Right to Roam

Lord Clark of Windermere Excerpts
Wednesday 21st February 2024

(4 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Douglas-Miller Portrait Lord Douglas-Miller (Con)
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The noble Baroness raises a good point regarding connecting to lost land and open spaces. The Government are aware that in the original mapping of open access land, some areas were identified to which there is no legal route. We are committed to undertaking a review of this position, and legislation to facilitate this review was recently passed into law in the Levelling-up and Regeneration Act.

Lord Clark of Windermere Portrait Lord Clark of Windermere (Lab)
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My Lords, we all welcome the Minister’s answer about open access land, and I am encouraged by it. The previous Government proposed that it be mountains, moorland, heath, et cetera. In addition to that, the Forestry Commission decided it would open up its forests wherever possible. Can the Minister give me an assurance that there will be no pressure at all on the Forestry Commission to weaken its provision of access for the people?

Lord Douglas-Miller Portrait Lord Douglas-Miller (Con)
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My Lords, public access is already available to over 1 million hectares of England’s open access land, including areas of coast, heath, moor and mountains, as I said, as well as 258,000 hectares of public forest estate. That commitment remains.

Farmers

Lord Clark of Windermere Excerpts
Wednesday 8th June 2022

(2 years ago)

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Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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Farming and wildlife advisory groups are incredibly valuable because the advisers are trusted interlocutors. The noble Lord is absolutely right that they need to be skilled both technically, which they can learn in the classroom, but also in understanding the practicalities of agriculture. There are a great many courses available; more so now, as we have increased the GCSE programme to accept environmental management. But he is right that there needs to be a practical element to training and I am very happy to have further conversations with him and others about this.

Lord Clark of Windermere Portrait Lord Clark of Windermere (Lab)
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My Lords, the Minister has mentioned that, in the new farming regime, farmers will be assisted and paid for environmental improvements as well. But as he knows, our record on public access to farmland is truly lamentable and one of the worst in Europe. Will the Government give the House the assurance that, when they look at the new regime, they will encourage farmers and insist that they allow much more public access?

Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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I have been absolutely determined to facilitate much more access to the countryside on my brief watch in this post, but the truth is that we could spend ELMS 20 times over on different schemes. We have a crisis of species decline and are one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world. We therefore have to use ELMS to do that. There are many other things that we could be and are doing, but I want us to focus on how people want to access the country. Some people do want to walk right round the coast of England but some just want to walk out of their town on a circular route. I want to ensure that we are working with farmers and landowners to deliver for those sorts of people as well.

Food Security: Climate Change and Biodiversity Loss

Lord Clark of Windermere Excerpts
Tuesday 17th May 2022

(2 years, 1 month ago)

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Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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It is our intention that farmers across these islands will continue to be incentivised to produce good-quality food. We have remained remarkably consistent in our food security over the last two decades, and we want to see that continue and improve. Through our farming reforms, we are incentivising farmers to continue to produce good-quality food.

Lord Clark of Windermere Portrait Lord Clark of Windermere (Lab)
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My Lords, I was reassured that the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, mentioned world food security; that is absolutely critical. Can I pursue with the Minister that the Government will not forget that many of the poorer countries in the world can produce only a very limited type of food, upon which their own societies depend?

Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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It is precisely those people who will be the greatest victims of climate change. In the short term we are working with the World Bank to lever the largest ever financial commitment, $170 billion, to support countries faced with economic hardship, both in the short term as a result of insecurity and the war in Ukraine and in the long term, working with international bodies to address these very problems for the most vulnerable people in our society.

Ukraine War: UK Food Security

Lord Clark of Windermere Excerpts
Tuesday 26th April 2022

(2 years, 1 month ago)

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Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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Food production remains of central importance to our agricultural reforms and there is much that we can do and are doing to help farmers at this difficult time. The noble Lord is right to talk about the massive increases in input costs, such as fertiliser. We have announced recently a whole range of measures which will ease this for farmers, but we recognise that they are making decisions about next year’s cropping today—now—and we have to support them and encourage as many as possible to produce food. The strong price for wheat and other crops seems to suggest that they will continue to do so, but we will keep that under review.

