All 11 Baroness Young of Old Scone 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
Thu 9th Jul 2020
Agriculture Bill
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Committee stage:Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Tue 14th Jul 2020
Agriculture Bill
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Committee stage:Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Thu 16th Jul 2020
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Committee stage:Committee: 4th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 4th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 4th sitting (Hansard): 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
Thu 23rd Jul 2020
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Committee stage:Committee: 6th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 6th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 6th 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 Young of Old Scone Excerpts
2nd reading & 2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords
Wednesday 10th June 2020

(4 years, 1 month ago)

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Read Full debate Agriculture Act 2020 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: Consideration of Bill Amendments as at 13 May 2020 - large font accessible version - (13 May 2020)
Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I declare my interests as chairman of the Woodland Trust, chairman of the Royal Veterinary College, a member of the Commission on Food, Farming and the Countryside and vice-president of the RSPB.

I want to say three things on the Bill. As noble Lords have said, it is a once in a lifetime opportunity. I know that the Government regard it as an enabling Bill, but such landmark legislation should have a bit more real meat on the face of the Bill to tackle the important future for farming, food, the environment and climate change. I welcome the Bill’s commitment to public money for public goods, but Ministers must ensure that the environmental land management schemes do not result in a basic level of payment that does not really deliver for the environment but looks like the same old farmers’ support system. There is a real risk of that.

Payments for agricultural productivity which are allowed under the Bill should explicitly be for sustainable productivity. The Bill has too many clauses where the Secretary of State “may” do worthwhile things, such as have an environmental land management scheme or provide financial assistance for public goods. The Bill should say that he “must” in these circumstances—we need duties, not simply powers.

My second point is that the Bill must have as its key principle support for a thriving and sustainable food and farming sector, while delivering public goods. But we know that the negotiation of a free trade deal with the USA could jeopardise the Conservative manifesto commitment that imports will not be permitted to the UK of food produced to lower environmental, animal welfare, food safety and employment standards. To do this would risk undermining UK standards and create unfair competition. Simply to slap a higher tariff on such imports, as is rumoured in the press, would not remove that risk. Trade Ministers continue to reassure us—we have now had a joint letter from the Trade and Environment Ministers. I quote the noble Lord, Lord Grimstone, a Minister in the Department for International Trade, who said last week:

“There will be no compromise on high environmental, animal welfare and food standards.”


We are also told that that might be contrary to World Trade Organization rules. Should that not have been thought of by the manifesto writers before they wrote their assurances? Will the Minister tell us what is going on? If there are such strong commitments, surely the Bill should be amended to require agri-food imports to have been produced to equivalent standards to those in the UK.

My third point is one that many noble Lords will have heard before, because it is my current hobby-horse. The list of public goods in Clause 1 that the agricultural sector is to be asked to deliver is very extensive, but these are not the only pressures on land, and they are growing. Land is needed for increased food security, carbon storage, biodiversity, flood management, trees and increased timber self-sufficiency, recreation and health, and built development such as housing, infrastructure and other needs. The Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership found that, to meet a growing UK population’s food, space and energy needs, while protecting the nation’s natural capital, the UK would need a third more land—7 million hectares. I therefore call on the Government to commit in this Bill to develop a land use framework for England, within which these competing needs can be reconciled. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all have land use frameworks already, and it is long overdue for England.

Agriculture Bill

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

(4 years ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Agriculture Act 2020 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 112-II(Rev) Revised second marshalled list for Committee - (7 Jul 2020)
Duke of Wellington Portrait The Duke of Wellington (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, I rise to comment briefly on and support three amendments. I should declare my agricultural interests as detailed in the register. The first is Amendment 37, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, relating to pasture-fed livestock. There is much evidence that extensively grazing livestock on pasture, both lowland and upland, is the most efficient way to convert grassland into a food product for human consumption. Feeding concentrates to livestock is certainly a great deal less efficient in terms of use of resources. On arable land, cereals and similar plants should ideally be grown for human consumption. We have plentiful grasslands in the United Kingdom. They absorb carbon, if correctly managed, and produce food, if grazed by the right breeds of livestock, so I strongly support Amendment 37.

