Lord Dobbs Portrait Lord Dobbs (Con)
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My Lords, I regret that we have to deal with these proceedings virtually; we would not normally do so, but these are not normal circumstances. It is a hugely ambitious and vital piece of legislation that must, of course, be debated, but also allowed to breathe. I fear—forgive me if I sound impertinent—that far too many of the amendments that we are seeing today and on other days will not improve the Bill but instead tend to smother it.

As my noble friend Lord Naseby just mentioned, this is the third day in Committee and we are still on Clause 1, with another 53 clauses plus all the schedules to go. I hope noble Lords will agree that as a responsible House we have a duty to exercise a little caution and even a little self-restraint.

I hope the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, will forgive me if I offer a few words about her Amendment 47 on

“transitioning from livestock to plant-based food production.”

Last week we were discussing getting livestock out of the sheds and into the fields. This week we are getting the same livestock, which have just been put into the fields, out of the fields again and replacing them with plants. Even the cows are confused, so I have no idea how my noble friend the Minister will deal with that.

I have an even more fundamental objection to this amendment. Transitioning from livestock to plants en masse may be a good thing; it may not. There are very opposed opinions on this. The noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, made some good points about the importance of a balanced diet. Wrapped up in this amendment is a clear political agenda, and the noble Baroness as good as acknowledged that in her extensive remarks. I am not afraid of politics, but taxpayers and consumers should not be asked to pay for a political agenda through the back door, as this amendment does, unless they voted for it—which they have not. This is not the stuff of fundamental legislation but for the political hustings. If it is so good for farmers’ incomes and consumers’ health, as has been suggested, they will get the point without any instruction from us.

In these difficult circumstances we have a responsibility to be brief, so I will finish on Amendment 35 on

“access to food that promotes good health and wellbeing.”

But of course. How can I say this without causing offence? This amendment, in this Bill, is apple pie so sweet it will make your teeth rot. It is totally unnecessary; indeed, it is inappropriate. As the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, has acknowledged, it is beyond the scope of the Bill.

Some want to turn the Bill into a vehicle for fundamental social change, but this is a Bill on agriculture, not the Sermon on the Mount. I hope the Committee will show a good deal of self-restraint in both debating and pursuing these amendments, no matter how worthy some of their objectives may be.

Lord Marlesford Portrait Lord Marlesford (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I first declare again the interests I declared last week, as in the register.

I am delighted with this set of amendments, because they put right a fundamental flaw in the Bill, which was to make a false distinction between food production, food and agriculture on the one hand and the environment. This is dangerous, because it plays into the hands of those who say that all that matters is the environment, which irritates the people who see their main job as producing food.

This debate has really brought back a unity and a recognition that food production is not simply a private good but very much a public good; I hope this is able to be incorporated in the Bill in some way on Report. We have seen two main reasons given, both very relevant: security and, of course, obesity. Security has come to the front recently because of Covid, and everybody who happily took the instant availability of anything they wanted from anywhere in the world got a rude awakening; we all did. I was taken back to my childhood days in the war. At home in Suffolk we managed to get a fortnightly delivery from Waitrose because we were locked up. My wife had ordered a bunch of bananas, and what actually arrived was two bananas—serves us right. The point is that food security means something: using what we have, not what we do not have.

The next important thing is obesity. It is the biggest epidemic we have, bigger and probably more important than Covid-19. This is absolutely a matter of better eating and eating more natural foods. I am not a vegetarian, but I believe that the simpler the food we eat is, the better. One of the great changes was when people stopped having porridge for breakfast. All sorts of sophisticated cereals were introduced—Corn Flakes, Grape-Nuts, Weetabix and so on—and very delicious they were. However, they soon became adulterated with far too much sugar and salt. Then we copied the Swiss and introduced muesli, which was originally simple grains, mixed, cold and raw, which you ate with your milk in the morning, but which has been adulterated and become a terrible product called Alpen, which is stuffed with sugar and fats and is quite revolting.

We must recognise that healthy eating is very important and the key to it is getting the consumer and the producer close together and making as many consumers as possible into producers. I very much support the remarks that have been made about horticulture. I will very quickly give one story of the first time I went to China, in December 1965, just before the chaos of the cultural revolution descended and swept away the Mao dynasty. I noticed when visiting a commune that the people who were happiest and who paid the most attention to life were those working their private plots in corners, which were very small and intensive, producing a great deal of food which obviously they ate themselves.

Small is beautiful, in farming as well as in modern technology, but we must spread the word of people getting involved in agriculture and getting consumers and producers together. Years ago, when I was on the Countryside Commission, the urban fringe was doing very badly. We had what we called Groundwork to clean it up. It was a great success. It got local people excited, and changed the nature of deprived and grotty, dirty, litter-filled areas, polluted ponds and so on. It is the same principle as the remarks that have been made about urban farming on this set of amendments. I am in favour of all that. The big lesson from this group of amendments is in exposing the false distinction between public and private good, in which food production is relegated to being a private good. Let us get together to improve our food, ensure the security of our food supply and, most of all, encourage the beating of obesity by the sensible eating of natural foods.

Lord Clark of Windermere Portrait Lord Clark of Windermere (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, and very much go along with the sentiments that he expressed. This is an ambitious Bill, which I find exciting. It deals with agriculture for this moment in time and for the future.

Let me make it clear from the beginning that I am full of admiration for farmers, who work so hard, usually in inclement conditions, to put food on our plates, by which we all live. We should never forget that.

What has come through this series of debates—and it is perhaps the nature of the hybrid system that so much time has been spent on Clause 1—is that Clause 1 sets the tone of the Bill and its moment has come. Words and titles are important. When I became the principal Opposition spokesman on agriculture in 1987, one of the first things I did was to change the title of my job from the Shadow Minister of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries to the Shadow Minister for Food and Agriculture. It has always been important to mention food. Time has shown that that was right, and I am delighted that we now have a Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, because it is very important.

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Lord Marlesford Portrait Lord Marlesford [V]
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I have one thing to add. There is the inescapable fact that after 2021 farmers will not get money under the basic payment scheme in the same way as they have done. That money is on average around 70% of their taxable profit. Without it, many would not be able to continue. They therefore must be helped into what they will do instead and how they will diversify their farming operation to get themselves a living. That is why I back these amendments.

Lord Cameron of Dillington Portrait Lord Cameron of Dillington [V]
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My Lords, on this group of amendments on training for farmers we have come to the nub, that pivotal point where this Bill will either succeed or fail in its ambitions. These amendments are the key to getting the whole new agricultural, environmental land management programme to work on the ground.

It is exciting that with this Bill we have a whole new approach to producing our food and managing the countryside while rewarding farmers. We do not know yet exactly where we are going—ELMs is still at the pilot stage—but one thing is certain. Farmers and land managers will need all the help and training they can get if we are to make it work on the ground.

There is very little time between the demise of the single farm payment and the putting in place of thousands of ELM contracts—good luck with that—so we must get a training scheme in place as soon as possible, training not only how best to judge what the farmer and his land can provide for the nation, but also how best to deliver. Proper training will make things better for farmers, better for our flora, fauna, meadows and woodlands, better for visitors and, above all, better for the taxpayers, who might then get the best return on their money.

By their very nature, farmers take a long-term view: live as if you will die tomorrow, but farm as if you will live for ever. That does not necessarily mean that they are slow to change, but they need help and assistance to change. Farming is one of the most isolated jobs in the world, so without some form of a proper training scheme it will be hard for farmers to engage properly with this brave new world that we are hoping to roll out—and without their engagement, frankly, the brave new world will not happen.