All Debates between Lord Knight of Weymouth and Lord Taylor of Holbeach

Wed 16th July 2014
3 interactions (1,135 words)
Thu 24th May 2012
2 interactions (3,869 words)
Wed 21st March 2012
4 interactions (273 words)
Tue 20th March 2012
3 interactions (247 words)
Mon 12th December 2011
3 interactions (260 words)
Mon 12th December 2011
3 interactions (231 words)
Mon 14th November 2011
4 interactions (291 words)
Tue 14th June 2011
3 interactions (293 words)
Mon 28th February 2011
3 interactions (1,131 words)
Tue 5th October 2010
4 interactions (324 words)

Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill

Debate between Lord Knight of Weymouth and Lord Taylor of Holbeach
Wednesday 16th July 2014

(6 years, 9 months ago)

Lords Chamber

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Home Office
Lord Taylor of Holbeach Portrait Lord Taylor of Holbeach
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My noble friend has got it wrong: it is about safeguards. I am talking about safeguards, not powers. I am talking about the Bill imposing limits on the discretion of the Secretary of State through the regulations and the Bill itself. If my noble friend will allow me to continue he will see that I am placing that in the context of seeking to provide a basis for continuing the provisions of the Bill without extending the powers that are available to the Secretary of State or the Government under the Bill.

Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth (Lab)
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I apologise for intervening in the Minister’s speech, but given that he has just been interrupted anyway, on the same point, can he clarify that Clause 4, “Extra-territoriality in Part 1 of RIPA”, is not an extension of the legal powers that the state has in respect of these matters?

Lord Taylor of Holbeach Portrait Lord Taylor of Holbeach
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I can indeed do so. Extraterritoriality was assumed by the Government to be part of RIPA, and rightly so, as part and parcel of their legislation. We are making it explicit so that there can be no question of doubt about it. On extraterritoriality, as I said in my opening remarks, RIPA was based on the correct assumption that any firm that provided services here within the UK was governed by the law that we had in connection with these matters. In my view, there is no argument about that. Perhaps I may go on and finish my speech. The noble Lord is gracious enough to acknowledge that this is all of a piece, and I would like to be able to present it to the House as a piece.

I mentioned the number of safeguards to be introduced through regulations made under the Bill. These regulations were published in draft last week to enable parliamentary scrutiny and are available from the Printed Paper Office. The Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee has considered those regulations and made a report, which I am sure many noble Lords will have considered. I thank the committee’s members for their work. They have, as always, provided a useful and thorough review of the issues. In the case of this Bill, they have done so in a necessarily short period of time.

The committee is of course correct that it would be best to avoid a gap between the passage of this legislation and the passage of regulations. That is why the Home Secretary has been clear that our intention is to ensure that this secondary legislation can be approved by both Houses before the Summer Recess. This should reassure members of the committee, and other noble Lords, that the powers in question will not be exercised in lieu of those regulations being approved. It will not, therefore, be necessary to use the “made affirmative” procedure in this case. However, I thank my noble friend Lady Thomas of Winchester and her committee: their suggestion was a positive one. I am pleased that we have been able, through the usual channels, to ensure a more direct way of achieving the same objective —bringing the regulations into play before the Summer Recess.

The committee has also invited me to address the potential scope of the delegated power at Clause 1(3). I am pleased to do so. The Government have already published a provisional draft of the regulations to be made under the Bill, and these go no further than the existing data retention regulations 2009. They are, I can confirm, limited to matters relating to the powers conferred by Clause 1(1) and (2). I hope that this will satisfy the House of the Government’s intention.

The second part of the Bill deals with interception. In relation to interception, Clauses 4 and 5 make it clear that the obligation under RIPA to comply with interception warrants applies to all those companies that provide communications services to people in the United Kingdom, regardless of where those companies happen to be based. These provisions do not extend existing powers. They simply seek to make explicit what has always been asserted to be the case.

I know that many noble Lords will be interested in Clause 5, which clarifies the definition of a telecommunications service. When RIPA was considered by Parliament in 2000, it was intended to be technologically neutral. Much of it relates to fixed line or mobile telephony, so it also covers web-based e-mail and social media communications. We are simply seeking to clarify that definition in order to put this matter beyond doubt.

These provisions will make clear the legal obligation on companies that provide communications services to people in the UK to comply with warrants issued by the Secretary of State. In the absence of such clarity, vital capabilities may be lost in the near future. It is of course never ideal for these matters to be considered in haste, but I trust that noble Lords will agree that it is imperative that we urgently address these issues.

I know that some noble Lords have asked about the delay between the court judgment on 8 April and this legislation being introduced. Following that judgment we needed to balance the necessity to respond quickly with the need to ensure that care was taken to get our response right. We could not have acted prior to that judgment because the precise response needed to be framed in relation to the detail of the judgment. While we are clear that the existing regulations remain in force, we must act now to put this matter beyond doubt, providing a basis in primary legislation and responding to some of the points made by the court.

In relation to interception, as I have told the House, we have reached a dangerous tipping point. It has become clear that without immediate legal clarity we could soon see a loss of vital co-operation. This is not a matter that we are able to leave until after the Summer Recess.

I express my thanks to both sides of the House for the support that they have given to the Bill. It has been constructive, I think, to have spent Monday talking to various Peers about it. I particularly pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, for the constructive approach that the Opposition have taken. I look forward to an equally constructive debate in the House as we consider the Bill on Second Reading and at later stages.

I recognise that this is a tight timetable, but I hope that I have made clear the reasons for that. They were accepted in the House of Commons, which overwhelmingly backed the Bill yesterday. I am sure that noble Lords agree that we must ensure that the police and the security and intelligence agencies have the capabilities they need to protect the public and keep us safe. That is what the Bill will do. I beg to move.

Public Bodies (Abolition of the Commission for Rural Communities) Order 2012

Debate between Lord Knight of Weymouth and Lord Taylor of Holbeach
Monday 23rd July 2012

(8 years, 9 months ago)

Grand Committee

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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Lord Taylor of Holbeach Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Taylor of Holbeach)
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My Lords, I welcome this opportunity to debate the draft order, which is made under the Public Bodies Act 2011. It reflects oneof the outcomes of the Government’s programme of reform for public bodies. The order will abolish the Commission for Rural Communities—the CRC—and finalise the consolidation of rural policy functions within Defra.

I take this opportunity to thank the commission, Dr Stuart Burgess and his team of commissioners for their commitment to the well-being of rural communities. I also thank them for the constructive way in which they have continued to work in liaison with Defra’s rural communities policy unit. I would expect no less of Dr Burgess, who I know, and for whom I have the highest regard.

The rationale for this reform was articulated during the passage of the Public Bodies Act, in which we sought powers to abolish the CRC. We consulted widely, as required by the Act, on both the new rural policy functions within Defra and the abolition of the CRC. Of the 41 responses received, 12 individuals and organisations supported abolition, 12 respondents were opposed and 17 did not expressly support or oppose abolition.

We firmly believe this reform to be necessary. Placing rural interests at the heart of government, led and championed by Defra Ministers, will allow us to shape and influence policy across Whitehall at an early stage. The abolition of the CRC is not a decision that the Government have taken simply to reduce costs or to reduce attention to rural issues. It is a decision that will remove duplication, improve effectiveness and enable resources to be more effectively deployed.

Although not the primary driver, there will, of course, be financial savings to be made as a result of this reform. These are considerable: net savings of £17 million over the period of this CSR. This is a Government, from the Prime Minister down, with strong rural credentials. We have clear and bold ambitions for our rural areas. The abolition of the CRC paves the way for Defra’s Ministers to bring forward new, more effective, approaches to ensuring rural needs and opportunities are properly understood before decisions are made.

On 1 April 2011, the rural communities policy unit—the RCPU—a centre of rural expertise, was created in Defra. The RCPU is designed to engage more effectively, and at an earlier stage, in the development of policy across government. For example, it is brigaded alongside the team working on and delivering the RDPE, which is Defra’s key funding stream for the rural economy.

Noble Lords will be aware that in consideration of the order, the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee recommended that the rural statement should set out not only government-wide policy intentions but robust structures for incorporating stakeholder input into policy development and implementation. We agree with and support this recommendation fully. The rural statement will underline our commitment to rural England. It reflects our vision for successful rural businesses and thriving rural communities, and is based around three key priorities. The first is economic growth: we want rural businesses to make a sustainable contribution to national growth. The second is rural engagement: we want to engage directly with rural communities so that they can see that the Government are on their side. The last is quality of life: we want rural people to have fair access to public services and to be actively engaged in shaping the places in which they live.

We accept and recognise that a two-way communication with rural stakeholders and communities is crucial to developing better policies and delivering more effective outcomes. As our Explanatory Memorandum highlighted, we want to continue to engage proactively and positively with partners, including local government networks, civil society organisations and business groups. Defra Ministers, for example, established the new rural and farming networks as a conduit to give key rural representatives and stakeholders a voice in Whitehall on behalf of their localities. Similarly, the RCPU has regular engagement with the Rural Coalition. This engagement has ensured that advice from experienced practitioners has fed in to changes in the planning system, housing and the economy. Through this regular engagement, Defra Ministers and policy officials across government are able to have present-time dialogue with those who represent the concerns and interests of rural communities. We encourage this dialogue to be as open and as frank as possible, as we see it as a mechanism for delivering good policy.

The Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee also recommended that the rural statement should provide specific details of the steps that the Government intend to take to deliver independent scrutiny of rural-proofing. Again, we agree with the broad thrust of this recommendation. Defra supports rural-proofing by providing advice, guidance and support to policy officials across government. Alongside this commitment, we will publish new rural-proofing guidance materials in September. The rural statement will outline our commitment to commissioning an external review of the impact of the new rural-proofing package, to be undertaken in summer 2013.

Importantly, Defra Ministers will also be accountable to Parliament for the way that they fulfil their role as Rural Champions. Noble Lords will be aware that the EFRA Select Committee is currently undertaking its inquiry into rural communities. It is focusing on the role of the RCPU, rural grants and funding and rural-proofing—all part of government policy. My ministerial colleagues and I welcome the attention that this is placing on both the role of the RCPU and our efforts to ensure that all government departments are giving adequate attention to rural-proofing their policy and decision-making. This is an important opportunity to demonstrate both our commitment and our actions toward supporting the interests of those living and working in rural areas.

This is a good reform heralding a new and exciting era for our rural communities. I firmly believe that this is the right way forward, and that this order, and the new arrangements we have put in place with the RCPU, will deliver the right outcomes for rural communities. To this end, I commend the draft order to the Grand Committee.

Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth
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My Lords, this afternoon we are discussing another public bodies order from Defra. To date these discussions have been friendly affairs, much in keeping with the amicable way in which the Minister dealt with the dodgy primary legislation as it went through your Lordships’ House. I fear that our deliberations today might be slightly less consensual. As we heard, the Commission for Rural Communities was established by the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006, following the review led by the noble Lord, Lord Haskins. I was the Bill Minister for the NERC Act and therefore would describe myself as something of a midwife for the CRC.

That does not mean that I oppose the order outright, but it does mean that there are important questions for the Minister to answer. They happen to be the same questions that I asked when the Public Bodies Bill was going through the parliamentary process. As ever, I am grateful to the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, on this occasion for its third report of this Session. Its conclusion is the one that I came to last year and that I know is shared by many in the House. The committee correctly applied the three tests of effectiveness, economy and efficiency, and accountability. As is the way with these orders, it is right that I should do the same.

The Government argue that it is more effective to bring officials in-house, rather than have them at arm’s length, so they will have earlier and greater involvement in the development of policies and programmes across Whitehall. I am afraid that in my experience Defra is not central to the Government’s thinking until there is a crisis, and that rural policy in turn is on the margins of Defra’s thinking. The clue is in the name. It thinks about the environment, then food and farming, and finally rural affairs. There is no sign that this has changed. We witnessed the inability of the department to secure a legislative slot in this Session for the much-needed water Bill. That is the reality of the marginalisation of Defra. To argue otherwise is naive in the extreme.

As the Minister said, the Government are looking to save £17 million over the CSR period by this change to their rural policy function. That is the real reason for this change: economy. I do not argue that savings are there to be made, although it is worth noting that the CRC cost around £600,000 in the past financial year. It is worth diverting some of the remaining cost of the rural policy function to support the continuation of a rural policy adviser who is independent of government.

My main objection to the move is on the ground of accountability. The Government argue that these changes will enable Defra’s Ministers to be held accountable by Parliament for the exercise of rural policy functions. However, we should look at how Parliament is currently being treated. Over the weekend, dairy farmers blockaded milk processing plants to draw attention to the exploitative pricing that is making milk production uneconomic. Two supermarkets have already responded by raising the prices they pay to farmers. The farmers clearly believed that parliamentary methods were not being listened to—and was it any wonder?

Today it was reported that Jim Paice, the Agriculture Minister who does not know the price of milk, had raised the possibility that an adjudicator would be created to oversee a voluntary code for the dairy supply chain. This is exactly what my noble friend Lord Grantchester suggested last week when he moved an amendment to the Groceries Code Adjudicator Bill. Coalition Peers were whipped to oppose it—and duly defeated the very proposal that is now coming from the Agriculture Minister. Just one week later, threatened by angry farmers, Defra’s policy is churning, thanks to direct action rather than parliamentary pressure.

This follows a succession of protests that bounced Defra. Its proposals to sell off the nation’s forests were met with huge protests and it backed down. The same happened with national nature reserves and changes to reduce environmental protection in planning law. There was the case of wild animals in circuses. Over Easter Defra suggested allowing the shooting of buzzards—a native species—to protect pheasants, which are a non-native species bred to be shot. Unsurprisingly, that was laughed out of the court of public opinion within days. In these cases, we made what noise we could in your Lordships’ House or in the other place, but it was clear that Ministers were more accountable to 38 Degrees, the National Trust and Farmers for Action than to this Parliament—so much for accountability.

The lack of long-term strategic thinking that bedevils Defra is at the heart of the issue. At the same time, rural England feels the effects of policies and cuts from other government departments. For example, it emerged this month that the rate of young people not in education, employment or training is rising faster in rural areas than in urban ones—and that rural councils, which tend to have older and less deprived populations, receive lower grant allocations, spend less on social care, charge more for home care and allocate lower personal budgets than local authorities serving younger, more urban and more deprived populations. New research finds that social tenants in rural areas will be more likely than those in urban areas to have to move house as a consequence of reductions in housing benefit, yet there are fewer smaller dwellings for them to move into. I know these things thanks to the July newsletter from the Commission for Rural Communities. Its reports often make uncomfortable reading across Whitehall. The independence from government of these reports increases accountability. That is why a letter to today’s Daily Telegraph is signed by the right reverend Prelates the Bishops of Wakefield, Norwich and Exeter, the Duchess of Rutland, the High Sheriff of Cornwall, me and other parliamentarians, including my noble friend Lord Grantchester.

As the letter says, there has been an independent voice to government since 1909. It goes on:

“In the current economic circumstances it is more important than ever that the voices of rural communities are not lost and that an independent adviser—distinct from the range of rural pressure groups—exists to speak up for rural interests”.

That is all we ask—not for the expensive retention of the CRC, but for the retention of what has served us well for more than a century, an independent rural champion. What do the Government propose instead? The independent voice will be provided by Defra’s very own Rural Affairs Minister, Richard Benyon, he of the buzzards U-turn. Rural England’s new champion will be inside the tent but, unusually, on this occasion pointing inwards.

The lack of commitment is demonstrated by the facts that Mr Benyon has not delivered the new rural-proofing guidance promised even today on the Defra website for this spring, and that he has failed to deliver a rural statement, referred to by the Minister, by spring 2012, which was also promised today on the Defra website. That is serious for this Committee. Can the Minister tell us in his wind-up what happened to it? Are we going to get it in September, along with rural-proofing toolkit, six months late?

As he says, the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee specifically recommends that the rural statement sets out robust structures for incorporating stakeholder input into policy development and implementation. The Minister responded to that by referring to the explanatory document which has already been scrutinised by the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. It then wanted more information, which we do not have, to scrutinise this order.

I ask again what I asked the noble Lord, Lord Henley, in column 765 in March last year. Why not give us an independent rural voice that tells us by appointment, with the authority of the Prime Minister, what is really happening and tells us the truth regardless of fear of or favour from the Government? It worked for Lloyd George, for Churchill and for Thatcher. Is it really too much to ask?

Public Bodies (Abolition of Environment Protection Advisory Committees) Order 2012

Debate between Lord Knight of Weymouth and Lord Taylor of Holbeach
Tuesday 17th July 2012

(8 years, 9 months ago)

Grand Committee

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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth
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I certainly agree that if you need to get information out very rapidly, media such as Twitter are helpful, but in an emergency, cell broadcasting is the most effective because you can get to every mobile phone within a cell area. I think that the Environment Agency is looking at how that might be used.

I was going on to address the other point made about more sustained, ongoing stakeholder engagement. It is notable to look at how the really large commercial interests, the large retailers, are using Facebook, for example, to create massive communities of people around Facebook pages, particularly in the United States. Twitter is as good as the people you want to follow. If you choose to follow people who post only dross, you will get a lot of dross, but if you choose to unfollow the dross, you will get what you want. It is entirely up to you.

Without being distracted by the use of social media in these things, the more serious issue is to try to understand a little more from the Minister about how it might work. Will the money be spent on apps, webinars and tweet-meets? In particular, what proportion and how much will be spent on staff against this difficult fiscal environment and the pressure to reduce staffing costs? Will Defra monitor the staffing arrangements to ensure that there are enough people on the ground? Here, I might have common cause with the noble Lord, Lord Greaves. We cannot solely rely on technology because some people find it difficult to engage with technology or, surprising as it may seem, do not even want to. Often, the technology can create the noise and the interest, and bring people together, but you still need people on the ground to engage with people and with that technology.

If the Minister can give me some answers about how the review would work and how this money will be reinvested, I will be delighted. Suffice to say that I do not want to oppose the orders. I am happy to let a more catchment-based and more community-based approach operate and see how it is reviewed.

Lord Taylor of Holbeach Portrait Lord Taylor of Holbeach
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My Lords, again, I am very grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken and for the welcome that they have given these two draft orders. I think that there is an understanding that this represents a new way of working and doing things better. It is not about saving money; it is about engagement and providing the opportunity for fuller participation. If my noble friend Lord Greaves found the section on civil and big society vexing in its use of language, I recommend to noble Lords that they read the Explanatory Memorandum. Although it has a rather stiff and starchy front, which they all have, when you get into it, it is full of useful recommendations.

Designation of Features (Appeals) (England) Regulations 2012

Debate between Lord Knight of Weymouth and Lord Taylor of Holbeach
Tuesday 17th July 2012

(8 years, 9 months ago)

Grand Committee

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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth
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My Lords, as I discovered to my cost 10 days ago, I am a property owner in an area that gets flooded and there may be something on my property that at some point might get designated, so I declare that from the outset. Clearly the instrument is associated with the Flood and Water Management Act 2010, which established a process where the Environment Agency, local authority or an internal drainage board could deem a structure part of the built environment if it was acting as a flood defence, even though it might not necessarily have been designated or constructed for that purpose. We have heard that from the Minister. This is a very positive and necessary step forward in protecting our flood defence assets across the country.