I also support Amendment 78, in the name of the noble Lords, Lord Bruce and Lord Greaves. Hill farms are of great concern, particularly the smaller ones, to me and many others. They are all marginal, almost by definition. More than their total profit comes from current forms of financial support. I have an amendment in a later group which seeks to protect the basic payment for the next three years for smaller farms in less favoured areas. All these farms, almost without exception, lose money, and they survive only through financial support, so, using the words in the amendment, I certainly support that Ministers should,

“have regard to maintaining support for”

these small farms. When the Minister replies, it would be very helpful if he could give us some reassurance on this matter. I also hope that the noble Lords, Lord Beith, Lord Greaves and Lord Wigley, may support my Amendment 149 which comes in a later group.

The third amendment which I shall support is Amendment 91, in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Devon. He specifically refers to wetlands. I think he has in mind lowland wetlands, but in many upland areas there are very important wetlands. They are an important absorber of carbon. Many of these upland wetland areas have sphagnum moss and other plants that absorb a great deal of carbon. If the noble Earl believes that it is advantageous to include wetlands in the definitions, I am happy to support him.

These three amendments would improve the Bill and, if they are brought back on Report, I will be happy to support them.

Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I would like to make a general point about this group. We have a considerable number of amendments to Clause 1. They add further purposes for which the Secretary of State can give financial assistance. In my view, the Bill runs the risk of becoming a bit of a Christmas tree—everybody wants to hang a bauble on it. Many of these baubles are lovely. They highlight important activities which the new environmental land management scheme should support, such as integrated pest management and nature-friendly farming. I have signed to support some amendments, such as those on agroforestry and agroecology, so I am as guilty as many noble Lords in wanting to hang baubles on this Christmas tree as it passes. We all want our bauble to shine to impress on the Minister how vital they are so that he will consider whether these additions could be added to the Bill.

However, I think we need to examine our conscience and look at whether some of these proposals can be delivered under the current purposes in Clause 1, since they clearly come under the heading of improving the environment, mitigating climate change or improving soil et cetera. Many of them are about management practices rather than the purposes that those management practices are intended to deliver. So, although I will polish my baubles nicely when the amendments I have signed come up in order to impress on the Minister that they are important issues, I think we all have to ponder whether we really want the Christmas tree to crash to the ground overwhelmed by the weight of amendments in its first clause and to create an overly complicated framework for the future of agriculture and land management.

I shall also comment on those amendments in this group that could be interpreted as a return to payments directly for food production. We all know from the past that that distorted markets, encouraged environmental harm and ended up being a rather poor use of taxpayers’ money. The Bill needs to be much more visionary than that. It is a ground-breaking opportunity to set a new UK-based framework for agriculture. It needs to be focused with rapier precision, not a loose, baggy monster.

Finally, I support Amendment 1, which requires that the Secretary of State “must” fund the public goods that are listed in the Bill, rather than a discretionary “may”. We need a duty on the Secretary of State, not simply a power.

Baroness Mallalieu Portrait Baroness Mallalieu (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I support Amendments 37 and 78. A great many noble Lords from all sides of the House have done so with great eloquence, so I will cut my speech short. The Bill needs to be beefed up in relation to pasture-fed grazing systems and support for hill farms and other marginal land.

In speaking as I do, I declare an interest in addition to those set out in the register as a patron of the Exmoor Pony Society and as someone with a particular interest in the conservation of rare breeds. I follow on from the remarks that have already been made by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss. Version 1 of the Agriculture Bill contained no provisions such as those which are now set out in Clause 1(1)(g), which provides the possibility of financial assistance for,

“conserving native livestock, native equines or genetic resources relating to any such animal.”

