, but where I live, the cat is a minor problem; I think it is more of an urban issue—we have the fox, which has no natural predator. The only method by which we can protect other species which he preys on is by human intervention and control. The grey squirrel, which has already been mentioned, is also a predator on songbirds. They have little fear of predation, save for in the north-east of the country, where they are scared stiff of the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale. He is a highly successful predator of the grey squirrel and a great supporter of the red of the species; perhaps that is a little illiberal of him. I practised that line so many times.

The noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk, realised a number of years ago that the wild English partridge was becoming close to extinction, so he produced a programme on his land to engender a revival of the species. He is truly an expert and fascinating to listen to on the subject. He commissioned new hedgerows, planted on a ridge so that ground-nesting birds would not have their nests flooded and chicks would survive in heavy rain conditions. He established beetle banks and wildflower strips around headlands, ensuring that there would be an abundance of natural insect life for feeding birds. He also used sensible and proportionate predator control. Because of that initiative, the songbirds found a friend. I could go on, because I am passionate about this, but I am very much time limited.

In attempting to reach a conclusion, I suggest to my noble friend the Minister, who has always been a great supporter of rural issues, that Brexit provides an ideal and once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take a view on rural financial support. Surely future subsidy—I think it should be called support—should be targeted away from the large farmers who benefit from economies of scale and pointed to the small to medium-sized farms, uplands and less favoured areas, perhaps focusing on wildlife and habitat schemes designed by the GWCT, which is a world leader. Perhaps that body could be paid fees through an environment support fund, where landowners and farmers would be rewarded for the quality of their stewardship or penalised for their lack of it.

Earl of Kinnoull Portrait The Earl of Kinnoull (CB)
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Earl, Lord Shrewsbury, with his noted wisdom in this subject area and good turn of phrase. I, too, add my congratulations to the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, on securing the debate in this important area which we discuss all too rarely, having had other things to discuss recently. I declare my interest as chairman of the United Kingdom Squirrel Accord and of the Red Squirrel Survival Trust.

The UK Squirrel Accord is a collaborative organisation with 35 signatories, which comprise the four national Governments, their nature entities and the large voluntary and private sector bodies. It has the twin aim of dealing with the threats to broadleaf trees in the UK and to red squirrels, both of which are posed by grey squirrels. I note that, according to the Mammal Society, there are now 2.7 million grey squirrels in the UK, and the number is growing. In 1875, there were none.

The SongBird Survival trust on its website has a section entitled, “impact of non-native species”. The first bullet point says:

“Grey squirrels eat songbird nestlings and eggs, compete for food, destroy broad-leaved trees, and are out-competing our native red squirrels”.

In summary, the two main problems are the eating of nestlings and eggs and the destruction of songbird habitat.

Turning briefly to the first, I was horrified to see last night when I typed: “Do squirrels eat birds?” into Google Images, the results were a terrible array of grey squirrels eating. The anecdotal evidence is so strong yet, frustratingly, the hard scientific fact as to how much a contributor grey squirrel eating habits are to the dreadful songbird number reductions remains elusive. Where songbird habitat destruction is concerned, scientific facts are banned.

Estimates for the timber value destroyed by grey squirrels over the last 10 years in the UK are between £100 and £200 million. The Royal Forestry Society is trying to update these currently, and I understand that the early signs point to a very significantly upward revision. Grey squirrels ring bark broadleaved trees aged between approximately 10 and 40 years to get at their sap, which destroys the trees. In southern England, effectively, there is no commercial planting of these species happening today, so native songbird habitat is not being replaced. I know this well, as this is why the UK Squirrel Accord was formed three years or so ago. The work of the accord is thus directly related to songbird habitat. The accord has many strands of co-operative work going on, aimed at controlling grey squirrel numbers.

As a UK-wide body, we are involved in commissioning scientific research of various types to assist. The most exciting and innovative in the world stage concerns fertility control. On our behalf, 18 months ago, the Animal and Plant Health Agency started a five-year project aimed at grey-squirrel-targeted fertility control. The work involves an existing fertility control drug in use in the USA, injecting this inside pollen, which is a new UK technology, mixing the pollen into a paste—and feeding the paste to grey squirrels in a specially designed species-specific hopper. The research is going well and it is hard to praise enough the team of exceptional scientists involved. In addition, this is a public-private project, with the squirrel accord committing to raise £1 million or so. Many generous individuals and trusts have helped fund this vital research. I believe this will be a key part of a strategy to help with the songbird habitat problem over what I regret will be a long haul.

In closing, I ask the Minister to comment on the research paper, which he had a very important part in commissioning himself.

Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Portrait Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb (GP)
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My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Caithness for introducing this issue. It is, as the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, pointed out, an indicator of other, much deeper problems for our environment here in Britain.

We know that 16 species of our favourite songbirds have declined by more than one-third since 1995, including such iconic birds as the cuckoo and the wood warbler. To address this decline, and all the other linked environmental issues, we need massive changes to land use in our country. Part of that relates to the issue of land ownership. Too much land has been concentrated in too few hands. The vast majority of our land is still held by a small number of hereditary families, possibly including some of your Lordships. Many work very hard. I know of one Peer who has a 50-acre wildflower meadow, which is extremely difficult to create and maintain. Many large landowners improve their land for now and for future generations. But there is an inequality that has to be tackled. Margaret Thatcher used to speak of the home-owning democracy; perhaps the time has come for a land-owning democracy. I am using a Conservative link, so that it feeds into the Government’s ears.

Perhaps the biggest impact a freeholder could make is to lease parcels of land—the rocky, sloping marginal bits that you cannot work out what to do with, or that do not have any obvious use. If you lease a parcel of this marginal land to someone with ideas and enthusiasm, they can manage it in an ecologically friendly way. That is what happened in Old Sleningford Farm in north Yorkshire, where a 17-acre smallholding is leased and managed in a revolutionary way. In exchange for a peppercorn rent, this patch of rocky dirt has been transformed into what is called a “food forest”, with over 250 species of fruit and nut trees being grown organically. The freeholder himself loves it, and gets chickens and bacon and an endless supply of fruit; the leaseholders have crafted a successful local business; and local people visit to get involved in tending the land, as a sort of social exercise.

We are still stuck in the 20th-century mind set brought about by the world wars when maximising production was the sole purpose of agricultural policy. We have to move on from that and think in a more modern way. We know how to fix the problem of climate change, but we are not doing it fast enough. The longer we stall, the worse things will get and the more it will cost to remedy. Some people think that it is crass to talk about nature in monetary terms, because it is worth much so more than money can ever reflect, but it is a simple fact that our environment and ecology have an immense economic value in terms of the products and services that nature provides to us for free. It represents billions of pounds worth of natural capital. In the end, our natural capital is the only infrastructure that really matters—more than all the roads, rail, electricity and internet. We can lose all those things, and all the money in the world but, if we lose our environment and ecosystems, everything else becomes worthless.