I certainly know from where I live down in Dorset, where the River Wey and its tributaries got deluged 10 days ago and we had extensive flooding, that the complex arrangements of culverts and of different parts of the built environment in the Weymouth and Upwey area are interfered with at our risk. I know that the Environment Agency has done various bits of work over the last 20 years to mitigate the risk and I do not think there is much it could have done about it given the quantity of rainfall. However, I am certainly supportive of wanting to protect those assets as long as property owners get some advice from the Environment Agency, local authority or internal drainage board as to what they are dealing with. I think that this designation process will certainly help.

The regulations aim to strengthen the existing standard of protection for flood defences for third-party assets and to allow local authorities and drainage boards to extend protection of those assets, so we welcome the instrument. It is an important part of establishing a more transparent and accountable way of protecting those defences. However, it will do little to recover the losses the community will suffer from the cuts to flood defence spending, which concern me. There have been cuts of 27% despite the fact that we know how valuable such an investment is—every pound spent on flood defences reaps £8 in investment. I am increasingly concerned about our resilience to flooding as we move into the winter. Certainly, in my area the Environment Agency tells me that it looks as if we might go into the winter with winter levels of groundwater. That makes us extremely vulnerable as we would normally expect much higher quantities of rainfall then. That is then set against a backdrop that I see in the Defra business plan for 2012-14 of a 7.5% reduction in staffing costs across the Defra family.

I do not want to see the Environment Agency losing any more of its staff around flood resilience. I already know from the flooding incidents 10 days ago that it was wrong-footed by a Met Office forecast, which meant that the south-west people were flown up to Newcastle because they thought the flooding was going to be in the north-east and not in the south-west. The people we needed on the ground to provide proper warnings and safeguards to us were, by and large, not there. That suggests that we are already at the most extreme end of our resilience in terms of staffing, and I will be interested in the Minister’s comments on that.

I welcome progress on the implementation of Sir Michael Pitt’s recommendations, however slowly they may come into force, and I welcome the establishment of the First-tier Tribunal for the appeals. I do not oppose the structure, which seems sensible. I understand that the designation process will be risk-based as well as targeted and that the designation decisions will be based on what the designation authority considers to be appropriate. Can the Minister therefore explain to us on what information and guidance provided to local authorities and internal drainage boards those designation determinations will be made? If there is to be a means to appeal such designations, there must be an assumption that sometimes those authorities will get the decisions wrong, so it is of the utmost importance that the Government make it absolutely clear how these bodies should make these decisions.

In conclusion, we do not oppose the instrument establishing an appeals process but we would like the Minister to explain briefly the guidance that will be provided to authorities to ensure that decisions to delegate flood defences as such are made according to clear guidance to ensure the number of appeals to the tribunal is kept to a minimum.

Lord Taylor of Holbeach Portrait Lord Taylor of Holbeach
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I thank noble Lords for the welcome they have given to these regulations. Indeed, I think we in this House maintained near cross-party unanimity on the need for the Flood and Water Management Bill, which has become an Act. When we were discussing it, we recognised that it derived from adverse situations in 2007. I am sorry to hear of the noble Lord’s experience. He is not alone in having experienced flooding but I recognise that it is not a very pleasant experience, having suffered it once myself. I join him in acknowledging the role that the Environment Agency has played during these past few weeks. I have not heard a word of criticism of the way that it has performed and I would like to put on the record the gratitude of Defra and the Government for the role that the Environment Agency has played.

The noble Lord, Lord Knight, challenged me on the staffing cuts that Defra has undertaken. He will know, as all noble Lords do, that the current economic situation has meant that the Government have had to look at ways of reducing cost. However, the key thing has been to try to maintain sharp-end capacity and that is certainly what the Environment Agency’s response to these recent events has shown.

As noble Lords will know, the strategy against which all these matters are considered is contained within the Flood and Water Management Act, flood management plans and flood risk strategies, with the lead local authority and the Environment Agency working together to formulate management plans. That was contained in the Act and forms the background against which actions will take place.

Tabled for the convenience of noble Lords are copies of the publication about the designation, which I recommend that they read, because they reinforce the thoroughness with which that has been undertaken. It has been published jointly by Defra and the Welsh Government. It provides the framework against which designation will be maintained and guidance for individuals whose property may be so designated, so that asset owners also have a guide.

The way in which noble Lords have welcomed the regulations is very satisfactory. My noble friend Lord Greaves asked: where does that place the substantive set of regulations? Following the passage of the appeal regulations and the notice regulations laid on 29 June, the whole set will come into effect. That will be very satisfactory and the process of designation can commence as a result.

Coastal Access in England

Debate between Lord Knight of Weymouth and Lord Taylor of Holbeach
Thursday 12th July 2012

(8 years, 10 months ago)

Lords Chamber

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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth
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Many hands make light work, and that is about as much detail as I shall give.

The Government’s lack of realistic ambition to realise an accessible path around England’s coast speaks volumes about their approach to nature and their understanding of the economic, social, environmental and health benefits of opening up the countryside for the public to enjoy. Ministers would do well to heed the lessons from Wales: green infrastructure could be just the boost that England’s rural economy needs. I look forward to the noble Lord’s response.

Lord Taylor of Holbeach Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Taylor of Holbeach)
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My Lords, when I saw the speakers list, I recognised the quality but was rather disappointed by the number of contributors. I suggested to the usual channels that, rather than have this debate, perhaps the three of us could go down to Weymouth and enjoy the torch and indeed have a walk along the new coastal path. Unfortunately, the procedures of the House demand that we are here, but that has encouraged the introducer of the legislation into Parliament, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, to be here with us. We were a very happy band of brothers dealing with that Bill, now the Act on which this debate is founded. We worked together to improve the Bill and there was no lack of enthusiasm from either government or opposition. Indeed, although the discussion was lengthy, it was a good experience for us all.

We have good news to tell on this story. Had the noble Lord, Lord Knight, and I been walking along the coast, he could have vented all this frustration of being in opposition and not engaged in this. I can tell him from our point of view that this is an energising project for the Government. The prospect of a coastal route linking communities, encouraging tourism and drawing people to one of the finest coastlines in the world—wherever you are in this country, it is magnificent—is something that I hope all can agree with and aspire to achieve. Opening up many miles of coastline for the enjoyment of all will help to support local economies. We already make over 70 million trips to the coast each year, spending over £1.4 billion, which helps support myriad small businesses on the coast and, indeed, in many seaside towns. As the noble Lord, Lord Knight, said, all this started with George III going down to Weymouth.

As my noble friend pointed out at the very beginning of his speech, the new right of access was implemented for the first time on 29 June on the lovely stretch of coast between Rufus Castle on the eastern side of Portland and Lulworth Cove. There has been real enthusiasm locally for what has been achieved. It is not surprising that celebratory events have been held by the local authority and the Ramblers to mark the opening of the Weymouth route. The new coastal route will bring a number of key improvements to the existing arrangements for coastal access at Weymouth Bay. The existing south-west coast path will, as the noble Lord, Lord Knight, mentioned, move closer to the sea in several places and away from a road in two places. For the first time, there will be secure statutory rights of public access to world-famous areas of beach, cliff and other coastal land on this magnificent part of the Dorset coast.

It has been a delight to listen to the local knowledge of the noble Lord, Lord Knight of Weymouth. He knows and loves that coast—and, indeed, owns it, in the sense that we all own, through public access, the opportunity of sharing in it. Crucially, as the noble Lord pointed out, the new coastal path will be able to roll back as the cliffs erode or slip. This will help to solve long-standing difficulties with maintaining a continuous route around the slumping cliffs between Weymouth and Lulworth Cove. The coastal route will make a huge difference, even in this area, which is served by an existing coastal national trail.

Weymouth is, of course, just the start of an opportunity that we have seized, which I want to emphasise. Natural England is progressing its proposals for the coastal route on a further five stretches of coast, totalling another 190 miles. It has recently issued draft reports with proposals for two new stretches of coast in Cumbria and at Durham, Hartlepool and Sunderland. These draft reports, which are not required by legislation, none the less demonstrate the highly consultative style in which improved coastal access is being delivered. That is a theme of the Government’s approach to their responsibilities under the Act, which will be found throughout this speech.

Next month, draft reports will also be issued by Natural England for the lead stretches of coast in Kent and Norfolk. The draft report for part of the Somerset coast will follow in spring 2013. Natural England has already started preparations, along with local authorities, on a further 190 miles of English coast, building on the existing stretches in Cumbria, Dorset, Kent, Norfolk and Hartlepool.

Over the next five to seven years, Natural England will continue to roll out the implementation programme in a planned and sequential way, providing improved coastal access and linking to some of the existing national trail network—I can reassure my noble friend Lord Greaves on that—and to the Welsh coastal path. By 2016, for example, even if noble Lords have to walk in an anti-clockwise direction, we expect it to be possible to walk on the national trails from the start of the south-west coast path at Poole to the first Severn Bridge, and there join up with the Welsh coast path and the southern end of the Offa’s Dyke path. We congratulate the Welsh Government on what they have achieved in opening that path and we seek to emulate them.

There is no lack of government will to implement the coastal access programme. Clearly, we need to be realistic as to the speed of implementation, alongside available resources. Noble Lords would expect that. Implementation activity must be cost-effective and proportionate to local need and operationally efficient. I am not in a position to give a deadline. Indeed, when the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, was taking the Bill through he was reluctant to give a deadline for this project. But we will achieve our objective to have a coastal path around the coast of England. I believe that our approach needs these requirements, as it must do at a time of scarce resources.

I want to address the concerns that some landowners, coastal businesses and residents have raised about the possible impact on coastal access. It is in our interests to ensure that coastal access proceeds sensitively with care and does not damage livelihoods or businesses. Just as importantly, it should not put at risk or damage nature conservation or heritage interests. Noble Lords have asked a number of points. My noble friend Lord Greaves asked about the cliffs. The British Mountaineering Council, of which he is an active member, has provided quite a lot of information about access to cliffs along the route, and I am sure that it will continue to do so. It is seen as a body that Natural England will consult. My noble friend also asked about the existence of a path on the Isle of Wight. We will be consulting in the next four weeks on the possibility of bringing the Isle of Wight into the scope, so there is an opportunity for it to be equally served by a path.

My noble friend asked if we would review the scheme. I can reassure him that Natural England has written today to key national stakeholders outlining its plan for the review, which will start on 5 September and last for eight weeks. It will look at the implementation that has developed at Weymouth and the stretches that are currently under protection, and it will learn the lessons that there are to be learnt. Indeed, it will be looking at the economic benefits and the issue of transport access. I am sure that because of the involvement of local authorities, transport access will be encouraged so that walkers can make the most of these situations. My noble friend also asked about the linkage with National Trails. I think that I have indicated that they are designed to be incorporated into this great facility.

In many ways consultation is a key element of the process in completing the national route. It is crucial to get the balance right between the new right of coastal access and the needs of those who live or work on coastal land. In the future rollout of the coastal access programme, we will take forward the lessons that we have learnt from our experience at Weymouth. Natural England will look to work even more closely with landowners and occupiers in the future rollout of the programme, recognising the significant knowledge and expertise that they have to offer.

I hope that I have been able to demonstrate the enthusiasm of the Government for this coastal path. We see it as a great asset and amenity for all the citizens of this country. It will improve the nation’s sense of ownership of its beautiful landscape and will provide for the well-being of the citizens of this land. In particular, as we know, the coastal route around the whole English coast is a huge challenge, and we all have to acknowledge that. We intend to show that it is achievable and I assure noble Lords that there will be no dragging of feet.

Elephant Poaching

Debate between Lord Knight of Weymouth and Lord Taylor of Holbeach
Wednesday 4th July 2012

(8 years, 10 months ago)

Lords Chamber

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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Lord Taylor of Holbeach Portrait Lord Taylor of Holbeach
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Noble Lords will be aware that there are a number of programmes that are designed to address just these sorts of issues. However, these attitudes are complex, cultural, and difficult to shift. There are two ends to the problem. One is the weakness of enforcement in certain African countries, and the second is the persistent demand for these products. Both of them pose a threat to wildlife, and this Government are doing their best to stamp them out.

Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth
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My Lords, as we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso, poaching for ivory is on the rise and is of great concern. An example is the story of poachers from Sudan coming over and killing as many as 650 elephants in a Cameroonian national park in the first two months of this year. I am reassured by what the Minister said in terms of the UK position at CITES later on this month. Do the Government accept that their credibility in that negotiation is to some extent governed by how well we enforce CITES in this country? On that basis, will he give some reassurance about sustaining funding and support for the National Wildlife Crime Unit, which is responsible for gathering information and intelligence around CITES infringements in this country?

Lord Taylor of Holbeach Portrait Lord Taylor of Holbeach
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I think that I have already mentioned the commitment of my colleague, Mr Richard Benyon, and the high priority that this is being given. As noble Lords will know, the border agency is responsible for seizing these products and identifying them, and it operates, of course, on intelligence, which is most important. In many ways ivory has presented the least numerical challenge compared with many others in the CITES area. However, I agree that it is by demonstrating our own vigour that we present a confident position to our colleagues.

Rio+20 Conference

Debate between Lord Knight of Weymouth and Lord Taylor of Holbeach
Tuesday 26th June 2012

(8 years, 10 months ago)

Lords Chamber

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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Lord Taylor of Holbeach Portrait Lord Taylor of Holbeach
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The noble Lord makes a passionate contribution to the discussion. Underlying it, of course, is the question of Britain’s role. This is a gathering of the world’s nations, with a huge disparity between the wealth and economic activity of the participating countries. Getting a single agreement is bound to be difficult. It is important that we have laid the foundations for discussions in the future that can lead to exactly the sort of outcomes that the noble Lord seeks, but it would be presumptive of this country or Parliament to go to an international conference and insist that it had the solutions to the world’s problems. We are part and parcel of a global solution, and that is what we seek to maintain.

Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth
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My Lords, the Rio agreement 20 years ago was a landmark agreement. As a result, we had Local Agenda 21, and “thinking global, acting local” entered our consciousness. By contrast, this agreement is a let-down. What does the Minister think this treaty will be remembered for in a month’s time, let alone in 20 years’ time? Given that the Prime Minister is co-chairing a process for following up the millennium development goals, in the light of a lack of progress at Rio what hope does the Minister have for the Prime Minister’s success?

Lord Taylor of Holbeach Portrait Lord Taylor of Holbeach
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I certainly have a great deal more hope than is evidenced by the noble Lord’s question. I do not see this as a failure. As I said right at the beginning in my Answer to the noble Lord, Lord Stern, this has the potential to build the foundations for a durable and sustainable global green economy. The Prime Minister is, through the United Nations, chairing his committee and working in parallel with the millennium development goals, and I am satisfied that he will achieve the outcome that he desires.

British Waterways Board (Transfer of Functions) Order 2012

Debate between Lord Knight of Weymouth and Lord Taylor of Holbeach
Monday 25th June 2012

(8 years, 10 months ago)

Grand Committee

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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to contribute to this debate. We on this side of the Committee support these orders, but I shall qualify that as I go along, as is my job. It has been a debate in which some good points were made. I will not rehearse all those points, however good they were, for the sake of saving time.

It is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Martin, not only because I heard him say the word “order” again, which brought back many happy memories from my time in the other place, but because, given that he talked about how well British Waterways was operating in Scotland through development and the various uses of the canals to which he referred, implicit in his speech was the question of whether as a result of this transfer, which does not apply in Scotland, British Waterways will have the capacity to continue doing that work in Scotland: and, indeed, given the demise of the Inland Waterways Advisory Council, whether a voice is being lost in Scotland for the users of waterways.

The ideas of the noble Lord, Lord Framlingham, around youth unemployment would have been ideal for the former future jobs fund. I shall be interested to hear whether the Minister thinks that the new youth contract will latch on to those interesting ideas about how the waterways and work around the waterways may be used.

The main point I wish to make is that these orders come from a cross-party consensus, and I was pleased that the Minister acknowledged that at the outset. I have heard from various interest groups and stakeholders about these proposals and, with the notable exception of the National Bargee Travellers Association, the feedback on the transfer has been very positive, particularly from the Inland Waterways Association and the British Marine Federation.

As we have heard, the diligence and strength already shown by the trustees of the Canal and River Trust in negotiating its 15-year funding agreement with the Government is a positive sign of things to come. It also demonstrates that many of the building blocks for the new trust are now in place and ready for the transfer. Clearly there is good potential now for improved governance and for new income sources to be developed for our waterways with, I hope, a reduced cost base and, as we heard from the Minister, an increased engagement by volunteers.

I also pay tribute to the work of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee and, in particular, to its first report, which went into these issues in some detail. It reminded us of the tests that we should deploy when considering these orders, which arise from the Public Bodies Act, including the tests of efficiency, effectiveness, economy and accountability. The report ran through those issues in a helpful way. As the committee has set out, the tests of efficiency and effectiveness broadly revolve around how well stakeholders will be engaged. As I have said, I am comfortable with that.

However, we have now heard from a number of speakers in the debate about the concerns that have been raised with me and many others by the 5,000 to 10,000 itinerant boat dwellers who live on our canals. I look forward to what the Minister has to say on that issue because it also touches on the third test of accountability. The deputy chair of the National Bargee Travellers Association, Pamela Smith, in her e-mail to me—which I am sure many others have received—set out some of the details of the transfer of powers. She said:

“If the transfer takes place, the Canal and River Trust will have powers to make subordinate legislation; powers of forcible entry, search and seizure; powers to compel the giving of evidence and powers whose exercise will necessarily affect the liberty of an individual. Our homes will be at greater risk after the transfer”.

She said that they have no legal recognition or protection for their homes and that the transfer of British Waterways to the Canal and River Trust will remove the minimal protection of their homes that derives from the parliamentary scrutiny of British Waterways. It is obviously quite serious if that group of 5,000 to 10,000 people feel that there will be less accountability as a result of these transfers.

When the Minister responds, I would be grateful if he could comment on the role of the Waterways Ombudsman in helping to deal with some of these matters. Given that we are about to go into Committee tomorrow on the Groceries Code Adjudicator Bill, has the Minister given any consideration to a code of conduct for the new trust in respect of its relationship with this group of boat dwellers? With such a code, the ombudsman could then police for us. Would that help to give that community some reassurance about the operation of the trust?

The third of the tests that the committee reminded us of was that of economy. I was pleased to hear the Minister give a commitment to meet its request for a Written Ministerial Statement on the financial position of the new body two years after the trust has formed.

Finally, I should not let the passing of the Inland Waterways Advisory Council go without comment. Reading between the lines of the committee’s first report, I noted that it did not see that much of a case had been made for its abolition and looked forward to the Minister setting out more detail, which to some extent he has already done. I will be interested to know how stakeholders will be heard from in policy-making. However, I shall not die in a ditch over IWAC because, in my single year of being the Canals and Waterways Minister at Defra, I do not recall getting any real input from it. It can perhaps pass, therefore, without too much mourning. I look forward to the Minister’s comments.

Lord Taylor of Holbeach Portrait Lord Taylor of Holbeach
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My Lords, it is always good to hear from a former Minister about his experience of his portfolio. I understand the points that noble Lords have made, but I am also gratified by the fact that these statutory instruments have received widespread support in what they seek to achieve. That is a reflection of the fact that Parliament has felt that there is a role for a new form of governance for British Waterways, and the CRT represents just that.

