Lord Northbrook debates involving the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs during the 2019 Parliament

Thu 12th Nov 2020
Fisheries Bill [HL]
Lords Chamber

Consideration of Commons amendments & Ping Pong (Hansard) & Ping Pong (Hansard): House of Lords & Ping Pong (Minutes of Proceedings): House of Lords
Thu 17th Sep 2020
Agriculture Bill
Lords Chamber

Report: 2nd sitting (Hansard) & Report: 2nd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Tue 15th Sep 2020
Agriculture Bill
Lords Chamber

Report stage & Report stage (Hansard): House of Lords & Report: 1st sitting & Report: 1st sitting: House of Lords
Thu 23rd Jul 2020
Agriculture Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee: 6th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 6th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Tue 21st Jul 2020
Agriculture Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee: 5th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 5th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Thu 16th Jul 2020
Agriculture Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee: 4th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 4th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Tue 14th Jul 2020
Agriculture Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Thu 9th Jul 2020
Agriculture Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords

Agricultural Fertiliser and Feed: Rising Costs

Lord Northbrook Excerpts
Wednesday 29th June 2022

(1 week, 1 day ago)

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Lord Northbrook Portrait Lord Northbrook (Con)
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My Lords, I declare interests as an arable farmer and NFU member.

The war in Ukraine has brought home the importance and fragility of food security for the UK. As an island nation, being able to grow enough food to feed a substantial proportion of our population is a key measure of food security and national resilience. I had not anticipated the Ukraine crisis when I moved an amendment to the Agriculture Bill asking for government support for the domestic production of food and agricultural products. This was voted against by my own party and Labour. I had no great foresight in having been ahead of the game on this issue, as it already seemed to be a pressing matter even before the war.

I will focus my remarks on the fertiliser situation. As already stated, the latest figures from the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board show that fertiliser prices have more than doubled since May 2021 and imported fertiliser prices are up by 171%.

Fertiliser is a key input related to crop yields. A severe tightening of supply will lead to a reduction in the output of commodities. Gas, the main input in producing fertiliser, and ammonium nitrate play major roles in successful crop growth. Gas prices have increased fourfold over the last year and ammonium nitrate prices have also increased fourfold since January 2021. As a result, fertiliser is in tight supply for 2022, with impacts expected to become more serious next year. The significant increase in cost and reduced physical availability of this key input will likely reduce the crop yield from UK farms in the coming years.

The Government are helping the situation but can do more. I welcome the consultation on reducing ammonia emissions from solid urea fertilisers admitting that a full ban is unfeasible. I am also pleased that the Government made an agreement for one UK fertiliser plant at Billingham to be reopened after both had closed. However, on 8 June CF Fertilisers announced that it intends to close its fertiliser plant in Ince, Cheshire. There were only two plants overall in the UK, so this is a serious problem.

The NFU recommends that the Government and industry help farm businesses to plan for next year’s crop by publishing fertiliser prices. At the moment, I hear from my tenant farmer that they will publish them only daily, due to volatility. The NFU suggests the publishing of a gas fertiliser index; it also recommends mandatory food resilience impact assessments for new regulations or policy. How can the Government help in this regard, and does the Minister agree with the NFU’s proposals?

I welcome the advance payment of this year’s BPS, which will help farmers’ cashflow. I also welcome the recent announcement of some measures to try to support the agriculture industry, including the formation of a market monitoring core group and steps to assist farmers with the availability of fertilisers. The NFU acknowledges parliamentary support for these changes.

What is not helpful are remarks, maybe taken out of context, alleged to have been said by the Minister from the other place. These were that “there is no shortage of organic matter to replace all the manufactured fertiliser we currently use in the UK”. Mike Neaverson, a potato farmer from Lincolnshire, wrote in Farmers Weekly in April:

“Using Defra’s own documents—and ignoring its rules about … spreading it—we can deduce that to replace all the UK’s manufactured nitrogen with manures would require, for example, an extra 2.5 billion laying hens, or 10 million dairy cows. Taking a hybrid of both, this would mean that every man, woman and child in the UK”


would have to have

“an 18-egg omelette, washed down with five pints of whole milk”

every day of the year. Neaverson continued:

“We could eliminate all of our manufactured nitrogen tomorrow but … it would reduce our yields very significantly, to be replaced by imports.”


The Government could take a leaf out of the assistance programme of the US Department of Agriculture, USDA. In March this year, it announced that it would support additional fertiliser production for American farmers to address rising costs. USDA will make available $250 million through a new grant programme this summer to support independent, innovative and sustainable American fertiliser production to supply American farmers. Additionally, to address growing competition issues, USDA will launch a public inquiry seeking information regarding seeds and agricultural inputs, fertiliser and retail markets. The new programme will support fertiliser production that is independent—outside the dominant fertiliser suppliers —increasing competition in a concentrated market. It will support fertiliser made in America, produced by domestic companies in the United States, reducing the reliance on potentially unstable or inconsistent foreign supplies.

One idea I would put to the Minister is assistance for smaller farms in buying fertiliser. The problem comes when banks refuse to increase overdraft facilities to help farmers with this. They then have to decide whether to use less to keep within their banking limits, while facing the uncertainty as to whether crop prices will hold up. Some sort of Covid-type loans would be an important idea here. Will the Minister give this some thought?

Finally, the Government need to wake up to the fact that they are losing support in rural areas, as evidenced by the Tiverton result. Not taking farmers for granted would be a good way to start addressing this, and careful awareness of the fertiliser problem is a hugely important issue. Does the Minister agree?

Direct Payments to Farmers (Reductions and Simplifications) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2021

Lord Northbrook Excerpts
Monday 22nd March 2021

(1 year, 3 months ago)

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Lord Northbrook Portrait Lord Northbrook (Con) [V]
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My Lords, first, I declare my interest as an arable farmer and a member of the NFU. As other noble Lords have stated, the key point of the SI concerns the annualised confirmation of the BPS cuts. This is the right way for it to be done, given the Agriculture Act’s reference to pausing the cuts. However, like my noble friend Lord Caithness, I would like to ask the Minister, if the farming budget remains the same until 2024, what will happen to the underspend of the BPS moneys?

I would also like to ask the Minister some questions about farmers’ finances that are not directly related to this SI, so I will understand if he would prefer to write to me on these. According to the NFU, there are two main farming industry issues post-Brexit. The first is livestock exports, and the second is the sanitary and phytosanitary matters in connection with the Northern Ireland protocol.

With regards to livestock exports, the NFU has made a detailed submission to the House of Commons EFRA committee inquiry. Now that the UK is now classified as a “third country” by the EU, having left the customs union and single market, the NFU is concerned that this change of status is leading to confusion and delays at the borders, in the short term at least, which could lead to loss of value and increased wastage.

There seem to be several issues. First, EU officialdom is being overzealous regarding the correct paperwork. Dutch and French ports seem to be major culprits overall. Secondly, there are over-rigorous inspection rules for carcasses. Exports of live animals for breeding and slaughter are not possible because of a lack of necessary facilities in EU ports. Export health certificates —EHCs—can be submitted only in hard copy and are required in duplicate for different authorities. The NFU knows one example of a vet needing to stamp paperwork 72 times for one consignment. This is very onerous for the limited number of official vets and adds costs to the export process. The system is also paper-based and must be modernised.

I ask the Minister that Her Majesty’s Government make a clear public statement on the future of exports of live farm animals for breeding, which would give confidence to European investors and breeding companies alike. The pig sector seems to have been particularly badly affected regarding trichinella testing and its ability to export cull sows. The NFU has seen a case where one load of pigmeat took 20 hours to clear border checks at Calais before ultimately being rejected by the customer in Germany because of the delay and loss of specification.

Poultry exporters are also struggling, not only with the levels of paperwork required for export, but with the interpretation of what is required on the EHCS by the French and Dutch border posts in particular. Farmers have also experienced issues with TRACES, the online system used for health certification, and tracking consignments of animals or animal products entering the UK market, as well as the issuing of the common health entry document. Lamb and sheepmeat processors and exporters have also commented on the issues they are currently encountering, including problems with grouped or consolidated loads and the risk of incorrect paperwork, lack of training of staff at the borders and new costs from increased inspections.