We have big opportunities over this Parliament, with numerous Bills dedicated to farming and the environment. We will literally shape the future of our country with the words in those Bills. We showed in the withdrawal Bill that we will improve legislation in the face of stiff government opposition, and I hope that we will continue in that spirit as we address the challenges of our environment and ecosystems.

I went to a farmers’ market yesterday and was lobbied very heavily by a beekeeper. He outlined the problem that in Britain we import far too many bees and do not encourage our own natural bee population. No bumblebees are currently commercially produced in the UK, and the substitution of home-grown produce has commercial, biodiversity and biosecurity advantages for the whole country. Apparently, subspecies of honey bees are also being imported, with a resulting loss of quality over succeeding generations: bad temper, swarminess and lack of local adaptation. This goes way beyond songbirds; it is about every single part of nature, and we have to protect it.

Agriculture, Fisheries and the Rural Environment

Earl of Kinnoull Excerpts
Thursday 2nd November 2017

(3 years, 3 months ago)

Lords Chamber

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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Duke of Wellington Portrait The Duke of Wellington (Con)
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My Lords, I, too, pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Plumb. He and I were elected to the European Parliament in the first direct elections in 1979. He came having been president of the NFU, so it was very fortunate for Britain that the first chairman of the elected European Parliament’s agriculture committee should be a British Member. As has been said, he went on to become the first and, sadly, only British President of the European Parliament. I certainly salute his service in the European Parliament. Surely his career there was more distinguished than any of the rest of us who served as British MEPs.

My noble friend Lord Plumb, sadly, leaves the stage at a moment of great difficulty for British agriculture. I must declare my interest in agriculture as detailed in the register. Many people in this House know how difficult it is for small and medium-sized livestock farms, many of which are family farms—I particular commend the speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, a few moments ago. They cannot possibly make a profit without the financial support which they currently receive from Brussels. The Government have, fortunately, guaranteed that those payments will continue until 2022, but nobody yet knows what will replace them. Family livestock farms cannot continue to care for the countryside and environment without financial support. Livestock farming is by its nature very labour intensive, and animal welfare and high environmental standards must surely suffer without support. There was a discussion earlier today in this House about the 58 sectoral analyses that have been prepared by the Government. I got a list yesterday of the sectors, and I see that one of them is entitled “Agriculture, Animal Health and Food and Drink manufacturing”. I hope that the Government will feel able to publish it as soon as possible and that it will include the impact on British farmers of leaving the CAP.

There are two other major risks for agriculture. Two-thirds—some say three-quarters—of our agricultural exports go to the EU. Any tariff or, indeed, non-tariff barrier to this trade would be most serious for British farmers. Tariff-free and barrier-free access to the EU market must surely be a priority for our negotiators in Brussels. The third risk is a lack of EU labour to work in agriculture and associated industries, which has been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, and other speakers. This has been mentioned many times in this House but, as with overseas students, somehow the Government are reluctant to give the necessary assurances, in this case to farmers. The Motion refers to the,

“opportunities and challenges for agriculture”.

The opportunities rest on continued financial support, particularly for livestock farms, continued access to the EU market and the continuance of the supply of skilled labour, so when the Minister replies I hope he will go as far as he can to provide assurances to farmers on some of these disturbing matters, because farmers supply so much of the raw material for our food processing industries, which are so important to the economy of this country.

Earl of Kinnoull Portrait The Earl of Kinnoull (CB)
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My Lords, I, too, add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Plumb, on his amazingly wonderful valedictory speech. I found it a model of vigour and clarity. I doubt I could do that even today at a much younger age. I also congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Lindsay, on obtaining this timely debate. He gave a very scholarly survey of things. I shall pick up on just one of them and talk about forestry. I should declare my interests as set out in the register of the House, particularly those in respect of agriculture.

Forestry is, I regret, slightly the poor relation in the rural economy. I note that the five-year planting target to 2020 was 11 million trees, or 2.2 million trees a year. Forestry Commission figures for the first two years of this pledge came out in August and showed that in the first two years, in the aggregate, just 2.28 million tress had been planted. We are travelling at half speed. But the Climate Change Act 2008 means that we cannot afford to do so. I remind the House that the Act makes it a duty to ensure that the net UK carbon account for all six of the Kyoto greenhouse gases for 2050 is at least 80% lower than the 1990 baseline. The largest component by far of the six gases is of course carbon dioxide, and planting trees is self-evidently an easy and natural way of balancing CO2 emissions.

There are many causes of this slow speed of planting, but my own take is that they really fall into two categories. The first is that the forestry grant offers and the economics generally are simply not attractive to landowners. Secondly, there are the high risks associated with plant health, pests, squirrels—a particular interest of mine—and deer. Taking the first of these categories, I was of course delighted to read policy 39 of the Government’s new Clean Growth Strategy. We have already heard of policy 38, concerning future agricultural support, but policy 39 says:

“Establish a new network of forests in England including new woodland on farmland, and fund larger-scale woodland and forest creation, in support of our commitment to plant 11 million trees, and increase the amount of UK timber used in construction”.

Could the Minister expand on this admirable policy or tell us when we might expect to hear more?

In terms of the second of these categories, I hope the House is aware how much the Minister is doing to help. I visited the Animal and Plant Health Agency facility outside York again 10 days ago for a conference on all these matters. Ninety-nine people from all over the UK were there, and the full range of innovative and world-class research that the UK and especially APHA are undertaking was discussed. For me, in my role as chairman of the UK Squirrel Accord, it was especially heartening to hear of the great strides being made in the science of grey squirrel fertility control, which ultimately will protect our broad-leaf trees from ring-barking by this invasive alien species, which kills young trees. But as I said, that is just one strand of much of the research that is going on, and the Defra family should be warmly congratulated on its hard work in all areas of research. It would be heartening for all involved, in whatever capacity in these battles, to hear from the Minister about his own determination and resolution in these areas.

In closing, I want to cite Action Oak. This initiative was launched just 10 days or so ago in the River Room. It is a determined, UK-wide partnership of governmental, voluntary and private sector bodies working together to seek to address the multiple problems that face our iconic national tree species. For instance, they will get communication going together and commission common research. It is a wonderful partnership concept and a very commendable model. Could the Minister tell us whether this type of public/private partnership approach is one that he sees as useful in the wider context of the forestry and agricultural sector?

