All 7 Baroness Parminter contributions to the Agriculture Act 2020

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Wed 10th Jun 2020
Agriculture Bill
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2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords & 2nd reading
Tue 7th Jul 2020
Agriculture Bill
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Committee stage & Committee stage:Committee: 1st sitting (Hansarad) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansarad) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansarad): House of Lords
Tue 21st Jul 2020
Agriculture Bill
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Committee stage:Committee: 5th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 5th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 5th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Tue 28th Jul 2020
Agriculture Bill
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Committee stage:Committee: 7th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 7th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 7th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Tue 15th Sep 2020
Agriculture Bill
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Report stage & Report stage:Report: 1st sitting & Report stage (Hansard): House of Lords & Report: 1st sitting & Report: 1st sitting: House of Lords
Thu 17th Sep 2020
Agriculture Bill
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Report stage:Report: 2nd sitting (Hansard) & Report: 2nd sitting (Hansard) & Report: 2nd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Tue 22nd Sep 2020
Agriculture Bill
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Report stage:Report: 3rd sitting (Hansard) & Report: 3rd sitting (Hansard) & Report: 3rd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords

Agriculture Bill

Baroness Parminter Excerpts
2nd reading & 2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords
Wednesday 10th June 2020

(4 years ago)

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Baroness Parminter Portrait Baroness Parminter (LD) [V]
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My Lords,

“God made the land for the people”.


I was reminded of that rallying cry from the Liberal anthem “The Land” as I considered this Bill. There have been many political struggles down the years over the ownership and management of land, of which nearly three quarters in the UK is farmed. This Bill righty seeks a new consensus on how we manage the sometimes competing demands of farmed land and how we reward those who steward it on the people’s behalf.

So, whilst we are saddened this has been necessitated by our leaving the European Union, Liberal Democrats welcome the new approach proposed by the Government of paying farmers and land managers public money for delivering public goods: namely, protecting the environment, on which we depend, to produce healthy food; enhancing biodiversity; and tackling the impacts of climate change—all this at the same time as maintaining the patchwork quilt of fields and rolling hills which create a sense of local place, so valued for our physical and mental well-being. But this is only an enabling Bill, and much remains unclear about how those welcome ambitions will become more than aspirations.

In the past, the more land you had, the more money you received. Thankfully, in the future, payments will depend on delivering agreed legal targets. But, despite the welcome multiannual financial plans, there is no requirement for a budget to be set for the individual component schemes or clarity on the long-term funding framework for farmers.

While the Bill allows for drawing up targets and metrics to deliver the public goods, there is no clarity as to how the new measures will be regulated and enforced. It has been estimated that, at present, farms have just a one in 200 chance of being inspected each year by the Environment Agency. The system already needed radical overhauling, as the government-commissioned review by Dame Glenys Stacey outlined. In future, with a far more complex new system to monitor, it doubly needs it.

Yet the Government have sat on the Stacey review since 2018 and the Bill is silent on any objectives or indications of how a new regulatory framework and anybody administering it might exercise its functions. The Government managed to set these out for the Office for Environmental Protection in the Environment Bill. It is deeply disappointing that the Agriculture Bill gives no sense of how we can guarantee the delivery of the environmental and animal welfare ambitions in it.

It is essential that those ambitions are delivered. Tackling Covid-19 has reminded us how vital it is that our farmers contribute to public health goals by supplying healthy food, while helping us tackle the nature emergency and the worrying decline in biodiversity and wildlife—there has been a 54% drop in farmland birds during my lifetime—and mitigating the effects of climate change by planting trees and restoring peat bogs. The agriculture sector accounts for about 10% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions, and we must bring those down, including by cutting on-farm food waste. If food waste was a country, it would be the third-biggest emitter of CO2 on the planet. Among other amendments that my Liberal Democrat colleagues will speak to at later stages of the Bill, we will introduce one requiring that the Secretary of State’s five-yearly UK food security report includes data on how much food is wasted, since we will not be food secure if we produce plenty but much of it is wasted.