Moving on to Northern Ireland, livestock sector problems also abound. First, there are major issues on the movement of live farm animals. EU regulations are making the export of cattle and sheep from Great Britain to Northern Ireland a very difficult and costly exercise, which will curtail trade, bar a few high value exceptions.

I do not have time to cover the problems in other areas, namely the scrapie requirements for export of breeding sheep from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. In addition, there are poultry import issues. Sending young birds to Northern Ireland has become unviable due to EU regulations. The horticulture sector is suffering, due to export delays because of complex additional paperwork and lack of government staff to undertake inspections. The potato sector is badly affected by the prohibition of seed potato imports. As with the UK-EU trade, mixed loads and groupage are becoming too complex and stopping trade with the rest of the UK. Other issues include live plant root-washing requirements and machinery parts and field machinery movements across the Irish Sea. Will the Minister write to me on the latest progress in solving these issues?

Finally, is there any news regarding the changes for exports and EHCs for composite products due on 21 April? The NFU states that the sooner this information is produced the better.

Fisheries Bill [HL]

Lord Northbrook Excerpts
Consideration of Commons amendments & Ping Pong (Hansard) & Ping Pong (Hansard): House of Lords & Ping Pong (Minutes of Proceedings): House of Lords
Thursday 12th November 2020

(1 year, 7 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Fisheries Act 2020 - Government Bill Page View all Fisheries Debates Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 143-I Marshalled list for Consideration of Commons amendments - (10 Nov 2020)
Lord Northbrook Portrait Lord Northbrook (Con)
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My Lords, I support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Beith, and the powerful speeches by the noble Lords, Lord Anderson of Ipswich and Lord Faulkner of Worcester, and my noble friend Baroness Couttie.

The relationship between the UK and the Channel Islands respects the distinct laws and ancient customs of the islands. They are not represented in the UK Parliament, and by charter and advention, the UK Parliament does not legislate for the islands without their consent. It is settled practice that the UK Government consult the main Channel Islands before they may bind them to obligations in international law.

As the noble Lord, Lord Beith, has already stated, the Fisheries Bill was amended at a late stage in the other place to include a permissive extent clause, or PEC. As other noble Lords have said, the PEC seeks to enable the UK Government to extend, through an Order in Council, certain provisions of the Bill to the Crown dependencies. As the Minister stated, this is largely related to the fulfilment of international obligations in Crown dependency waters. The use of PECs in relation to the Crown dependencies is extremely rare and fundamentally based on the established principle of prior consent. In this instance, both Guernsey and Jersey have consistently made absolutely plain to the UK Government the islands’ position towards the PEC as an unnecessary, unwanted and disproportionate measure.

The PEC offers neither a precise object nor a defined timescale for its scope and application. Furthermore, it does not contain any consultation provisions prior to its potential application. However, I welcome the words of the Minister about the committee that may be established.

In its present state the PEC is open-ended and overreached by the UK Government into an area where the main islands’ legislative frameworks are considered competent. In addition, the islands have stated that the UK’s effort to meaningfully consult—including through the fisheries management agreement—are belated and do not represent a solution to the PEC issue.

The Government still plan to go ahead with the use of the PEC unilaterally, and would use other consultative channels, such as the FMA, only as a supplementary method of engaging the Crown dependencies. I am briefed that both Guernsey and Jersey fundamentally disagree with the premise behind this and continue to oppose the PEC in the strongest terms. I am very supportive of them in this.

I will not repeat in detail the comments of other noble Lords on the report by the Constitution Committee of 9 November, except to say this. At paragraph 4, it states:

“The governments of the Channel Islands have expressed concerns about the ‘Permissive Extent Clause’ … We draw the attention of the House to the constitutional implications of this new subsection.”


At paragraph 7, it states:

“We are not persuaded of the necessity of Commons amendment 22. The Government should seek powers only when they are necessary and their use is anticipated.”


Finally, paragraph 9 of the report states that:

“Commons amendment 22 undermines the domestic autonomy of the Crown Dependencies and is contrary to long-standing practice. We recommend that the Bill be amended so that consent of the governments of the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man (as appropriate) is required prior to the use of these powers.”


By passing this amendment, the Government are going against the unanimous view of this House’s Constitution Committee. That is a serious matter and one that I regret.

The Government state that the Isle of Man has agreed to this amendment. I would like to point out the legal system there is Manx customary law, a form of common law. The relationship between the Crown and the Channel Islands respects the distinct laws and ancient customs of the islands, which are rooted in Norman-French customary law—an important difference, on which perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, might be able to elaborate. As a non-lawyer, I find this a perfect valid reason for their different view.

Lord Pannick Portrait Lord Pannick (CB)
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My Lords, I agree with the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Beith, and other speeches which have been highly critical—justifiably so—of Commons Amendment 22. Like the noble Lord, Lord Beith, I am a member of the Constitution Committee. As noble Lords have heard, we reported on 9 November that Amendment 22 raises issues of constitutional importance. It is the long-standing practice of Parliament that it does not legislate for the Crown dependencies without their consent. As your Lordships have heard, Amendment 22 has caused considerable concern in the Channel Islands, and understandably so.

It is particularly regrettable that the Government introduced the permissive extent clause at so late a stage of the passage of this Bill through Parliament. The amendment was tabled on 9 October, four days prior to Report and Third Reading stages in the House of Commons. The Bill had its First Reading in this House as long ago as 29 January. The 11th-hour tabling of the new provision has deprived this House of any opportunity to debate this amendment prior to today. It gave the House of Commons very little opportunity to consider the amendment. On a matter of constitutional importance, that is inexcusable.

It is particularly inexcusable when the hybrid procedures of this House prevent noble Lords, with very limited exceptions, participating remotely at this stage of a Bill. It means that those noble Lords who are unable to travel here to protect their health are simply deprived of a voice. On 12 October, when the Senior Deputy Speaker introduced the report explaining the hybrid procedure for Lords consideration of Commons Amendments, the noble Lord said by way of justification for limiting remote participation at this stage:

“By the time a Bill reaches these late stages, the issues have already been well debated”.—[Official Report, 12/10/20; col. 880.]


On this important provision, they have not been. That is another reason it is simply inexcusable for the Government to introduce a matter of constitutional importance so late in the Bill. I suggest that the Procedure Committee reconsider the hybrid procedure on ping-pong—the procedure that prevents remote participation apart from for a person moving a Motion—when, as in this case, a provision has not been previously considered by the House.

That would all be bad enough, but the introduction of a provision of constitutional importance so late in the passage of the Bill is especially objectionable when the Government do not even suggest that there is any urgent need to act on the powers they now wish the House to confer on them. On the contrary, the Minister was clear this afternoon, and in correspondence, that it was “highly unlikely” that these powers would ever be exercised.

The Minister was equally candid in his letter to the esteemed chair of the Constitution Committee, the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Bolton. He said—it has already been quoted but it is so extraordinary that it bears repetition:

“To be clear, we do not currently have any specific concerns which we would envisage using the PEC to address.”


Moreover, in that same letter, the Minister assured the committee he accepted that

“the Crown Dependencies take their international obligations extremely seriously; and I am confident that they would meet any required commitments, legislating domestically if required, in any normal circumstances.”

The position is clear. Even the Government do not suggest that there is any current or anticipated need for this extraordinary provision. They would simply like to have the powers in case something unexpected were to turn up.

When the provision was debated in the House of Commons, Sir Robert Neill, chairman of the Justice Committee, accurately described it as a

“‘break glass in emergency’ clause”,

and simply not good enough to justify what he described as

“trespassing on the constitutional integrity of the Crown dependencies”.—[Official Report, Commons, 13/10/20; col. 308.]

I agree, except that I would say “trampling all over”, rather than “trespassing on”. We should not break constitutional conventions because there is a remote possibility of a need to exercise powers in the future. Far less should we be doing so by way of a provision introduced so late in the passage of a Bill that it has not received the detailed consideration which it deserves.

Commons Amendment 22 is indefensible, except on the basis that any legislation for Jersey and Guernsey without the consent of the Channel Islands would have no legal effect there, for the reasons given by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich. I look forward to being briefed to argue the point before Mr Justice Anderson in the courts of appeal in Jersey and Guernsey, but for the obvious conflicts of interests that we would both have.