Baroness Eaton Portrait Baroness Eaton (Con)
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My Lords, I add my thanks to my noble friend Lord Lindsay for initiating this debate and for giving the House the opportunity to thank my noble friend Lord Plumb for his very exceptional service to agriculture. I also declare my interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association.

Rural areas account for over half of England’s economic output. Non-metropolitan areas are engines of our economic growth and support industries such as advanced manufacturing, tourism and agriculture. But like other parts of the country, rural areas face significant challenges in growing their economies and securing new investment. Access to fast and reliable broadband is vital for all rural and non-metropolitan areas in supporting their efforts to grow their local economies, as they need universal access to superfast broadband to help businesses reach more customers, offer online orders and deliver services and trade internationally.

The LGA has promoted improving broadband connections on behalf of local government through its Up to Speed campaign, which uses a simple online tool to help residents compare their broadband speed to the rest of their street, local authority and county. The need for better digital connectivity is why the LGA and local government welcome the creation of the universal service obligation and why we now need the Government to re-double their efforts to achieve 100% coverage across the country, for all areas.

EU funding has been vital to many rural areas in supporting their efforts to create jobs, support SMEs and make sure that people have the skills they need to succeed. Brexit presents challenges, but also opportunities to do things differently. Following the referendum, one of the biggest concerns from councils, including non-metropolitan authorities, was addressing the potential £8.4 billion UK-wide funding gap for local government that would open up once we officially exited the EU unless a new, viable domestic alternative to EU structural funding was put in place. The Government have pledged to create a UK shared prosperity fund to replace the money. This is a positive first step, and we now need the Government to work closely with councils and the LGA to inform how this new fund operates. The funding should enable local areas to set their own priorities and target the investment in a way that gives them the flexibility to build their local economies.

It is also positive that the Government have committed to developing an industrial strategy for all corners of the country. It is crucial that this help all areas, including non-metropolitan areas, develop their economies. It can do this by giving local leaders greater influence over their local economies. One example is the skills system. The evidence shows that counties currently do not have the skills base to support the high-value growth sectors. Therefore, rural areas could benefit from greater local government influence over the employment and skills system, enabling local solutions to be developed to address specific challenges. The Local Government Association’s Work Local report provides a positive vision for the future of our skills system, and I hope the Government will take seriously the recommendations being made by councils.

Brexit: Agriculture and Farm Animal Welfare (European Union Committee Report)

Earl of Kinnoull Excerpts
Tuesday 17th October 2017

(3 years, 4 months ago)

Lords Chamber

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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Lord Vaux of Harrowden Portrait Lord Vaux of Harrowden (CB) (Maiden Speech)
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My Lords, it is an honour to speak for the first time in your Lordships’ House. It is often said that joining this House is like being a new boy at school. I would go a little further: it feels more like being the nervous child who joins half way through the second term, when everyone else has already made friends and knows their way around the building. It is for that reason that I am so grateful for the kind and generous welcome from so many of your Lordships. I am not sure whether to be reassured or worried by the noble Lord who said, “Don’t worry, I have been here for 10 years and I still feel like the new boy”. I also thank those many members of staff who have been so helpful in my first couple of weeks. I know I will need their assistance for much, much longer and I thank them in advance.

I have received much advice on the subject of this maiden speech—gratitude and brevity are common themes. On the matter of controversy, it has been less clear-cut. I will try not to follow the advice that said, “Don’t worry about that; just go for it”.

My career has been mainly in finance and technology, as well as the emerging markets of south-east Asia. More relevant to today—and here I must declare an interest—for the last couple of years I have been farming beef and sheep in south-west Scotland and am in receipt of various subsidy payments under the CAP.

I thank the committee and the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, for these excellent reports. The Brexit: Agriculture report provides the best independent analysis that I have yet seen of the many opportunities and challenges, sometimes contradictory, that the industry is facing. Less favoured area beef and sheep farmers face particular challenges. Up to 40% of sheep farming production is exported, of which around 95% goes to Europe. Profitability is already low. The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, and the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, have already referred to the AHDB report that shows that profits could halve. In fact, it shows specifically that, in the worst case, LFA beef and sheep farmers risk having their profits entirely wiped out.

I welcome the Government’s statement that they do not wish the industry to face a precipitous cliff edge and the commitment to provide the same cash support until the end of the current Parliament. However, in the event of a no-deal Brexit, at the end of March 2019 sheep farmers will be faced with an immediate loss of market for over a third of their production. Could the Minister please explain what analysis the Government have carried out on the impact of a no-deal scenario on the beef and sheep sectors specifically, and what plans they have to mitigate the effects of this potential cliff edge?

The Government’s response to these reports sets out many general aims and intentions, all individually laudable. For example, the introduction to the response describes a,

“once in a generation opportunity to transform our food and farming policies, improve our environment and protect our rural landscapes … to create the best trading framework for both consumers and producers”.

On sections 31 to 35 of the report, the response talks of designing,

“a new agriculture policy from first principles in order to most effectively support the agricultural sector”.

It is hard to argue with any of that. However, I know I am not alone in feeling that these responses are, if your Lordships will forgive me, rather woolly.

As the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, pointed out, farming is a long-term business. Investments in land improvement, machinery, buildings and bloodline improvements and so on are all substantial multiyear commitments for small family businesses. The lack of specific policies and the resulting uncertainty is making it very difficult for farmers to plan for the future. Talking to a neighbouring farmer on Saturday, he said simply, “It is just all up in the air”.

There is already anecdotal evidence of delayed investment decisions, and it seems likely that the availability of finance may start to be affected. This would have serious knock-on impacts throughout the supply chain and for the wider rural economy. The average age of farmers is 59, and the uncertainty is putting succession plans at risk and must be deterring new entrants to the industry. Will the Minister please assure us that we will soon see the,

“coherent domestic policy to support farmers to become more profitable, to support environmental outcomes and to promote things such as animal welfare”,

which the Minister of State referred to in his evidence, as set out in paragraph 17 of the report, so that farmers can start to invest for the future again?

Earl of Kinnoull Portrait The Earl of Kinnoull (CB)
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My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow for the first time my noble friend Lord Vaux of Harrowden after his excellent and fluent maiden speech. He brings to the House not only expertise in agriculture but strong credentials both as an accountant and as someone who has held senior positions in the software industry for almost two decades, in both the UK and Asia. At the weekend, I spoke to a near neighbour of his in Galloway. In praising my noble friend’s diplomatic skills, this neighbour suggested that one of his toughest assignments, indeed achievements, has been to bring harmony and order to an important local entity that he chairs. I speak of course of the Fleet District Salmon Fishery Board—the source, no doubt, of a lot of local argy-bargy. I look forward very much to hearing his many contributions to the House in the years to come.