Lord Clark of Windermere Portrait Lord Clark of Windermere (Lab)
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My Lords, the noble Lord mentioned in his Answer the increase in prices due to the effect of Russia and Ukraine on world trade. If food prices go up, say, above 6% or 7%, will the Government cap the price of food?

Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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No, it will not be for the Government to cap prices. Price-capping policy has been disastrous in the past, but there are other ways to support people on low incomes. The Government are spending many billions of pounds addressing the rise in household costs, and we will continue to do that.

Water: Sewage

Lord Clark of Windermere Excerpts
Wednesday 1st December 2021

(2 years, 6 months ago)

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Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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I am pleased to tell my noble friend that her hour has come. The review is due to complete by autumn 2022.

Lord Clark of Windermere Portrait Lord Clark of Windermere (Lab)
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My Lords, each day, hundreds of individuals swim in England’s largest lake, Windermere. In view of the recent revelations about periodic sewage disposal in the lake, can the Minister give the House a categorical assurance that it is safe for those swimmers to carry on doing so?

Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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If the noble Lord will allow me, I will write to him with a specific technical response, because we are talking about public health and I want to make absolutely certain that he has the necessary information that the agency will provide me with.

Agricultural Products, Food and Drink (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020

Lord Clark of Windermere Excerpts
Wednesday 27th January 2021

(3 years, 4 months ago)

Grand Committee
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Lord Clark of Windermere Portrait Lord Clark of Windermere (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his patience and consideration in introducing this SI to us today. It is very much appreciated. Once again, we are essentially considering a piece of legislation which aims to protect the British public and producers in light of our having left the European Union. This is an incredibly difficult but necessary task if we are to retain the benefits of trade with the European Union and attempt to increase our trade with the rest of the world.

I appreciate that this is more or less a technical SI that does not introduce any new policy. It appears particularly comprehensive, with so much emphasis on GIs, as well as relating to wines and spirits. Geographical indications are very important for Britain as we go forward and extend our trade into the wider world; they are already very extensive, with the UK list covering over 104 pages. As the Minister says, it offers protection to food and drink manufacturers in particular locations and their means of production in the UK, the European Union and the wider world. These stretch from Arbroath smokies through to Cornish pasties, Cumberland sausages and even Yorkshire forced rhubarb. I am glad that the Government are committed to this. Can he confirm that the Government are committed to the GI system of protection and have already signed a number of trade agreements with the European Union and other countries which encompass it? Am I right in thinking also that this SI provides a bridging route for such agreements which are still in the process of transition?

Fertilisers and Ammonium Nitrate Material (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2021

Lord Clark of Windermere Excerpts
Tuesday 26th January 2021

(3 years, 4 months ago)

Grand Committee
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Lord Clark of Windermere Portrait Lord Clark of Windermere (Lab) [V]
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I thank the Minister for providing the Grand Committee with a comprehensive explanation of this SI, which he has given in his normal courteous and lucid manner. As he said, this SI is not particularly controversial, but it is certainly fiendishly complicated in places. I am a great supporter of science having a major role in agriculture, horticulture and associated activities, but it is very important—I know the Minister agrees with me on this—that any such use is carefully monitored because there could be a knock-on effect into the future. I will come back to this point in a moment.

It is our task, as a legislature, to examine SIs and ensure that they match the Executive’s declared intent. The Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee looked at this SI on 5 January and decided not to draw it to the attention of the House. That is a fair indication that it contains only what we believed to be there. Therefore, that is a second line of defence, and it gives us some guidance.

There is no impact assessment for this SI because, as stated, it has been judged that

“no significant, impact on the private, voluntary or public sector is foreseen.”

Therefore, in the light of these assurances, I am inclined to accept the SI at face value, but there are a couple of things that I should like to raise with the Minister.

I was reassured that once we get past January 2023 and are dealing with only UK fertilisers, the language used will be English for all fertilisers sold in the UK. It is important that farmers can see how to use the fertilisers and at what levels. May I ask about a small point on that? What is the position in Northern Ireland? I understand that with the Northern Ireland protocol there is some distinction, but is any of the fertiliser which might be shipped from Great Britain to Northern Ireland likely to end up in the Republic of Ireland? If so, how does that affect the labelling?