In tandem with the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, who I think is going to speak later, if this version 2 Bill had emerged with the same deficiency, we had intended to try to introduce just such a provision, so I am grateful that this second version made good that deficit as a result of a number of approaches from the Rare Breeds Survival Trust and many others, assisted, I do not doubt, by the Secretary of State for the Environment’s personal knowledge and appreciation of the value of the British Lop pig, a breed on the endangered species list.

It was therefore with some dismay that I saw Amendment 27, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, which proposes to widen the clause from native livestock to all livestock at a time when we all know that funds are going to be very limited. Were he to succeed, he would so water down the provision that the very purpose of this paragraph would be rendered pointless. The Explanatory Notes to the Bill say that it is,

“to provide financial assistance for measures to support the conservation and maintenance of UK native Genetic Resources relating to livestock or equines.”

A dilution of such funds as are likely to be available would necessarily weaken our ability to meet our obligations under Aichi target 13 of the biodiversity convention and United Nations sustainable development goal 2.5, both of which require us to conserve the diversity of our livestock breeds.

The amendment would remove something which I believe could be a means of encouraging and incentivising farmers to invest in rare and native breeds, many of which have gone already. We are only just at the very beginning of an appreciation of the genetic bank that we possess in relation to our native breeds. We are only just beginning to carry out widespread genetic testing, which is revealing just how precious and potentially valuable some of those genetic qualities are. A genetic ability to cope with extreme weather conditions, such as that possessed by the Dartmoor hill ponies of the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, the ability to thrive on inferior pasture, like the Exmoor pony, and docility, good mothering abilities and not running to excess fat, like George Eustice’s British Lop pigs, have not just an actual value but a potential one, which is as yet often unknown.

Some people still keep these breeds because they like them, out of tradition or sentiment, or due to local culture, which is not unimportant. However, without an incentive to farmers to conserve them, which is often the case at present, many have been lost and many more are under threat. Clause 1(1)(g) is their lifeline, and I hope that it will not be cut.

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Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone [V]
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My Lords, I am afraid that I want to take a different position from several noble Lords who have already spoken about the amendments in this group. I speak specifically to reject Amendments 64 and 106 and other amendments in the group that would restrict payments to agricultural, horticultural and forestry land only. This Bill is about delivering public good through land management, and the environmental land management scheme will be one of the major ways in which the Government’s 25-year environment plan will be delivered. Therefore, although many of these public goods will be delivered by farmers and farm businesses, not all of them will: for example, restoration of non-agricultural habitats, such as blanket bogs, and the creation of non-commercial woodlands, such as community woodlands, both of which are important for combating climate change. I therefore do not support these amendments, which would limit the scope to agricultural, horticultural and forestry management rather than wider land management. These would reduce the Bill’s effectiveness in delivering its key purposes.

A number of noble Lords have said that this is an Agriculture Bill and so it should be about farmers and food production. I do not agree: I believe that this Bill is not about modest changes in the way we support and incentivise farmers but about how in the future we support anyone who manages land to deliver the things that the nation needs from the land. This will include food production, but it will also include a wide range of other things. This Bill is not simply about filling the gap left by leaving the common agricultural policy; it is about setting a vision for the future of the way the scarce resource of land is managed. Farmers will form a vital part of this transition and need to be helped and supported to make this transition, but it cannot be about farmers alone. Can the Minister assure me that the restrictions in these amendments will not be accepted?

I turn to Amendments 118 and 121 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter. I share her view that the checking, enforcement and monitoring of the new financial support schemes cannot be optional: they have to be required on the face of the Bill.

Baroness Garden of Frognal Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Garden of Frognal) (LD)
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I understand that the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, has scratched, so I now call the noble Lord, Lord Empey.

Agriculture Bill

Baroness Young of Old Scone Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Thursday 9th July 2020

(4 years ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Agriculture Act 2020 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 112-III Third marshalled list for Committee - (9 Jul 2020)
Lord Cormack Portrait Lord Cormack (Con)
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My Lords, I am delighted to take part in this debate, and I begin by saying how much I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Greaves. The sooner we can get back to proper debating, with interventions—not too many, but pointed and at the right time—the better. At the moment, we are in a one-dimensional Parliament, which is not able to adequately hold the Government to account or fully debate these subjects—a point rather brilliantly illustrated, perhaps not intentionally, by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, a moment ago, when he talked of all the attributes of the ideal farmer.