I declare my interests as set out in the register of the House, especially those in relation to agriculture, and remind the House that I am also a member of the European Union Select Committee. I too congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, on the barn-storming speech he made earlier. It was the most wonderful survey of what has gone into these two very powerful reports in this important debate.

I will make three points tonight and confine myself to the Brexit: Agriculture report. All these points relate to resources. The first concerns seasonal workers, and here the ground has been prepare by the noble Lords, Lord Teverson and Lord Rooker, and my noble and learned friend Lord Hope of Craighead. I live in Perthshire, surrounded by soft fruit farms, and am active in organic vegetables. I can confirm that the local farms active in these sectors, including us, use significant numbers of seasonal workers, almost all of whom come from EU 27 states. I repeat the invitation of my noble and learned friend Lord Hope, and associate myself with all his words, and ask the Minister to come to Perthshire, where I will give him a personal tour of the situation so he can see how strong these businesses are and how much we depend on these seasonal workers.

The report went into the science of this. Paragraph 253 records that Queen’s University Belfast estimates that, UK-wide, this seasonal workforce is 80,000 strong in horticulture alone, 98% of whom are from the EU 27. Paragraph 264 of the report goes on to say that:

“Many workers in the agricultural sector are often regarded as ‘unskilled’, but are in fact extremely skilled at sector-specific tasks such as crop handling and harvesting”.

I know only too well how true this is. I was, therefore, initially delighted to read in the Government’s response that:

“Access to a sufficient and appropriately skilled workforce is essential for the whole food chain, and we welcome the Committee’s recognition of the importance of this issue”.

However, I was baffled later on in the Government’s response to read:

“For seasonal workers, the Government has stated that it does not believe that there is sufficient evidence to introduce a new Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme in at this moment. We keep this position under careful, ongoing review”.

I regret—and here I concur totally with the noble Lord, Lord Vaux—that these words have sent a shiver down the spine of those businesses which use seasonal agricultural workers and their investment sentiment is accordingly very poor—and it is very poor in the very agricultural sectors that have been responsible for so much of the growth in agricultural GDP in recent times. “Why would one invest in a climate of such future workforce uncertainties?” is essentially the question being asked at the farm tables, in Perthshire for sure and, I have no doubt, elsewhere. I would be grateful if the Minister would comment on all of this and tell us whether this position is changing and, if not, what extra evidence the Government need in order to change their mind.

Moving to my second point, as I believe the Government will conclude that a new SAWS is not only necessary but very much in UK PLC’s interests, I hope that such a new scheme will learn the lessons of the old one. An example here would be the need for flexibility on visa end dates. The old SAWS was clear that, when the time was up for a seasonal worker, he had to go home. This was unhelpful in the agricultural sector where harvests can be late unexpectedly, leading to wholly unnecessary problems.

A more important example for today is the fact that forestry was not included in the old SAWS. Earlier today in the River Room, the Minister was launching Action Oak. This vital initiative unites all the relevant UK bodies in working together in the face of the multiple disease, pest and squirrel threats to trees—particularly oak trees—and, ultimately, of course, to energise landowners and land managers to plant. It is a milestone in helping to protect our countryside and environment. A small part of this milestone will involve the use of seasonal forestry workers. Accordingly, I ask the Minister to confirm that the needs of the forestry industry will form part of the careful, ongoing thinking that the Government are doing about seasonal agricultural workers, as I referred to a moment ago,

In closing, I move to my third point. The report sets out between paragraphs 277 and 283 why Defra needs considerably more resources, especially additional staff. The Government response on 29 June stated:

“The resourcing of EU exit work is a key priority of the Department and is subject to on-going assessment. Work continues to identify the number of dedicated posts required in the long-term to meet the demands of EU Exit”.

In other words, “Don’t know about that”. I wonder whether, three and a half months further on, the Minister could update us on how the thinking is on whether Defra really has enough resources. I know that this House would press strongly for resources to be given to Defra at this vital time.

Throughout this debate there has been a common theme of the importance of the agricultural sector to our nation and of it, and indeed Defra, being properly resourced. I hope we will hear strong and positive news from the Minister who, as the whole House knows, understands all of these issues so well.

Lord Wigley Portrait Lord Wigley (PC)
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My Lords, I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Vaux of Harrowden, on his polished maiden speech and wish him well in the House. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, for introducing this report. I should declare an interest by way of ownership of six acres of farmland—not one of the biggest estates in the land—and as a member of the Farmers Union of Wales.

I want to put on record the very grave misgivings among the agricultural fraternity in Wales concerning Brexit, particularly if it transpires to be—as seems probable—the hardest of hard Brexits. There are many aspects of life in Wales which differ from those of England, but none more stark than in the agricultural sector. Sheep farming is the predominant sector in Wales, with 80% of Welsh farms involved in the sheep industry, and the Welsh sheep flock amounts to 29% of that of the UK.

The proportion of Welsh GVA produced by agriculture is about 0.7%, compared to 0.4% for the UK. It was because circumstances are so very different for agriculture in Wales to that in England that agriculture was fully devolved to the National Assembly. That is one of the compelling reasons why any powers returned from Brussels to the UK which are relevant to farming should be fully transferred to the devolved Governments. It is then a matter of getting an agreed framework in place for discussions between the four Administrations of these islands to ensure that issues relating to the harmonious working of a UK single market can be best resolved.

As we leave the EU, we shall of course leave the CAP. Welsh farmers could face a cash crisis unless there are specific safeguards. These are necessary because Welsh farm income levels are very modest. Between 2012 and 2016, the average annual farm business income of all Welsh farm categories was only £26,520. Welsh agriculture depends heavily on financial subsidies from the EU. Wales currently receives about £274 million a year by way of direct subsidies under the CAP, with a further £555 million coming to Wales between 2014 and 2020 through the Rural Development Programme. In total, 80% of farm income in Wales comes from the EU’s common agricultural policy.

The current level of funding should be guaranteed by the Treasury to the Welsh Government, as was promised time after time by Brexit campaigners during the referendum. These funds should be outside the Barnett block and ring-fenced by the Welsh Government for supporting agricultural. Such guaranteed funding should run for 10 years. It is no use promising that the funding will last only to 2022 when agricultural investment runs on a five to 10 year planning cycle.

Welsh farming, particularly the meat sector, is heavily dependent on EU markets, which take some 35% of all the meat produced in Wales. So the outcome of Brexit is critically important for Welsh farmers. Any changes to the CAP levels of funding or in market access could have catastrophic consequences. The degree of damage will depend on the type of Brexit which the UK Government negotiates.

In this context, an important study was published in August. Undertaken by FAPRI, the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute, it was commissioned to undertake the economic modelling work by DEFRA and the devolved Administrations. The conclusions of that work were dramatic.