I have a number of points to make, which I could rattle off in one go but it might be better to refer to them as best I can as I summarise the debate. There may be some things that I miss, in which case I hope that those behind me will remind me of them so that I might at least write to noble Lords.

The welcome given to the orders by the noble Lord, Lord Knight of Weymouth, reinforced the view of the Grand Committee that they are proper orders to be presenting to Parliament. It was good to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Finsbury, his understanding of what the Government are seeking to achieve. We are looking at the possibility of bringing the Environment Agency’s waterways into the Canal and River Trust. I spent Friday afternoon at Black Sluice on the South Forty-Foot Drain, which is an example of the way in which the agency has provided for waterways users. It has built a lock at that sluice, and plans for that area and the Haven at Boston will mean that there should be increased use.

The Fenland waterways partnership represents important recognition that the Fenland waterways, which have relatively underused water courses, can be developed in this way. There is logic in that development, and we look forward to working with the Environment Agency and the noble Lord on achieving that. He was right, too, to tell us that there are important elements of flood risk management in the management of canals and, if we dare cast our minds back three or four months to when we talked about this, water management and supply. It is important that these elements are part and parcel of that. Leisure use is of course very important and will be the way in which most people judge these developments, but other aspects of policy will look to the waterways for other reasons.

On the creation of the CRT, I reassure the Committee about its transparency and openness; that is what it is about. We have set up a governance structure through the board of trustees, the council and the waterways partnership that is inclusive and gives all interested parties an opportunity to be represented and have their voices heard. I reassure my noble friend Lady Parminter that the council has four directly elected boaters within its ranks. It is not designed to be an exclusive body; it is inclusive in its very essence.

A number of noble Lords mentioned the NBTA. I understand that this group has been vociferous in trying to bring its particular concerns before Parliament, but I hope that it in turn is reassured, as the Committee will be, that the CRT is actually setting up a small advisory committee to advise senior managers responsible for boating and navigation matters—on a less permanent basis than the IWAC, I might say, but it will include at least one boater without a home mooring. I hope that his or her understanding, and the campaigns that they will be able to bring to that advisory committee, will be in the interests of itinerant live-aboard boaters.

It is important to emphasise to my noble friend Lady Parminter and indeed others that the rights of boat dwellers will not be removed or weaken as a result of this transfer order. The Human Rights Act, the Equality Act and the Freedom of Information Act will all apply to the CRT as it carries out its statutory functions. It will be a charity that seeks to engage with all its stakeholders, and there will be opportunities at every level of the organisation for stakeholders to be involved. It will be up to members of the public who are passionate about the waterways and want to get involved to get engaged with the CRT through its governance structure. I have already mentioned the advisory committees, which will have the responsibility for advising on boating and navigation matters.

I think that I have covered the point about resident boat owners. Their rights are contained in statute in the British Waterways Acts, not the charity’s articles of association. A number of noble Lords asked if I could reassure them on that; I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, made that point.

The noble Lord, Lord Knight, discussed the question of the Inland Waterways Advisory Committee. His personal anecdote reinforced the Government’s belief that we are doing the right thing in abolishing it, and his noble friend Lord Grantchester, who cannot be in his place now, made the same point. While it is right that the IWAC is abolished, though, I thank its members for their commitment and service. I hope that they will, as other noble Lords have suggested, engage with the CRT to enable the trust to benefit from their expertise in the future.

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Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth
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I have since discovered that the future jobs fund did provide jobs for a number of people, including 56 young people who worked on the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, for which the fund won an award. Perhaps the Skills Minister will be pleased to learn of the success of that previous scheme and will look at ways for it to be replicated using the Groundwork charity.

Lord Taylor of Holbeach Portrait Lord Taylor of Holbeach
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Here was I thinking we were in the vanguard of new ideas, but now I discover that we are actually trundling along behind. None the less, I shall still make sure that that is done.

Finally, I am delighted that HRH the Prince of Wales has agreed to be the trust’s patron. It is wonderful that the CRT canal boat was in the jubilee pageant, along with 60 others. I believe that we are achieving something very different and exciting for our historic and much-loved waterways, and that they will be cared for by future generations as a result.

Advisory Committee on Hazardous Substances (Abolition) Order 2012

Debate between Lord Knight of Weymouth and Lord Taylor of Holbeach
Monday 28th May 2012

(8 years, 11 months ago)

Grand Committee

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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Lord Taylor of Holbeach Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Taylor of Holbeach)
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My Lords, I am very pleased to have the opportunity to introduce the Advisory Committee on Hazardous Substances (Abolition) Order 2012, to add to the points that were made in the explanatory document accompanying the order.

This is an order to be made under the Public Bodies Act 2011—a number of noble Lords will have fond memories of that piece of legislation. It reflects one of the outcomes of the Government’s programme of reform for public bodies. The order will abolish the Advisory Committee on Hazardous Substances and pave the way for the reconstitution of its successor as an expert scientific committee.

I reiterate that this is not an attempt on the Government’s part to stem the flow of impartial and independent scientific advice on hazardous substances. We want this advice to continue, but we want to improve the process. We firmly believe this reform to be necessary and that there will be benefits from the successor committee operating in a different way, while of course retaining its independence.

We need new arrangements to reflect wider changes in the regulatory landscape for hazardous substances since the Advisory Committee on Hazardous Substances was set up, more than 20 years ago. We need to establish a broader, more strategic and proactive role for the successor committee in that landscape while meeting the continuing need for independent expert scientific advice in this area.

At the same time, we have taken a considered view of how better to manage scientific advice and evidence in my department. In particular, as an expert scientific committee, the successor body to the Advisory Committee on Hazardous Substances will work in a more co-ordinated and peer-reviewed environment under the purview of our Chief Scientific Adviser and our Science Advisory Council.

The rationale for this reform was, of course, articulated in the context of the passage of the Public Bodies Act in which we sought powers to abolish the Advisory Committee on Hazardous Substances. We also consulted widely, as required by the Act, on the future of the Advisory Committee on Hazardous Substances and, as we reported, there was clear public support for our proposals. We also have the full support of the devolved Administrations and have secured the required clearance from the devolved legislatures for the order.

I believe that we have this support because we have given thought to the successor arrangements, as I will explain shortly, in relation to the terms of reference for the expert scientific committee that will replace the Advisory Committee on Hazardous Substances. It has been decided, subject to the coming into force of the order, that the successor body will be known as the Hazardous Substances Advisory Committee. This will avoid confusion with the existing committee, which will have been abolished, and mark the start of the new enhanced arrangements.

I turn to the report of the Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee and give the assurance to the Committee that in future all Defra orders deriving from the Public Bodies Act will carry the preface in their title, “public bodies”. This is a specific request of the Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee so that the statutory instruments can be clearly identified.

In its consideration of the order, the Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee, now of course renamed as the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, concluded that my department’s case for the order probably just crossed the statutory threshold for the exercise of public functions. I believe that our case is stronger than this and that this order, and the new arrangements which will follow it, will deliver the benefits that we anticipate. We have listened to the committee and responded to it, and as part of these new arrangements, and in anticipation of the order coming into force, I have agreed new terms of reference and, as I mentioned earlier, a new name for the successor body. I know from the report that there is particular interest in these terms of reference, with their central importance for ensuring that the new committee can operate in a truly independent manner. The report invited Ministers to say whether these terms of reference have been agreed in a form that will address the committee’s concerns. I believe that they have. I have arranged to share with the committee my recent correspondence with Professor Stephen Holgate, the chairman of the Advisory Committee on Hazardous Substances, on this matter. As chairman-designate of the successor body, Professor Holgate has welcomed these new terms of reference, which are those recorded in the report of what we must now refer to as the Scrutiny Committee, as part of the information which my officials provided to assist consideration of the order. The only change made, for greater clarity, was to separate out in two supporting protocols the committee’s relationships with our Chief Scientific Adviser and Science Advisory Council, and with Ministers. We are getting ready for this change, and to this end I commend the draft order to the House.

Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the Minister and to have heard him talk about public bodies again, as the father of the Public Bodies Bill through this House. What a joy it is to hear him talk about it. Even though I disliked the Bill intensely, I enjoyed the way in which he steered it through this House and the way in which he listened. I am sure that he will continue to listen as we talk about some of the detail in these SIs.

I am also grateful to the Merits Committee, as was, for its 56th report on this order. As I understand it, it was the third order made under the Public Bodies Act that has been considered by the Merits Committee. As we know, the committee did not recommend it for the enhanced scrutiny procedure—we have one of those coming shortly—but made it clear that this was a close decision, as the Minister has said. In paragraph 18, the committee said that it,

“struggles to see much discernible benefit in the proposals”.

It describes the case for the order as “far from compelling” and says that,

“it probably just crosses the statutory threshold”.

I accept that the Minister thinks that it does a little bit better than just crossing the threshold, but it is important that that is noted.

The committee poses questions for the Minister to answer in the debate. In particular, it points to evidence from the Royal Society of Chemistry recalling that Parliament and especially this House insisted in 1989-90 that the Advisory Committee on Hazardous Substances was established as a statutory committee. This was to ensure that Ministers and officials took proper scientific advice before taking decisions on controls on hazardous substances.

Let me put the questions implied by the committee. I am grateful, through signalling, that I have gone first. I thought it would be helpful to the Minister’s in-flight refuelling if I were to answer the questions first to give maximum time for the fuel to surge through to the Minister. First, the current cost of the advisory committee is £30,000 per annum. Will the new body cost the same or less than that £30,000 and how much will the preparation form passing the order cost the department in staff time and Parliament in printing and staff costs? That will give us a rough idea of whether this move is good value for money.

Secondly, how will the Minister ensure that the newly constituted committee will, in the words of the code of practice for scientific advisory committees, be able to,

“operate free of influence from the sponsor department officials or Ministers, and remain clear that their function is wider than simply providing evidence just to support departmental policy”?

Thirdly, the framework proposed by the Government is as follows—I am sure the Minister will correct me if I am wrong. The new body is to operate within a closer network of expert scientific committees overseen by Defra’s Chief Scientific Adviser—the Minister has said as much in his comments—and is to be supported by its Scientific Advisory Council, the SAC. The chair is to meet Defra’s Chief Scientific Adviser at least annually to discuss its work. The chair is to attend the annual meeting of Defra’s Scientific Advisory Committee.

Fourthly, there is to be routine reporting by the new advisory committee after its quarterly meetings—it is worth knowing to whom—in addition to its reports on specific projects and its annual report. There is also to be other reporting to Ministers by the Chief Scientific Adviser and the Scientific Advisory Committee on the new body’s work. Ministers are to set and change the new body’s terms of reference—we have heard some discussion of that—and will possibly attend its meetings from time to time. I would be grateful if it could be confirmed that that is all correct. If that is all correct, what independence is left to the committee? Is not the price of better co-ordination and peer review that the Minister mentioned in his opening comments a loss of independence? The form of the set of questions is: what is the problem to which the Government’s proposal is the solution? For example, on which scientific initiatives have Ministers been less well advised than they would wish? Which scientific developments has the present committee overlooked?

Fifthly, the Government’s case for improved accountability and independence of advice hinges in part, as the Merits Committee and the Minister have said, on the proposed new terms of reference. Have they now been agreed in a form that would support this objective, as the Merits Committee requested? Will the Minister share with us the correspondence he referred to with the incoming chair?

Sixthly, if the current terms of reference in the Environmental Protection Act 1990 are out of date, could they not have been changed or a power inserted in the Act to amend them by statutory instrument subject to parliamentary approval? Seventhly, is not the key to these proposals that whereas the terms of reference for the Advisory Committee on Hazardous Substances are set out in statute and thus decided by Parliament, in future they will be set and amended by the Secretary of State? How will that be subject to transparency and scrutiny? Why was Parliament right in 1989-90 to insist that the committee was statutory, but wrong now?

Finally, if the purpose of the proposal is not increased ministerial control, is the real explanation that the Government want to be seen to be culling quangos—in the end the motivation for the Public Bodies Act—but because the Advisory Committee performs a sufficiently important role, it is keeping the members and staff intact and simply making an appearance of change? Should the Cabinet Minister responsible for public bodies not be watching this very carefully? This feels like business as usual. A name has been rejigged with a few words in a different order, but everything continues as normal with no real financial saving. In the end, a headline two years ago about culling quangos now has to be delivered and is taking up parliamentary time.

Food Security Policy

Debate between Lord Knight of Weymouth and Lord Taylor of Holbeach
Thursday 24th May 2012

(8 years, 11 months ago)

Lords Chamber

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Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth
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My Lords, I too thank the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, for instigating this debate and congratulate her on her timing. There can have been no more topical time to discuss this, given the establishment of the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition by the G8 last weekend and given that we are in the build-up to the Rio+20 conference. There can be few more profound issues for this or any other Parliament to grapple with, and this debate has demonstrated the merits of having a House of expertise and experience to address such a complex issue. As we have heard, there is an interplay of issues such as food production, food distribution, sustaining biodiversity and ecosystem services, population change, energy supply, water supply and, of course, climate change, so authoritatively discussed by my noble friend Lord Giddens and by the noble Lord, Lord Stern, who asked a key question of the Minister on the Government’s failure to meet the 2009 G8 commitments—a point reinforced by my noble friend Lord Judd.

As has been clear, the debate is against the backdrop of the Foresight report by the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, Professor Sir John Beddington, which was commissioned by the then Secretary of State, Hilary Benn MP. It is worth reading out the opening words from the preface to Sir John’s report:

“The case for urgent action in the global food system is now compelling. We are at a unique moment in history as diverse factors converge to affect the demand, production and distribution of food over the next 20 to 40 years. The needs of a growing world population will need to be satisfied as critical resources such as water, energy and land become increasingly scarce. The food system must become sustainable, whilst adapting to climate change and substantially contributing to climate change mitigation. There is also a need to redouble efforts to address hunger, which continues to affect so many. Deciding how to balance the competing pressures and demands on the global food system is a major task facing policy makers”.

There is no better summary of the challenge we have been seeking to address in this two-and-a-half-hour debate.

To demonstrate the scale of the challenge, it is also worth reminding the House of some of the statistics: a world population of 7 billion, rising to 9 billion by 2050, with currently around 1 billion going hungry every day; demand for water will increase by 30% by 2030; the amount of arable land per head has almost halved since 1960; agriculture accounts for up to 30% of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions. Consumers in rich countries waste, as we have heard, as much as a quarter of the food that they buy and, in more than half of industrialised countries, 50% or more of the population is overweight—I declare an interest. Some 40% of the US corn crop ends up in gas tanks instead of in stomachs.

The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, reminded us of the fragility of political norms if we ignore this potential perfect storm. This is a crucial subject for ongoing debate in your Lordships’ House. I ask the Minister to use his influence on business managers to see if they would consider an annual debate with more time, as requested by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, on this most fundamental of subjects. It is not possible to do complete justice to this in the remaining time that I have available, so I will focus on just three or four points.

The first is the great 21st-century food challenge: how to produce more food sustainably. The issue was addressed well by the noble Earl, Lord Selborne. As my honourable friend the shadow Secretary of State for Defra, Mary Creagh MP, said at the Oxford Farming conference this year:

“We cannot have food security without sustainability. It’s not either produce more or produce sustainably. It’s both”.

In government, my right honourable friend Hilary Benn published Food 2030 to set the then Government’s vision for food policy over the following 20 years. I do not know if the Minister has read it. I hope so, but I also ask him if the Government endorse it and if not could they not produce their own vision to attempt to draw some of these themes together for us to debate? We hear about sustainable intensification, but we need some flesh on the bones of the soundbite.

The Government need to give certainty to farmers and businesses wanting to invest in renewable energy such as solar and anaerobic digestion. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, I would like more action on the separation of food waste by catering outlets and others. We need a comprehensive approach to carbon reduction across agriculture and food manufacturing. The food that is produced needs to be affordable. We need to harness the power of research and development to ensure that food remains widely available and that publicly funded research is publicly available to all who need it. I agree very much with what the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, said on GM, and say to the noble Lords, Lord Taverne and Lord Curry, that Labour supports the publicly funded GM trials being undertaken at the Rothamsted Research Institute. I hope that those trials are properly protected from damage, especially this weekend.

This brings me to my second point about tackling food poverty. We are, sadly, familiar with the images of people struggling to avoid starvation in Somalia, Kenya, or the Sahel region of Africa. We know the global pressures that we face in competing for food and water supplies. In the recent past, no one in this country has worried too much about food prices or food security. Now, I am afraid, we also need to be alive to the challenge of food poverty here at home. Last year food prices in the UK rose by 6%, more than in any other EU country except Hungary.

When Ed Miliband first used the phrase “the squeezed middle” to describe families feeling the effect of rising food prices, energy bills, pay freezes and job losses there was scorn from our friends in the media. I am happy to see that that phrase has now entered the English language. The consumer prices index estimates that we spend 12% of our income on food, but jobseeker’s allowance for a single adult is currently £71 a week. If the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, is right that poor people spend an average 15% on food, that is £10.65 a week. The noble Baroness, Lady Jenkin, talked about living on £1 a day and I pay tribute to her fundraising and what she has done in organising that with noble Lords, but I challenge the rest of us to spend £7 or £10.65 a week on food and to eat healthily and well. I do not think that it is possible. This is why we are seeing the rise of the food banks and FareShare schemes mentioned by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich.

The third point I will make is to ask the Minister the Jamie Oliver question. If we are serious about changing cultures so that we eat more healthily and more sustainably, surely we need to start in schools. Why are we letting academies off the hook on the school nutritional standards? Bringing them in was one of the most important things I was able to do in government, and it is scandalous to see them being eroded away as all secondary school become academies. Turkey Twizzler 2 is just around the corner.

Finally, I want to talk about the threats from commodity speculation facing the global food supply chain. We need a fair market for food. That starts with international action to tackle the commoditisation of food. Increased volatility in commodity prices makes it difficult for UK farm businesses to plan. World commodity prices have risen steadily over the past decade, and some economists and hedge fund managers are now concerned about the impact this could have on the global cost of food and other commodities. Ten years ago, less than $300 million of non-commercial money was invested in commodity markets. In one decade, that has risen 1,000 times, to over $300 billion of financial investment today, more than the entire value of the market 10 years ago.

There is a vicious circle where commercial producers and purchasers pay more to hedge and need to hedge more as financial speculation has increased market volatility. The problem is not so much commercial hedgers—the food producers—but excess speculation caused by Wall Street selling its latest financial products that in turn raises food prices. The UK Government have recognised the impact of world commodity prices, exchange rates and oil prices on food prices, but they failed to support French moves for greater transparency during the French presidency of the G20, so the US has had to act unilaterally.

The answer to many of these multilayered global problems is global co-operation and global leadership. This was one of the points made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby. While, as the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner, reminded us, this is not just down to Governments, they have a key role. So my final question is: will the Prime Minister find time between “Fruit Ninja” and football photo opportunities to show the kind of leadership we saw when the previous Government made Africa and climate change their priorities for their presidency of the G8, and that Gordon Brown showed in April 2008 to form the G20 to mitigate the worst of the global financial collapse? That is the sort of leadership we now need to deal with this issue. I hope we will keep returning to this subject, and I look forward to what the Minister has to say.

Lord Taylor of Holbeach Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Taylor of Holbeach)
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My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer for tabling this debate. I also thank noble Lords for making such valuable and insightful contributions. I am delighted to respond on this important issue. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Knight, that it is a subject to which this House should return on a regular basis.

