Report stage & Report: 3rd sitting (Hansard) & Report: 3rd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Tuesday 22nd September 2020

(3 years, 9 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 130-IV Provisional Fourth marshalled list for Report - (21 Sep 2020)
Lord Inglewood Portrait Lord Inglewood (Non-Afl) [V]
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My Lords, I should begin by declaring the interests I declared earlier during the passage of the Bill. I shall speak to Amendments 89ZA and 93 and to the gist of the arguments behind others. It is important that UK agriculture and the UK public should be confident about the marketplace for food in this country.

UK farming—using those words in a wide sense—is operating in a global marketplace and needs to be sure that it will be playing on a level playing field not only because of the food implications of its activities, but because of the implications the revenues from food production will have on the delivery of all other public goods, using that word in a general sense, that we have been discussing during the currency of the Bill. That differentiates the debates that we are having from the arguments that pertained at the time of the repeal of the corn laws. I am afraid that as an individual I think that it is invariably the case that reassurances from any Government today are no guarantor of government actions tomorrow. Under our constitutional system, the best guarantor of such things is a specific provision in an Act of Parliament.

From the food perspective, for the entire population the problem is summarised as what has come to be known as the chlorinated chicken issue. It seems to me that chlorinated chicken, which may or may not be disagreeable, is not the issue. The problem is that the place where that chicken originates is so rife with damaging disease and practices that it is necessary to apply those techniques to it. That being the case, it is surely better not to have food from those sorts of places in the first instance. Finally, environment, welfare and other land use factors are important for the globe as well as for the United Kingdom. Encouraging and promoting bad practices elsewhere is something we should be ashamed of doing and we should not do it.

Lord Burnett Portrait Lord Burnett (LD) [V]
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, who brings ministerial and practical experience as a farmer to this debate. I declare my interests as set out in the register. I shall speak to Amendment 89ZA and Amendment 93, tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Grantchester and Lord Krebs, my noble friend Lady Bakewell, and the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott.

I spoke on food standards and other matters in my contributions at Second Reading and in Committee. I remind the House that I farmed on my own account for more than 20 years and had the honour of representing the rural constituency of Torridge and West Devon from 1997 until I retired from the other place in 2005. I still live in the constituency. In 2001, the constituency was probably the most adversely affected in the country by the outbreak of foot and mouth disease. Since 1976, and particularly since 2001, I have observed first-hand the agricultural industry making substantial investments in time and money in improving animal welfare, protecting and enhancing our environment and complying with rightly stringent provisions relating to food safety and hygiene, traceability and plant health. British agriculture is justifiably proud of the high standards it has attained in responding to all these challenges and of its ability to provide to good and safe food for the British people. I am aware that some Ministers have declared that the Government will not enter into agreements with countries that dilute these high standards. At Second Reading I stressed that Ministers come, and Minsters go. I gave other compelling reasons why the British public and the agricultural industry should have assurance of statutory protection in relation to high standards for all the matters covered in Amendment 93.

This was all before the Government took the momentous and deplorable decision to provide, or endeavour to provide, powers to renege on the international treaty with the EU, which they had negotiated and agreed less than one year ago. This has shocked most of us in our House and also the British public. In the past, this country has rightly been respected for our commitment to the rule of law and our compliance with international law.

This proposed legislation—which enables this country to resile from its treaty commitments—is outrageous and undermines the good faith of this Government, whose cavalier approach to the rule of law is the most compelling reason why this new amendment on food standards should be enacted. The British people and the agricultural industry must all have all the protections we can provide. Thank you.

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Lord Krebs Portrait Lord Krebs (CB) [V]
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My Lords, this amendment has been most ably introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch. I want to briefly re-emphasise the reasons why I strongly support it. As the noble Baroness said, agriculture has to play its part in meeting our net-zero commitment. At the moment, as she also said, agriculture may account for only some 10% of UK emissions, but by 2050, if nothing is done about agriculture and other parts of our economy play their part, it could account for about a third.

In earlier debates, the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, referred to an excellent new book by Professor Bridle entitled Food and Climate Change Without the Hot Air. Professor Bridle expresses the challenge by calculating that, at the moment, the average daily food-related greenhouse gas footprint for each of us in the UK is six tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalence. To limit global warming to 1.5 degrees, we need to halve emissions by 2030. In other words, if food and agriculture are to play their part, the footprint of every one of us has to go down from six to three tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalence per day within 10 years.