The study focused on three alternative scenarios. The first considered the impact if the UK succeeded in negotiating tariff-free and quota-free access for UK products into the EU and likewise for EU products into the UK, with the UK maintaining the EU tariff structure to the rest of the world and for there to be a 5% facilitation cost on UK-EU trade. In these circumstances, the study projects a small benefit for the UK beef and dairy sectors and a marginal 1% decrease in sheep prices and output value. We could live with that option.

The second scenario was on the basis of there being negotiated a World Trade Organization default package, including most favoured nation status being granted to imports from the EU to Britain and on UK exports to the EU; for tariff rate quotas to be retained on imports from third countries; for no change in the tariff structure for exports to the rest of the world; and for there to be an 8% facilitation cost on UK-EU trade. This would have a favourable impact of up to 30% on beef and dairy prices, but an adverse impact of 30% on sheep prices. That clearly could be advantageous for some parts of Britain but devastating for large parts of Wales. It would also have a 4% to 5% adverse effect on wheat and barley, which should make England hesitate before supporting that option.

It is, however, the third scenario which should frighten the living daylights out of anyone concerned with agriculture—the hard Brexit option of unilateral trade liberalisation. This would mean zero tariffs on imports into the UK, both from Europe and the rest of the world; it would mean having most favoured nation status for UK exports to the EU; no change in tariff structures for UK exports to the rest of the world; and an 8% facilitation cost on UK-EU trade. This scenario—the black Brexit bombshell, if I can call it that—would cause a 45% drop in beef prices, a 29% drop in sheep prices, a 10% drop in milk and dairy prices, and a 5% to 7% drop in wheat and barley prices.

This month, the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board published the results of similar modelling which again predict that, for all the extreme Brexit scenario, there would be a drop in all farm incomes of over 50%, with less favoured area livestock farms particularly hard hit.

The Farmers Union of Wales has called on the Government to secure a long-term agreement with the EU to maintain tariff-free access to the EU’s single market for Welsh agricultural products. The FUW has also called for a 10-year transition period. This is something that Brexit campaigners must take on board: the harder the Brexit settlement, the longer the transition period that will be necessary in order to minimise economic chaos.

What all this means is that a hard Brexit will signal the end of Welsh farming as we know it. Any Government which would allow this to happen would be guilty of mind-blowing irresponsibility. If there is to be a hard Brexit, surely there must be a confirmatory referendum in early 2019 so that people have the opportunity to think again. Among those leading the queue for such reconsideration will be the farmers of Wales when they fully appreciate what is about to hit them.

Flood Defences

Earl of Kinnoull Excerpts
Thursday 1st December 2016

(4 years, 3 months ago)

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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Lord Spicer (Con)
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My Lords—

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Portrait The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Evans of Bowes Park) (Con)
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My Lords, it is the turn of the Cross Benches.

Earl of Kinnoull Portrait The Earl of Kinnoull
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My Lords, I am grateful. I declare my insurance and farming interests as set out in the register of the House. Does the Minister agree with me on two points? First, Flood Re is very much in its start-up phase—it began trading only in April this year, and 53,000 policies is, in insurance terms, not very many—and the concept will really be proven when the first claims are successfully settled and paid. Secondly, once that is done, however, it would be sensible for the Government to engage the relevant parties in conversation about extending the concept of Flood Re—which is different from Flood Re itself—to small businesses, which I think would be greatly to the benefit of this country.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
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My Lords, I am conscious of the noble Earl’s experience in the insurance industry, but it is fair to say that Flood Re is financed to cover up to £2.1 billion in claims. To give a sense of scale, that is seven times worse than the flooding in 2007. I hope that the BIBA product will advance further understanding of how best businesses, and small businesses in particular, can avail themselves of what the noble Earl described: a Flood Re-concept policy.

Agricultural Sector (EUC Report)

Earl of Kinnoull Excerpts
Tuesday 22nd November 2016

(4 years, 3 months ago)

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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Lord Teverson Portrait Lord Teverson (LD)
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My Lords, I should like to record what a privilege it is for me to take on the chairmanship of this committee and what a privilege it is to have followed my noble friend Lady Scott of Needham Market, whose reputation, work and leadership on the committee were absolutely excellent.

This report is, in a way, the last of a series of “own initiative” reports, because at the moment we have a programme of Brexit reports which are taking up all our time. I hope that we are about to complete our report on fisheries, and that will be followed by reports on the environment, agriculture and energy security. I think that that will keep us busy for the next few months.

Without wanting it to sound as though too many congratulations are being expressed around the House, I was delighted to hear that the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, had become president of LEAF, an organisation for which I have huge regard, having seen some of its work in the past in Cornwall. I wish her well in that role.

Price volatility and natural disasters and events are part of agricultural life. As the noble Baroness mentioned, in the south-west, where I have my home, we are again experiencing a series of floods, which affect the agricultural community even more than many other sectors of society.

Intervention used to be one way in which the European Communities dealt with price volatility. My business career was in supply chain management and the freight industry. I remember operating a cold store in the 1980s. We had some space in it which our contracted customers were not using, so we thought that we would put in a pitch for a bit of European intervention storage. The great thing was that we got a fantastic revenue boost from that, but that was not all, because a full cold store is far cheaper to operate than a half-empty one, so we saved costs as well. I express a public thank-you to the 1980s European taxpayer for the great amount of money that we made out of that. That is why that system had to end as a regular feature. We all remember the wine lakes, the butter mountains and the intervention milk powder that occurred at that time.

However, as my noble friend Lady Scott said, at the moment there is some emergency intervention, which has been approved by the Government. The Minister, George Eustice, came back to the committee and referred to this report, and some of the intervention money will be used in some of the more creative intervention ways. Therefore, I think that the committee has already had a success in that area, and I welcome the Government’s response in that regard. I shall not talk at great length on this issue because, although it is important, it is not my report.

I particularly liked the move towards innovation in the report. I had not even thought about the financial instruments that could be used. They may be limited, but it is important that managers in the agricultural sector think in that way, as having those tools is very important.

Management in this area, as in any business, is absolutely crucial. One particularly important thing that I have certainly seen in Devon and Cornwall is not just management and management plans, which can be very dry, but the ability to understand and deliver marketing and to understand added value, as well as the ability to find niches in markets. It is important not to be an accepter of prices for commodities within agriculture but to produce products that are special and are of added value to consumers. That is one of the key areas where there is still much to be learned.

As my noble friend said, Brexit has come through since the report was published, and there will be huge challenges. I cannot believe that we will have regular area payments much beyond 2020. I cannot see British taxpayers putting up with that system as it is at the moment. It will just have to change—the pressures will be too great—and this report is even more important in that context. Regrettably, we may not be able to take advantage of the European Investment Bank. I hope that we will, although I cannot see that we will be a shareholder and have board membership of the EIB. However, I hope that there will still be ways in which we can exercise those funds.