Food security is one of the most pressing issues our global population faces, and I assure noble Lords that it is given the utmost importance by this Government. This debate has been called at an important time. As my noble friend said in introducing the debate, the Foresight report, The Future of Food and Farming, published its one-year review yesterday and just last week, as several noble Lords mentioned, the Environmental Audit Committee published its report, Sustainable Food. My noble friend Lord Caithness and other noble Lords pointed to the excellent reports by European Union Sub-Committee D. Many of the conclusions of these reports overlap with issues raised here today on food security.

We are preparing for the Rio+20 summit in June, where the world will debate how to sustain our planet. As my noble friend Lord Selborne and other noble Lords pointed out, this debate has global scope as this is a global topic. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby and my noble friend Lord Gardiner reminded us of the moral imperatives that are not only presented to us in addressing this issue on a broad scale but locally, where food security is a matter of life and death. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, spoke graphically of the situation in Africa, and it was valuable to hear from my noble friend Lady Sharp about the situation in Egypt. Food security is an issue for those involved in the G20 and G8 summits. The UK will take on the presidency of the G8 in 2013 and will ensure that this topic is at the top of the pile.

We have had a number of references to the recent prominence of this issue in your Lordships’ House. Perhaps it was the price hike of 2008, but I trace it back to the speech, which has been referred to, of Sir John Beddington at Chatham House, in which he drew the world’s attention to his “perfect storm”. We know that the global population, currently 7 billion and rising to 9 billion by 2050—indeed, rising by 1 billion in the next 13 years—will impose increasing demand for water, land and energy. This, combined with a changing climate, means that food security is one of the world’s greatest challenges.

The noble Lord, Lord Giddens—indeed, many noble Lords—referred to the excellence of the Foresight report. That report on the future of food and farming concluded that Governments across the world must take action now to ensure that a rising global population can be fed. The challenges set out in the Foresight report are of great relevance. This Government will build on the work set out in the one-year review, published yesterday, some of which I can touch on here.

I will respond to a number of questions which my noble friend Lady Miller posed, which I can perhaps then use to address other matters which noble Lords have raised during the course of the debate. My noble friend asked especially about Defra’s assessment of intensive dairy proposals. I assure her that the department is undertaking scientific research to better understand the welfare and other issues associated with the development of so-called “super dairies”. We will continue to consider any evidence that comes to light, which may determine whether action becomes appropriate. However, sustainable intensification is about much more than this. It is about producing more from less. It does not necessarily mean just increasing size of production units. It may be done at any scale.

My noble friend Lady Parminter joined my noble friend Lady Miller in talking about carbon footprinting. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Stern, with his direct experience of the effect of carbon in the atmosphere, also mentioned this. I have seen for myself at the Scottish Agricultural College, adjacent to the Roslin Institute, the work that is being done to monitor the effect of diet and genetic lines on carbon emissions from cows and cattle. We are working to encourage businesses to understand and to include carbon impacts in making their business decisions.

Of particular concern to my noble friend Lady Miller was the question of soils. I agree with her that soil lies at the heart of a successful crop production system. We are looking at the forthcoming EU soils framework. We support the idea of protecting Europe’s soils, and agree that there is a need to deal with serious soil degradation in some parts of Europe. However, we have concerns about the current proposals. We are concerned that they might impose additional burdens on government, land managers and businesses at a time when the UK and other countries are actually going in the reverse direction and trying to find lighter regulations. However, I assure my noble friend that I have been to Cranfield and seen the work that they are doing there on soils, which is extremely useful and available for farmers so that they can better understand the conditions of their own farm.

My noble friend Lady Miller also asked about co-operation. I agree that, in many ways, some of the weaknesses that farmers have faced have come about because of the difficulty of marketing their products in an increasingly competitive world. We recognise the value that agricultural co-operatives can bring both in this country and elsewhere in the world. In the autumn, we will consult on the implementation of European legislation in the dairy sector, which will increase the scale on which dairy producers can collaborate and allow them to negotiate as producer organisations on the price of milk. I hope that I have covered most of those questions.

My noble friend asked about bees. I was in a meeting today at which this topic came up. I can assure noble Lords that bees are recognised as being an important element of pollination by insects. On the question of pollinators, Defra has contributed £2.5 million to the Insect Pollinators Initiative and £10 million will be available over five years to look at the decline in all pollinators. Defra and the WAG are implementing the 10-year healthy bees plan, which was launched in 2009 and provides practical support for beekeepers. I hope that helps my noble friend with some of the specific questions that she asked. I am grateful to her for giving me advance notice so that I could give her some prepared answers on the subject.

Several noble Lords talked about the role of international negotiations being at the bottom of solving a global problem on an international scale. In June, the world will meet to plot the path to sustainable development and green economic growth at Rio+20. As we know and as I have already said, the G8 and G20 presidencies have identified food security as a priority issue. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Stern, that the action plan agreed at the meeting of G20 Agriculture Ministers in June signals the success of the UK in pushing for transparency in the global food market. We see the great virtue of getting agreement globally if we are to get leverage and have effect.

We want to maintain the momentum on an international scale. I know that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, Mrs Spelman, has championed the cause of food security, sustainable agriculture, water security and sustainable energy forming the core of the new sustainable development goals. My noble friend will know that the Deputy Prime Minister, who will lead our delegation to Rio, shares a similar enthusiasm. Therefore, I like to think that the Government have in place a position that enables us to drive these issues internationally.

A number of noble Lords have talked about food waste. Tackling waste is crucial to food security. Some £12 billion-worth of food that could have been eaten is thrown away by UK householders every year. The Government are taking action through the Courtauld agreement and providing advice through WRAP’s “Love Food Hate Waste” campaign. Since 2006, annual household food waste has fallen from 8.3 million tonnes to 7.2 million tonnes, but that is still far too much. I think all noble Lords would agree with that.

My noble friend Lady Parminter mentioned the consumer’s role. The noble Lord, Lord Knight, perhaps stretching the point a little far by trying to bring education policy into a food debate, talked about healthy eating in schools. I can assure him that that is still government policy and I am sure it is the policy of all schools.

On food waste, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich gave us the figures and we should be grateful for the way in which he pointed out how this issue accounts for a considerable element of the wasted household budget in every household. My noble friend Lady Jenkin gave us her practical experience and we should be grateful for the way in which she has brought this issue to the fore. She has used this House to raise this matter and our consciousness of it.

I, too, applaud the work being done by Fare Share and FoodCycle, which act in a private capacity. I have tried to encourage a number of people in the food industry to support these projects, which have enormous benefits in their support for communities and families less able to afford food. They also have benefits for reducing food waste, which is a positive scandal.

In addition to the contribution to global food security expressed by my noble friend Lord Gardiner, the UK farming and food sector is very important to the UK economy. It is the largest single business sector in the economy. The whole food chain contributes £87 billion per annum and 3.6 million jobs. As a sector, it contributes to the delivery of the Government’s long-term economic objectives on trade, green jobs, growth and development. This Government are acting across the food chain to stimulate growth, to facilitate international trade and to drive fair competition.

It would be remiss of me if I did not comment on the work done by Jim Pace in his recent tour of China where he has managed to secure a market for British pig meat, which could be extremely valuable and important for the pig production industry in this country. Last week, I received a delegation from Hong Kong. I was handed a letter saying that the delegation was happy that the animal health provisions in this country now permit the importation of British beef to Hong Kong. These are important developments for our industry and for the global reach of British agriculture. A thriving, competitive economy where our products are freely traded on the international market will deliver resilient, stable and affordable supplies to consumers.

My noble friend Lord Selsdon is always an interesting contributor to any debate. He pointed to the decline in self-sufficiency here at home, what we can do about it and what we can do to stimulate the capacity of other countries to produce more. In a way, my noble friend Lady Sharp gave us the answer; namely, to use the knowledge that we have on our farms. The point was reinforced by the noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkharle, as regards the importance of the science budget in addressing this issue.

Noble Lords will expect me to mention the Taylor review—although I do so not out of any vanity—which sought to bring this issue to the table. Since being in office, I have been working to make sure that the principles espoused by the Taylor review are effectively delivered. I have been working closely with David Willetts, the Minister with responsibility for science, on this project. Today, he has announced grants from the BBSRC worth £250 million to research institutes. This includes specifically £14.5 million for a genome analysis centre in Norwich.

We are working across the board. The noble Lord, Lord Giddens, asked about nanotechnology. We have set up a joint strategy forum on nanotechnology, which he and I co-chair, and we are seeking to cover a number of other issues.

There is a whole question arising from R&D skills, which of course are extremely important if we are going to be able to deliver these matters. We managed to get through the debate without talking very much about the CAP. But of course when it comes to agricultural policy, making sure that we get a successful outcome from the CAP negotiations will be very important for this country and for this issue.

I conclude by saying that I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Knight, that we should make sure that the usual channels take up this issue so that we have regular debates and we can see the progress that we are making. A lot is going to go on in the next few weeks, specifically on sustainable world development—and at the bottom of that lies food security. My noble friend Lady Sharp exhorted the Government to provide leadership here and overseas. I assure her and indeed all noble Lords that that is precisely my purpose and that of my colleagues at Defra.

I join all other noble Lords in thanking my noble friend Lady Miller for giving me the opportunity to say just that.

Water Industry (Financial Assistance) Bill

Debate between Lord Knight of Weymouth and Lord Taylor of Holbeach
Tuesday 27th March 2012

(9 years, 1 month ago)

Lords Chamber

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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth
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My Lords, this is a short Bill of three pages, so there is a chance that we will have read the whole thing. That is a good thing, as is the Bill’s brevity. It is difficult to oppose the Bill as it stands, as it does only two things and in principle I support both. Who would not want South West Water customers to have some relief from their extraordinarily high bills or for the River Thames to be relieved of unacceptable levels of sewage? The Bill is also difficult to oppose because, of course, it is a money Bill. That means that in this House, as we have heard, we cannot oppose it—even if we want to—because we do not have the power. We must therefore make all our comments this evening—even at this ridiculously late hour. The timetabling of the debate at this late hour is ridiculous and is yet another huge discourtesy to this House by the Government. That is becoming a habit.

My noble friend Lord Berkeley has had to catch a train to chair a conference in Glasgow in the morning. So seriously has he taken this issue that in order to prepare for this debate he even travelled to Brussels last week to discuss with the Commission the risk of infraction. It is deeply regrettable that he will not be heard. I have therefore agreed to pass on an edited version of his speech in my speech and we will therefore get two speeches for the price of one.

My noble friend asked why there was the urgency in having to pass this Bill tonight instead of waiting until next month when we have time. The answer is obvious and perhaps a little tawdry: the Government want to be able to give households in the south-west their promised £50 before the local elections in May. The urgency to pass this Bill tonight contrasts with Defra failing to fulfil its promises to Parliament to make announcements today on dangerous dogs and carbon reporting. It is a shambles.

I should move on to what is my main problem with the Bill. As my noble friend Lord Grantchester said, this is the wrong Bill. We need a proper water Bill, as promised by the Government, that is properly debated in both Houses and gets on to the statute book over the next year—not as a draft Bill with further delay until the year after—to do these and other important things, such as dealing with abstraction, which is essential if we are to reduce drought risk, and putting in place a proper water affordability scheme involving the social tariff that the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, talked about.

The two issues in the Bill are urgent and raise complex issues. As we have heard, noble Lords have carried out detailed work on the issues relating to the Thames tunnel and I pay tribute to noble Lords’ speeches on that subject. This short debate has yet again demonstrated this House’s expertise and why it is so important in improving legislation for Parliament. Yet, because Defra could not secure a slot in the Queen’s Speech for a proper Bill, that expertise is being sidelined. Frankly, it is an insult to your Lordships, but I suspect that the Government are finding us a little too tiresome and troublesome these days and are therefore keen to invoke financial privilege a lot more.

My other difficulty with the Bill relates to the extent of the powers that it confers on the Secretary of State. Again, this could have been properly debated in relation to a public Bill, but now we are victims of the need to avoid hybridity. I have no wish for the Bill to be hybrid—the parliamentary long grass is not a place for me. As Defra’s Explanatory Notes to the Bill make clear, this is a Bill to assist consumers on the south-west peninsula and the Thames Water area only, but the Bill cannot say so for fear of being hybrid. The consequence is that the Secretary of State will have the power to give financial assistance in any form to any English water company, with any conditions that she sees fit, as long as the assistance is used to reduce charges for customers for water supply and sewerage services. Similarly, she can assist any water or sewerage company with any large or complex infrastructure project in England if she,

“considers it desirable to do so”.

The Explanatory Notes, which do not form part of the Bill and are not endorsed by Parliament, clarify that the costs will be £40 million for the south-west and up to £4.1 billion for the Thames tunnel, but that clarification has no status. Unless the Minister can advise me otherwise, Her Majesty’s Government could, if they were to be persuaded of another scheme, perhaps as a pre-election giveaway in some area precious to the coalition parties, just go ahead with that scheme without coming back to Parliament. That is unacceptable.

In that regard, can the Minister tell me whether he has considered a sunset clause on the Bill’s provisions? Should we not have some mechanism that requires the Government to come back periodically to justify this expenditure? Is this approach a long-term solution? Does it really pressure water companies to maximise efficiencies in the interest of consumers? Can we be convinced that this is not a long-term subsidy to water company shareholders?

So I am not keen on the Bill because of its process and extent. It is effectively a blank cheque. However, let me briefly address the substance of South West Water bills and the Thames tunnel. As we have heard, the Bill will enable the Government to make a £50 annual payment to households in the South West Water area to reduce their water bills. South West Water is a classic case study of what happens when privatisation goes wrong.

When the previous Tory Government introduced what became the Water Act 1989, it was supposed to be a new start for the water industry, but in the south-west, as we have heard, it created a water company responsible for 30 per cent of England’s coastline, but with a customer base of just 3 per cent of the population. There had been no investment in sewerage infrastructure, so the £2 billion needed to clean up the coastline was paid by the unfortunate South West Water customers through their bills, leaving them with the highest average unmetered bill in the country. As a resident of the south-west, I am happy to say that I live just outside this area and am served by Wessex Water.

In some ways, Part 2 is intended to prevent the same thing happening to consumers in the Thames area as their sewage infrastructure is brought up to standard. We welcome the £50 a year for households in the South West area, but the Bill will do nothing for households in other areas. I repeat the question from my noble friend Lord Grantchester: will the scheme exclude second home owners? It would be very popular in the south-west were it to do so.

From April this year, water bills will rise on average by 5.7 per cent, or about £20 a year. The Government have taken a hands-off approach and are considering leaving it to water companies to decide whether to introduce social tariffs. Ofwat, the independent water regulator, estimates that one in 10 households currently spends more than 5 per cent of their income on water and sewerage. That is 2.26 million households across England and Wales: almost 1 million single adults, 73,000 pensioners and 540,000 families with children. The Government had promised a draft water Bill in the spring. As I said, we will have to wait until Defra finally gets its ducks in a row before we get that Bill.

On the Thames tunnel, I have read the various views on this huge project. No one denies that we need to do something, but I am struggling, despite the compelling speech by the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, to see what alternative there is to the combined sewage outflow tunnel. Bubbling appears discredited, separation of rainwater and sewage too expensive and lots of mini-schemes highly uncertain. I am therefore persuaded to support this scheme as well.

However, I would like the Minister to address the concerns of my noble friend Lord Berkeley. In the speech he would have delivered tonight he says that the Bill represents the failure of the industry and its regulator to get companies to perform efficiently and to reduce charges. He has grave concerns with regard to the Thames tunnel. He would have said that the costs are estimated at £4.5 billion plus EU fines, but the risk of cost overruns in such a major tunnelling scheme are not properly thought through and are also likely to be high. The cost to London’s consumers could be as much as £80 per household per year for 30 years.

My noble friend is worried about state aid. This looks like potential for massive state aids to one monopoly supplier company. What criteria are being used for choosing one company—or will all get help? Have the Government checked with the European Commission whether either of the state aids proposed are legal and what conditions are likely to be attached? This is a major project, now with government support and finance if things go wrong and therefore no incentive to save money or look at alternatives.

When my noble friend heard Ministers continue to repeat that the project was necessary to clean up the Thames as required by the European Commission to avoid infraction proceedings, he went to Brussels last week to meet officials dealing with the infraction and hear at first hand what they thought. It is important for the House to hear what they thought.

The European Court of Justice is currently considering the case and is likely to give its judgment this summer. The Commission expects to win, but can of course never be sure. Following the Court decision, if the EC wins, it will give the UK three to five years to complete whatever scheme is necessary to comply. Almost certainly, the UK will be fined, but it will be a little less the quicker a compliant scheme is completed.

Public statements by Ministers about intentions are not relevant. The Commission noted that this directive should have been complied with by 2000 and that, if this did not happen until 2022-23, a large fine was likely. Clars Environmental has estimated that the fine could be as high as £750 million. The amount can, we understand, be mitigated by completing any compliant scheme quickly, perhaps by a maximum of five years. The Commission’s case is that it has always required an output specification for the water quality but it has never given the UK Government any instruction or indication that a particular solution is required or desirable. It emphasised that the choice of solution was down to the member state as subsidiarity. The Commission was not of course certain whether the currently proposed tunnel scheme would meet the criteria, and of course it has to wait to see what is said in the ECJ judgment, expected this summer. It is then up to the Commission to enforce the judgment and, at that stage, to consider whether the tunnel solution or any other will comply with the judgment. So we have a Thames Water scheme costing £4.5 billion racing ahead without any up-to-date consideration of alternatives or, more importantly, whether that scheme as designed will meet the ECJ and EC requirements and therefore stop the fines continuing.

My noble friend Lord Berkeley would have gone on to talk about some of the alternatives put forward by the noble Earl and Chris Binnie. He thinks that many of these could be implemented sooner than the Thames tunnel scheme, with a consequent reduction in the infraction fine and in capital costs. Therefore, his second question to the Minister is: will the Government set in train an urgent review of alternatives by someone without a vested interest in the present scheme which will take into account the likely and actual decisions of the ECJ and EC enforcement people to achieve a more cost-effective and efficient solution more quickly, and one that is more environmentally friendly than the existing scheme? Is the massive potential fine of £750 million enough to persuade the Government to think again? Who knows? A series of smaller schemes might even get the job done quicker, he says, with a consequent reduction in infraction fines. I would ask: given that the fines could reach hundreds of millions of pounds, can the noble Lord tell us the department’s view on this? Can he also promise your Lordships that, if the Government lose their case in the European Court, a Minister will come back to this House with an urgent Oral Statement to tell us how the Government will fund the inevitable fines?

I have other concerns but I shall not delay the House further. I deeply regret that the expertise of this House has been sidelined and that we cannot debate more fully and amend to improve, but of course I look forward to the Minister’s response.

Lord Taylor of Holbeach Portrait Lord Taylor of Holbeach
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who are here and who have contributed to this debate at an unsociable hour, although that has not affected the quality of the contributions, nor the vigour with which they have been presented. I just say to the noble Lord, Lord Knight, that there seemed to be a bit of an inconsistency between the case that he presented and the case where he was listening to the judgment of the noble and absent Lord, Lord Berkeley, on this issue. I welcome his broad support for the Bill. Clearly, he recognises that the Government have to act. We are under pressure from the Commission to clean up our act, as were the previous Government. If that is time-sensitive, then the Government have done the right thing by bringing the Bill forward to enable this project to go ahead at the first available opportunity.