Agriculture Bill

Lord Northbrook Excerpts
That is why, when we come to the amendments of my noble friend Lord Grantchester on the groceries ombudsman, I hope the House will support him. I will strongly support the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, in advance. I will refrain from speaking on those amendments myself, but Amendment 53 in this group does, by implication, raise all these issues.
Lord Northbrook Portrait Lord Northbrook (Con)
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My Lords, I rise to support my noble friend Lady McIntosh’s Amendment 52 and my noble friend Lord Dundee’s Amendment 55 concerning

“supply sources for livestock feeds as an input to food production and the resilience of the feed supply chain.”

Further to my Amendment 12, which did not find favour with the House, I believe the issue of food security is vital, having highlighted the UK’s lack of self-sufficiency in fruit, vegetables and potatoes in that amendment as well as the figure of 30% of our food coming from the EU.

Like other noble Lords, I welcome the Minister’s Amendment 50 to make reporting at least every three years, rather than every five. But, with the transition phase now ending and a volatile food supply possible if there is no trade deal with the EU, I believe that a report on food security every three years is still too limited, particularly when we are having continual cases of extreme weather and perhaps future virus outbreaks. I hope that in Amendment 51 this will be covered as a case for further reports more than once every three years.

Lord Taylor of Holbeach Portrait Lord Taylor of Holbeach (Con) [V]
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My Lords, my interests in this Bill are published in the register. This has been a good debate. I wish to add my voice to those of other noble Lords in support of the Minister’s proposed amendments to Clause 17, which recognise the strength of noble Lords’ feelings, expressed particularly in Committee. That is why the Government have committed to publish the first report on food security before both Houses rise for the Christmas Recess next year, with successive reports in future every three years.

The first report will include the impact of the current coronavirus pandemic on food supply, which will be a critical aspect of it. It will give a particular and important emphasis to the report. As noble Lords will be aware, there is a wide range of statistical data on food supply and consequent security that is already made available annually. However, the whole point of the exercise is to evaluate the longer-term trends in these reports and recognise those in the sound compromise of a three-year cycle.

I may seem like a crowd cheerer for the Minister, but I believe that my noble friend should be thanked and congratulated on reading the mood of the House accurately and acting on it.

--- Later in debate ---
Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering (Con)
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I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, on tabling these two amendments, both of which I support; I am delighted to have co-signed Amendment 108.

I have just one question. I spoke at some length in Committee, and my noble friend the Minister was generous in her closing remarks in that debate, stating that there is current legislation that would pre-empt these provisions. The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, referred to the specific example of flooding; obviously, one could refer to others, such as the current pandemic. In this instance, I am delighted to say that farmers managed to get the food into the shops and on to the supermarket shelves, and worked all hours to do so. There could, however, be shocks and other glitches to the supply chain. These two amendments provide for such circumstances and it would be neat, in my view, to include them in the Bill.

My question to my noble friend when she sums up is very specific. I think she referred to the new farming recovery scheme as a case in point where there is current primary legislation on which farmers could depend if such assistance was required. But to my certain knowledge, when farmers in North Yorkshire, in the constituency of our right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, applied for the scheme, they were given the proverbial raspberry. We saw the devastation caused to the farms and to tourism in the area. They are still reeling from that result. That was in January—it seems an awfully long time ago, but it was only January this year—and they were still not back on their feet when they had to deal with the total lockdown from March onwards.

I should like my noble friend to revisit that legislation and, if she does not have time to do so today, leave a note in the Library on why she is convinced that that legislation covers the scenario set out in these two amendments, because in my experience it certainly did not in the case of North Yorkshire and our right honourable friend.

Lord Northbrook Portrait Lord Northbrook (Con)
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My Lords, I meant to declare my interest as a landowner and arable farmer in my earlier contribution. I support Amendment 59, as I did in Committee. It is very important to have the power to extend financial assistance to events caused by natural phenomena, as well as the economic problems already covered by the Bill. As the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, stated, the amendment moves beyond global market changes to other triggers, such as extreme weather and disease. Like him, I do not believe that the extension should be used as an excuse for farmers to claim that they have been victims of circumstance, particularly if caused by their own inefficiency or incompetence. Like he does, I believe that it is very important that once a natural phenomenon event has been identified, intervention should be implemented without delay.

As other noble Lords have stated, the Minister said in Committee that this situation is already covered by current legislation, but I bear in mind the recent comments of my noble friend Lady McIntosh about the situation in North Yorkshire. I also ask the same question. I believe the amendment should be in the Bill.

Lord Naseby Portrait Lord Naseby (Con)
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My Lords, I support the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, on this amendment. It is encouraging that in the briefing note the Minister gave all of us there is a paragraph on the Government’s agriculture bounce-back plan, arising out of the impact of Covid-19. I am conscious that the Government are onside, but the question is whether this should be in the Bill, as the noble Lord described.

I share that I am closely involved with Sri Lanka, as many noble Lords will know. I remember seeing the devastation there on Boxing Day 2004. My wife and I went out there a few days later to help. If you happened to be in the spice trade, it was totally wiped out by two waves. These things do happen.

I also declare an interest in the Cayman Islands. I have family there. Those islands were almost wiped out some 20-odd years ago. In the last season Hurricane Irma did horrendous damage. These are part climate change, part other events.

I add to that list that I worked in India, in Calcutta, for the Reckitt & Colman group when the Indians invaded the tea estates. That hit the tea market something rotten that year—from memory it was 1962. These strange events do happen.

We are used to financial crashes and I think that seed health and other sorts of areas are covered. Nevertheless, today, in the world we are in now, I believe we need to have something in the Bill. It does not proscribe the Government too much. It is just a very sensible precaution relating to climate change and all the other challenges we face.

Agriculture Bill

Lord Northbrook Excerpts
Report stage & Report stage (Hansard): House of Lords & Report: 1st sitting & Report: 1st sitting: House of Lords
Tuesday 15th September 2020

(1 year, 9 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Agriculture Act 2020 - Government Bill Page View all Agriculture Debates Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 130-II(Rev) Revised second marshalled list for Report - (15 Sep 2020)
I shall briefly turn my attention to the amendment, which I hope will be spoken to in some depth by my noble friend Lord Greaves, about common land. Common land survives for a variety of historical reasons, primarily because people did not think it was worth partitioning off for economic uses in the past. It survives in some very odd places, such as the tops of hills and—the ones that I am more familiar with—marshland at the bottom of river valleys. Common land fulfils a purpose and allows an access point for diverse types of agriculture. Unless we can get places protected and ensure that they are supported by a new direction of government activity, such as granting graziers rights, we are missing a trick. I catch a train from Hungerford most mornings. Hungerford has a large developed common; there are little patches of common land going down the Kennet Valley. If it survives and allows the type of agriculture, predominantly grazing, that could not happen without that common land, surely that is worth protecting, not only for agricultural and diversity reasons but for historical ones. Surely we should look at that and do something to protect it.
Lord Northbrook Portrait Lord Northbrook (Con)
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My Lords, I declare my interest as a landowner, arable farmer and NFU member. I am speaking to and, subject to the Minister’s response, planning to move Amendment 12, as well as speaking to Amendment 17. These amendments support domestic agriculture to ensure that food security and the stability of food supply are included in the purposes to which financial assistance can be directed under Clause 1.

According to the NFU, 21 August was the notional day on the calendar that would see the UK run out of food if it relied solely on UK produce. It states:

“The nation is only 18% self-sufficient in fruit, 55% in fresh vegetables and 71% in potatoes. For both veg and potatoes, this has fallen by 16% in the past 20 years.”


As I understand the figures, 30% of our food comes from the EU. Supermarkets are fine at the moment, but just imagine a scenario if the UK fails to get a trade deal with the EU so that nothing is agreed on fishing rights, and then French fishermen decide to blockade Calais. That could leave the UK really struggling in obtaining particular food items.

The coronavirus crisis has shown how important it is to have a domestic supply of food. The view of farmers as food producers has never resonated more with the public than at this time, with the need to keep our shelves stocked the highest of priorities. I welcome the fact that the Government recognised that food production role by granting farmers key worker status during the countrywide lockdown. However, I believe that, unless the Government change their post-Brexit immigration policy, there may not be enough workers to gather UK fruit and vegetables in particular, already in short supply, as mentioned.