I want to address a few remarks to Amendment 12, but I want to look not at the accomplished man or woman who is a farmer, but at our children, and young children in particular. We all pay lip service to education, and there are parts of the country where a number of farms have regular farm visits; there are many in my native county of Lincolnshire, where I live, and many in Staffordshire, which I had the honour of representing for some 40 years in the other place. But we need to co-ordinate more. We need to try to ensure that there is a place on every syllabus, in every school, for some acquaintance with farming—perhaps by visiting, perhaps by welcoming speakers from the NFU and elsewhere into the schools. But we need to make sure our young people understand their food and where it comes from, as the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, said earlier in this debate. We want them to value, cherish and—as we said in the debate on Tuesday—share the enjoyment and protection of wonderful countryside. Countryside and farming are indivisible.

The other point I would like to make in this brief intervention is to say how much I agreed with the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, when she talked of the grotesque, indecent factory production of chickens and the devastation it causes in one of the most beautiful areas of our country—the Wye Valley. There have been photographs in the papers in the last week or two that shame us all. As she said, many of these are industrial units producing—entirely for profit—food I would not give to a dog.

We need to have regard for the standards with which food is produced. We are quite rightly making much of this in the negotiations with our European friends and neighbours. In the talk we are having of doing deals with other countries, our standards are, on the whole, good, but they can be better, and it is very important that we have an intelligent, well-educated electorate, who will not accept the indifferent or the downright bad. I will return to some of these points in the debate later this afternoon, but I hope my noble friend will acknowledge that these are important points.

Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone (Lab) [V]
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I support Amendment 57 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, so ably laid out by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs. This amendment is vital to ensure that, in making payments for productivity improvements under subsection (2)(a), they do not counteract the purposes—the public goods—listed in subsection (1). There is no point in payments being made for public goods, such as environmental improvement, if public money is given for productivity improvements that could result in environmental down sides. I am not saying payments for productivity improvements should not be made; I am simply saying that we must make sure that these are not, in themselves, environmentally damaging. The amendment would ensure that productivity improvements were environmentally sound.

It is a slippery slope: we more fundamentally do not want to see polarisation, where some farming is effective and productive, and other farming is environmentally sound, where some land is sweated intensively for production, and some set aside for biodiversity in the environment, like zoos.

There was a time in the not-too-distant past when a previous Secretary of State for the Environment—for the avoidance of speculation, let us call her Secretary of State Truss—had a vision for the future of agriculture and the environment which had highly intensive agriculture in the lowlands and biodiversity and the environment shuffled off into the uplands. We have come a long way in sophistication since then. We all want all agricultural land to efficiently deliver food and for the environment. Amendment 57 would be important for this, but if the amendment cannot be agreed to by the Government, can the Minister tell us how he plans to ensure that productivity support does not result in environmental down sides?

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Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle [V]
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My Lords, it is my great pleasure to follow the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, and to endorse entirely everything that he has just said. I was very pleased to sign his amendment. It very much complements one of the amendments in this group that I will come to later.

Across this group we have references to soil, agroecology and reductions in the use of pesticides and herbicides. We are talking about farming systems that work with nature— systems that do not use metaphorical coshes but instead see how we can use the existing systems, cultivate them and restore them. Of course, the foundation of that, as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, outlined in his introductory remarks, is very much the soil. I guess I have to focus on this as the Member of your Lordships’ House who first used the term “tardigrades” in Hansard.

In the soil we have a range of animals—mites, springtails, nematodes and, of course, the earthworms that Charles Darwin was aware were so important. It is crucial that the Bill explicitly recognises the need to focus on the organisms in the soil, as well as the billion bacteria that you find in every teaspoon of healthy soil, and the fungi, which I will talk about in discussing another group. I therefore commend Amendment 29 from the noble Lord, Lord Lucas.