The quality of the debate has not been affected by the lateness of the hour. It reflects well on this House that it is capable of scrutinising legislation at any hour. I have here a fistful of sheaves from the Bill team and I shall do my best to answer all the points that have been raised. The noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, was in a particularly interrogative mood, as he often is. If I miss out any points, I hope that noble Lords will forgive me, and I shall certainly ask the Bill team to write to noble Lords on particular issues if I fail to address them.

The noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, mentioned the water White Paper and said that there was a missing chapter on water efficiency. I would not like him to think that that was the case because water conservation is covered in every chapter of the water White Paper. In particular, chapter 6 covers our plans for water efficiencies in homes and businesses. It is a very important part of our strategy for dealing with the ever increasing demands for water in this country. He asked questions about whether there could be some abuse of these financial powers in, say, an election year. Any financial assistance would inevitably be the cause of much debate. There can be no disposition of government money without Parliament being very much on the alert. We know in the case of the particular move to fund the south-west that there had been years of campaigning and an independent water review to address this matter. We consulted publicly and made an announcement in the Budget specifying who could benefit from financial assistance, the duration and the reason why the Government were making the payment.

Noble Lords have asked why there is no sunset clause. We made it clear that we should leave it open for the Government to have the flexibility to offer similar support to future projects, should the case be strong, but such support could not be given without proper scrutiny in Parliament. I can give that commitment. What about the rest of the commitments to legislate that the Government made in the water White Paper? We intend to publish a draft Bill, as I said in my opening remarks. We have made considerable progress in drafting the Bill. It is important to get the legislation right. The advantage of a draft Bill is that we have an opportunity for further scrutiny before the Bill comes before the House. This will be a strategic shift in the water industry, in which I think Parliament will want to be fully engaged. I make no apology for what has been suggested that there has been an unnecessary delay in the implementation of the water White Paper.

I turn to particular points that have been made about South West Water and the welcome by my noble friend Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer and my noble friend and namesake Lord Taylor of Goss Moor. The independent Walker review examined the situation in the south-west and suggested a number of different models by which government should address the issue. We sought advice from Ofwat on the most effective way of dealing with it and considered all the other options in detail. The particular method has been chosen because it will be the most effective in dealing with the inequity that the whole measure is designed to address. My noble friend Lord Taylor asked again about how the funding might continue, which came up in a number of speeches. The Treasury has agreed that Defra can, if necessary, make a call on reserve to fund this policy through the current spending round. Defra will then need to bid for funding for the next spending review in the usual way.

Several noble Lords called on us to review social tariffs. As noble Lords will know, the matter is in the hands of individual water companies. The reasoning behind this is that companies know the most effective way to deliver a social tariff policy in their area. The noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, asked about this, and there were questions from my noble friend Lord Taylor on the same subject.

I turn to the question of the Thames tunnel, which is the second part of the issue. The noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, asked whether CLG or Defra would take the decision on planning. CLG is the planning authority under the Planning Act, but decisions on development consent for wastewater infrastructure of national significance may be taken jointly by the Secretaries of State for CLG and Defra, based on Planning Inspectorate recommendations. In this case that would seem the most likely process, but I cannot give a categorical assurance.

Questions were asked about state aid. Contingent financial support will need to be state aid compliant—and it is contingent finance to support investment that we are offering. Investors will want to know this before they invest. Our initial analysis of state aid rules is that this contingent support may require us to notify the European Commission. If appropriate, we will make the necessary state aid notification this summer.

There was much talk of the infraction risk, and of how much any fines were likely to be. The noble Lord, Lord Knight, speaking the words of the noble and absent Lord, Lord Berkeley, was very exercised about this. I understand that it is a serious matter, and that there is a case that we must be able to answer. We are working with the Commission. It is in our interest and that of the Commission to make sure that by building the Thames tunnel we will ensure that London’s river is clean and pollution-free. That is the purpose of the exercise. We are working with the Commission to make sure that it is aware of our commitment to achieve that.

The noble Lord, Lord Wigley, rightly wanted assurances about the devolved position of Wales. There have been no discussions about the construction or enlargement of any reservoirs in Wales. Indeed, none of the water companies, which all produce a 25-year outlook, includes any construction programme for a new reservoir in Wales. I do not suppose that the noble Lord is volunteering their construction; his questioning was not along those lines. However, I assure him that no English company at this stage anticipates this construction—and clearly any such arrangement would have to be approved by the Welsh devolved authorities. I hope that devolution will make these matters better between the two Governments, and between water companies and the Welsh Government.

I would hope that that is the future, and it must be one of the benefits of devolution which can protect the interests of the Welsh and the English in their relationships on this matter.

My noble friend Lord Jenkin talked about the transport of supplies for the construction of the Thames tunnel. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, asked me a Question on this matter, so I know that he is also interested. This House may have been one of the instruments that has reinforced this view on Thames Water because it is considering how it can limit the impact of construction traffic. The company intends to use the river wherever practical. We should remember that not all the construction sites are on the river, but quite a large number of them are. Barges can be very efficient. It is certainly the Government’s view that the river should be used. My noble friend referred to Blackfriars Bridge. That is entirely a riverside construction. It is not just the 406 million tonnes of excavated material that have to be moved; it is also the construction materials that need to be brought on to site. The Thames tunnel briefing, which I hope my noble friend has had a chance to see, makes Thames Water’s intentions about the transport of freight quite clear.

My noble friend Lord Fowler expressed particular concern about the Carnwath Road site and the change from the Barn Elms site to Carnwath Road. It is a planning matter. As he will know, planning prefers brownfield sites, such as Carnwath Road, as opposed to Barn Elms, which is not a brownfield site, but it will be considered by the Planning Inspectorate. Thames Water will need to justify this choice of site and the route of the tunnel as part of its application. It will need to submit an environmental statement describing aspects of the environment significantly affected. I hope that helps my noble friend, although it does not give him a reversal of the decision.

My noble friend Lord Selborne has considerable experience on this matter and expressed a number of concerns. I would like to address particularly his concern about costs, which was echoed in what the noble Lord, Lord Knight, had to say. Inevitably, there will be some variation in cost. It is rare for projects to come in on price and on time. This is a complex and extremely large project. Ernst & Young is currently employed by the department to provide financial advice on the most suitable and appropriate financing mechanism to deliver the proposed Thames tunnel that is fair to customers of Thames Water and to UK taxpayers. Ernst & Young is advising on structuring incentives into the financial mechanisms that will help drive desirable behaviours by those delivering the project to help ensure the effective management of project costs.

My noble friend Lord Selborne asked how the Environment Agency decided which combined sewer overflows were unsatisfactory. The EA assessed all 57 CSOs that discharge into the River Thames to identify which were having an adverse environmental effect. It looked at the frequency and volume of discharges, whether they were close to recreational areas, the number of complaints and the reports from other organisations operating on the Thames. Thirty-six were classed as unsatisfactory and therefore need to be addressed, and 34 discharge directly into the middle and upper reaches of the Thames in London.

My noble friend Lord Selborne and the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, asked what a tunnel would deliver. It would reduce the number of these spills from about 50 to 60 times a year to just three or four times a year, and the estimated volume of discharges from about 18 million cubic metres to just over 2 million cubic metres, improving water quality, with benefits for wildlife and river users. It would also ensure that we continue to meet the UK’s obligations under the urban waste water directive.

The noble Lord, Lord Smith of Finsbury—I nearly called him my noble friend—welcomed this project. The Environment Agency, with which he is very much engaged, is part and parcel of the team that is hoping to bring about the Thames tunnel project. I am very grateful for his support this evening, and for the contribution of my noble friend Lord Selsdon, whose experience in this matter I had not been aware of until he made his contribution to this debate.

There was some concern about the money getting to the right customers. South West Water is very much aware of the need to take account where metering and use are not necessarily directly connected because of multiple occupation or other situations. The money is designed to be per household and South West Water is intending to do that.

I have done my best to run through the questions asked. I hope noble Lords will understand if I did not pick them all up. I will do my best to address those that I have failed to do so by letter. Meanwhile, this may be an appropriate moment to thank all the staff and the Bill team for their support in seeing this debate through. We expect to have to work all hours. We have to share that expectation with a great many other people, and I am very grateful to them and I am sure the House will share in that regard.

Drought

Debate between Lord Knight of Weymouth and Lord Taylor of Holbeach
Wednesday 21st March 2012

(9 years, 1 month ago)

Lords Chamber

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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth
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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they are taking to protect communities, food producers and habitats from the threat of drought in England.

Lord Taylor of Holbeach Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Taylor of Holbeach)
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My Lords, droughts happen in the natural order of things, and the Government’s reaction to the current dry spell is being planned for in detail with the Environment Agency and water companies. The Government recognised the risks early on and, since May 2011, the Secretary of State has held three drought summits to agree actions to manage the impact of drought. Water companies are working closely together to conserve public water supply, and government and key sectors are meeting regularly.

Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth
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I thank the Minister for that reply. The effects of drought are now too apparent in some parts of the country. For example, the River Kennet has in part dried up already. Does that not reinforce the urgency of taking forward the Government’s proposals on water abstraction? The contents of the Queen’s Speech have been even more pre-briefed than today’s Budget. Why has Defra failed to land a slot for a water Bill that would mean that we could get on with urgent action on water supply?

Lord Taylor of Holbeach Portrait Lord Taylor of Holbeach
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My Lords, it is not for me to anticipate the contents of the Queen’s Speech, and certainly not to use the opportunity of this Question to do so. Noble Lords will know that next week we will consider a water Bill that deals with time-sensitive matters and which I hope will have the concurrence of the House. The noble Lord will have to wait to see whether the water White Paper is translated into legislation in the Queen’s Speech when it occurs.

Food: Waste

Debate between Lord Knight of Weymouth and Lord Taylor of Holbeach
Tuesday 20th March 2012

(9 years, 1 month ago)

Lords Chamber

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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Lord Taylor of Holbeach Portrait Lord Taylor of Holbeach
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I am grateful to my noble friend for mentioning the catering industry, because the hospitality and food service commitment, which we are pressing across government, is directed expressly at that sector. Ministers in other departments are ensuring that the Government are taking up the commitment, and Members in another place and in this House are working to ensure that Parliament’s own catering is signed up to this commitment.

Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth
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My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, is right that 16 million tonnes of food waste is way too high and that the potential for energy production is great. The Minister gave a fine answer in respect of catering, but can I press him on the subject of energy production, particularly from anaerobic digestion? What will Government offer to incentivise people in catering and elsewhere to put their food waste into that energy production?

Lord Taylor of Holbeach Portrait Lord Taylor of Holbeach
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The noble Lord is right: anaerobic digestion is a very good process for converting food waste. I was trying to emphasise that the most important aspect of food waste is to eliminate it at source, if you can. However, where food waste arises, AD is a very effective method. Indeed, we have an AD strategy plan, which includes a £10 million loan fund to set up new capacity. WRAP offered the first loan of £800,000 to a Wiltshire-based company, Malaby Biogas, in January 2012. Other actions to promote innovation in the AD sector, particularly on a small scale, are very much part of our strategy.

Agriculture: Schmallenberg Virus

Debate between Lord Knight of Weymouth and Lord Taylor of Holbeach
Wednesday 7th March 2012

(9 years, 2 months ago)

Lords Chamber

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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Lord Taylor of Holbeach Portrait Lord Taylor of Holbeach
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That is exactly what is being investigated at the moment. We do not have a blood test at present, but it is clearly going to be very important. This is a very new virus, and we know relatively little about it except the background from which it comes. We have very strong indications as to how it has come here. The work is ongoing, but I assure the noble Baroness that we are working hard to get a blood test.

Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth
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My Lords, the spread of this virus is clearly of concern to farmers in this country, and I welcome the update that we have had from the Minister. Does he agree that the department’s risk assessment on climate change suggests that this sort of disease, borne by midges, will become more common, and that how it is handled now will set a pattern for the future? On the basis of openness and transparency, will he agree a simple request that the Chief Veterinary Officer urgently provides a briefing to interested Peers so that the House can be updated regularly?

Lord Taylor of Holbeach Portrait Lord Taylor of Holbeach
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I am most happy to do so. I welcomed this Question because I was aware that this matter must be of concern to a number of Peers. This is an opportunity to inform the House on the subject, and I give the assurance that a “Dear colleague” letter goes to all interested Peers on this matter.

EUC Report: Agriculture

Debate between Lord Knight of Weymouth and Lord Taylor of Holbeach
Monday 6th February 2012

(9 years, 3 months ago)

Grand Committee

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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth
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My Lords, I start by warmly thanking the European Union Committee for what was an extremely interesting and, as I found out over the weekend, highly readable report—that is not always the case. In particular, I thank my noble friend Lord Carter of Coles for leading on this piece of work and for leading the debate so ably earlier this afternoon. I certainly join in the joy in welcoming the noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkharle, and in complimenting him on his excellent maiden speech. As the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, has just reminded us, Capability Brown was also from Kirkharle, so it would appear that capability is in the water there, and we look forward to many more capable speeches and contributions from the noble Lord, Lord Curry. I also take the opportunity to pay tribute to the work that the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, has personally done in the area of science and agriculture, and I very much look forward to hearing his wisdom when he winds up.

I do not want to provide a commentary on all the many and interesting areas covered by this report— I am sure that we have other things that we want to do this evening—so I will pick out just a few themes. First, this is clearly a report about not just the future of agriculture but the future of food, where it comes from and how we consume it. The report is about more than just guarding against the future; it is about how we shape the future of agriculture. That is the basis on which I have been trying to think about this—the Foresight report was also certainly very welcome in helping us to think about these issues.

We face an uncertain future: world population growing, as we have heard, from 7 billion to 9 billion; increasing food prices; changing diets; more pressure on land and water; and climate change—I take this opportunity to thank the Minister for the briefing that we had a week or two ago on the department’s assessment of the implications of climate change. Agriculture needs to contribute by less input and more output, and it needs to make a contribution to sustainable energy production and consumption. In addition, there is the uncertainty over future CAP reform, which has been discussed and debated this afternoon. All this was excellently set out by, in particular, the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, who reinforced the sense of urgency on these issues.

To shape this future and to harness the potential for growth and jobs in the agriculture and food manufacturing sectors, I think that we need: a pro-science climate in which to discuss these issues; international co-operation; and active, strategic government. Those are the three things that I want to touch on in my comments. Paragraph 183 of the report states:

“We welcome the fact that greater prominence is being given to agriculture in the deliberations of the European Commission, and we urge that it should be given a similar priority in political debate in the UK”.

I would be interested to hear both whether the Minister agrees and, beyond the high profile given by a debate in the Moses Room on a Monday in February, how we should do that. If we are to move forward and discuss issues such as GM and biotech, do we not need to try to fashion a more pro-science environment in the media in particular? I do not underestimate the challenge in doing so, but any comments on how we might do that—given the Government’s excellent ability to spin for the media—would be most welcome.

At paragraph 130, the report states:

“Many of our UK witnesses considered that the UK Government should take the lead in communicating scientific innovations as regards food. Professor Moloney was clear that the only way to offer clarity to consumers ‘is through national leadership’ and Dr Bushell suggested that politicians have ‘an amazing opportunity to shed light on the real risks associated with food and not the imaginary ones’”.

The report goes on to say that the Minister in the other place, Jim Paice,

“took a contrary view, suggesting that Government are the worst source to offer such advice”.

I have some sympathy with the view that perhaps trust in politicians is at its lowest possible ebb, but there is certainly a role for government in trying to stimulate that debate and ensure that we give a platform to scientists—government scientists—in trying to extend and inform the debate.

The report also wanted more done in schools. Of course, as well as spending a year as a Defra Minister, I had three years as Schools Minister. Paragraph 177 of the report talked very much about the importance—as did the noble Lord, Lord Plumb—of engaging with young people and attracting them into the industry. Does the Minister think that the narrowing of the curriculum in the English baccalaureate predicates against that engagement and makes it even tougher for schools? What are the Government doing, probably in combination with Lantra, and perhaps with the Minister’s noble friend, the noble Lord, Lord Baker, to develop university colleges for agriculture? They are an interesting development in 14 to 19 education, but I have not yet heard whether more is being done with the land-based industries in trying to go upstream and attract younger people into the industry than we are doing through the FE sector and its land colleges.

The report states in paragraph 61:

“When we put this concern to Mr Paice, he agreed that there was a need to make the food and farming industry an attractive industry, but saw the Government’s role as to ensure that the industry could ‘deliver a satisfactory income and terms and conditions’”.

I agree with the committee when it states:

“We see this as necessary, but not sufficient”.

We need to go further than what the Minister said in his oral evidence. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, I very much support the work of FACE led by the noble Lord, Lord Curry. I should like more of this in our education system.

I move on to international co-operation. The EU’s framework programme for research is the world’s largest research programme, with funding of €1.9 billion earmarked for the area of food, agriculture and biotechnology. There is differential development in this sector across Europe, given its different geographies, and it is certainly the case that no one size fits all. However, different development needs a more sophisticated differential approach by the EU. The UK has an advanced and relatively mature sector, and we have heard about the interesting work that the Netherlands is doing. However, such work in parts of eastern and southern Europe is far less developed, and we have heard about the very small farm units in some of those areas. Like others, I feel frustration at the projections of only a 4 per cent growth in productivity across Europe. The continent as a whole needs to meet future challenges, grasp opportunities and work together to ensure that the single market area achieves sufficiency.

How much is the Minister concerned about UK food security in isolation? If that is the aim, how will he shift consumer demand to seasonal UK food, especially given that what is seasonal and local changes with the climate? How can the UK use what residual influence it has left on the margins of the European Union to encourage co-operation and convergence of the agricultural economies across Europe? Surely, it is only then that we can do more for less, as is essential, and achieve food security within the single market. As the climate changes and the geography of food production migrates north, how can we develop co-operation between producers across borders so that we can learn from each other’s innovative practice? That sort of co-operation is essential.

Finally on international co-operation, what are the Government doing to encourage higher education co-operation, perhaps through the Bologna process, in these areas? I understand the scepticism articulated by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, and others, but we need to redouble our efforts on co-operation rather than on isolation so that we can address these challenges.

I turn to the question of active, strategic Governments. There was a difference between the evidence given by the Minister of State, Jim Paice, and the Government’s official response to the report, which read very well. One was the voice of the Minister and the other, from my experience, was the voice of officials signed off by the Minister. The Government’s response to the report is helpful but I would rather look at the Minister’s choice of words.

Like the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, and the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, I was concerned about continued government spend on research. I note that the response to a Parliamentary Question in the other place on 20 January at col. 925W of Hansard was that core Defra research and development spend for the last five years is contained within the evidence budgets, and that while the proportion of R&D and the evidence budgets is to remain the same as a proportion of the total programme, that will reduce by 29 per cent in real terms. The figures show a reduction from £210 million in 2010-11 to £167 million in 2014-15. The department’s evidence investment strategy also shows reductions in spend in this area, and that has to be a concern when we are thinking about these issues.