Given the increased significance of food security in the UK, Amendment 12 in particular would enable the Government to give financial assistance for the explicit purpose of supporting the domestic production of food. After the original Bill barely mentioned food, there is a considerable improvement in this new one. In Clause 1 at present, in developing new forms of financial assistance, the Bill states that the Government

“must have regard to the need to encourage the production of food by producers in England and its production by them in an environmentally sustainable way.”

However, in my view that wording needs strengthening, as the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, has said, hence particularly my Amendment 12.

In reply to Amendment 12 in Committee, the Minister stated, if I understood him correctly, that food production does not need financial support because that comes to the farmer by way of profit from the sale of his produce. While that will be the case in some areas, that argument does not cover the situations where dairy farmers have been selling their milk at a loss; where hill and lowland farmers could suffer hugely from the loss of their BPS and a delay in introducing ELMS; or where farmers would like financial support to develop new crops or new processes for growing crops, particularly when these take some years to come into profit.

On Amendment 17, the Minister stated in her reply that

“Clause 4 already places a requirement on the Secretary of State to consider in as much detail as considered appropriate each financial assistance scheme that is in or will be in operation during the plan period. If deemed appropriate, this could include how the scheme is to give regard to the production of food in an environmentally sustainable way.”—[Official Report, 16/7/20; col. 1848.]


I accept that explanation and will not be moving Amendment 17.

Some Peers have said that this amendment is trying to do the same thing as Amendment 58. Amendment 58, while totally valid in its own right, is about a national food strategy, which is a perfectly valid plan, but my Amendment 12 is about the provision of financial assistance in order to promote the domestic production of food. It would give the Secretary of State total flexibility on how that was done; it could be through the findings of the food security report in Clause 17.

In summary, I do not think this is a particularly controversial amendment; it is non-party-political, it is supported by the NFU and it need not affect support for environmental measures. I will listen carefully to the Minister’s reply to Amendment 12, but I am strongly minded to move it to a vote.

Baroness Boycott Portrait Baroness Boycott (CB) [V]
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My Lords, I am happy to be part of the debate on this group. I agree with almost all the sentiments that have been expressed, especially by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, and the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, as well as by the Green Party.

I am speaking today particularly to support the noble Earl, Lord Dundee. One thing that has not been talked about enough is the role of farmers. If the Bill is to do what I think everyone sitting in the Chamber and who is part of this debate at the moment wants to do, which is to ensure that healthy, affordable food is grown on our land and that our land becomes environmentally sustainable and healthy again, then we need a new generation of farmers, but the facts are pointing in a different direction.

The noble Earl, Lord Dundee, mentioned briefly that in 2017 one-third of all UK farmers were over 65. Almost more worrying than that is that, since 2005, those in the 35 to 44 age group have decreased. However, evidence from surveys points to people wanting to farm and to be involved in growing at a local level, on a big level and on a small level. But how are they going to do it? Land is too expensive and they struggle to scale finance and cover the high start-up costs. Responses to the Landworkers’ Alliance survey indicated that 61% of people responding to surveys wanted to access land, 46% needed finance and 54% struggled to access training. All believed that an average grant of around £20,000, which is not a fortune, would really set them on the road.

Another route for the young farmer is also being closed because of poor funding to local councils. Recent investigations have shown that county farms in England have halved in the last 40 years. This is a crisis. If we do not have farmers, particularly young farmers, then everything that we are talking about is not going to happen. When Michael Gove was Secretary of State for the Environment, he talked lavishly about equipping a new generation of farmers, but I am afraid the facts are now pointing in the other direction. You cannot be a farmer if you have nowhere to farm. If we value our farmers then we have to make some changes. With the right kind of investment and the right help, a lot of people could join our cause.

The other big issue is food security and local food. I mention briefly that for 10 years I ran the London Food Board. We instigated a scheme called Capital Growth, which enabled up to 100,000 people to have access to community gardens. In the process, we turned over 200 acres of London into small community farms where people could join in. We are now looking to take that scheme countrywide, but we need grants for that and land needs to be made available.

My final point is covered by the amendment in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, and concerns training. In my years in London, I spent a lot of time in schools. It strikes me that, unless you are at a public school and the idea of a farm, as something possible, is somehow in your blood, you do not even think about it. I spent seven days, as many of us did, watching the debates on the first stages of the Agriculture Bill. I am absolutely guilty of this myself, but it was quite noticeable that the people who feel invested in the Agriculture Bill tend to be white and middle-aged, and an awful lot of us own land and are quite well off. It seems to me that we are missing a great trick in terms of diversity.

This Agriculture Bill belongs to all of us. It is about our land, our food, our health and our environment. Unless we take some steps to try to change the lack of diversity, we will head towards a greater separation between town and countryside. People have talked about litter being dropped, and there will be more of that because people do not feel that the countryside is theirs and that it belongs to all of us. Schemes that enable people in inner cities to grow vegetables on rooftops, under pylons and in sneaky little corners can really start to change attitudes. It is fantastically cost-effective, and I urge the Minister to look at this as the Government move forward.

In the meantime, I am very pleased to be part of this debate and to see agroecology and food security registering so high up among people’s concerns.

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Moved by
12: Clause 1, page 2, line 31, at end insert—
“(c) supporting the domestic production of food and other agricultural products to the extent the Secretary of State considers necessary to ensure a sufficient level of food security in the United Kingdom, having regard to the outcomes in the most recent report produced under section 17.”
Lord Northbrook Portrait Lord Northbrook (Con)
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My Lords, I have listened very carefully to the Minister’s winding-up speech. He has been doing a magnificent job so far in navigating this Bill. I much appreciated his detailed arguments justifying no change and pointing out other supporting clauses of the Bill. However, after a lot of consideration, I still find too vague the phrase that the Government

“must have regard to the need to encourage the production of food by producers in England and its production by them in an environmentally sustainable way.”

As my noble friend Lord Dundee said, this may result in food production support being ignored completely. I also prefer the wording on food security in my amendment. This is too important an issue to pass by. It is not a party-political amendment, or particularly controversial, but I would like to test the opinion of the House.

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Lord Judd Portrait Lord Judd (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, the proposed legislation will inevitably cause a great deal of extra work for not only Whitehall but many farmers on the front line. They have a lot of burden and a lot of challenges; their time is scarce.

In recent years, but particularly in the context of Covid-19, we have seen the consequences of ill planning, of the rushed implementation of new measures and of promises unfulfilled, including the consequent maximum disruption. Rationalisations after the event are no substitute for all the promises at the beginning. For those reasons, there must be time for civil servants and others, and particularly farmers themselves, to prepare properly. In that context, the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, has insight and sensitivity and realises the practicalities of what is involved.

When it comes to Amendment 41, in the name of my noble friend, the same arguments that I have just applied are highly relevant. What is important about this amendment is that it sets out in detail the things that must be in place and tested. That means not just uttering words off the back of an envelope or making a press statement from No. 10 Downing Street, but ensuring that these things are tested and proven. At stake is the success of the new arrangements. That will be very important, as we do not want disruption of agriculture and total chaos for farmers. From that standpoint, I believe that Parliament has an overriding duty to make sure that it is convinced about what is proposed and that we are able to vet it and give, or withhold, our approval. This is an important amendment and I am glad to be able to support it.

Lord Northbrook Portrait Lord Northbrook (Con)
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My Lords, I declare an interest as a landowner, an arable farmer and a recipient of payments from the BPS and its predecessor schemes. I will be brief, as the arguments have been well rehearsed on most of the amendments, which I support.

I support the reasons given by my noble friend Lady McIntosh for seeking to delay the start of the seven-year transition rule, having heard her concerns about farmers not knowing about the first plan, mentioned in Amendment 35, until after the Bill has become law.

I also support Amendment 37, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and his well-judged comments on the countryside stewardship and production grants. This amendment seems entirely sensible, in that it would stop any further reduction beyond 25% until the ELMS was available.

I also back Amendment 39, tabled by my noble friend the Duke of Wellington, the aim of which is to support small hill farmers. I wonder whether he might consider extending it to small lowland livestock farmers.

I am also sympathetic to Amendment 42, tabled by my noble friend Lady Rock. I would just like to say how good the RPA’s performance has been in recent years, and I am sure that that will be extended to the new regime.