I have put my name to Amendment 224 in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, about publishing a soil health index report within 12 months. It is really important that we have timetables built into the Bill, and into all the Bills that come before your Lordships’ House. We are very aware of many delays, whether it is the food strategy or the peatland strategy. The state of our soils and the state of nature cannot wait. We need to ensure that there are timetables for the Government to act upon and meet.

I also commend Amendment 217, about the long-term monitoring of soil, which fits into that same kind of approach. Furthermore, in this agroecological, joined-up approach, I commend Amendment 38 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, and Amendment 39 in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, on nature-friendly farming.

I was very pleased to put my name to Amendments 40 and 97 from the noble Lord, Lord Teverson. As the noble Lord said, we have heard many words on agroecology; I recall Michael Gove, I think three Oxford Real Farming Conferences ago, saying that the Government were absolutely committed to agroecology. However, we do not really see this in the Bill in a coherent, central manner. Words and statements of intention from Ministers are fine, but we really want to see agroecology front and centre of the Bill.

I was also pleased to put my name to Amendment 42 from the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, on whole-farm agroecological systems, because this gets at the idea that we are not talking about a field or a single area and that we need to think about whole-farm systems. I think the Minister addressed this earlier: when he talked about education, he spoke about how woodland might well be part of a whole-farm approach or system. But this needs to be built into the actual farming elements of the Bill, to acknowledge that we need to see this agroecological approach taking in soil, water and all sorts of different plants, and to see arable, pasture and woodland as a complete system—what you might call an approach involving systems thinking or permaculture.

I turn now to a couple of amendments that appear in my own name, starting with Amendment 49, which very much builds on the earlier comments of the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington. This would put explicit aims in the Bill: reducing herbicide and pesticide use; ending the use of chemical fertilisers; and—moving to a concept that may not yet be familiar to many of your Lordships, but I am sure it soon will be—using the idea of nutrition per acre as a measure of the kind of farming that we want, and need, to see. We have seen already in the Bill an evolution towards an acknowledgement that farming is about food, which is a pretty obvious statement, but we need to produce good, healthy food as a public good and to contribute to public health. That is what this amendment addresses.

As the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, said, the EU has set figures and aims for the improvement of organic farming. Our record is, sadly, a very slow one, and indeed a story of going backwards. The EU has said that it wants to see 25% of its farmland become organic by 2030. We often hear from the Government in many contexts that they want to be world-leading. If they want the Agriculture Bill to be world-leading, they need to set a target for organics on the face of the Bill higher than that which the EU has set.

That is also the case in terms of fertiliser use: the EU has set a target of at least a 20% reduction in artificial fertiliser use by 2030. World-leading has to be better than that. That, of course, is an issue that feeds into so many other aspects we have been discussing in the Bill. My noble friend has sought to introduce references to air pollution; we are also concerned about water pollution from the use of nitrogen fertilisers, in particular. On pesticides, the EU has set a target of a 50% reduction by 2030. I refer the Government again to the issue of being world-leading.

We are often told that this is a framework Bill and all the detail is going to come later in regulations, but if we look at the Climate Change Act, that set out a very clear direction of travel that has since been enhanced. Anyone who read the Bill knew what the Government were trying to achieve. Sadly, a framework Act that has powers but not duties fails in that fundamental principle.

Finally on this amendment, I want to particularly mention nutrition per acre. A lot of this work comes from the Sustainable Food Trust, which is involved in one of Defra’s ELM trials, and is also based on the work of the Indian campaigner and environmentalist Vandana Shiva, who points out that biodiverse agroecological systems have much better outputs of micronutrients and phytonutrients. If we come at this from the other side, the British Nutrition Foundation had a very interesting round table in May 2019, which particularly focused on the fact that, of course, we know that we have a problem with obesity, with an excessive intake of calories, yet, like most of the global north, about three-quarters of people in Britain do not actually get sufficient nutrition in terms of vitamins, minerals, essential amino acids and fatty acids. If we are going to see a reduction in calorie consumption, we really have to be boosting the level of nutrition—the health of food. This is a relatively new area, but we are seeing and understanding that a carrot is not just a carrot—there can be massive difference between the nutritional content of a carrot grown under an agroecological system and a carrot grown in a heavily chemically fertilised, very worn-out soil.