I also have a concern about whether there is a difference in philosophical approach. Paragraph 27 of the report says that the Minister—not the noble Lord here but Jim Paice—said that,

“the present Government had no plans to publish any new document, and that he did not believe in ‘some Government-determined plan’; and he saw no conflict between the Government’s emphasis on localism and the need to respond to the challenges outlined in the Foresight report”.

I disagree with that. It suggests a hands-off Government who believe in getting out of the way rather than enabling, but we need a more strategic approach than is reflected in the Minister of State’s words. I acknowledge the dominance and the vital importance of the private sector in this industry, but surely there is a role for Government in this area, as I detect being strongly argued in this committee’s reports.

The committee says that most farmers are understandably risk-averse. The committee quotes in paragraph 109 Philip Richardson, who said:

“the great deal of uncertainties (weather, disease and price volatility) inherent in farming … make farmers more risk-averse than other business people”.

We all understand that, hence the committee’s view that innovations need a sound business case for farmers to take them on, but innovation needs a higher appetite for risk to make necessary investment than farmers are going to be willing to make in that sort of environment. Hence the importance of the supply chain—and I noted the interesting evidence given by Morrisons. We need either direct top-down investment or investment via the common agricultural policy. We also need other activity from government. I would be interested to know whether there is any progress on the grocery adjudicator to help give us some leverage over that supply chain and address some of the waste reduction issues that the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, rightly raised.

I will not take any more of your Lordships’ time. This is an interesting area that needs action from the EU and from the UK Government. It needs the urgency that the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, talked about. I very much commend the report and look forward to the Minister’s response.

Lord Taylor of Holbeach Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Taylor of Holbeach)
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My Lords, it is my personal pleasure as well as my governmental responsibility to reply to the debate. I join others in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Carter of Coles, and the committee, as well as those advising it, on the thoroughness of their inquiry and the subsequent report on innovation in EU agriculture. It really is a first-class report which has informed this debate, as I hope it will the wider public.

I was pleased to be able to attend part of the seminar in November. As I indicated then, and as noble Lords have generously pointed out, this subject is very much up my street. It is an important one, too, and I hope that the response from Defra, which is full and detailed, does credit to the quality of the report. The report will also be useful in reinforcing the Government’s position vis-à-vis their European colleagues, as my noble friend Lord Caithness hopes.

I had intended to start my speech by quoting from the opening paragraph of the introduction to the report. The noble Lord, Lord Carter of Coles, used those words to open his speech today. Mr Paolo de Castro encapsulated the essentials of our current position, and the report is unafraid to present the challenge that faces all policy-makers and innovators in science and on the farm. This debate, too, has risen to the challenge, not least because it has served as an opportunity for us to hear the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkharle, who brings to this Grand Committee, as he will to the House in general, knowledge, expertise and an ability to inform. This will be of great value to the House on this and, I hope, many subjects. The noble Lord is welcome as a Member of this House. He reminded us, as did my noble friend Lady Byford, that we must not in our enthusiasm for innovation forget the people and the skills that we need in addressing this topic—I hope to come to that shortly.

Many noble Lords pointed out that but a short while ago we saw ourselves as being in a land of plenty, but Sir John Beddington’s Chatham House speech changed all that, showing us the threat that mankind faces from a perfect storm of resource pressures, climate change and population increase. This was followed by the Royal Society’s Reaping the Benefits, which showed how science could provide solutions if we were prepared to take the opportunities that it offered and, ultimately, by the Foresight report, which placed the challenge in a global context. Many noble Lords talked of this, none more graphically than the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington. My own Taylor review was designed to look at the need to provide on-farm solutions here in the UK. The sub-committee not only recognises that but also points to the pan-European dimension of its solution.

At the seminar in November, I was given the opportunity to put forward to the European Commission the Government/Defra position on agricultural R&D and to ask for more information from it, particularly on European innovation partnerships and operational groups. Innovation in agriculture is very important to the UK Government. The Government Office for Science’s Foresight report on the future of farming clearly laid out the global challenges for the agriculture sector. Investment in research and innovation at both national and EU level will play an important role in supporting sustainable intensification and climate-smart food systems that will improve food security for Europe and globally.

If I may talk about one of these systems, my noble friend Lady Byford asked about animal welfare standards as a factor in good farm management, independent of the size of the unit. Animal welfare standards and business efficiency can be mutually supportive. We recognise the concerns about such standards creating a competitive disadvantage; we have had discussions in the House about the egg-laying directive, and I have pointed out that the department is concerned to ensure that the sow stall directive is properly enforced. These initiatives and high standards are something that we in this country are not prepared to jeopardise, but they do not necessarily conflict with the strategy for larger-scale production units.

The Government invest £400 million a year on agrifood research, including collaborative work with industry. As noble Lords have pointed out, that is mainly through BBSRC. Defra itself spends £65 million per annum on agricultural R&D, including animal health and welfare. I will not deny that I wish that as a department we had more, but deficit reduction must be addressed. Meanwhile, I assure the noble Lord, Lord Knight, that we are actively leveraging our limited funding.

This investment is coordinated by the UK cross-government food research and innovation strategy published by the Government Office for Science. The cross-government and research council programme on global food security will be a key vehicle for driving this agenda forward.

Perhaps I may comment on my noble friend Lady Parminter’s view, which she expressed very cogently, about the precautionary principle and how it fits with a policy of innovation. The Government agree with the committee that the precautionary principle remains relevant to decisions on food and environmental safety, but it must be applied sensibly and not as an unjustified barrier to new technologies. The noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, reminded us eloquently about our global responsibility to use technologies to address food supply throughout the world.

I would like to think that we can build on the shared respect for science that has been evident in this debate to move forward in the court of public opinion. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Knight, for his willingness to develop cross-party consensus on these issues.

Through the Technology Strategy Board, Defra and BBSRC, the Government invest in the Sustainable Agriculture and Food Innovation Platform, worth £90 million over five years, which matches funding by industry. It is worth noting that the TSB’s contribution of £50 million to this pot is new investment in innovation. The Government are also reviewing R&D tax credit support for innovation as part of the Dyson review recommendation to boost innovation in Britain.

It might be useful at this point to talk about agricultural skills. Several noble Lords mentioned this, and I shall build on the question that my noble friend Lady Byford asked. The national curriculum review is currently looking at essential knowledge that should be studied pre-16. Studying agriculture should be seen as a front-line activity of central importance to ensure that its relevance to the challenges of food security and sustainable intensification can be supported by a skill base. Lantra, the skills council for the environmental and land-based industries, offers information and careers across the agri sector and determines standards to ensure that qualifications meet both employer and learner needs. I know how important this is. Motivation and enthusing people to enter our industry will be vital if a new generation is to take this agenda of change forward. I should like to point out that in Holbeach itself there is a secondary school, which has now developed academy status, working alongside Lincoln University and the National Food Research Centre—an educational institute—to try to develop this in the heart of perhaps one of the most productive areas of UK agriculture. Therefore, I have first-hand knowledge of what is being done and what can be done on a much broader scale.

However, to tackle the challenges of creating a more innovative, profitable and competitive EU farming industry that can better withstand shocks and recover from them quickly, we also need to work in partnership with other countries in Europe and further afield. This is a factor that runs through the report and was reinforced by contributions throughout this debate. We therefore welcome European Union mechanisms that support this approach, including the European Research Area Networks—ERA-Nets—as well as supporting the Commission in its provision of the joint programming initiatives, or JPIs, of the member states.

My noble friend Lady Sharp mentioned the importance of awareness in the Commission of the need to remove complacency and to invest in innovation. At a wider international level, the UK’s proactive engagement with the Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases is an example of where a partnership approach can be used to address common global challenges and add value to our own £12.6 million greenhouse gas R&D platform to identify greenhouse gas mitigation options and monitor them more effectively.

The noble Lord, Lord Cameron, talked about global research partnerships. The Global Research Alliance on Greenhouse Gases includes the USA and Brazil, as well as many EU member states. UK researchers, including those from Rothamsted, which the noble Lord will know well, are actively collaborating with their counterparts in New Zealand and Australia as well as the US. This is all co-ordinated by Defra, which is also collaborating under the sustainable agricultural innovation partnership through the action plan for UK-China co-operation on food security. The noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, reinforced the importance of this global approach to research projects if we are to meet the global challenge of feeding the world.

As we enter the final years of the EU’s seventh research and development framework programme, we welcome the Commission’s recent proposals for Horizon 2020, a research and innovation programme for Europe between 2014 and 2020. Horizon 2020 should play an important role in addressing the key societal challenges that we face today. We are pleased that food security and sustainable agriculture are among the grand challenges to be addressed by the programme. Indeed, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, Caroline Spelman, is due to sign it off today.

EU-funded research must deliver value over and above that of our national programmes, and the impact of Horizon 2020 will depend on the active translation of research outputs as part of effective knowledge-exchange mechanisms. We therefore welcome the aim for Horizon 2020 to cover the knowledge spectrum from fundamental research through to demonstration activities.

Importantly, ambitious CAP reform would provide opportunities for agriculture to become competitive with less reliance on subsidies, releasing funds to encourage the cost-effective delivery of public goods and stimulate innovation in the agricultural sector as it grapples with global challenges to provide sufficient food to feed a growing population in a way that impacts less on the environment. I believe that the current package of proposals will fall short of this aim. I assure my noble friend Lady Parminter that we recognise the need for the identification of funding within the CAP for research and innovation.

We therefore broadly welcome the Commission’s proposal to establish a European innovation partnership, or EIP, for agricultural productivity and sustainability that will bring together relevant actors across the research and innovation chain. We also support the establishment of operational groups—OGs, as they are called—to test out emerging findings and to drive forward the adoption of new ideas and technologies. However, we await further clarification from the Commission on how the EIP networks and OGs will operate in practice and how they are to be funded, and we look forward to working closely with the Commission and others as these proposals are developed.

A number of noble Lords challenged our position on GM. I include my noble friends Lord Caithness and Lady Byford, but it was mentioned in a number of noble Lords’ speeches. The EU controls are the strictest in the world and robust enough to ensure that any approved GM products will be as safe for people and the environment as their conventional counterparts. Although ensuring that safety is paramount, we also need to be open to the potential benefits of GM technology. That is important, given the challenges ahead on food security and sustainability. My noble friend Lady Byford is right in her appraisal of the current proposals. A sustainable resolution of this issue must be based on science and be established across all 27 countries of the European Union.

In its inquiry, the committee has also examined the provision of farm advisory services to support agricultural innovation and competitiveness. I am delighted by this as it featured in my own report to the Government, then in opposition, to encourage greater collaboration between the public and private sectors in funding research and ensuring that a more effective knowledge transfer takes place.

A number of noble Lords mentioned the climate change risk assessment. I see this as an opportunity. Published last week, it presents the very real challenges posed by climate change. The scenario as painted for British agriculture is that there are opportunities within this agenda, but the assessment points particularly to the resource challenges of water. This will continue to be an increasing challenge not only in this country but across the world if we are to increase the capacity of our existing arable soils to produce crops and our grasslands to sustain livestock.

I am pleased to report that, as from 1 January—as noble Lords have mentioned—the new farming advice service will provide advice on competitiveness, nutrient management, climate change adaptation and mitigation and cross-compliance. The provision of the new service, secured by open competition, will be delivered by AEA Technology in active partnership with industry-related bodies such as the NFU, the CLA, the AHDB, LEAF, the West Country River Trust and ADAS. Farmers wanting professional advice will no longer have to ring round dozens of organisations before getting through to the right source. After all, good advice is essential to the running of any business, and this new advice service will make sure that farmers can get the most out of their farms.

I therefore wish to encourage any future industry-led initiatives that will stimulate co-operation between industry bodies, innovation, applied research and the effective translation of science and technology into practice. I understand that the noble Lord, Lord Curry, will be chairing a meeting shortly to encourage the levy bodies, colleges and other stakeholders to work together to deliver innovation. That mission has my blessing.

I have not gone into a lot of detail about something that was mentioned by my noble friend Lady Parminter and the noble Lord, Lord Knight: the reduction of waste in the food chain. I see that as a very important aspect of any strategy to increase the efficiency of the food chain and reduce the needless waste of important foodstuffs. As noble Lords will know, this is also a part of my portfolio. I am working very much towards this end and have the considerable resource of WRAP, an excellent body that has provided advice throughout all of this. My noble friend Lady Parminter also mentioned nutritional and health values in foodstuffs. We should also not ignore the quality of food and its effectiveness in nutritional terms when talking about the capacity of industry to produce food.

It was good to listen to my noble friend Lord Plumb and to have the debate that we are conducting today put into a historical perspective. My noble friend is rightly credited with presiding over this industry in its golden age. I would not describe the future in quite such terms but the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, talked of a renaissance in this industry. I share with him and the committee a sense that we have an opportunity—a renewed opportunity—to address the challenges of the future to build a sustainable and more productive agriculture by the use of science, technology and innovation. The committee, along with our farmers and growers, looks to the Government to provide a lead both here and in Europe to do just that. I thank the noble Lords for their participation in this report; it has served as a very useful catalyst for us to be able to reiterate that objective.

EU: Sow Stalls Ban

Debate between Lord Knight of Weymouth and Lord Taylor of Holbeach
Thursday 19th January 2012

(9 years, 3 months ago)

Lords Chamber

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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Lord Taylor of Holbeach Portrait Lord Taylor of Holbeach
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That is a totally separate issue. The sow stalls directive is an individual directive focused on sow care and welfare.

Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth
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My Lords, this country can be proud of being ahead of the game on banning sow stalls, as we have heard. As a regular customer of Pampered Pigs of Tolpuddle, I know that happy pigs are tasty pigs. But the current problems with eggs, as we have heard, demand a more robust position on enforcement of EU directives. Will the Government give notice now, with almost a year’s notice, that they will take legal action against other countries’ non-compliance as soon as this directive comes into effect so that the Commission can get its ducks and sows into a row?

Lord Taylor of Holbeach Portrait Lord Taylor of Holbeach
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As I mentioned before, we have already sought information on this matter. We are knocking at the door, and the Commission has already learnt lessons from the cage ban on laying hens. We have sought early information that it is asking all member states how close they are to compliance. To date, we do not have that information, but we are determined to press on this issue. We are hoping to have on the agenda of the February Agriculture Council a discussion topic on this item.

Food: Waste

Debate between Lord Knight of Weymouth and Lord Taylor of Holbeach
Monday 12th December 2011

(9 years, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber

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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Lord Taylor of Holbeach Portrait Lord Taylor of Holbeach
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This is an ongoing project, and an important one. As my noble friend quite rightly points out, there is confusion. Defra recently published date-marking guidance. This should help to ensure that dates are applied consistently—for example, that all hard cheeses display “best before” dates—thus making it easier for consumers to understand their meaning. I have already seen date marks that drop the confusing “display until”, in line with our guidance. I will shortly be visiting Sainbury’s to see its new eco-labelling system. My noble friend is quite right to congratulate supermarkets on the efforts that they are making.

Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth
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My Lords, as we agreed in the debate last week, household food waste is still way too high. The voluntary approach is having some effect with retailers, as we have heard. Many are moving away from BOGOF—as the Minister likes to refer to it—and for that they should be applauded. However, these actions are easily undermined by more unscrupulous competitors. Is the Minister still planning an effective grocery adjudicator, and will it have a remit to report and act on measures to reduce food waste?

Lord Taylor of Holbeach Portrait Lord Taylor of Holbeach
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Indeed, my Lords, the grocery supply code of practice aims to prevent retailers from transferring excessive risk to their suppliers through unreasonable business practices. Two of its conditions cover wastage and forecasting errors, clarifying the conditions in which compensation for these may be sought. The greater certainty provided to suppliers and the role that the groceries code adjudicator will play may help to reduce food waste; we certainly hope so. The body will indeed be set up.

Gangmasters

Debate between Lord Knight of Weymouth and Lord Taylor of Holbeach
Monday 12th December 2011

(9 years, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber

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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Lord Taylor of Holbeach Portrait Lord Taylor of Holbeach
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I have made it clear that Defra values the GLA and sees it as being a particular responsibility to make sure that it is properly funded. Not only is its budget protected for this year, it is protected for the next four financial years in its enforcement activities. I hope that noble Lords are reassured by that and the determination of the department to make sure that it is effective in performing its task.

Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth
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My Lords, last month, when I raised the issue of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority in Questions, I was much reassured by the Minister’s answer that the authority would remain free-standing. In his answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Hornsey, he talked about a new “enforcement architecture”—that was the pithy phrase he used. Does that mean that the position has changed around its remaining free-standing? If so, what has changed that the Government want to weaken the focus of this highly effective body?

Lord Taylor of Holbeach Portrait Lord Taylor of Holbeach
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There is no way in which the Government wish to weaken the focus of this highly effective body. The previous questions pointed out that there are experiences that the GLA has in its field which could well be useful in other fields of employment. That is why my honourable friend Ed Davey, in conducting his review, is looking at the GLA to see how its practices can be incorporated into a broader brief.

Agriculture: Animal Feed

Debate between Lord Knight of Weymouth and Lord Taylor of Holbeach
Tuesday 6th December 2011

(9 years, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber

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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth
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My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Jenkin, on instigating this short debate and on the way she introduced it. She made a powerful case for change and asked valid questions on, for example, what is being done to encourage supermarkets to divert more food waste for animal feed. I also agree that more research is needed on feeding catering waste to animals. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, supported her and wanted more to be done to reduce food waste in the first place, although I felt that he advocated a little more caution. The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, then went much further down the caution spectrum in harmony with the National Farmers’ Union. Finally, the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, gave an equally well informed speech inspired by the work of Tristram Stuart. Her contribution was particularly important in articulating some of the environmental arguments.

For my part, it is clear that this is a very sensitive issue; sensitive for consumers and producers alike. At one level, it could be thought that this is quite simple and a win-win-win for producers, consumers and the environment that has been turned into a lose-lose-lose for all three by dint of risk-averse stable-door regulation—and, indeed, the argument is tempting. Each year, as we have heard and according to the Farmers Guardian, some 16 million tonnes of food is wasted in this country at a cost of £22 billion. That is truly shocking and the Government need to explain how they hope to reduce it.

A couple of weeks ago I was talking to a friend who lives with a somewhat obsessive son in his early 20s who is now a “freetarian”. He will only eat free food. I gather that a couple of times a week he goes out in the small hours in his van and sees what he can find in the skips at the back of supermarkets. His family and their friends now rarely buy food. They already have the Christmas turkey in the freezer and some whole cheeses, while the rugby club has a good supply of out-of-date beer. Some supermarkets are apparently much better than others. I gather that Marks & Spencer very rarely throws away anything that is edible. It is not for me to comment on the safety or legality of this practice, but it demonstrates that a lot of food is thrown away and, in this case, is being used for human consumption with no ill effect that I am aware of.

The argument goes that if all this food is being thrown away, why not feed it to animals under a regulatory regime that protects human and animal health? Would not that be better for the environment than putting it into landfill? We have heard those arguments articulated very well this evening. Indeed, as the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, particularly made clear, the environment would also win because the feed would displace costly imports, especially of soya. I read an article in the May edition of Farmers Weekly by the much quoted Tristram Stuart in which he stated that,

“the EU imports 40 million tonnes of soya a year. Producing that soya comes at a huge environmental cost. If we made use of waste food for animal feed, we could substantially reduce pig farmers’ costs of production as well as having a significant environmental impact”.