Lord Addington Portrait Lord Addington (LD)
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My Lords, listening to this debate, it is quite clear that the one thing not available here is any degree of certainty or confidence regarding the future. My name appears on Amendment 41, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester. I do not know whether he saw it, as I added it at the last moment, but it is there. For me, this amendment offers the preferred option in providing a degree of certainty. A year’s trial is probably the option that I like best. However, I am not a farmer and am not in the system.

I hope that when the Minister responds he will try to address some of the many concerns that have been expressed. The central theme running through them is that people are worried about the change and the transition. When there is that degree of concern running through a system and people feel that they cannot buy into it because they are uncertain, I suggest that something has gone fundamentally wrong. Without a degree of buy-in, it will not work.

I have already said today that the Minister is facing a challenge, but I believe that he is facing a slightly bigger one here. People in and around this industry really need to know what is going on. We have also heard people say that they do not want delays because of other schemes coming in, but if the fundamental group—the farmers—are concerned, we need something that gives them a solid basis for confidence. At the moment, it just is not there.

Agriculture Bill

Lord Northbrook Excerpts
Committee: 6th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 6th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Thursday 23rd July 2020

(1 year, 11 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Agriculture Act 2020 - Government Bill Page View all Agriculture Debates Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 112-VII Seventh marshalled list for Committee - (23 Jul 2020)
Lord Teverson Portrait Lord Teverson (LD) [V]
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My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, who has done so much work on the Bill. She is an excellent contributor to the Select Committee that I chair, which deals with some of these areas. I declare a non-financial interest as an honorary associate of the British Veterinary Association.

The proposed new clause relates to a duty to sustain the UK’s agricultural industry workforce. Part of that workforce that has not yet been mentioned is the veterinary surgeons and operatives, who are so essential to the agricultural sector. We know what they do with domestic animals and in their normal work with farm animals, but they also certify and supervise the import and export of animals and animal products. As official veterinarians, they sign and countersign export health certificates and they control much of the sanitary and phytosanitary processes at our ports. They are essential to the United Kingdom’s biosecurity strategies. Approximately 25% of our veterinarians are EU or EEA citizens, and in the industrial and food supply chain sector, it is a much larger percentage: some 95% of our vets in abattoirs are from EU and EEA states. They perform essential roles in dealing with food fraud, animal welfare, public health and biosecurity.

At present, there is an estimated 10% shortage of people in the profession as a whole, so there is already a great challenge. However, at the end of this year, as we finish the transition stage of our exit from the European Union, there will be an even greater demand for this profession. They have to be at ports to check phytosanitary and sanitary procedures, not just at the borders between the UK and EU but, now, for imports into Northern Ireland as well. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner, has done a lot of work on this, and on biosecurity. What are the Government doing to make sure that there is a suitable supply of veterinarians, given the risk that a number will go back to EU and EEA countries? It will be more difficult, thanks to bureaucracy and red tape, for veterinary practices and companies to bring vets into the country. Although I welcome the fact that vets are now on the shortage occupation list, when will the details of how that system will work be available to the sector?

Lord Northbrook Portrait Lord Northbrook (Con)
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My Lords, I support Amendment 218, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and other noble Lords. I declare my interests as a landowner and arable farmer.

At the time of the Second Reading of the Bill, there was a double-page government advert in the Mail on Sunday headlined: “Why there’s never been a better time to support our farmers and fishermen”.

It added:

“By buying local … you’ll be guaranteed to get the very best produce”.


However, the advert also said, revealingly:

“Another challenge for farmers has been getting enough people to harvest”


the vegetable and fruit crop. This can be fairly blamed, this year, on Covid-19, but the campaign to get local people to pick crops, to take the place of the EU pickers who normally do the job, does not seem to have gone very well. The Government have sensibly allowed foreign workers in this sector to be exempted from the quarantine rules. The fact remains that, as I understand it, from next year only 20,000 overseas workers will be allowed in the UK to do this work. The NFU says that 80,000 are needed.

My noble friend Lord Trenchard said that extra workers should be allowed in in the short term, but that automation will then solve the problem at the flick of a switch. I am far from being an expert on this subject, but I wonder whether automation could take place that quickly. It will certainly require time and a considerable amount of capital investment, which I hope will be aided by the ELM scheme. I therefore completely agree that Her Majesty’s Government should, as Amendment 218 states,

“lay before Parliament a strategy to ensure an appropriate supply of seasonal agricultural workers”.

Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Portrait Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale (Lab)
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My Lords, my noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch is absolutely right to move this amendment. She spoke eloquently at the beginning of this group and I do not need to repeat any of her persuasive arguments. I am delighted that my noble friend Lord Judd has moved his amendment, because affordable housing in rural and agricultural areas is vital and has been under threat for a long time. The availability of affordable housing for the agricultural and countryside workforce should be a vital component of the strategy demanded by the amendment.

There have been many excellent speeches, and I hope that the Minister and the Government are persuaded, but I shall add one more point that I do not think has been made by any other Members of your Lordships’ House during the debate. As someone who, as I have said before, grew up on a farmstead and was never very good at agricultural work—never mind ever wanting to be an agricultural worker—and who therefore got away quickly when I had the opportunity, at the age of 17, I have always been struck by the increasing development, over the decades, of a split between those who live in the town and those who live in the country.

One of the reasons for that is that it is so difficult for people who did not grow up in the countryside to become engaged with the opportunities for agricultural and other countryside work, or even to visualise themselves in that situation and see what it might entail. We have often discussed in your Lordships’ Chamber the lack of knowledge among children and young people who live in towns and cities about what goes on in the countryside. It is a contributory factor to their inability to see themselves in that line of work in the future. Among the many barriers to our having a good, secure agricultural workforce that my noble friend Lady Jones mentioned in introducing the debate, is the need to encourage new people to see that as an appropriate choice for their future.

I was struck by a scheme set up by Project Scotland, our national youth volunteering scheme, which was established when I was First Minister. One of its early projects was to take young people who were at risk of offending and who were in difficulties in the school environment away from school into full-time volunteering in agricultural and forestry work in Dumfries and Galloway. The life chances of those young people were transformed by finding something new and interesting, out of the town and out of their normal environment, that used their labour productively and suddenly gave them a real sense of purpose in life.

That is a model that could help with a lot of our social problems with certain kinds of young lads in different parts of the country, giving them a different kind of opportunity that maybe they have never seen before. If the Minister is minded to accept the amendment, or a form of it, during our debates on the Bill, and to have such a strategy in the future, one element of that strategy should be to see the opportunities that exist in agriculture and countryside work for those who may never have visualised themselves in that position, but who could find really productive careers and futures in it.

Agriculture Bill

Lord Northbrook Excerpts
Lord Northbrook Portrait Lord Northbrook (Con)
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My Lords, I declare my interest as an arable farmer and landowner in receipt of BPS. Before I come to the amendments, I want to defend the RPA after the swipe at it by my noble friend Lord Caithness. What he said might have been true some years ago, but I pay tribute to the Minister for its much improved status over recent years, although it will clearly have its work cut out with the new regime.

The Bill establishes a framework for phasing out direct payments over seven years. It is highly likely that payments under the ELM schemes will result in significant reductions in net income, especially for cattle and sheep farmers, whether in less favoured or lowland areas, and delays in its introduction until 2024 will have a serious effect. Hence, I support Amendment 149, in the names of the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, and the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, but would extend it to certain smaller lowland cattle and sheep farmers. I also strongly support Amendment 144, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, believing that interim financial assistance measures need to be given to these sectors of farming in particular.

I do not support Amendment 130, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, as he did not really mention the effect it would have on farmers, which could be serious—in fact, I do not think he mentioned farmers at all—but I do support Amendment 143, which proposes a delay in the start of the transition period, and appreciate my noble friend Lord Trenchard’s support, even though he is on the Brexiteer side. I also support the concern of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, about the lack of detail on the progress of the BPS reduction after year one. I also ask, like my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering, whether a new set of countryside stewardship schemes will be forthcoming in the autumn.

Earl of Dundee Portrait The Earl of Dundee (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I declare my interests as detailed in the register. Along with others, I agree with Amendment 143 in the name of my noble friend Lady McIntosh: the transition period should begin in 2022 rather than 2021. Equally, the case for being more realistic about timescales, although in a different context, is addressed by my noble friend Lady Rock’s Amendments 151, 152 and 150 respectively. The first would ensure that those entitled to payments receive them within guaranteed periods to achieve certainty of cash flow. The second would, through regulations, offer legal certainty to farmers, otherwise possibly disadvantaged where delinked payments, if introduced, might lead to extended transition periods. The third, Amendment 150, would enable the Secretary of State to increase payments during the transition period, after phasing out had started, to use up any unspent money and, when necessary, to protect the industry from harm.