We really do have a challenge as we move agriculture beyond the European Union, but I think it is one area where there are huge opportunities for improvement in the Brexit settlement. That will be the subject of a report of this committee, on which I look forward to the contribution from my fellow members in due course.

Earl of Kinnoull Portrait The Earl of Kinnoull (CB)
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, who, as ever, was energetic and interesting. I declare my interests as set out in the register of the House, and in particular as a recipient of EU farm subsidy, both personally and as a trustee of the Blair Charitable Trust.

I also congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, her committee and their clerking staff on a very thought-provoking and excellent report. I note that all the issues teased out in the report are still very much live following the June vote. It is a wide-ranging report, but I shall make just three points tonight.

The first is in respect of recommendation 4, which would see a scheme that enables farmers,

“to save in times of plenty and withdraw in times of need”.

It was heartening to read in the Government’s response what I certainly interpreted as general enthusiasm, and certainly what seemed to be praise, for the Australian farm management deposits scheme, which goes a good deal further in providing support to protect farming than our own current tax averaging measures.

Of course, there is another volatile business operating in the UK, which has done so for hundreds of years, that is important to Britain and which has an excellent method of allowing participants to save in times of plenty: my own alma mater, Lloyd’s of London. The personal reserve funds system has been successfully in place for decades. I cannot help but think that something closer to this, rather than the tax averaging scheme, would be immensely beneficial to the farming community. It is well understood by the Revenue, and I dare say it is understood by one or two farmers as well. Can the Minister confirm that this analogous and successful situation will be considered when—and I quote from the Government’s response to the report—

“Going forward, the Government will work with industry to develop new arrangements for agricultural support”?

My second point relates to recommendations 7 to 9, which are all about new financial tools. I have spent a lifetime in the City surrounded by financial tools, and therefore I have a pretty clear idea about who often makes the money out of these tools. I am of course very worried about that. I therefore plead that any tools that are dreamed up are very simple. I must say that the vast majority of farm offices will be like ours—ours is in the kitchen and takes place usually on Sunday mornings; it is not well set up for analysis or a complicated financial tool. I certainly would be worried that these tools could be vehicles for egregious profit by the private sector. In other words, we do not want the lions of Goldman Sachs to eat the shepherds of Perthshire.

I observe that there are already two types of volatility to be addressed. The first is market volatility. I feel that the personal reserve scheme, similar to the Australian one and indeed our own Lloyd’s arrangements, would be a very good start for dealing with that. The other volatility relates to natural perils, which is a fancy way of saying storms and floods—another area I have spent a lifetime fiddling around in.

About 10 days ago, the Minister and I had a brief exchange about Flood Re, a new government-backed scheme that provides effective and cheap insurance to private home owners in flood-prone areas. The scheme only started in April this year, and the Minister has reported to the house that 53,000 policies have already been ceded to Flood Re. It is a collaborative system between the insurance industry and government. It is very interesting and, at this early stage, appears to have borne fruit. The noble Baroness, Lady Scott, touched on my second point, but would the Minister agree with me concerning Flood Re, and would he feel that this might be the basis of an approach for the farming community going forward to manage the natural perils risk?

My third and final point concerns recommendation 11. Here, the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, was ahead of me a bit. The recommendation concerns agricultural research. I note again the very warm statements in the Government’s response, and I commend them for that. I am a great believer in research.

This evening, there has been no mention of the forestry industry in the UK, with its more than 40,000 jobs, and adding, as it does, more than £1.7 billion to the UK economy every year. I should say that, only a few months ago, I would have had to declare an interest as a member of the council of the Royal Scottish Forestry Society, but I came off that just over a year ago. This industry, which I love, is greatly threatened by tree disease, pests and the grey squirrel. I have to declare another interest as the chairman of the United Kingdom Squirrel Accord, which consists of 34 UK bodies including the Governments, the main governmental bodies, and voluntary sector and private bodies, and is trying to deal with the squirrel problem. Trees between the ages of 10 and 40 are being killed off by grey squirrels ring-barking trees, and this affects up to 70% of plantations. This has effectively stopped forestry plantations of broad-leaf trees on a commercial basis in the south-east of England. The disease, pest and grey-squirrel issues are examples of issues that we can respond to through scientific research—something that I know the Minister is very well aware of and I have had many discussions with him about it.

So I close by asking the Minister whether he agrees with me about the importance of recommendation 11, and whether he would give some hope to the forestry industry that their case for research money to deal with their threats is under consideration.

Lord Trees Portrait Lord Trees (CB)
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to contribute to this debate led by the noble Baroness, Lady Scott. I would like to acknowledge her leadership of the committee, on which I have been privileged to serve, and her leadership of this inquiry. As a new boy coming to this House, it was my first committee and she has certainly taught me how to chair a committee.

Farming is and always has been a challenging business, but the industry has been under particular pressure in recent times. This debate is not about Brexit—noble Lords may be grateful for that—and it is probably true to say that, while Brexit may focus and accelerate changes in farming, a major evolution of the industry is inevitable and would have to happen anyway.

In the EU Committee report, in which I participated, the challenges of agricultural economics divide into two issues: what I think of as macro issues, which are beyond the control of individual farmers, and micro issues, over which farmers have some control. With respect to the former, our report highlighted a number of major issues. These include, among others, politically motivated policies such as the recent sanctions against Russia, which impact international markets and adversely affect market opportunities; adverse weather events; and changes in international demand, for example the reduced demand in China for milk and milk powder. In these instances there are good reasons for Governments to intervene and introduce mitigation measures. Immediate aid may be occasionally justified—for instance, the recent EU package of €1 billion in two tranches in 2015-16, particularly for the dairy sector, which was very welcome. But, as our report recommends, they are justified only in certain situations.

There are, however, more structural measures that can be introduced to aid farmers to cope with price volatility. Tax averaging, which was announced in the 2015 Budget, is a welcome means of smoothing the adverse year-on-year fluctuations in the profitability of farming enterprises. Another measure, not yet available but which was alluded to by my noble friend Lord Kinnoull and which was highlighted in the committee’s report, is the creation of public investment deposit schemes. This is a financial measure to allow farmers to bank profits in good years, earn interest and then withdraw funds in bad years to top up income. This seems a very fair and reasonable mechanism and has, for example, been introduced in New Zealand as the income equalisation scheme and in Australia as farm management deposits. Have Her Majesty’s Government seriously considered the possibility of introducing this type of scheme here?