I am aware that I have been speaking for some time, but I will refer briefly to Amendment 84 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, on agroforestry. As he was saying, this has to be central to models of the future. If noble Lords have not been to the wonderful Wakelyns, the organic agroforestry research and development site in Suffolk, I urge them to visit and see what can be achieved. It is an inspiring case study and helps demonstrate the principle that agroforestry, broadly speaking, is one-third more productive than simple arable production.

Finally, I come to the amendment in this group that appears in my name. I thank the noble Lords, Lord Randall of Uxbridge and Lord Greaves, for signing it. Amendment 117 refers to meadows and semi-natural grasslands. I pay tribute to the campaigning group Plantlife, which did most of the work on this amendment. Noble Lords might recollect that last Saturday was National Meadows Day, which gave us a chance to reflect on the fact that we have lost 97% of our meadows since the 1930s. These beautiful, hugely valuable, biodiverse environments actually produce very healthy food for animals. We have been talking about the value of diversity in human diets; the same applies to animals. They are also crucial, of course, to our pollinators, which are central to so much of our food production. Having lost 97% of them, this amendment puts into the Bill the principle that we simply cannot afford to lose any more. This, as with many of our upland landscapes, is a hugely valuable, internationally precious resource that we have to protect. I ask noble Lords to consider ensuring that we include it in the Bill.

Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone [V]
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My Lords, I support Amendment 40, to which I have put my name. It talks about financial assistance for establishing and maintaining agroforestry systems. I also support Amendment 84, which lays out what agroforestry actually means. I feel slightly guilty about this, because having pointed out on our first day in Committee the problems of this being a Christmas tree Bill that everybody wanted to hang a bauble on, here I am with a cherished bauble, because agroforestry systems have major benefits.

I should declare an interest as chairman of the Woodland Trust. Combining trees and farming is a very long-established system. Trees are a crop in themselves, but in combination with agriculture they also help nature, combat climate change and protect water, as well as being good for soil protection and animal welfare. For example, sheep with access to shelter belts of trees produce bigger lambs and suffer less ewe and lamb mortality. I offer my support to this amendment to probe and explore with the Minister how the Government will ensure that agroforestry might receive public funds under the terms of the Bill, since it undoubtedly delivers public goods.

Agriculture Bill

Baroness Young of Old Scone Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Tuesday 14th July 2020

(4 years ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Agriculture Act 2020 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 112-IV(Rev) Revised fourth marshalled list for Committee - (14 Jul 2020)
Lord Carrington Portrait Lord Carrington [V]
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My Lords, I support Amendments 58 and 119, as tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and the noble Earl, Lord Caithness. I also agree with every word that the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, just said, and the words of other noble Lords.

The threat of sanctions put off many farmers from taking up opportunities under the current environmental schemes. These sanctions threaten not only the environmental scheme payments themselves, but also, through cross-compliance, the basic payments. Access to and the eligibility of financing advice is therefore supremely important if there is to be a wide take-up of ELM schemes. The wealthier farmers with larger farms often have good access to advice, but most of this is expensive and unattractive as an option. Farmers are not a homogenous group. All that a farmer with a small to medium-sized farm knows about is the traditional farming that he has done for ever through good and bad years. He knows the risks. That is his life and livelihood. A farmer may not have great expectations and he may not take foreign holidays, but he fears getting involved in a new venture outside of his comfort zone which could lead to direct or indirect sanctions and put him out of business.

A study by the School of Agriculture, Policy and Development at the University of Reading and the Institute for Sustainable Food at the University of Sheffield looked at the impact of the digital divide and sometimes limited access to broadband in rural areas, which, together with lack of time, the age of the farmer and social isolation, has made it difficult for farmers to contribute to or participate in the design of ELMs.