Corresponding to the pragmatism of the latter proposal is my noble friend Lord Carrington’s useful Amendment 144, ensuring that any cuts in direct payments do not undermine businesses before the new public goods programmes begin. Then, reflecting the purposes and principles of the Bill themselves, there is Amendment 148 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. This emphasises the preservation of animal welfare standards, irrespective of financial consequences, while my noble friend the Duke of Wellington’s Amendment 149 would ensure direct payments to smaller livestock farmers in less favoured areas. Since all these contributions would much improve the Bill, I hope the Minister will accept them.

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Improving our food security at the expense of our natural resources and environment is not acceptable and is certainly not a sustainable option. Reporting against both these objectives, diet and the impact on the environment, should be considered essential so that we can ensure that our need to deliver food security is met in an integrated and sustainable manner. I would therefore be grateful if, when replying, the Minister accepted the essential need for consultation with all the devolved Administrations as absolutely integral to this Bill.
Lord Northbrook Portrait Lord Northbrook
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My Lords, I rise to support the general principle in this group of amendments of more regular reports on food security, although I am not sure whether they should be yearly or three-yearly.

I wish to speak to my Amendment 165 to Clause 17, concerning the

“Duty to report to Parliament on UK food security”.

My amendment fine-tunes the wording of subsection (2), stating that the data analysed in the report “must”—rather than the vague word “may”—include the matters covered in paragraphs (a) to (e). A number of amendments already tabled relate to reporting on food security. Given the period of uncertainty ahead for farmers as we leave the single market and customs union and strike up new trade deals, this reporting should be much more frequent than once every five years. Given the importance of a domestic food supply, it is paramount that the Government re-examine this aspect of the Bill through the lens of the coronavirus crisis. This amendment is an important addition, ensuring that all the matters listed in subsection (2) are included in that food security report when it is produced.

Baroness Boycott Portrait Baroness Boycott [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I shall speak to my Amendment 166. In doing so, I thank its supporters, the noble Baronesses, Lady Meacher, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle and Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville. I also support everything just said by the noble Lord, Lord Hain. I was lucky enough to sit on the House of Lords committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, which found many cracks and flaws in the food system.

My amendment looks not just at food security, as I want to consider household food security. Sufficient food nationally does not mean that individual households can access it in sufficient quantity, let alone that it is sufficiently healthy food, as pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Hain. Since April 2019, the Government have been measuring food insecurity as part of their Family Resources Survey. This data will be available early next year. The Food Standards Agency also collects data on household food insecurity, as part of the Food and You survey. Both surveys are internationally recognised and peer reviewed.

In essence, the Government are already doing this; they are collecting the data on which this amendment would have them report. So, this is not an onerous amendment—it is very simple and cost-neutral. The Government are already doing the work. My amendment simply asks that the information be regularly laid before Parliament. If we do not accept this amendment, the Government will be sending a clear message to the millions who struggle to access healthy food that their hunger and problems are not a priority.

We know that more that 2,000 food banks have become embedded in our welfare system. Even before the pandemic, millions in the UK were food insecure. Now, millions more have joined them. Covid-19 has seen food insecurity levels more than double. Refusing to report to Parliament on food insecurity at a household level lets that problem remain hidden. It is only by knowing the true scale of UK hunger that we can start to mitigate it. We should do this annually because unless you measure something, you cannot change it. In a country as rich as ours, no one should go to bed hungry. Accepting this amendment, which is cost-neutral and simple, would demonstrate that the Government are willing to treat the systemic and worsening problem of food insecurity—in a family, every night, in their kitchen—with the seriousness that it deserves.

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Lord Blunkett Portrait Lord Blunkett (Lab) [V]
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On a previous group of amendments, the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, referred to the quality of the contributions made during the course of this evening, and I echo that. It is true of the prolonged Committee stage of this Bill as a whole. The experience and knowledge that people have explored and delivered over these days has been remarkable, and I have learned quite a lot.

I speak in support of the amendments before us, particularly Amendments 175 and 176. It is clear to me that where the kind of disruption outlined this evening exists, the Government need to be able to intervene, but to do so to support the kind of farming that reflects the society we live in.

I will speak briefly on Amendment 176, because it has been dealt with previously. There is a slogan, “You are what you eat”. I think we are how we treat. At the very beginning of the debate back on Thursday 9 July —so long ago now that it is hard to remember—the noble Lord, Lord Curry, started the afternoon by talking about the educational quality of farming and the way in which children learn. In the past I have been struck, both in going into schools and with my own grandchildren, how they still believe that potatoes come from Tesco and eggs appear on Morrisons’ shelves but are not entirely clear on where they originate. The educative value of the way we treat animals is therefore crucial.

My noble friend and good friend Lord Rooker appeared on 9 July for the first time for many months and again this evening; I am very pleased to have him back. In the contribution he made on 9 July on Amendment 68—I am showing that I have been sitting in on these debates—he talked about poultry farming and the complexity, but also the importance, of the way we treat poultry and animals more generally. Linking this with the critical importance of being able to intervene—as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, has done in Amendment 176—is vital to ensuring that we get the balance right.

The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, also said earlier this evening that maybe speeches were too long, so I will pause.

Lord Northbrook Portrait Lord Northbrook
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My Lords, I rise briefly to support Amendments 174 and 285 in the name of my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering. As other noble Lords have said, Amendment 174 changes the wording in Clause 18 to remove “severe” twice and replace it with “acute or chronic”. Having checked the definition of acute—

“sharp and severe in effect”—

I think this is a better word than just severe. Chronic is even better, defined as

“persisting for a long time and constantly recurring”.

Adding at the end

“caused by economic or environmental factors”

defines more broadly the parameters when financial assistance may be given at times of crisis caused, as other noble Lords have said, by unpredictable natural phenomena such as the flooding earlier this year and drought more recently, and animal diseases. Amendment 285 extends this wording to Wales.

Amendment 175 partially covers ground covered in Amendment 174, but I prefer the broader aspect ofusb the former. I like the definition in my noble friend’s amendment of when exceptional market conditions exist.

Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Portrait Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville [V]
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My Lords, this group of amendments deals with financial assistance under exceptional market circumstances. I have put my name to Amendment 285. All four amendments deal with what may happen in the event of an acute or chronic disturbance in agricultural markets. As the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, indicated, this is not currently covered in the Bill.

These disturbances may be caused by economic or environmental factors. The most recent occurrence of a disturbance due to environmental factors was reflected in the rules for direct payments being relaxed due to the appalling wet weather in February, which prevented farmers sowing a second crop on their land. The noble Lord, Lord Hain, spoke about exceptional market conditions caused by meeting the needs of the environment, and gave some excellent examples of the wide range of extreme weather. The noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, also referred to changing weather patterns and their effect on climate change.

In Amendment 176 the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, has returned to the issue of producers who do not meet animal welfare standards not being eligible for financial assistance under Clause 19. She is supported by the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett. I and many other noble Lords support this amendment. It would be unpopular in the extreme with the public if those who do not look after their animals in a humane way were seen to profit due to exceptional market conditions. Does the Minister agree with this amendment and will he accept it? If not, will he say why not?

I have put my name to Amendment 285, which seeks to ensure that the farming industry in Wales is treated on the same basis as that in England when it comes to exceptional market circumstances. There can be no separate treatment for those across the Welsh border.

I imagine that everyone is in favour of this group of amendments. The only point of discussion is likely to be what actually qualifies as a serious economic disturbance and an environmental disturbance. The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, reminded us of the catastrophic effect on the farming industry of outbreaks of animal disease. Are these likely to qualify? It is likely that an environmental disturbance will be fairly obvious to everyone in the country. Severe flooding affects a number of areas and the television ensures that we all see its devastating effects. Severe drought is sometimes less obvious but as fields and crops brown and are scorched by the sun, realisation will set in. An economic disturbance might go unnoticed to start with, but it will soon manifest itself—again, through social media, radio and television. No matter how this is brought to the public’s attention, they will nevertheless be interested in how the farming community is going to cope. I look forward to the Minister telling us how that is going to happen.