Certainly the biggest cushion against price volatility are the direct farm payments paid under CAP. In England, the Farm Business Survey indicated that in 2014-15, 56% of farm income was derived from direct payments under CAP. Let me make it clear that I have huge respect and admiration for the hard work and commitment of our farmers, but, as has already been said, this degree of subsidy and the reasons for which it is given are increasingly difficult to justify. It is likely that the scale and nature of this support will change post-2020 and that other solutions for coping with price volatility will be essential.

Turning to the micro issues over which farmers have some control, it was clear from our inquiries that the economic efficiency of farms in the UK is highly variable. We also heard evidence that price volatility is no bigger a problem now than it was historically; rather, the major problem recently has been sustained low prices, as the noble Baroness said. The costs of production vary substantially between enterprises, which means that the more competitive can withstand lower prices while others struggle. It was even suggested to us that the levels of subsidy have not been helpful in incentivising innovation and increases in efficiency. One notes, for example, that total factor productivity in agriculture in the United Kingdom has risen markedly more slowly over the past 20 years than in other comparable countries, including some within and others outwith the EU.

Key measures to enable greater efficiency have already been mentioned by other noble Lords. They include increased advice and information with respect to both the technical and business aspects of farming, greater communication of exemplars of best practice and the benchmarking of key parameters such as costs of production. Some of these can be achieved by farmers operating co-operatively, although we heard that on occasion there was some reluctance to share commercial data—which may be understandable but is self-defeating. Some of this knowledge transfer is achieved through national systems and consultancy services, but, where farmers have to pay for services, their uptake may be less than optimum. The example of Menter a Busnes in Wales is impressive and I note that generally the organisation does not charge farmers for its advice; it is funded by winning competitive tenders from the Welsh Government or the EU.

Notwithstanding measures to increase competitiveness, it is a sad reality that some enterprises will cease to be viable, as indeed has already happened. The chill wind of economic pressure will surely blow even harder in the coming years, but it is incumbent on us to mitigate the social consequences of that while moving to a more sustainable industry. In that respect, what are the Government doing to enable those farmers who wish to leave farming to do so with dignity and with appropriate support which recognises their profound historical contribution to our country?

Farming support from the taxpayer will increasingly move to support the important provision of other public goods, as has been referred to by several noble Lords. This will justifiably recognise and reward the crucial role of farming in the stewardship of our countryside as well as buttressing the rural economy. But we also should not lose sight of the critical role of farming in producing food of quality to high environmental and animal welfare standards. Research and the application of research into such things as GMO, improved animal health and precision farming, among other things, offer great opportunities to maintain or increase food production while freeing up land for other public good purposes.

Our food is incredibly cheap and we need to recognise that and value it more. We waste obscene amounts of food in the home—as an earlier speaker mentioned—with a report by WRAP estimating that by weight some 70% of UK post-farm gate food waste is produced by households. In the pursuit of even cheaper food it is tempting to rely increasingly on imports, but in doing that there is a risk of simply exporting poor environmental care, bad animal welfare and exploitative wages, as well as increasing political vulnerability. While we will never be self-sufficient in food, I maintain that it is strategically and economically important that we produce as much of the food we need as possible in a sustainable way, balancing the competing needs for land. That is not only good for food security but enables us to control all aspects of how our food is produced. To this end we need a dynamic, innovative and above all competitive farming industry. I am sure that we have the farmers who can deliver that and meet the challenges ahead.

Flooding: Defences

Earl of Kinnoull Excerpts
Tuesday 8th November 2016

(4 years, 3 months ago)

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Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
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My Lords, that is precisely why—as set out in the letter I wrote and the Environment Agency paper Winter Ready 2016—the Environment Agency is extending flooding-warning service to more communities and improving the range of digital services on GOV.UK, to help people take action to minimise the impact. I very much hope the noble Lord will think of going to the meeting on 29 November, when the Environment Agency and other departments will be in Parliament so that all these matters can be discussed in more detail.

Earl of Kinnoull Portrait The Earl of Kinnoull (CB)
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My Lords, will the Minister provide the House with an update as to whether Flood Re, the insurance solution which can provide affordable insurance for homes, is a success in its first year of operation, and what plans the Government might have to extend Flood Re to small businesses?

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
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My Lords, the first thing to say is that 53,000 home insurance policies are now backed by Flood Re. In fact, 40 insurers representing 90% of the market are now participating in Flood Re. I am very pleased that the insurance industry has responded so enthusiastically. We want to see how that works first. It seems to be extremely successful. It has meant that policyholders have reasonable premiums. We will certainly look at any future issues.

Farming: Impact of Brexit

Earl of Kinnoull Excerpts
Thursday 21st July 2016

(4 years, 7 months ago)

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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Portrait Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer (LD)
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My Lords, I warmly congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, not only on securing the debate but on managing to cover such a lot of crucial questions in her excellent introduction. I must say I am relieved that we will continue to benefit from having the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner, as our Farming Minister in this House, with all his long experience and his dedication to giving us proper answers to the questions we ask. I am very pleased that he is still the Minister in this House.

I would find it ironic if the remnants of the Britain that all Brexiteers so nostalgically seem to yearn for were actually exterminated for ever by Brexit. I see that as a very real danger. Think of our rural fabric. There could be no more vibrant villages with pubs, bellringers or cow-filled meadows. There could be no more bluebell woods, larks ascending, hedgerows or footpaths up to sheep-grazed uplands, which I am sure my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford will talk about. I see a very real threat not only to the agricultural sector but to rural life, our countryside and the wider environment. That is because the £3 billion that flows into our rural areas from the EU is not something that I believe the Treasury will naturally want to continue; I think it will look to that £3 billion pot to start funding its other priorities. That is a threat to the very fabric of rural Britain, not only to our home-grown food production capacity, which as we know we should be increasing, not decreasing, but to the environment, the landscape and the wildlife.

However, it is not all doom and gloom. There could be a new settlement for farmers and for our environment. It will require a total redesign of both the legislation around the environment—80% of it has come from the EU, and it has helped to preserve much of the fabric of rural Britain to date—and a new rural settlement with farmers. Quite rightly, the British taxpaying public will expect to see much more for their money. Gone will be the days of subsidies based on landholding size, no matter how few public benefits that land produces or, worse, how many long-term costs occur—for example, in soil degradation, biodiversity loss or water pollution.

Given what a relatively small and densely populated island we are, we really cannot afford to separate agriculture from wildlife and landscape. That is the first real challenge to Defra in considering what strategies it should be employing for a post-Brexit scenario. So far it has produced separate strategies for food, farming and biodiversity. That is not going to be acceptable; it is going to have to produce a whole rural Britain strategy.