Those ambitions will not be delivered either if all government policy does not support them, including future trade policy. Existing UK agriculture policy, agreed as a member of the European Union, has been pivotal in guaranteeing consumers the safety of their food and respecting the welfare of livestock. It has kept out pork from pigs confined in sow stalls, beef from cattle injected with hormones to enhance their growth and chlorinated chicken to wash away the shame of poor husbandry. The Government say that they are sincere in their commitments to maintaining those standards, so why not put it in the Bill? Liberal Democrats will work with others, including the Labour Front Bench and anyone else in the House, to support amendments to the Bill to ensure our high environmental protections and animal welfare standards are not compromised in trade negotiations, which would also fatally undermine farmers who seek to do the right thing for our health, our animals and our countryside.

No financial support or policy changes on productivity measures should undermine the delivery of other public goods. I will oppose any attempt to use the Bill to overturn existing legislation on gene editing, which would be a serious step backwards for animal welfare and public trust in our food. We need to retain the European model of regulation that we are currently signed up to, where no gene editing is allowed outside the lab and mandatory labelling is required, and we should not enable trade deals with countries such as America, where products from genetically modified animals can be marketed. Rather than amending this Bill to obtain even more productivity and profit from individual animals, who are sentient and have intrinsic worth, I hope that this House will endorse the aim of the Bill to support sustainable agriculture that respects the welfare of farmed animals and enhances biodiversity. The direction of travel in this Bill is welcome, but there is more to be done to ensure that we end up rightly rewarding the careful stewardship of the people’s precious countryside.

Agriculture Bill

Baroness Parminter Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansarad) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansarad): House of Lords
Tuesday 7th July 2020

(3 years, 11 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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If we are moving away from active farmers, it is important that we come up with a definition of what will be covered under this. Obviously, we are looking at operating to high environmental, animal welfare and food safety standards, but we need to be absolutely clear and give our farmers and producers, at the outset, the widest possible understanding of what will be covered under the Bill.
Baroness Parminter Portrait Baroness Parminter (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I will speak to two amendments I have tabled in this group, namely Amendments 118 and 121. These aim to ensure that we get a strong regulatory framework to enforce this new system of paying public money for public goods because, as it stands, the Bill says that the Government only “may” introduce regulations to do this. It should be not just a power but a duty to do so, given that what we are talking about is ensuring public confidence in the money spent to deliver societal goods.

We know that the current regulatory framework for farming is not fit for purpose. It is estimated that only every one in 200 farmers will get inspected, and the Government have known this for some time. They commissioned a review in 2018 but have not done anything since then to overhaul the existing regulatory framework, so it is really important that the Bill states that the Government have a duty to put together new regulations and work quickly with relevant stakeholders to draw up a new framework to give the public confidence. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, for supporting me in that amendment.

I appreciate that this is almost two sides of a coin. I am talking about the regulatory side that we need to ensure is in place to manage the giving of public money in the future. I am very much in support of other noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Teverson and the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, who have talked about the vast majority of farmers; we know that they are doing and want to do the right thing, and there is a real need to ensure that, alongside a strong regulatory framework, there is good provision of advice. I want to ensure that Members do not think that I think all farmers are bad apples; they are not. However, we need to ensure that good farmers have their reputations preserved by a strong regulatory framework.

I would find it very helpful if in winding up the Minister would say something about the Government’s current thinking on the timeframe and the consultees—almost the how and the when—when they are producing this new regulatory farm framework, so that the public can have confidence that taxpayers’ money is being properly spent to deliver the environmental and animal welfare benefits that we all want.

Lord Lucas Portrait Lord Lucas [V]
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My Lords, I shall speak to my Amendments 108 and 109. I am looking for two reassurances from the Minister. The first is that we are going to look at a system of risk-based regulation. We have a lot of changes and improvements to make. We need a system of regulation which, supported by science, supports change without destroying older technology, in both of which aspects the EU system has proved deficient. Secondly, I want reassurance that we will permit local variation—indeed, individual variation. This ought to be a bottom-up system of support. No farm is the same as any other farm. No set of geology or human geography is the same. Everything will need to be local if it is going to work well. I very much hope that this is the way in which the Government are looking at regulation.