Agriculture Bill

Lord Northbrook Excerpts
Committee: 4th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 4th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Thursday 16th July 2020

(1 year, 11 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Agriculture Act 2020 - Government Bill Page View all Agriculture Debates Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 112-V Fifth marshalled list for Committee - (16 Jul 2020)
Lord McNicol of West Kilbride Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees
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After the noble Lord, Lord Northbrook, I will be calling the noble Baronesses, Lady Scott of Needham Market and Lady McIntosh of Pickering, who were omitted from the original speakers’ list.

Lord Northbrook Portrait Lord Northbrook (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I shall speak to my Amendment 126 in this group. I declare my interest as a landowner and arable farmer. Echoing what would be achieved by my Amendments 56, 60 and 69, this amendment would ensure that the requirement for the Secretary of State to have regard to the need to encourage the production of food by producers in England, and its production in an environmentally sustainable way, when framing any financial assistance schemes was explicitly taken into account in the development of the multiannual financial assistance plans required under Clause 4.

In earlier remarks on domestic food production support, the Minister said, if I understood correctly, that food production did not need financial support because this came to the farmer, who had a profit from the sale of his produce. However, in my view, this argument does not cover the situation where, for instance, dairy farmers sell their milk at a loss, or where farmers would like financial support to invest in new buildings, machinery, processes, new crops or different species of livestock, particularly when these take some years to develop. I believe that the scope of multiannual assistance plans set out in Clause 4 should be expanded to include the above. I ask the Minister for her views on this.

Baroness Scott of Needham Market Portrait Baroness Scott of Needham Market [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments 124 and 138, which I have signed. While my thinking is very much informed by questions of public access in the way that my noble friend Lord Addington’s is, there is a wider point here about the operation of this new system that is echoed in one way or another by a number of amendments in this group. While I recognise that it is positive that multiannual assistance plans will provide a level of certainty both for farmers and for the public, who are interested in these things, this ought to be strengthened by a greater understanding of how the objectives align with the public goods in Clause 1.

As drafted, the Bill refers to the Government’s strategic priorities, but it is not really very clear how one would determine what those priorities are. I shall give the Committee an example: there is a national policy on flooding, for example, and we know that there are policies around climate change and the environment. That is probably clear. However, there are no strategic priorities established for the question of public access. It is quite difficult to see how assistance under the Bill will link to a government strategic priority that does not actually exist. It would be helpful if the Minister could say a word or two about this because it would really aid clarity about what the funding is to deliver and ensure that there is a coherence in approach and predictability.

That then feeds into Amendment 138 regarding clarity in the financial assistance scheme, which I think most of us would agree is an essential part of transparency. We want to see not just what is being given to whom but how these strategic priorities—these public goods—are reflected in the spending once it has happened.

Agriculture Bill

Lord Northbrook Excerpts
Lord Greaves Portrait Lord Greaves (LD)
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My Lords, I thank the previous speaker for her support of my Amendment 53. I do not want to say much about it, but I wonder whether the Government can comment on the way in which new technologies are producing food, such as protein in laboratories and the concept of vertical gardens and vertical market gardens in urban areas. How do they fit into their general food strategy?

I want to support pretty much everything that the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, said in introducing this group. It is extremely important. I have one minor quibble: she said we need less reliance on food banks. I always have to pinch myself when I come across a food bank, and I come across them fairly frequently nowadays. Why do we have to have food banks? Food banks are an indication that there is something very sadly wrongly with the society and the economy in which we live. Although at one level they are an excellent example of community endeavour and of people coming together to meet a need, we ought not to be looking for less reliance on food banks; we ought to be looking to abolish them because nobody needs any longer to go and get free food because they and their families cannot afford to eat.

I added my name to Amendment 63, tabled by the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, about “urban and peri-urban areas”. I have mentioned urban areas; I had not really come across the phrase “peri-urban areas” before, until I realised that I probably live in a peri-urban area. There are urban buildings on the very edge of the fields. We are talking about the areas surrounding towns, cities and urban agglomerations—earlier in this Committee, I spoke briefly about this on Amendment 79, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher.

What I want to do briefly now is to mention the importance of the range of small-scale enterprises that go under the name of allotments. A lot of allotments are hobby allotments, but they are still very important as part of a food strategy because people are growing their own food which, by definition, is what they want and it is usually organic and nutritious. Some allotments are community enterprises and some are semi-commercial enterprises—small market gardens and that kind of thing. It seems to me that there is huge scope for the expansion and extension of this kind of thing in peri-urban areas, as the noble Earl describes them.

I should perhaps declare an interest as a councillor in the Waterside ward of Colne because I want to mention something that happened there. Much of Waterside ward is an areas of closely packed terraced streets which are nevertheless on the edge of the countryside. They are on the edge of the peri-urban area because we have old mill towns that never expanded —particularly between the wars because the towns were shrinking not expanding. In that area, we have several community-based allotments, including a community land trust, an allotment used by a group catering for people with special needs and one I am particularly proud of as, as a councillor, I was fairly responsible for the council acquiring land in the 2000s and laying them out for new allotments using money from what eventually became the ill-fated housing market renewal scheme, but which nevertheless provided us with very useful funding that we could use for that purpose.

We need a lot more. In most areas the provision of allotments is a responsibility of town and parish councils. The problem they have in expanding is getting the money to acquire land and lay out the infrastructure of an allotment, such as dividing it up, providing the fencing and perhaps a water supply and so on. By the structure of the way they work, parish and town councils do not get direct funding from the Government in a general sort of way. They do not get local council support grants. However, there is a huge need for an expansion of mini market garden community allotment and traditional allotment provision, particularly in the areas around towns where not only can they provide very useful growing facilities for people but they can solve some of the problems of what is quite often a tatty zone around some urban areas.

I do not think it is his department, but I ask the Minister to go back and see whether in what the Government are doing under their proposals to regenerate towns, in particular left-behind areas such as the old industrial areas, specific funding for allotments could be given a great deal more priority.

Lord Northbrook Portrait Lord Northbrook (Con)
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My Lords, I was very pleased to hear about the success of the excellent allotment scheme mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves. I shall speak to Amendments 56, 60 and 69, which are tabled in my name. I was one of the 20 or so noble Lords who were excluded from Second Reading, and while my Whip courteously gave me an explanation of the causes—the combination of Covid-19 and technology factors—I had hoped for some sort of apology from someone on the Front Bench to the 20 or so of us, but as far as I am aware none has been made. Such exclusion from Second Reading is a not a good precedent.

I declare my interests as a landowner and arable farmer. These amendments support domestic agriculture to ensure that food security and the stability of food supply are included in the purposes to which financial assistance can be directed under Clause 1. It is an important requirement for any Government to serve the interests of their people by investing in domestic food production to ensure stability and security in the provision of a safe and affordable domestic supply of food, as the quantity and quality of imports cannot always be guaranteed. Today’s FT points out that the UK is only a little over 50% self-sufficient in food and that, of the balance, four-fifths comes from the EU. Should there be any disruption by way of port delays, it will be serious.

The coronavirus crisis has shown how important it is to have a domestic supply of food. The view of farmers as food producers has never resonated more with the public than at this time, with the need to keep our shelves stocked the highest of priorities. I welcome the fact that the Government recognised that food production role by granting farmers key worker status during the countrywide lockdown, although the future of domestic fruit and vegetable supply may not be guaranteed if there are not enough workers to pick them. Given the increased significance of food security in the UK, the first amendment in particular would enable the Government to give financial assistance for the explicit purpose of supporting the domestic production of food.

In developing new forms of financial assistance, the Bill obliges the Government to,

“have regard to the need to encourage the production of food by producers in England and its production by them in an environmentally sustainable way.”

This is a welcome advance from the first Agriculture Bill, which, extraordinarily, did not mention food at all. While in the Bill “have regard to” provides a robust starting point and an ongoing reference point during the development of schemes such as the environmental land management scheme, the Government should be clearer about how exactly they see this provision influencing government policy in practice. It would be strengthened by an explicit requirement that any financial assistance scheme is designed to encourage the sustainable production of food by producers in England. I do not know whether the ELM scheme will do that.