The CAP did a lot of good in enabling family farms to survive. That will be another big challenge for Defra: to ensure that the sort of incentives it produces in future will encourage young entrants into farming and enable them to access the finance in order to share some of the machinery and capital investments necessary, particularly for some of those smaller family farms. We cannot expect farmers to manage, say, footpaths, dry stone walls and hedges for nothing. The public enjoy the benefits of the countryside and they will want to continue, so we must pay our land managers—the farmers—properly for that.

Lastly, there are issues such as flood risk. A very good publication came out on Wednesday, the Wildlife and Wetland Trust report Rich in Nature, which was about making space for nature, which also brings enormous other benefits and a great return on investment. The report’s introduction explains that for every £1 invested you can expect at least £6 in return. If the Treasury plans on a post-2020 investment in rural Britain of £3 billion, with the right policies and strategies in place it could expect a return of £18 billion and an enviable level of food security.

Earl of Kinnoull Portrait The Earl of Kinnoull (CB)
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My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register, particularly my own farming interests and as a trustee of the Blair Charitable Trust and its 70,000 acres. I too congratulate the Minister on his new appointment. Everyone that I speak to very much feels as I do: this is a case of round hole and round peg, and it is good news for the House. I also congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, on yet again enabling us to debate rural and farming affairs. I say again that I do not think we do enough of that in this House. The balance is not quite right, and I urge the usual channels to seek to address that.

I was only going to make one point today: the necessity of an early and clear communication to, and reassurance of, the farming community, particularly post-Brexit, in respect of the subsidy regime and foreign seasonal labour, so ably already put by the noble Baroness. I thought, however, that it was worth reporting on some of the many discussions I have had in farmhouse kitchens—and, in one instance, on a cricket pitch—about what Brexit means for farming. I shall distil those discussions down to three main points.

The first discussion, which was on the cricket pitch, was with a soft-fruit farmer. His business is of course labour-intensive and capital-intensive; Perthshire soft-fruit farming benefits from perfect conditions. He in particular needs foreign seasonal labour, which tends to come from poorer EU countries. He puts them up on a full-board basis, as do many other people in the area, and the arrangement is very satisfactory to everyone. His business is going so well that he would like to invest in increasing it. That is quite expensive, as it costs around £20,000 an acre to put up polytunnels and produce satisfactory irrigation and so on. He would have to invest in the accommodation as well. However, he is not going to do that because at the moment he is not confident of the availability at similar cost of skilled EU labour in future.

The second conversation was with a gentleman who has a successful livestock business, both sheep and cattle. He was thinking of an investment in his cattle court of around £100,000. He was not going to proceed, either, because he was not confident that the subsidy regime would be there in the future, and if the subsidy was removed from his future cash flow the returns would be so thin as to not make the investment worth while. Therefore he was holding off. Those are both examples of what I call loss of opportunity.

My final example is more worrying, because it is an example of damaging the existing business. This discussion was with the manager of a successful mixed organic farming business. This manager, whom I have known for many decades, was sitting down to fill in the forms for the overdraft renewal for his business. He was particularly concerned about the three-year cash flow that has to be included in those forms because he did not know how to fill in the third year. He had also had a discussion with his relationship manager at his major clearing bank and was under the impression that the bank was out to reduce his overdraft limit because of the uncertainties surrounding the future cash flow. If that is bank policy, it means that a constraint on cash and overdraft facilities for successful farms—and this is a deeply successful farming business—are being put in place, which damages our industry and is particularly not welcome when farm prices at the farm gate are so disappointing.

In closing, I therefore ask something similar to that asked of the Minister by the noble Baroness. When does he feel it will be possible to give clear assurances to the farming community post-Brexit, first, on the foreign seasonal workers point, and secondly, on the subsidy regime?

Lord Bishop of St Albans Portrait The Lord Bishop of St Albans
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My Lords, I too thank the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, for this debate. I share the delight of other Members of this House that in the recent reshuffle it was neither an exit nor a Brexit but a clear remain vote for the Minister, and not only that but a promotion, so we are delighted and thank him.

Whatever our opinions on Brexit, it is undeniable that British farming faces a period of uncertainty and insecurity. While it is true that the decision to leave the EU will bring some new opportunities for British agriculture in the long term, it is clear that there are substantial challenges ahead. Agriculture is more intimately connected to the European Union than any other UK sector, and the process of unpicking that relationship must be done with utmost care.

British farming is of course at the heart of not just the rural economy but the wider national economy. It is integral to the security and health of our nation through food production but it brings wider public benefits: preserving the beauty of our natural environment, maintaining biodiversity and, as we just heard, helping to manage rural landscapes for the benefit of all. It goes without saying that we need to maintain a healthy, sustainable agricultural sector post-Brexit, and this will inevitably require a degree of government support and protection.

That need for protection must be reflected first and foremost in whatever trade agreements are eventually reached with Europe and beyond. British food is produced to some of the highest environmental and welfare standards anywhere in the world, which is something the British people are rightly proud of. However, these standards would be undermined and undercut were Britain to open its shores to cheap imports produced at much lower standards. While it is important that post-Brexit Britain is open to trade and exports, a policy of trade liberalisation across the board cannot be the answer. As the president of the National Farmers’ Union recently put it,

“government must not allow an open door policy to imports produced to lower standards”.

On a domestic level, it is important that the Government help to cultivate a culture of appreciation among the British public towards British farming, and to further encourage the procurement of British farm produce by schools, the NHS and catering companies, for example. Improving our reliance on domestic supply is not just good for farmers but good for us all. When only 60% of the food we consume is domestic produce, we leave ourselves open to trade disruption and food insecurity. We know that there is growing public willingness to support British farming, and I hope that the Government will support initiatives to more clearly promote food that has been produced using British farm produce.

Besides domestic and international trade, support for British farming will mean a continuation of some forms of financial support post-CAP. This is only right given the non-agricultural benefits that farming provides to the wider public. Although we probably need a degree of continuation in policy if we are to avoid the sort of problems that have afflicted payment of the basic payment scheme this time around, I hope that any future UK policy might be better integrated with the provision of these wider benefits—particularly the environmental benefits—than is perhaps currently the case under CAP. We need a UK policy that continues to promote biodiversity, the preservation of landscapes and sustainable farming; which encourages landowners to slow the flow of water in upland areas to reduce flooding further down; and which encourages the use of renewable energy while helping farmers to take steps to tackle climate change.

Of course many more challenges than these face British farmers. There are serious questions about future funding for agricultural research, future recruitment of seasonal labour and the future of small farms that may find it even harder to sustain themselves in a post-Brexit environment of farm consolidation and more intensive production. I hope that Her Majesty’s Government will continue to work across rural stakeholders as they seek to find answers to these difficult problems.