This is exacerbated by the shortage in availability of GM-free animal feed protein, which causes prices to rocket while imported products are allowed in, despite having been fed GM diets. Perhaps in passing the Minister could answer the questions put by the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, on essentially whether there are plans to level the playing field for producers. Or, perhaps, given what I saw today on the BBC website around the difficulty of banning the import of illegally produced eggs from battery hens, it might be in Defra’s “too difficult” drawer. I am sure that the Minister will enlighten us.

On the face of it, waste food that is being thrown away could be fed to livestock that currently are being fed expensive, environmentally damaging food. It looks like a win-win-win, for producers, environmentalists and consumers. This is reinforced by other academics. I saw a paper this evening by Elferink, Nonhebel and Moll—I think they are Dutch—in 2007, which concluded that,

“the use of current food residue keeps the environmental impact of livestock foods relatively low”.

However, as the National Farmers’ Union points out, it is not as simple as that. As we have heard, the practice of feeding waste food from home kitchens and catering establishments was banned following the 2001 foot and mouth outbreak. With the devastation caused by that outbreak, I think it is right to be cautious.

It is also the case that over a million tonnes of co- and by-products from food manufacturing are already used by the pig industry, and that was detailed in the speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Byford. As she said, all products have to be Feed Materials Assurance Scheme-assured, and the use of waste products as animal feed is fine as long as it is properly audited. The risk of going further is that the risks of cross-contamination with meat products increase and we have another animal health disaster.

If a viable scheme were possible, with supermarkets that separated food waste so that only suitable waste went to livestock, would the retailer risk the reputational damage if anything went wrong? What if one of their staff accidentally sorted the waste wrongly? If hobbyist pig farmers—I know this was in the NFU briefing—saw that supermarket food waste was being fed to animals, would they go back to feeding their animals anything and regarding pigs as a natural dustbin? That would be a disastrous outcome. We, therefore, need to proceed with care. That is why, in the end, I am more at the Byford end of the caution spectrum.

The obscene levels of food waste need to be tackled. I ask the Minister what his Government's proposals are to tackle it. Is this something the grocers’ adjudicator could also report on? Are there going to be incentives for others uses of food waste? We have heard a little about anaerobic digestion, and had some enthusiasm from one or two of the supermarket chains about it. Could that be encouraged by Defra and DECC? As others have said, what can be done in relation to biofuels? Are there more industries that have food waste as a by-product that could dispose of their food by feeding it to livestock?

I end by repeating some of the questions raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Jenkin, around research. Is the department funding research into sterilization of some food to make this possible? As we have heard tonight, there are conflicting claims about the scientific evidence that proved the feeding of waste food to pigs links to foot and mouth or swine fever. Is the Minister confident of the scientific link? If not, is the chief vet ensuring the research is being done?

This is not straightforward. It is right to take a precautionary approach, however tempting it is to go for the win-win-win. The Government need to take a lead, and reassure producers and consumers that they will be led by the science. We need to be reassured that the Minister then has the budget to ensure the science is being done.

Lord Taylor of Holbeach Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Taylor of Holbeach)
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My Lords, I would like to thank my noble friend Lady Jenkin of Kennington for bringing this topical debate to the House. It has been a very interesting debate—not quite a love-in but, none the less, we seem to have all agreed on a number of elements in this issue.

Perhaps I can help the debate by updating the House on the current position. Defra is funding a review of the available evidence on the benefits and risks of using food waste in animal feed, which lies at the heart of the debate we have had this evening. This is a desk study, being conducted by FERA, and it is due to report in May 2012. Six months from now we should have further information on the science, as the noble Lord, Lord Knight, rightly asked about. The study will review the existing evidence base to examine the risks to human and animal health, the social and environmental sustainability and the economics of using food waste in animal feed.

Preventing food waste is better, environmentally, than any other treatment and can offer benefits for businesses and households. I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer for making it clear that WRAP has been working really hard on this front and indeed reducing waste, by consent, through the Courtauld agreement, with Courtauld commitment 2 about to come in. However, some food waste will always arise. The waste review states that such waste should be kept out of landfill and treated in the most sustainable way.

Anaerobic digestion and composting enable treatment of food waste as a valuable resource. Anaerobic digestion provides renewable energy and a valuable source of biofertilisers. I share with my noble friends my thanks to my noble friend Lady Jenkin for the opportunity to read the book by Tristram Stuart, which has been much quoted this evening. I am not sure that, on the information currently available, I can accept his thesis as it stands, but our research should inform us on this subject, and I am sure noble Lords would want that to be the case. It is certainly a very welcome contribution to this debate. We can say that all of us this evening share a common agenda to reduce food waste.

I know that evidence has been presented to show that feeding food waste to pigs may be better in some cases than the recovery of its energy in an AD plant. I hope the Defra-funded study currently under way will clarify the evidence that exists on the issue. Meanwhile, I am anxious to encourage the charitable distribution of potential retail food waste. My noble friends also introduced me to FareShare and FoodCycle, organisations that are receiving considerable and increasing support up and down the food chain. This is an excellent way of reducing food waste as well as, at the same time, providing much-needed support to families and individuals with low disposable incomes.

There are some very real animal health concerns, however, about feeding food waste to animals. Under EU legislation, both ruminant and non-ruminant farm animals may not be fed catering waste, sometimes known as swill, as it may be a vector for serious animal diseases. This is waste food from kitchens or catering outlets. Feeding this waste to livestock was banned in the UK and the rest of the EU following the outbreak of foot and mouth disease in 2001, which has been referred to several times. The ban stayed in place following a recent revision of the EU animal by-products regulations because it was recognised that disease risks—evident then—still remain.

No one wishes to see another situation like the foot and mouth outbreak of 2001, so a degree of caution is prudent. The Government are keeping their position on feeding catering waste under review, and further examination of the scientific evidence base is important to ensure that our policy is founded on strong evidence. However, even if we were convinced that swill feeding could be reintroduced safely, a relaxation of the ban would probably require scientific support from the European Food Safety Authority. Given the need for this and—we must not forget nowadays—the EU co-decision process, we are likely to be several years away from the prospect of any changes to the ban on feeding catering waste to livestock. It has been very interesting to hear from my noble friend Lady Jenkin about the way in which this matter has been dealt with in Japan, and Europe has the opportunity of studying that further.

As I mentioned, catering waste is the waste food from kitchens and catering outlets. There are different rules for surplus food that originates from manufacturers and retailers and is no longer intended for human consumption. As the noble Lord, Lord Knight, pointed out, such food can be fed to livestock if it comes from premises with appropriate separation procedures to prevent any contact with animal by-products such as meat and fish. This includes bakery waste that does not contain meat or fish and surplus fruit and vegetables. Some of the larger supermarkets are already working to increase the supply of surplus bakery products to animal feed, and Defra has been working with them to ensure this can be done safely.

My noble friend Lord Greaves challenged me on the whole issue of domestic food waste and sought to extend the debate a little further outside its immediate confines by raising the issue of bin collections. All I can say to him is that I am not in a position to make the announcement, as a decision on that rests with the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. I know that he will shortly make an announcement on what he proposes on this issue.

Then there is the whole issue of processed animal protein, which cannot be made from catering waste but can be made from foodstuffs no longer intended for human consumption from manufacturers and retailers, such as meat or bones, as well as abattoir by-products including blood and feathers. The European Commission is proposing to lift the ban on feeding processed animal proteins from non-ruminants to other omnivorous or carnivorous non-ruminants. The ban on cannibalism —that is, an animal eating a like animal, not something more dramatic, I have to say—would be retained.

Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth
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Although that is banned, too.

Lord Taylor of Holbeach Portrait Lord Taylor of Holbeach
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Yes. My noble friend Lady Byford rightly emphasised the need for caution and referred to the NFU position on the issue, which was similarly cautious. I remind noble Lords that we need to take consumers with us on these issues. We know how difficult that can be to ensure that consumers are totally reassured on issues of this nature.

Water Supply (Amendment to the Threshold Requirement) Regulations 2011

Debate between Lord Knight of Weymouth and Lord Taylor of Holbeach
Tuesday 22nd November 2011

(9 years, 5 months ago)

Grand Committee

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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth
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My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for setting out so clearly what the statutory instrument does and to the noble Baroness for making some useful comments, with which I agree, about the impact assessment. This is a perfectly harmless statutory instrument, so I am very content with it. Like the noble Baroness, I am not sure that it is going to have a massive impact but, given that the Cave review recommended that this should happen, that the Cave review did a good job and that we look forward to the Government’s comments in the White Paper, I am certainly happy to give this statutory instrument my blessing.

I would not want to burden anybody with having to work out any more impacts but, especially given that this is a Defra statutory instrument, the rural impact would be particularly interesting. It would be interesting to know whether any thought has been given to including rural impacts in general. When I was reading through the impact assessment, I thought that it might make a difference in some urban areas because in urban areas the market is more likely to be active. In the rural parts, however, if it makes any difference at all or if there is enough of a market operating, I shall be quite surprised. If the Minister has any comments on that, I shall be delighted, but this is a pretty straightforward statutory instrument. We welcome competition in the water industry; we hope that it benefits consumers and that the department and the regulator will make sure that that happens. I am happy to give it a positive nod.

Lord Taylor of Holbeach Portrait Lord Taylor of Holbeach
- Hansard - - Excerpts

I thank noble Lords for their contributions. I am particularly grateful to my noble friend Lady Parminter for pointing out that she felt that the environmental potential of changes in the market had not been properly stated in the impact assessment. Impact assessments are of course designed to report on measurable impacts. One of the difficulties in this case is that we cannot predict the impact of a reform of this nature. I can say that since non-household competition was introduced in Scotland in April 2008, more than 45,000 customers have renegotiated the terms of their supply, enjoying the range of benefits that come from a competitive market.

One element to which I tried to draw the Grand Committee’s attention was that among the services that can be offered to companies in this category is advice on reducing water consumption. It is not very easy to quantify and you cannot rely on it in an impact assessment. However, I should have thought that it would be one of the strongest reasons why some companies would look to change supplier. The reason will probably not be price. In some ways it is more difficult to compete on price in water than it is in almost any other area. However, there could well be competition on service. Water efficiency is a big gain from a freer market.

The noble Lord is absolutely right to say that we need a White Paper and that this is only a beginning. I cannot pretend that it is only the beginning of a reshaping of the water market in the UK along the lines of the review that Professor Cave produced. However, we are right to introduce this statutory instrument at this stage. I hope that we will learn from the way that the market improves through this statutory instrument things that we can then include in the legislation that will follow the White Paper.

It is difficult to quantify the impact on rural areas. The impact assessment does not have a special chapter just because it comes from Defra. We might consider that. It is something of which the noble Lord, Lord Knight, might try to persuade us. If the process allowed us to flag up our own special interests, it would be very good to do so. There are one or two large consumers of water in rural areas who might well benefit from this proposal. There could then be an assessment of the impact on rural areas and rural businesses; I should like to think so.

I thank my noble friends. I think we have pointed out areas that we will probably debate in greater detail and with, I have little doubt, somewhat more vigour when we come to consider other aspects. Meanwhile, I commend these regulations to the Committee.

Food: Prices

Debate between Lord Knight of Weymouth and Lord Taylor of Holbeach
Monday 14th November 2011

(9 years, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber

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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth
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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what measures are being taken to assist families in the United Kingdom to cope with increasing food prices.

Lord Taylor of Holbeach Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Taylor of Holbeach)
- Hansard - - Excerpts

My Lords, the impact of rising food prices is of concern to the Government. While it is not the Government’s role to control food prices, we understand the need to monitor the impact of price increases on households. I hope it reassures the noble Lord that the Government provide a nutritional safety net to extremely low-income families through the Healthy Start scheme, which offers vouchers for essential foods. As the noble Lord will know, we also take into account food prices when benefits rise annually with consumer price inflation.

Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth
- Hansard -

My Lords, according to the latest statistics from the OECD, UK food consumers face the second highest increase in food prices of anywhere in Europe—ironically, after Hungary. What are the Government going to do about it? Why are British food consumers so hard-hit relative to others in Europe? This is an urgent problem for family budgets—what is the Government’s response?

Lord Taylor of Holbeach Portrait Lord Taylor of Holbeach
- Hansard - - Excerpts

My Lords, the House will know that food supplies and volatility in food price markets have been a feature of the past 12 months. We cannot doubt that in this country we have the most efficient food supply chain in Europe. Our supermarkets are extremely price-competitive, as anyone here who has shopped in other countries will realise. I think that the noble Lord was talking about increases rather than absolutes, but I am talking in absolute terms. Of course we are concerned. I think that the secret lies in increasing food production and producing a great deal more self-sufficiently in this country—a policy that was abandoned by the last Government but which this Government are determined to take up.

Environment: Cockle Beds

Debate between Lord Knight of Weymouth and Lord Taylor of Holbeach
Thursday 10th November 2011

(9 years, 6 months ago)

Lords Chamber

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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Lord Taylor of Holbeach Portrait Lord Taylor of Holbeach
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As my noble friend will know, the situation is that North Western IFCA took the decision, in the light of the safety requirements, to protect lives. The Morecambe fishery is closed; the Ribble estuary fishery has just been reopened; and the price of cockles, at £700 a tonne, has encouraged a lot of people who do not have permits to go cockling. However, IFCA recognises the effect that the by-law will have on legitimate fishermen and is urgently looking into possible management measures that it could introduce to ensure a safe fishery and to operate it as soon as possible. The Government support IFCA in this endeavour.

Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth
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My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, for raising this important issue. The House remembers the Morecambe Bay tragedy, which involved cockle picking. In the aftermath of that, the Gangmasters Licensing Authority was established, which has since made great progress in rooting out modern-day slavery and supporting a competitive industry. Can the Minister therefore reassure the House that the Government remain committed to a properly resourced Gangmasters Licensing Authority that will not be merged into a larger enforcement body?

Lord Taylor of Holbeach Portrait Lord Taylor of Holbeach
- Hansard - - Excerpts

We are indeed entirely supportive of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority, which plays a very important role in preventing the exploitation of workers. In this instance, the authority has not been particularly involved—there is no evidence of gangs working the fishery—but I am pleased to give the noble Lord the assurance he seeks.

Defra: Research and Development

Debate between Lord Knight of Weymouth and Lord Taylor of Holbeach
Thursday 20th October 2011

(9 years, 6 months ago)

Lords Chamber

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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Lord Taylor of Holbeach Portrait Lord Taylor of Holbeach
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It is certainly not my intention to make policy in a vacuum. All policy decisions in Defra on the science front are based on evidence. That, indeed, is a principle which we apply to decision-making in general. I would like to reassure my noble friend on that point.

Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth
- Hansard -

My Lords, given the Minister’s personal commitment and expertise in this area, I want to be helpful to him in pressing him on the issue. The Secretary of State Caroline Spelman signed up to the G20 communiqué on food security in Paris last June, which calls on countries to invest more in innovation in food science. On the one hand it appears that her department has plans to encourage more research and development, but at the same time she is cutting the overall research and development budget by 27 per cent. Why does Defra sign up to international commitments calling on action from other Governments which it has no intention of meeting in this country? Why is it saying one thing and doing another?

Lord Taylor of Holbeach Portrait Lord Taylor of Holbeach
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I think the noble Lord is making the mistake of taking a particular aspect of Defra’s activity and not realising that, strategically, the Government have a great focus on the whole need to raise the game. We will need to double world food production by 2050. We shall be able to do that only with science as an ally. The thrust across government, and the whole thrust of the Taylor review, was about leveraging the Government’s investment as a whole in this area. We will be spending £1 billion on R&D in the Living with Environmental Change Partnership and £440 million on global food security.

Incidental Flooding and Coastal Erosion (England) Order 2011

Debate between Lord Knight of Weymouth and Lord Taylor of Holbeach
Monday 17th October 2011

(9 years, 6 months ago)

Grand Committee

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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, for the clarity with which he set out the order. That was most helpful given that it is very difficult to get any clarity from reading it. That is why we have an Explanatory Memorandum—I thank the Minister’s officials for the clarity with which that has been set out. I also congratulate the Government on listening to the concerns expressed by the National Farmers Union and the Country Landowners Association in bringing forward the order, which I certainly support.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, I was interested in paragraph 7.6, on consolidation, in the Explanatory Memorandum. I would be interested in any news on when that consolidation of the Act might happen in response to the Pitt review.

I tried to work out the taxpayer liability from the impact assessment. I understand that a notional 100 hectares is being discussed in the Explanatory Memorandum because it is difficult to predict how much land will be affected by erosion. Am I right in calculating that 100 hectares—the equivalent of one square kilometre—would generate a cost of £2,000 per annum, or have I misread the way the sums work? With that question, I am very happy for the order to go forward.

Lord Taylor of Holbeach Portrait Lord Taylor of Holbeach
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I thank noble Lords for their comments. I thank in particular the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, for his pleasant greetings. He asked how the legislation related to the Pitt review. He and I were both around when the Act on which the statutory instrument is based went through this House. He will know that it was a foreshortened Bill; the water provisions were relatively limited within it. The Government, however, have made it quite clear that there will be a water White Paper shortly—it is likely to be published within the next six months. We will bring forward a Bill, probably within this Parliament, to legislate in the whole area of water and water management. It is important not just for issues raised by Pitt but also for the consumer interest in water.

The noble Lord, Lord Knight, asked me about the cost of the provision. I can assure him that his estimate of £2,500 per annum is about right. He also asked whether the whole business of consolidation might be considered. The Government are still committed to this, but he will know how difficult it is to get legislative time. However, this is something the Government will seek to do, if at all possible, within this Parliament.

The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, asked me if the balance was about right. He would expect me to say, and I do, that I think the balance is about right. This is a question of a balance of differing interests, and the statutory instrument has got it about right. It does contain the necessary provisions to protect the interests of those who would be affected, and the minimum required to allow local authorities, internal drainage boards and the Environment Agency to use, where appropriate, the powers provided by Sections 38 and 39 of the Water Management Act.

I hope that I have managed to cover all the points raised. I am particularly happy to present this order. I beg to move.

Proposed National Policy Statement for Hazardous Waste

Debate between Lord Knight of Weymouth and Lord Taylor of Holbeach
Wednesday 12th October 2011

(9 years, 7 months ago)

Grand Committee

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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Lord Taylor of Holbeach Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Taylor of Holbeach)
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My Lords, I welcome this debate on the Government’s Draft National Policy Statement for Hazardous Waste. Hazardous waste still arises in significant amounts. Even in the current economic situation, almost 3.8 million tonnes was produced in 2010. Arisings may increase further as the European Union introduces new definitions that may mean that more wastes are classified as hazardous in future. As hazardous waste can cause harm to human health or the environment if not effectively managed, it is vital that we have sufficient facilities to manage it safely and sustainably.

Our main objectives for the management of hazardous waste are to protect human health and the environment from the risks that may be posed by inadequate management of hazardous waste, and to encourage the development of facilities that allow the management of hazardous waste in a safe and sustainable manner. There is scope to recycle or recover more hazardous waste than we do at present. For example, used lubricants can be converted back into base lubricating oil if processed to a very high level, and some contaminated soil can be treated to extract oils and other useful substances. However, there remain hazardous wastes such as asbestos where there is no viable recycling or recovery option or where the substances in the waste are potentially so dangerous that sending them for final disposal is really the only option.