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Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
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I apologise to the noble Baroness, but the only way that I can reply to that is to repeat that the whole construct of this is to ensure that farming with food production and enhancing the environment go hand in hand. There is obviously a limited sum of money. The noble Baroness and other noble Lords have said that we must be careful that we do not make this Bill a Christmas tree affair by adding everything on—so we need to be pragmatic.

The area where we have not hitherto rewarded farmers is in relation to the purposes set out in Clause 1(1)(a) to (j). They are considerable projects that will, in the end, help us to produce even better food. If one were to start rewarding food production, it would drive a coach and horses through the construct of the Bill, which is that produce is created by the farmer, for which they receive money. They do not often receive money for the projects in paragraphs (a) to (j). We think, looking at the British taxpayer, that this is the best way of reflecting that we need food production for which the farmer receives payment, and in Chapter 2 we recognise that we need to address fairer arrangements for the farmer. But this is better than, in effect, having a direct payment for the food you produce when you are already being paid whatever you sell your wheat or your milk for. We can have a discussion about that price, but in terms of the taxpayer rewarding and acknowledging farmers, we think that subsections (1)(a) to (j) and (2)(a) and (b) are the right way forward.

Lord Northbrook Portrait Lord Northbrook
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I thank the Minister for his detailed response to the group. I think he has answered my question. Is what he has just said the reason why he does not approve of Amendment 60—because it does not directly support domestic production financially?

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
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My Lords, I will have to look again at Amendment 60. The construct is about where, following the Health and Harmony consultation we undertook, it was decided that we should recognise support for farmers in a post-CAP world. It was recognised that we needed to put food production and food security in the Bill, and we have put them in. This is the difficulty when you have improvements in iterations. They were valuable new iterations, but the point about rewarding food production is that, with better fair dealing, the farmer gets a reward from the market. They do not as yet for the purposes in Clause 1(1)(a) to (j), and we think that is where the reward should be.

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Lord Dobbs Portrait Lord Dobbs
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My Lords, there appear to be two different types of amendment in this group: those that seek to promote and incentivise advice and guidance, and those that seek to impose requirements on the Secretary of State. Amendments 58 and 119 in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and my noble friend Lord Caithness seek to promote advice; they are entirely right in that and the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, spoke most eloquently about it. I will be interested in the Minister’s response; I am sure he holds all these leads close his heart. The noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, spoke so movingly about the challenges of change.

I suggest that Amendment 122 goes too far in requiring, rather than facilitating, advice—and across a large number of areas. This will inevitably make any advisory system more bureaucratic and less flexible. The object of the exercise is to promote opportunities for farmers, not bureaucracy. It is so important that we move flexibly and quickly in this area, rather than trying to set up another version of the common agricultural policy.

Lord Northbrook Portrait Lord Northbrook
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My Lords, I partially support the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Lucas. Assistance should be given to training but there should not be just blanket financial assistance in this area. Last week, I received a letter from Defra about the environmental land management summary document; before I move on to that, let me put on record my thanks to the Minister for his tremendous work in tightening up matters at the RPA and improving BPS payment times.

The letter said, “Environmental land management: we want to hear your views”, and explained that, going back to February, there was a 10-week national conversation, which has been delayed due to coronavirus —fair enough. It also said that Defra was launching webinars, which I will take part in over the next few weeks. Then there is a six-page document setting out, very helpfully, broad details of the various tiers. I will summarise the purposes of each. Tier 1’s purpose is to incentivise environmentally sustainable farming and forestry and help to deliver environmental benefits; that is perfectly clear. Tier 2’s purpose is to incentivise the management of land in a way that delivers locally targeted environmental outcomes; that is a little more difficult. Tier 3’s purpose is to deliver land use change projects of a landscape scale to deliver environmental outcomes; that is not clear at all, in my view.

Then there is a chart about how you decide whether to participate in these schemes. Two key boxes say, “I decide which environmental outcomes and associated actions I am best placed to provide on my land”, and, “I develop a plan and submit my application”. For larger farmers, with the aid of advice, that will be not such a difficult thing, but as the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, said, for small and medium-sized farmers, it will be a very daunting task. Those farmers should get the financial assistance.

Lord De Mauley Portrait Lord De Mauley (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I reiterate the declaration of my interests as a landowner and land manager.

In the context of my noble friend’s Amendments 58 and 119, I draw the attention of my noble friend the Minister to the agricultural associations and societies, which have been getting a bit of coverage on Radio 4’s excellent “Farming Today” programme this week. There are about 200 agricultural and show societies in the United Kingdom, many with histories stretching back to the agricultural revolution in the 18th century. Much in line with these amendments, they are there to support, represent and indeed connect providers of advice with those who make up the agricultural industry and to provide a showcase for anything that members of the public might want to know about food, farming and rural life.

My noble friend Lord Caithness referred to the county agricultural shows. I know that the Minister and other noble Lords will, like me, have visited many of the annual summer county agricultural shows in recent years—although, sadly, of course not this year.

All the agricultural societies are charities in their own right. Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland hold their own national shows, as well as many regional and county shows, as does England, which has 15 significant societies, each of whose visitors number more than 60,000 per show in a normal year. What I might call the top 18—the Scottish, Northern Irish and Welsh national societies and England’s top 15—welcome a total of 1.8 million visitors just at their annual shows. The likely combined economic value of these events is in the region of £450 million to £500 million. Taking in other year-round activities, this probably increases to about £800 million. The remaining very large number of agricultural society shows around the country could account for a similar economic impact.

Show grounds, a number of which are permanent, also act as venues for a wide range of year-round events and activities supporting business, leisure and tourism across the nations and regions. Each of the societies offers educational activities throughout the year, as well as providing a forum for conferences and events aligned to and supporting the agricultural sector. Formal links exist with local further and higher education institutions and research centres focused on promoting the skills and careers that the industry needs and offers.

Like many other businesses and organisations, the agricultural associations face uncertainty, especially regarding the next one to two years. Their major events, such as the annual county agricultural shows, take at least nine months to prepare for, and without any support after October, particularly from the current furlough scheme, they could find themselves facing a bleak future. Many of them are already running a slide rule over a “no show in 2021” scenario. As my noble friend Lord Caithness said, the agricultural societies are not asking for special pleading. What would really help them is: first, clearer guidance on mass-gathering indoor and outdoor events by no later than September this year; secondly, recognition of the impact of their unique sector as part of the fabric of agriculture in the UK; and, thirdly, financial assistance, perhaps under the replacement for Pillar 2 if it becomes clear that next year is in jeopardy, particularly, as I said, as the current furlough support will end in October.

Policymakers need to bear in mind that, although heritage and tradition are themselves important, the collective economic and jobs contribution from the agricultural societies is significant. Their collective reach is international and they contribute more broadly to UK plc—for example, through tourism. Therefore, I take this opportunity to ask the Minister to look into the plight of the agricultural societies and to see what he can do to help.

Agriculture Bill

Lord Northbrook Excerpts
Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Thursday 9th July 2020

(1 year, 12 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Agriculture Act 2020 - Government Bill Page View all Agriculture Debates Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 112-III Third marshalled list for Committee - (9 Jul 2020)
Lord Northbrook Portrait Lord Northbrook (Con)
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My Lords, I declare my interest as a landowner and an arable farmer. I support my noble friend’s amendment in principle. However, I would like to distinguish direct damage caused to farmers’ livestock by, for instance, out-of-control dogs and leaving farm gates open. That is definitely connected to agriculture, but I note the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Addington, that the problem of dumping refuse and fly-tipping can be considered more as an environmental issue. They may be more suited to the forthcoming Environment Bill. Does the Minister have a view on that?

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist
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I think many noble Lords will have every sympathy with the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, and her experiences on her smallholding. Damage, theft, poaching and the theft of diesel are all criminal acts. If the perpetrator is caught, they can, as the noble Lord, Lord Addington, correctly suggested, be charged with trespass, which can be brought by farmers and owners for damage done while trespassing. The criminal justice system already has these things at its disposal.

My noble friend Lord Northbrook makes an interesting point about the difference between direct damage to livestock by dogs off leads and such things, but I do not believe that fly-tipping has a place in the Environment Bill. It is already covered in legislation. The key to all this, as many noble Lords have said, is better enforcement and perhaps more video cameras installed by landowners so that some of these perpetrators can be caught.