Amendment 110 has been stranded in this group. I will speak to this subject under the group beginning with Amendment 29. Suffice it to say that, as far as I am concerned, the answer lies in the soil.

Agriculture Bill

Baroness Parminter Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee: 5th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 5th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Tuesday 21st July 2020

(3 years, 11 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Boycott Portrait Baroness Boycott [V]
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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.

Baroness Parminter Portrait Baroness Parminter (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I am delighted to be speaking between the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, and the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, with whom I sat on the House of Lords committee that produced the report Hungry for Change, about which the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and other noble Lords have been so complimentary.

I speak in support of my Amendment 169 in this group. I am grateful for the support of other noble Lords who have added their names to it. It addresses how, if we are to be food secure in this country, we need to ensure that the minimum amount of food is wasted—yet, in the list of data that will be provided in the food security report to inform policy thinking on our future resilience and food security, there is no mention of food waste.

There are currently significant levels of on-farm food waste in this country. In 2019, WRAP estimated that about 3.6 million tonnes of food is surplus, and waste occurs on farm every year. That is equivalent to about 7% of the total annual UK food harvest. There is huge potential to reduce the amount of surplus and waste by promoting best practice, with new insights being good for growers, businesses, the climate and feeding our people.

One of the priority areas in Clause 1 of the Government’s Environment Bill is resource efficiency and waste reduction. We need better synergy between the Environment Bill and the Agriculture Bill, and a way to achieve that is for us to see where the main problems with food waste are in the supply chain. To do that, we need the data to cover each part of the supply chain. My amendment would provide for that, so that we have a food security report that does the job that we need it to do.

Lord Krebs Portrait Lord Krebs (CB) [V]
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My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 173, so excellently introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch. Many of my comments will echo hers.

As an aside, it is perhaps worth clearing up a point of definition. In the debate so far, we have heard the terms “food security” and “food insecurity” used in two distinct ways. First, we have heard “food security” as it applies to the nation as a whole: do we have a system that can guarantee a supply of food for the country as a whole? Secondly, as referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, we have heard “food insecurity” as it applies to the individual or household that cannot afford enough to eat.

The chief executive of one of the UK’s food companies told me a couple of years ago that when he asked at No. 10 what the Government’s food strategy was, he received a blank look. The question had simply not occurred to the people in No. 10. Fortunately, things have moved on since then with the establishment of Henry Dimbleby’s national food strategy, of which we have already heard quite a lot. I have no doubt that the Dimbleby report, and its interim report due out in the next week or two, will be an excellent piece of work and will have much to say about the issues covered in this amendment,

I would also like to mention the recently published report Hungry for Change: Fixing the Failures in Food from the Select Committee on Food, Poverty, Health and the Environment, which I had the privilege of chairing. This report has already been referred to in this debate by the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, Lady Parminter and Lady Boycott. The latter two sat on the committee with me. I would like to highlight just three points from our report.

First, as we have heard, food insecurity—that is, worrying about not having enough to eat—is a big problem in this country. We do not yet have official figures, although, as the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, said, we should soon have them. However, the UN has estimated that the number of people suffering food insecurity is at least 2.2 million. As the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, said, the Food Foundation estimates that more than 5 million people worry about not having enough to eat. This is shocking but not surprising, given that one in five people in Britain live in poverty, according to the Government’s own figures. Furthermore, as we have already heard from the noble Lord, Lord Hain, and the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, Covid-19 is almost certainly making things worse.

Secondly, poor people tend to have less healthy diets, not through any fault of their own but because the way in which food is manufactured, marketed and priced conspires against healthy eating. Without the time, resources or emotional bandwidth, the least well-off people find it hardest to swim against the tide of cheap, accessible, tasty, heavily marketed and unhealthy junk food.

Thirdly, we know what kinds of measures would be effective in changing our food system for the better. We know that it will not happen by voluntary industry action or by public information campaigns. It will need a more interventionist approach from government on promotion, advertising, reformulation and perhaps taxation on less healthy food. The soft drinks industry levy shows how successful strong government intervention can be, but up till now the Government have been unwilling to do more. This inaction is inexcusable because it condemns the poorest, most disadvantaged children in Britain to a life of ill health followed by an early death.