These factors will not have changed at the implementation stage, so access to and funding for farm advisers with good training and good communication skills is essential. The success or otherwise of the Bill will be judged partly by the take up and success of environmental land management schemes. The balance between crop production on marginal land and environmental schemes is the key. Too little profit from the environmental land management scheme will encourage continued production on marginal land, leading to possible losses and risks to the farmer’s business and livelihood. If there is too much profit in the scheme there will be a loss of farm production and, consequently, greater imports of food and less self-sufficiency. This demonstrates the importance of the provision of advice and, if necessary, financing it.

Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I support Amendment 122 in the name of my noble friend Lord Grantchester and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, for bringing forward his amendments. We are standing at a watershed for farming and land management. We cannot underestimate the scale of change that this Bill denotes. We need to fund an effective advisory process to support farmers and land managers through what could otherwise be cataclysmic changes. Over the past 30 years we have seen the erosion and virtual disappearance of what was, in early days, a systematic advisory support service, which had developed to support farming improvements in the post-war era. Most farming advice is now provided by commercial agronomists with products to sell or by fragmented single-focus organisations. Advice needs to cover not only technical and productivity improvements but ecological literacy. The scale and ambition of the changes the Bill proposes and the multiple functions we need land to deliver show that the time has come again for a comprehensive and joined-up approach to advisory services, and for the funding to deliver that. I hope the Minister can support this.

Lord Inglewood Portrait Lord Inglewood [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, being a farmer, over the past two or three years I have had to think very carefully about my activities in future. In my case, I have one specific and really quite complicated land use problem—or perhaps I should say challenge—to deal with. The way in which I have approached it is to take a certain amount of specialist advice. In simple terms, that advice has been paid for by the BPS payment I received. As all your Lordships know, the BPS payment is to be cut and the effect is that the money that otherwise would pay for advice may well not be there.

My example is not particular to me; a lot of farmers are thinking seriously about what they have to do next. They will have to take external advice, probably now—it is no good waiting until the changes come into effect before you decide what to do. What you have to do is think about the future, work on the basis of what we know about the general rules and regulations that will be in place and plan a course. In all sorts of ways, this is something which many farmers cannot do. Of course, if you are going to take advice, you have to pay for it. When the BPS is cut back, individual farms’ resources to do that will be curtailed. I suggest to the Committee, and through it to the Minister, something which I have mentioned to his private office. Instead of simply cutting pieces off the BPS payment until ELMS comes into being, it should be possible for that money to be drawn down from individual farms and hypothecated to get the advice necessary to prepare the farmers for the future world that will come. Otherwise I fear a lot of farms will not do enough homework, which will be to the detriment of not only British agriculture but Britain as a whole.

Agriculture Bill

Baroness Young of Old Scone Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee: 4th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 4th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Thursday 16th July 2020

(4 years ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Agriculture Act 2020 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 112-V Fifth marshalled list for Committee - (16 Jul 2020)
Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick Portrait Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick (Non-Afl) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I support Amendment 73 in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, and Amendments 272 and 274, in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Whitchurch and Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb.

Protecting the environment is important to me. Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, I believe that over the last 10 years we have seen many severe weather events that have had a direct impact on our land, our nature and, above all, our soil texture and quality. The land has been leached of essential nutrients, thereby disabling agricultural production and the capacity to produce food. This debate is really all about food and the quality of food for consumption by all our citizens.

There is a value and a benefit to the environment in making financial provision, financial entitlement and financial qualification a means of encouraging a reduction in climate change emissions. It is worth remembering that our Select Committee report entitled Hungry for Change, which was published last week, stated that the features of a sustainable food system are that it should be environmentally sustainable, that land must be managed to ensure that it is used appropriately and is continuously viable for food production, and that the negative impacts of GHG emissions and water and air pollution on habitats and diversity must be substantially reduced, while carbon sequestration and flood management are enhanced. It is important that the forthcoming national food strategy considers those factors, as well as ensuring that our food supply is socially and economically viable.