My last point—I do not think I will take up my full time—is about ammonium nitrate, especially ammonium nitrate fertilisers, which may contain more than 28% nitrogen. I do not want to labour this too much but, bearing in mind the terrible explosion in Beirut, does the Minister feel that sufficient guidance is given in this SI and associated ones about the storage of ammonium nitrate fertilisers, which can have such devastating effects in terms of explosions, as opposed to in their use as fertilisers?

Rural Landlords and Land Letting: Reform

Lord Clark of Windermere Excerpts
Thursday 21st January 2021

(3 years, 5 months ago)

Grand Committee
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Lord Clark of Windermere Portrait Lord Clark of Windermere (Lab) [V]
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I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Rock, for giving us this opportunity to debate this important issue. I began my working life on the fells of Cumbria and have maintained an interest in upland management ever since. The Government’s Agriculture Act 2020 potentially offers great opportunities for the upland, with public payment for public good—blending environmental, forestry and farming approaches —but there are challenges. In recent days, an issue has come to the fore in Cumbria that illustrates this.

For over a century, the Newton Rigg agricultural college has provided research, advice and education throughout the area, particularly in upland management as well as mixed dairy. Furthermore, it was the National School of Forestry for England—a highly respected college. About 10 years ago, Askham Bryan, a college in Yorkshire, acquired Newton Rigg for the token amount of, I believe, £1. Now, facing severe financial difficulties itself, it has put the assets of Newton Rigg up for sale. The tenants, Newton Rigg, obviously will lose their asset, which is their land. This is simply a piece of asset-stripping of the worst kind and it will remove a time-honoured source of advice to upland farmers in particular, when it is most needed. The move has caused great difficulties across Cumbria. Will the Minister heed our voices and, perhaps, help?

Official Controls (Animals, Feed and Food, Plant Health etc.) (Amendment) (EU Exit) (No. 2) Regulations 2020

Lord Clark of Windermere Excerpts
Tuesday 19th January 2021

(3 years, 5 months ago)

Grand Committee
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Lord Clark of Windermere Portrait Lord Clark of Windermere (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I have always felt that one of the great contributions we made to the European Union was by insisting upon the environmental and animal welfare standards. Having read these memorandums—the documents on official controls—I found there was so much in them, so I think the Government are committed to us maintaining at least those standards that we had when leaving.

I want to follow a point raised by my noble friend Lord Rooker, who related human health to animal welfare and animal health. I want to ask about a specific aspect of that. We all know that, on the human side, antibiotics are a major contributor when we look at fighting illness and keeping fit. We also know—the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner, will know this in particular, in his profession as a farmer—about farmers making great use of antibiotics and that, as a society, we benefit enormously from that contribution to farming. But although most farmers go to great lengths to minimise the amount of antibiotics they use in farming, there is some passing-over to human health. Of course, the more antibiotics we have in our fight against illness, from whichever source, the greater the resistance we will have in getting the benefit from antibiotics.

I was interested to discover that there is a move to develop a particular type of antibiotics in agriculture, which would be unique to agriculture and would not transfer across to impact human health. Am I right in assuming, when I read these documents, that this sort of activity in Britain is using our science—just as we used it in developing the vaccine to fight Covid—to try to develop that in the fight to improve human health?

Lord Alderdice Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Alderdice) (LD)
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The noble Lord, Lord Lilley, has withdrawn so I call the next speaker, the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes.

Agriculture Bill

Lord Clark of Windermere Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee: 7th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 7th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Tuesday 28th July 2020

(3 years, 11 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Agriculture Act 2020 View all Agriculture Act 2020 Debates Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 112-VII Seventh marshalled list for Committee - (23 Jul 2020)
Baroness Humphreys Portrait Baroness Humphreys (LD) [V]
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, and it has been a pleasure to take part, albeit a very minor part, in these early stages of the Bill. I have been full of admiration for the passion and knowledge about agriculture shown by so many noble Lords. My family’s connection with farming ended when my great-great-grandfather’s farm in north Wales was taken over as a result of the rent increases imposed during the agrarian revolution of the late 1800s, which precipitated the social change his son described so graphically in his autobiography.