We are all placing a lot of hope on the Dimbleby report, but there is a risk that it will make excellent recommendations only to gather dust in a corner, following the fate of many other earlier reports of the same kind. Our Select Committee report suggests how this might be prevented. The Government are already committed to publishing a White Paper on the food strategy, but the delivery of the strategy should, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, said, be monitored by an independent body, analogous to the Committee on Climate Change, reporting regularly to Parliament on progress.

Furthermore, the problem of food and poverty covers several different government departments. Therefore, there is a need for a high-level ministerial co-ordination group to ensure that actions are properly joined up across Government.

This amendment provides an opportunity for the Government to make a radical shift in their approach to food policy. Let us not waste the opportunity in the way that we waste a lot of our food.

Agriculture Bill

Baroness Parminter Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee: 7th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 7th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Tuesday 28th July 2020

(3 years, 10 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Curry of Kirkharle Portrait Lord Curry of Kirkharle [V]
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I support this amendment as tabled and ably presented by my noble friend Lord Cameron of Dillington and supported very convincingly by other contributors this evening. I support it for two reasons: first, it is in line with the stance that has been quite rightly taken by the Government when debating these issues in Brussels, so why would they not support it?

Secondly, this is an important test case in that our ability as an industry to explore new science is at risk if we are denied the opportunity to consult on this technology. We have world-leading science institutions and we need to re-establish our reputation as a place where sound science is welcome, trialled and tested. Scaremongering by comparing gene editing to genetic modification is unhelpful and the difference has been explained very convincingly by my noble friend Lord Krebs. I hope the Minister will support this amendment.

Finally, I endorse all the compliments that have been paid to the two Ministers—the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bloomfield—for their endless patience and gracious responses during the seven days we have spent on this Bill, and to the staff who have enabled these debates to take place with remarkable efficiency in difficult circumstances.

Baroness Parminter Portrait Baroness Parminter (LD) [V]
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It is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Curry. On this occasion, however, I believe this amendment is a Trojan horse seeking to end the classification of gene editing as genetic modification and replacing the EU regulatory framework with the Americans’ proof of harm.

Good regulation is about managing the risks and the benefits of a process, and while we have heard about the potential benefits of gene editing from the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, and other Peers, there are risks too. Although the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, may not wish to acknowledge these, I am grateful to the noble Baronesses, Lady Young of Old Scone and Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, for articulating some of them. For brevity’s sake, I am not going to repeat them now.

I accept that the amendment sets out some undertakings before the Secretary of State could uproot regulations governing the food on our plate, but this Bill is not the place to do it and the amendment is, at the very least, pre-emptive. The Government must do two important things: first, they must lay before Parliament the policy statement on environmental principles as committed to in the Environment Bill, which will explain how environmental principles, including the precautionary principle, will be interpreted now we are outside the EU.

The Government have said that they remain committed to the precautionary principle. We are signatories to the Convention on Biological Diversity, which invites governments to take a precautionary approach with regard to synthetic biology. The Americans, with their proof-of-harm regulatory framework, uphold neither the convention nor the precautionary principle. Until Parliament has fully debated how environmental principles will be interpreted now we are outside the EU, there should be no consideration of changes to gene-editing regulations.

Secondly, the Government must introduce new laws on animal sentience, as they promised to do in the 2019 Conservative manifesto. These laws should place a duty to pay all due regard to the welfare needs of animals as sentient beings and, given that gene editing allows animals to be altered for food, would inform policy in this area. In America they sell AquAdvantage salmon, gene-edited to grow to size in half the normal time of three years. Animals are sentient creatures with intrinsic worth and should not suffer to obtain more productivity and profit. These invasive procedures can be painful, and animals that do not deliver the required traits are euphemistically “wasted”. It is not just me who is concerned. The Royal Society conducted research on gene editing in 2017 which found that the public were very concerned at its use on animals, particularly to increase the productivity and profitability of meat production.