It is a matter of policy as well as a legal requirement that England should have a range of facilities and plant for the recovery of hazardous waste to help meet the country’s needs. We believe that the market provides the best means of ensuring that adequate waste infrastructure develops, as it is industry, spurred on by the market, that has the expertise required to consider where facilities are needed and the appropriate technologies to use. Our role as a Government is to provide a clear steer on the types of facility needed and the framework within which the infrastructure is to be provided. We want to ensure that within this framework there is scope for innovation—an approach welcomed by industry.

The economies of scale needed to be viable mean that they are more likely to serve national need than facilities for other types of waste. Nationally significant infrastructure such as larger hazardous waste facilities has historically encountered some difficulties in obtaining planning permission under the Town and Country Planning Act system because there will inevitably be a conflict between local concerns on the possible impact of the development and the national interest.

Applications for nationally significant infrastructure run a high risk of being refused by the local authority and being referred to a planning inquiry. These inquiries can go on for many months while the need for the facility is established and this can deter the waste management industry from putting forward proposals for the nationally significant infrastructure we need. It is for this reason that the Planning Act 2008 has established a new planning system for the determination of applications for development consent for nationally significant infrastructure. Under this system, decisions will be taken centrally for infrastructure serving national need. National policy statements are an integral part of this new planning system and the national policy statement for hazardous waste will provide a framework document for planning decisions on nationally significant infrastructure for hazardous waste. Although decisions will be made centrally, there will still be many opportunities for local concerns to be taken into account. Applicants are required to consult the local area before submitting any applications for development consent. The decision-maker will refuse to accept an application if it considers that the consultation has not been adequate. There will also be opportunities for the local community and other key groups to make their concerns known while the application is being assessed. The system will therefore allow the views of local communities to be well represented and properly taken into account, while decisions will be taken by elected Ministers, taking account of both local concerns and national needs.

When we talk about nationally significant hazardous waste infrastructure, we mean very large facilities. The Planning Act 2008 covers new facilities with a total annual capacity to manage more than 30,000 tonnes of hazardous waste and more than 100,000 tonnes for landfill. These thresholds are set out in the Planning Act 2008. The Act will also cover expansions to existing facilities where they increase capacity by more than these amounts. The Draft National Policy Statement for Hazardous Waste reflects our objectives for the management of hazardous waste. It will both guide the decision-maker on how applications for development consent for such projects should be assessed and provide real clarity to potential investors on the sort of facilities that the Government would like to see being developed. It will apply only in England. In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland planning consents for all nationally significant hazardous waste projects are devolved to the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the Northern Ireland Assembly respectively and therefore do not form part of this NPS.

Many potential benefits could be realised through the development of the hazardous waste facilities set out in this national policy statement. The decision-maker will need to take these into account, while still taking full account of any potential adverse impacts. The planning system operates in the public interest to ensure that the location of proposed development is acceptable. In considering applications for development consent for nationally significant hazardous waste infrastructure, the decision-maker will need to take account of a variety of environmental, social and economic impacts at national, regional and local levels. Modern, appropriately located, well run and well regulated waste management facilities are operated in line with current pollution control techniques and standards and should pose little risk to human health and the environment.

The NPS has been subjected to an appraisal of sustainability. The appraisal has assessed the potential impacts of the policy set out in the national policy statement and has concluded that, overall, the national policy statement would have a broadly positive effect on the sustainability issues identified. We have worked closely with the Department for Communities and Local Government to ensure that the statement is fit for purpose and consistent with other national policy statements.

The NPS for Hazardous Waste is out for public consultation until 20 October and is undergoing scrutiny by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee. We will carefully consider any recommendations made by that committee, the outcome of consultation and the issues raised in this debate before revising the policy statement prior to what is called “designation”—the final publication of the NPS.

This debate is to discuss whether the Draft National Policy Statement for Hazardous Waste fulfils its requirements under the Planning Act and is fit for purpose. I commend it to the Committee.

Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth
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My Lords, I broadly welcome this draft national policy statement. Perhaps across your Lordships’ House there is a certain degree of consent by absence, judging by the attendance in the Committee today, although it may be that the planning wonks in the House are distracted by the business in the main Chamber, which will certainly be in the planning arena. I very much welcome the scrutiny that this statement is receiving from the Select Committee in the other place. I mostly enjoyed using the wonderful facilities of Parliament TV to watch the evidence that the Minister gave yesterday to that committee.

I welcome the four principles set out in Part 2 of the draft statement in terms of the principles in forming government policy on hazardous waste: to protect human health and the environment; the implementation of the waste hierarchy; proximity and self-sufficiency; and then climate change. I welcomed what the Minister said to the Select Committee, and this almost seemed to be a fifth principle, that the statement should be as unambiguous as possible so that those seeking to operate within this consent regime can do so with a degree of certainty and flexibility.

Those are all things that I welcome but the nature of debate in this Committee and in your Lordships’ House means that we tend to focus on the things that we disagree about more than on what we agree about. I have, on the latest count, five issues to raise that I hope will be addressed in the final policy statement when it is published by Defra, and that does not include my assumption that the current reference to the IPC will be replaced by the Secretary of State, assuming that the Localism Bill that is being debated in the Chamber achieves Royal Assent, in which case the Secretary of State will take on the powers that the Infrastructure Planning Committee currently uses.

The first of those issues is around the consent regime itself. I know that there are one or two voices saying that in—I would anticipate—virtually every case where an application is made under this regime there will also be an application for a permit from the Environment Agency, particularly in respect of the pollution effects of hazardous waste processing. One or two of those voices have raised the question of whether it is worth there being a single consent regime for the sake of simplicity for the applicant—and for the understanding of the public.

It is worth exploring that further. If my understanding of this is correct, the consent regime that we are discussing in the context of this policy statement is around land use planning, with all the various criteria that the Minister set out in his opening statement. However, a lot of the public concern would inevitably be about pollution as a result of hazardous waste processing taking place in their backyard—to use the vernacular. I do not know that members of the public would be that patient with explanations along the lines of, “This is an issue that should be raised in respect of the Environment Agency”, and “That is an issue that should be raised in respect of the hazardous waste consent regime under the Planning Act”. I should be grateful for any comments from the Minister on whether some negotiation can be had with the Environment Agency, the MMO and any other part of the consent regime so that we could have a single consent regime.

The second issue follows on from that. Assuming that the Minister and his officials have thought about this—which is a fair assumption to make—and resist the temptation to agree with me and go for a single regime, and we then have a split regime, my concern is that we make sure that the timing and the sequencing of that regime work well for applicants. The Minister expressed concern about unnecessary delays in processing applications in the regimes that we have been using, which I agree need to be streamlined. In that case, how will he make sure that the sequencing and timing mean that things go through smoothly, as applicants potentially need to get consents from the Environment Agency and the Marine Management Organisation, as well as any other consents that I have not clocked? That sequencing is very important to streamline the process.

The third issue, which is not unrelated to how those various regimes in the consent process might work, is localism, which I know was raised with the Minister by some of his honourable friends on the EFRA Select Committee in the other place yesterday. I understand, and support, there being a national regime for large and significant infrastructure. There is a strong case for taking some of these strategically important and difficult decisions at a national level, because there are times when it is very difficult for a local planning authority to be able to deal with them in a way that retains the objectivity that one needs when one is making quasi-judicial decisions of this kind. However, I would again be interested in hearing on the record the Minister’s view on how this interacts with the localism being debated in the main Chamber at the moment. I have my own doubts about how well the new localism and planning regimes being debated elsewhere will work in practice, and whether members of local planning authorities under those regimes will be able to resist the nimby tendencies that are often quite powerful at the ballot box. I am perfectly comfortable with the approach that Defra is taking, but I just want to hear from the Minister how he reconciles that with the approach to planning being taken by CLG.

The Minister will not be surprised that my other two issues are around definition and thresholds. My understanding is that the definition of hazardous waste—and the statement is clear about it—is that set out in Regulation 5 of Hazardous Waste (England and Wales) Regulations 2005. Those are derived from the European Union’s definitions of hazardous waste. Do the Government have to be constrained by the European Union definition? I understand that the Government have to deliver on items that the EU defines in the directive because it is a directive. But if the Minister wanted to add some additional items to the list for his regime in the UK, could he do so? Then it may be possible, in respect of the questions around lithium or emerging technology that he was asked yesterday, to anticipate some future needs in terms of hazardous waste regulation and, by including some of those items that the EU have not got to yet on the list, provide some encouragement for them to move up the waste hierarchy, to which I know the Minister attaches a considerable importance.

Finally, on thresholds, particularly given the fifth principle that I have attributed to the Minister of being as unambiguous as possible, I should like some clarity from him around the flexibility that there appeared to be from the evidence session yesterday. It is clear that there are two thresholds—one of 30,000 for most hazardous waste and one of 100,000 for hazardous building material going into landfill. As he said in his opening statement, that applies with new build and with those facilities increasing capacity. What was then said was that the Planning Act 2008 gives provision for amounts less than that to be considered under the national policy statement process if the Minister thinks that that is appropriate. Those listening, or those who read the final statement when it is agreed, need more clarity so that they understand when the Minister is likely to use the flexibility that he has so that it is predictable and, in his words to the Committee, “unambiguous”. If I can get some reasonable responses either now or in the final statement, I would be extremely happy with some very good work from his department and his officials.

Rural Payments Agency

Debate between Lord Knight of Weymouth and Lord Taylor of Holbeach
Wednesday 12th October 2011

(9 years, 7 months ago)

Lords Chamber

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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Lord Taylor of Holbeach Portrait Lord Taylor of Holbeach
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I would like to think that I can reassure my noble friend that of course we shall bring first-class thinking to the challenge of this issue. This is not the listed topical Question, but it has certainly turned out to be topical because the Commission published its proposals for the reform of the CAP this morning. We are certainly going to be very much engaged in the negotiations and discussions that will take place around these proposals. Our priority will be to ensure that reform encourages competitive and sustainable EU agriculture through a system that is simple and transparent for both farmers and the RPA to operate.

Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth
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My Lords, I welcome the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, to his much deserved ministerial appointment. In this House, we knew him to be a flexible listening Whip, and we look forward to more of the same in his ministerial guise. I also want to record our thanks and congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Henley, as he moves on to the Home Office.

The Rural Payments Agency has had its ups and downs over the past few years, but it performs a crucial role in getting payments from the common agricultural policy to farmers. Your Lordships have just heard that the EU Commission announced reform to the CAP this morning. Like the NFU and the CLA, we on this side are disappointed that these proposals from the Commission are a missed opportunity. The rhetoric of radical reform has turned into a tired compromise, letting down both UK farmers and our natural environment. Given that consensus, what promises can the Minister make to farmers, and to others concerned about the natural environment, that the Government will use what influence they can muster from the margins of Europe to improve this reform as it goes through the Council of Ministers?

Lord Taylor of Holbeach Portrait Lord Taylor of Holbeach
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I thank the noble Lord for his kind words. I am afraid that, as a departmental Minister, the room for flexibility is perhaps not as great as it was, but I shall do my best. We have been building alliances within the European community on CAP reform. I think many other countries will be just as disappointed as we are with what appears to be a very retrograde and regressive proposal from the Commission at this stage. Our job is to negotiate, as the noble Lord rightly said, to try to build alliances and to place not just the farmer or the countryside but even the consumer interest at the fore. That is certainly our position. That is what we intend to do, and I hope we have the support of the whole House in achieving that.

Environment: Drought

Debate between Lord Knight of Weymouth and Lord Taylor of Holbeach
Tuesday 14th June 2011

(9 years, 11 months ago)

Lords Chamber

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Northern Ireland Office
Lord Taylor of Holbeach Portrait Lord Taylor of Holbeach
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I live not very far away from my noble friend and can vouch for the fact that it is still very dry even after the weekend’s rain. I thank him for his suggestion. Grass and forage are a problem for livestock producers. However, on 2 June, Natural England issued advice to farmers who are in environmental schemes and have been hit by the spring drought about how they might manage their agreements. Natural England wants to ensure that the appropriate derogations are available to help farmers deal with the consequences of a prolonged period of dry weather. If any farmer needs further information or advice about the dry weather and their environmental stewardship agreements they should contact Natural England.

Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth
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My Lords, with 20 per cent of cereal crops already ruined by the dry weather this is a serious problem for farmers, as we have heard. It is also a worry for consumers as food prices continue to rise. Clearly Governments cannot order the weather, but they are responsible for policy on water management and abstraction. The Government were due to publish a water White Paper this month. Why is this urgent piece of work now delayed until December?

Lord Taylor of Holbeach Portrait Lord Taylor of Holbeach
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I think that the Government would want to get any White Paper which they brought forward on this issue right. I do not deny at all the premise of the noble Lord’s question: it is a very serious situation for cereal producers and farmers in general, and it has a knock-on effect on feedstuffs, foodstuffs and consumers as a whole. That is why the Government are working with the industry and other abstractors to make sure that the water that is available is being properly used without hazarding the biodiversity agenda, which is also important.

Public Bodies Bill [HL]

Debate between Lord Knight of Weymouth and Lord Taylor of Holbeach
Monday 28th February 2011

(10 years, 2 months ago)

Lords Chamber

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Home Office
Lord Taylor of Holbeach Portrait Lord Taylor of Holbeach
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My Lords, I begin by thanking noble Lords for their contributions to this debate. It has been an excellent opportunity to consider the expertise that this House can provide on a subject covering all points of the United Kingdom. I understand the passion; I speak as a provincial myself. We are all in politics, to a lesser or greater extent, simply because we believe in where we come from and in the communities from which we originate and because we care about the people with whom we live and work. However, there may be other ways of dealing with the imbalances in the economy in the United Kingdom and I ask noble Lords to listen to the argument as to why the Government are proposing a changed approach. Given the breadth and detail of this debate, I regret that I am not likely to be able to respond to every point that has been raised, but I assure noble Lords that I will go through the record and seek to answer the points in a letter, which I will circulate to all noble Lords who have spoken this evening.

The Government’s economic ambition is to create a fairer and better balanced economy. We wish to see business opportunities in a broad range of sectors balanced across the country and between businesses. The noble Lord, Lord Empey, spoke with experience and authority and indicated that the real challenge of building investment and providing job opportunities was probably outside the traditional structures represented by the RDAs. Our Local Growth White Paper sets out how we will put businesses and local communities in charge of their own futures, rather than having to rely on centrally imposed regional development agencies. If I may say so, I felt that some of the speeches confused the effectiveness of critical mass with the greater strength of coherence and real local empowerment and focus.

The amendments that we are debating as a group would preserve the regional development agencies as a whole, or those in specified individual regions. We believe that preserving all or any of them would be a retrograde step. In December, we placed in the Library of the House a short briefing paper, which sets out the reasons for abolishing the RDAs and gives a snapshot of the situation in each region. This has now been updated. Indeed, the number of LEPs has increased dramatically since that time. That update has been placed in the Library and I will build on this information in the course of my remarks.

We set out the rationale for our proposals in the Local Growth White Paper, which was published in October 2010. One key theme in the document is the need to shift power to local communities and businesses. We believe that localities should lead their own development and have the flexibility to tailor their approach to this and to their individual circumstances. If this is to work, they must own their own economic strategy; one imposed from regional or national level would not have this local ownership. For all the good work that they did, the RDAs did not really belong to the communities within the regions. Many of the policies and initiatives that they delivered were on behalf of national government and did not always recognise the varied needs and opportunities that individual places have.

The RDAs were also designed around administrative regions rather than real economic geography. While it would be possible to discuss this matter in the context of every one of the individual RDAs, I would like to discuss two specific examples now. My first example is the south-west region, stretching from Swindon in the east to Penzance in the west and covering an enormous geographical and economic range, from the prosperous and relatively well connected places in the upper Thames valley to relatively isolated and deprived areas in Cornwall. Bristol has many problems in common with our largest cities—those of economic success and of economic inclusion. The issues faced in rural parts of the region are quite different. Linkages, too, differ, with parts of the region having close ties to London, the south-east, the West Midlands and Wales, and others having no such link at all. The relevant policies in each case are quite different. RDAs sought to address that problem and to recognise the differences within their regions, but it makes no real sense to establish a single body to cover the entire region and to expect it somehow to understand and cope with that huge variety. It is far better for the local partners in Bristol to develop policies dealing with the specific issues that they face and for those in Cornwall to do likewise.

Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth
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I do not want to delay the House, because I know that there is other business that we want to get done. The Minister is talking about the south-west, where the rivalries between Plymouth and Cornwall are well known; left to their own devices, the Tamar will remain the border between them and it will be difficult to persuade a LEP to form across that river. But I also think that it is very difficult to see in economic geography terms how you can develop parts of Cornwall and Devon without taking into account Plymouth and the city region approach. That relationship between a deprived rural county, Cornwall, and the only major city and centre of population needs to be thought through in terms of economic strategy, but the LEP approach will not do that.

Lord Taylor of Holbeach Portrait Lord Taylor of Holbeach
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I am grateful to the noble Lord for that intervention because it gives me the opportunity to respond by saying that there is almost a mathematical relationship between size and the importance of the boundary that exists between different regions. One difficulty with regional boundaries is that they are frequently quite dramatic, although there may be a geographical coherence. I am a Fenman. The Fens are in the eastern region, about which the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, spoke, but they are also in the east Midlands. Yet it makes sense for them to work together as a geographical whole. One great advantage of the LEP approach is that, when the models are smaller, the boundaries are slightly less severe and there is an opportunity for LEPs to work together. That is the whole point of the policy—to create greater flexibility in how the units of economic development can work together where they wish to. That supports the argument of One North East and the degree to which common policies across the north-east can work. I accept that it is possible to have a different point of view, but I am telling noble Lords how we see this. If we really want to address the regional imbalance in this country, we have not succeeded with RDAs.

Welfare Reform

Debate between Lord Knight of Weymouth and Lord Taylor of Holbeach
Tuesday 5th October 2010

(10 years, 7 months ago)

Lords Chamber

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Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth
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My Lords, I beg leave to ask a Question of which I have given private notice.

Lord Taylor of Holbeach Portrait Lord Taylor of Holbeach
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My Lords, too often the current system traps people in benefit dependency, making a move to work seem risky and financially unsustainable. This has led to a 45 per cent increase in real terms in spending on welfare in the past decade. Our proposals for these and other welfare reforms will be announced at the spending review. We also intend to publish a White Paper in response to our consultation on welfare reforms, and I assure noble Lords that there will be ample opportunity for further debate.

Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth
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My Lords, I am grateful. There is a real urgency for Parliament to scrutinise these massive changes to the welfare state. Can I ask the Minister what he would say to the mum with three young children who wants to stay at home to care for them while her husband earns just over £45,000 a year? She is already worried about the VAT increase in January; has lost £500 a year with the child tax credit cut; and now will lose another £2,400 with the loss of child benefit. She thinks that she would be better off going back to work or even splitting up her family. Is this why the Prime Minister promised before the election not to touch child benefit, and is this not a sign that the Government are already out of touch with the “squeezed middle” hard-working families of this country?

Lord Taylor of Holbeach Portrait Lord Taylor of Holbeach
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I would suggest that the only one who is out of touch is the noble Lord himself if he is not aware of the financial difficulties facing this country and the need to reduce government spending in line with the deficit that we inherited. This is essential to our policy. This is not an easy decision to make, but it is a necessary decision to make if we are to bring public spending into line.