We have already heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, that the climate change committee has repeatedly reported that agriculture and land use are not making their required contribution to our greenhouse gas emissions reductions. This leaves an intolerable burden on other sectors, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, has already said. I will share a different quote from the climate change committee’s 2020 report to Parliament:

“Agriculture and land use, land-use change and forestry … have … made little progress.”

It concludes that there has been no net change in emissions over 10 years, and no coherent policy framework to deliver change.

The noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, referred to peat bogs. Last Sunday’s Observer reported that there are currently no plans to stop burning peat bogs this autumn. Peat bogs are a major carbon store and burning them releases significant amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. Surely, if the Government are serious about their green credentials and about reducing greenhouse gas emissions from land use and agriculture, they should ban this burning now.

Agriculture is not delivering the necessary greenhouse gas reductions. This Bill is the chance to change that and ensure that the right policies are put in place. The Climate Change Act is, in the argot of the day, an oven-ready framework within which to place both agricultural emissions reduction targets and climate adaptation to make our future agriculture resilient to climate change. That is why we need to support this amendment.

Lord Inglewood Portrait Lord Inglewood (Non-Afl) [V]
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My Lords, in my capacity as chairman of the Cumbria Local Enterprise Partnership and as a member of the Cumbria Leadership Board, I have recently been involved in debates about carbon in that county. One of the things that concerns me is the debate around emissions which, inevitably, is not quite as simple as one might expect at first blush.

It is clear, however, that any strategy has to begin with where we are now. It must also recognise that it is almost inevitable that those with some kind of an interest are inclined to engage in special pleading. In the case of agriculture, I know that farming contributes; I am a farmer, and I know that my farm does. However, farmers, including myself, have to react and deal with what may be the considerable and costly implications of the appropriate response. As has already been said by one of the Baroness Joneses, the first thing is to have agreed metrics, and then to use them impartially to map the journey into the future, based on the information they give us.

Business accounts are compiled with agreed metrics and standards to present a true picture of the underlying economic activity. The same must be true with carbon accounting. I fear I may sound like a cracked record but, once again, the economic implications and consequences of effecting change must not destroy the agricultural industry and other rural land uses. As the Financial Times pointed out last weekend, the economic future for much of the UK industries in these sectors looks pretty parlous.

In the case of rural land uses, a number of activities are natural carbon sinks and cleaners. Those responsible for the framework of the new world must give proper financial recognition for that. In many cases, what they are doing now is being done for nothing, both for the general benefit of the wider public and the financial advantage of the polluters. Were polluters to actually have to pay, it not only would be a major step towards reducing emissions elsewhere but would help underpin the rural economy, parts of which are pretty fragile and part of left-behind Britain. The short truth of the matter is that insolvent businesses cannot deliver a brave new world in rural Britain. Furthermore, if that happens, a great deal of what we have been considering over the past days and weeks will turn out to have been pure fantasy. It is as simple as that.

Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering (Con)
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My Lords, I welcome Amendment 100 and echo many of the sentiments in it, but pay regard to the role that farmers, landowners and the landscape have in reducing the challenge faced by climate change and helping to restore biodiversity, much of which has been discussed through the passage of the Bill.

There is a potential role for farmers in ELM schemes going forward. There is a lot more that the natural landscape can do, not least in areas such as national parks. I know that the North York Moors National Park is keen to play its role and is waiting to hear from the Government about how it can do that under the ELM scheme; in particular, what advice it can offer to farmers and rural businesses that can help. There will be opportunities to plant trees and to help carbon sequestration. Pasture-fed and grass-fed livestock will also help.

There are other opportunities in the Bill, which I hope my noble friend will explore in summing up this group of amendments. There are possibilities to adapt to and mitigate climate change. I always get excited about Slowing the Flow at Pickering and the possibility of rolling out other such schemes, working with nature to store water temporarily on the land. We must not lose sight of the fact that many farmers are small or tenant farmers. They do not own the land, so will not benefit from any of these schemes. I hope that my noble friend and the Government bear that in the back of their mind. The Bill already reflects a commitment that helps farmers to manage livestock in a way that mitigates and adapts to climate change. I welcome the opportunity provided by Amendment 100 to discuss those issues.