The Bill rightly commits to the highest animal welfare standards and working within environmental constraints to enhance biodiversity and provide the food that we need. Into it has been smuggled this Trojan horse, studiously avoiding the words “genetic modification” or “gene editing”, at a parliamentary stage that limits wider debate. I cannot support this pre-emptive approach to remove a regulatory framework that takes a precautionary approach and requires mandatory food labelling. The welfare of our farmed animals, our biodiversity and public trust in our food are too important for that.

Lord Trees Portrait Lord Trees [V]
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My Lords, I am pleased to speak in support of Amendment 275, proposed by my noble friend Lord Cameron of Dillington. Under strict regulatory processes, and after consultation—I emphasise that that is in the amendment, as referred to by other noble Lords—it is about applying exciting new technologies, supporting our superb UK biotechnology industry to continue as a global leader and an economic success. Above all, it is about strengthening global food resilience and security while potentially reducing chemical or drug use.

The amendment has particular relevance to plants but I want to support it with respect to animals and their diseases. I draw a contrast with the opinions of the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, who I respect immensely. The priority of disease control in animals increasingly lies in prevention, and key tools in prevention are management and husbandry, vaccines, and genetic resistance. Genetic resistance has of course occurred spontaneously by natural evolutionary processes in wild animals.

Apart from knowing what the R number is, many noble Lords will now be aware from the Covid-19 pandemic of the remarkable innate resistance of, for example, bats to viral disease. They carry infections that are lethal to humans, such as rabies and the Covid-19 virus, without apparent clinical disease. By definition, the process of natural selection occurs over many years, so conventional breeding methods to create disease resistance in domesticated animal species are extremely slow and raise real ethical problems.

Now we have the amazing potential ability to very precisely identify the parts of an animal’s DNA that permit specific pathogen invasion and then, in a very targeted way, adapt them by gene editing so as to be non-permissive to infection. This mimics changes to an animal’s DNA that might occur spontaneously but very rarely in nature, and does it in a fraction of the time. It is distinct from the wider techniques involving genetic modification yet is currently included within them and prohibited in current EU legislation, as many other noble Lords have said.

In relation to animal disease, there is already promising research to breed pigs with resistance to African swine fever, a highly infectious pathogen in pigs, distributed worldwide, that in recent years has killed millions of pigs in China, is now killing pigs and infecting wild boar, which are symptomless carriers, in continental Europe, and presents a real and present danger to our own domestic pig population in the UK.

The Roslin Institute at the University of Edinburgh has recently created, using gene editing, pigs with resistance to the porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus, a disease endemic in the UK pig herd and a welfare concern as a cause of severe disease and high mortality, as well as having a substantial economic impact.

Finally, I stress that unlike processes involved in gene cloning, for example, using gene editing to establish a founder stock which breeds normally involves relatively few animals and no more intrusive processes for the animals initially than are used in normal veterinary practice. I very much support this progressive, forward-looking amendment.

Agriculture Bill

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

(3 years, 9 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Agriculture Act 2020 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 130-II(Rev) Revised second marshalled list for Report - (15 Sep 2020)
If we are to be sure that support for farmers will also support nature, we need not only a proper system of measurement but to ensure that, when farmers are paid to enhance the natural environment, the payments are targeted at the right things. To quote the management guru Peter Drucker, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.” Otherwise, the Government will not achieve their great ambition and future generations will wonder why we got it so badly wrong.
Baroness Parminter Portrait Baroness Parminter (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I am delighted to have added my name to the amendment, which is now a cross-party amendment. While I will not repeat what other noble Lords have said, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, on the state of nature, I will say that we have had another report only this week from the RSPB, which shows that over the last 10 years the Government have missed a number of key biodiversity targets.

We will turn our natural recovery around only by giving the right economic incentives to our farmers. I think the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, was the first this evening to mention nature-friendly farming. We will not get the recovery we need for our nature unless we give the incentives to our farmers, who manage 69% of the land in our country. They are key to our nature recovery.