It seems to me that as we discuss the importance of agricultural and food standards in relation to Amendment 271, we could be standing at the cusp of another type of agrarian revolution, one which could again lead to changes in the viability of farms, not just in Wales, but in the whole of the UK. The threat of cheap, poor-quality imports leading to the lowering of domestic standards and a reduction in farm income is very real.

I was conscious, as I listened to some earlier debates, that most of the speakers spoke from experience of large farms in England, and it was a pleasure to hear the noble Lords, Lord Wigley and Lord Hain, speak earlier about small family farms, which are so prevalent in Wales. As a young female farmer, Beca Glyn, said in her blog, these farms make,

“valuable contributions … to animal welfare, landscape management and culture; especially the Welsh language”.

Wales is, of course, hilly and mountainous and our climate is mild and wet. This means that only a small proportion of our land is suitable for arable cropping, but grass for the grazing of livestock is in abundance. Our upland and hill farms therefore provide grazing for hardy breeds of cattle such as Welsh Blacks and for hardy Welsh Mountain sheep. Our farmers, who work hard in sometimes very difficult conditions, are proud of their produce and the standards they achieve in animal welfare, and none more so than farmers around the Conwy Valley, where I live. I cannot imagine that there has ever been a time when the quality of our farmers’ produce has been appreciated and valued by customers in the UK and in France as much as it has been in recent years. I share the concern of the noble Baroness, Lady Quin, about future access to the French market for our sheep.

For our local butchers, mart operators and abattoirs, quality is key, a quality that comes from adhering to high standards. Search their websites and Facebook pages, and the words “pride”, “high standards”, “quality” and “traceability” appear in abundance, so it is hardly surprising that farmers and consumers across Wales have been justifiably appalled and angered by the refusal of the Government to agree to an amendment which would guarantee a commitment to equivalent standards on imported agricultural or food products in this Bill. For them, there is no logic that an Agriculture Bill says nothing about protecting the standards which they have strived for and to which they have adhered. They cannot understand why a Government who committed in their manifesto, just seven short months ago, not to compromise on British farming’s high standards, found it so difficult to accept the amendment introduced at Third Reading in the other place.

Sadly, even the commission announced by the Government today, with its temporary nature and inability to give binding advice, will be seen by farmers and consumers alike as an ineffective sop. Unfortunately, and I dislike having to say this, this has now become a matter of trust. Farmers and consumers alike question why the Government are so reluctant to enshrine their manifesto commitment in law. They ask: could it be that a manifesto commitment is easier to renege on? The Minister is held in the highest regard in your Lordships’ House. He is courteous at all times, even at midnight on Day 6 in Committee, and I know he is a man of his word, but Amendment 271 is on the Marshalled List because farmers’ leaders and consumers have asked for it to be there. They know that in reality we are not dealing with a Minister we know and trust but with a Government who increasingly talk in doublespeak and cannot always be guaranteed to stand by their word. That is why their word has to be on a statutory basis in the Bill.

Lord Clark of Windermere Portrait Lord Clark of Windermere (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I am very pleased to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Humphreys. When she was describing the difficulties of farmers in the north of Wales she could have been describing my county of Cumbria. The similarities are uncanny, but we knew that, even down to the weather. This seven-day Committee stage has been one of the finest debates that I have been involved in in almost 50 years in the Houses of Parliament. I think a lot of it is due to the way in which we have been led by the two Ministers. I am speaking as a member of the Opposition and am proud to be a Labour Peer, but the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner, has been an admirable Minister. He deals with us all, from whatever side, equally and in a tolerant way and tries to answer the questions, and he is ably assisted by the noble Baroness, Lady Bloomfield, who shows the same tolerance. I thank them both very much.

My colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, speaks with a great deal of sense and independence. He said that this was the most important agricultural Bill he had ever been involved in since he and I came into Parliament in 1970. He is absolutely right, but it is more challenging this time because, finally, we have realised that agriculture is not completely about farming. It is about forestry. It is about horticulture. It is about land use. It is about food standards and quality. It is about the environment. It is about what can be done through agriculture to cope with climate change. Today, this group of amendments brings home to us the result of Brexit and, accompanying that, trade deals.