As it stands, the Bill gives the Secretary of State complete leeway between the allocations of funding for the different purposes in Clause 1 and Clause 2. Schemes with little environmental value might be supported; we could find that allocations are weighted towards productivity improvements or gobbled up by tier 1 options that add the least environmental value. We cannot afford to do that. We need to ensure that there is synergy between the Agriculture Bill and the Environment Bill. The Government’s own discussion paper on ELMS says that the outcomes in the 25-year environment plan are a key guide for this financial assistance. We need to turn that into a reality. The way to do that is to put this in the Bill.

Baroness Altmann Portrait Baroness Altmann (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I add my support to the thrust of this amendment, moved so excellently by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch. I support the idea that we need a joined-up approach to tackling environmental challenges. The aim of linking the Agriculture Bill, the Environment Bill and the 25-year environment plan by putting this into the Bill makes eminent sense, especially as I know that this Government are committed to real action and development on climate change and have already done significant amounts to make sure that this country is a world-leader in pushing forward with environmental protections and climate change planning.

I hope that my noble friend will be able to reassure the House on this issue and, ideally, table the Government’s own proposals at the next stage, so that we are able to put this in the Bill. I know that we can be proud of the Government’s record on climate change and that there may well be significant desire to ensure that this is not a contentious issue and that there is cross-party support, as we have seen in the debates so far.

Agriculture Bill

Baroness Parminter Excerpts
Report stage & Report: 2nd sitting (Hansard) & Report: 2nd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Thursday 17th September 2020

(3 years, 9 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Parminter Portrait Baroness Parminter (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Hodgson of Abinger and Lady Fookes, for tabling these amendments and enabling these important animal welfare issues to be debated tonight. I shall speak on Amendment 71 first, prior to taking on Amendments 72 and 73.

On Amendment 71, I accept the scientific evidence that the practice of killing by throat cutting, without pre-stunning, compromises animal welfare. This is also the view of the BVA. However, I respect the arguments of those who believe that the animal welfare concerns do not outweigh the rights of our own communities to religious freedom.

Government trade policy should refuse to look at exporting our livestock to other countries for slaughter without pre-stunning, as the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, so powerfully articulated. It is possible to take advantage of new trading opportunities that we are told will open up post Brexit without agreeing to export animals slaughtered without pre-stunning. New Zealand exports huge quantities of sheep to the Middle East, and all are pre-stunned with halal certification.

In supporting the aims of this amendment, I ask the Minister to confirm that when the noble Lord, Lord Grimstone, said earlier today, in response to a question, that the UK is at

“the cutting edge of free trade agreements”

this does not include the Government seeking to increase trade through increasing our exports of farm animals which are not stunned before slaughter.

I absolutely support the principles of Amendments 72 and 73. In fact, when I joined the RSPCA in the 1990s my first campaign, and one of the proudest I have worked on, was on the issue of live transport. I echo all the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Judd, about the number of animals who suffer and the quite unnecessary levels of suffering that go on, given that this is all about profit. While I support the aims of these amendments, I understand what the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, said about concerns over the WTO complications. Equally, I think I am correct that live transport is a devolved matter and, as such, the Bill cannot make provisions concerning it for another Government. My personal understanding is that the Scottish Government oppose a ban on live exports.

The Minister might therefore say to us at the end that the Government are not able to accept this amendment. However, he can outline how they intend to tackle the economics that drive this trade. The Farm Animal Welfare Committee report, which the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, reported to, was commissioned by this Government and the devolved nations back in 2018. It recommended improvements to transport journey times, ship and lorry standards and possible maximum journey times, once we leave the EU’s regulatory orbit. This approach would be WTO-compatible and achieve the same results as stopping the live exports, as it raises costs, and live exports only happen because of the economics.

When will the Government release the report from FAWC—now known as the Animal Welfare Committee —and, at the same time, undertake alongside it a consultation on live transport and exports? I would like to hear that it is an imminent consultation because, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, mentioned, during Brexit we heard a lot about how Brexit was going to be about improving animal welfare, and live transport was an issue that was trumpeted. We have had that FAWC report since 2018. If we do not see something imminently—and I would expect that to be in the next few months—we can only assume that this is just another hollow promise from the Government on their commitment to animal welfare.

Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Portrait Baroness Jones of Whitchurch (Lab)
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My Lords, I intend to speak briefly, but in doing so I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Fookes and Baroness Hodgson, for these amendments. As the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, reminded us, she has been a lifelong campaigner on these issues and I pay tribute to her infamous doggedness and determination.

Noble Lords will recall that I spoke in favour of similar issues in Committee, and nothing I have heard then or since has dissuaded me from my view that exporting live animals is cruel and unnecessary. The noble Baronesses have once again illustrated the appalling animal cruelty that occurs in long-distance transport, whether through accident or deliberate neglect. It is clear that the occasional stories which appear in the press are symptomatic of a much deeper and endemic problem.

In Committee, the Minister reassured the House that the Government are actively considering how to take forward their manifesto pledge to end long journeys for animal slaughtering and fattening, whether in the UK or abroad. We welcome that commitment and look forward to receiving more details. The Minister also warned that the issues were complex, and we acknowledge that. But I sincerely hope that this will not be used as a reason for inaction, as he can be assured that the British public have high expectations in this regard. So I hope he is able to reassure us tonight that progress is being made and that the Government do now have a plan to deliver that manifesto commitment.

Agriculture Bill

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

(3 years, 9 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Agriculture Act 2020 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 130-IV Provisional Fourth marshalled list for Report - (21 Sep 2020)
Debate on Amendment 74 resumed.
Baroness Parminter Portrait Baroness Parminter (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Hodgson of Abinger and Lady Fookes, for this amendment, which is a means to embed the needs and welfare of animals in agricultural policy and to partly fill the vacuum of this Government not transposing across EU animal sentience legislation or introducing their own legislation, which they had promised to do in their manifesto. The Liberal Democrats accept that animals are sentient beings with intrinsic worth. We have consistently argued this throughout the stages of this Bill, in my remarks at Second Reading when welcoming the fact that Clause 1 allows payments to be made for animal welfare, and in opposition to easing the regulatory framework on gene editing.

Animal sentience is the only issue not being brought across when we leave the EU at the end of the year. It marks the end of a proud era when the UK led the rest of Europe to better animal welfare standards. Indeed, it was the UK Government who first suggested and then got animal sentience accepted into the treaty article in 1997.

We support the intention of this amendment. If the Minister is not intending to accept it, can I press her to say when legislation on animal sentience will be delivered, and whether she guarantees that it will have comparable or stronger powers than the existing EU legislation? I ask her to be very clear on the latter point, as there are rumblings of a pushback in the Government on the way that Ministers report how they take into account sentience when making decisions. Only an open and transparent process will give people confidence about how the needs of animals are considered in policy decisions. Without a guarantee to at least match the existing powers, the sad reality is that our animals will have less protection than has been the case as members of the EU.

Baroness Wilcox of Newport Portrait Baroness Wilcox of Newport (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, during the passage of the EU withdrawal Bill in 2017, there were several amendments in the Commons on animal sentience. There were also debates on the issue when the Bill was in the Lords and attempts to table similar amendments to other pieces of legislation. Theresa May’s Government committed to clarifying the legal position on animal sentience as part of their Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill. This Government reintroduced the Bill in 2019, but it fell when Parliament was dissolved for the general election. A commitment to strengthen animal welfare rules was included in the December 2019 Queen’s Speech, and, as I understand it, there is a Private Members Bill which will have its Second Reading in the Commons in October. We hope that it will be similar to the previous Government’s legislation and that if this is a substitute for a government Bill, Ministers and Whips will give it the time it needs to reach us in the Lords.

In the meantime, I express regret that the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, felt that she needed to table the amendment in the first place, given that Her Majesty’s Government have not managed to deliver a Bill in three years on this important issue. We agree that there should be a strong protection for animals and a recognition of their ability to experience feelings and pain, with all the implications that has for our treatment of them. However, we are not convinced that this is the appropriate vehicle for it. As such, I hope that the Minister can clarify the point about the Commons Private Member’s Bill and, if that response is satisfactory, the amendment will not be pushed to test the opinion of the House.