Therefore, I have no problem in supporting these amendments, because I believe that we have to reduce our CO2 emissions. We have to make that contribution to net-zero emissions and there should be financial payments to our farming folk that recognise that. What better way to do that than to recognise it on the face of the Bill? I hope that in replying the Minister will indicate the Government’s response to these amendments and set out how they intend to contribute to net-zero emissions through farming and food production.

Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I support Amendments 272 and 274 in the names of the two noble Baronesses, Lady Jones and Lady Jones, respectively—you can never have too many Lady Joneses, in my view.

These amendments would put an urgency and a framework into the objective of substantially reducing the carbon impact of farming, and would include a series of targets and interim targets in line with successive carbon budgets under the Climate Change Act. The noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, said that the amendments were too declamatory and mandatory, and that is why I support them. We need a bit of backbone to make sure that this vital purpose is achieved.

Agriculture accounts for 11% of UK greenhouse gas emissions, and that percentage has not reduced very much over the last 10 years. Unless change can be incentivised financially, agriculture will account for a greater proportion of our UK emissions, as other sectors decarbonise quickly. On the other hand, land is an essential resource for tackling climate change through its ability to sequester and store carbon, and that needs to be taken into account at the same time.

I know that the Minister will say that the purposes in Clause 1 already enable support to be provided for measures to combat climate change. However, the amendments before us provide a much stronger framework to drive the urgent changes required in agricultural practice, and I urge him to consider the extra welly that they will provide for this vital purpose.

Lord Clark of Windermere Portrait Lord Clark of Windermere (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I very much associate myself with the thrust of these four amendments. They highlight something which is absolutely critical, and we can think of this as we go through Covid-19, because, although the pandemic is serious, it is not as serious as climate change.

Here, we have a set of amendments that sets modern agriculture in Britain within the context of our climate change challenge. It is a big challenge but one that we have to face and, in fact, win. I very much associate myself with the comments of my noble friend Lady Young of Old Scone. In particular, I support Amendment 272 in the name of my noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch, although I equally support the amendment in the name of the other noble Baroness, Lady Jones.

If we had to invent a machine to lead the campaign against carbon emissions, that would be quite difficult, but nature has provided us with just such a machine. It has provided us with trees. Trees absorb carbon as they grow and retain carbon as they mature: in their leaves, their trunk, their bark, their roots and their soil—it is all there. Although we do not have many woods and trees in this country, we all have ambitions to have more. To give one statistic, one young mixed wood captures 400 tonnes of carbon per hectare. It is a very efficient way of meeting our climate change target, and this Bill will help, because more trees will be planted.

I want to raise something with the Minister which I hope he or she will look at. We all talk about planting trees because they provide so many benefits—in this case, we are talking about climate change—but if you remove trees, you do exactly the opposite, with the saving grace that if you replant, you start the whole process again. There is a law in this country that says that before a tree of a certain size is felled, a licence must be obtained. However, I am afraid that that legislation is hardly ever applied. It is when it comes to large areas of trees, because, just as individuals might get grants to plant trees, they have to get permission to fell.

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Amendment 232, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, would be a tough biannual burden on the Secretary of State, the benefits of which, some might say, would not justify it. Besides, it is strongly weighted towards the priorities of the noble Baroness, rather than those of the wider farming community and the consumer.
Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone [V]
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My Lords, I support Amendment 129 in the name of my noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch. It would require the Secretary of State to take into account the current environmental improvement plan in agreeing priorities for incentives. It is about a big concern of mine at the moment, which is that we start to join up some of these silos that are growing—environment, forestry, other land management purposes and agriculture. There are myriad schemes that are going to be coming towards farmers that will affect land, agriculture, forestry and the environment. There is the ELM scheme itself, as enshrined in this Bill, the 25-year environment plan, the provisions of the Environment Bill, the climate guarantee scheme, the Nature4Climate fund, the biodiversity net gain provisions and nature recovery networks. It feels more overheated than I have experienced for a long time in this area, which is great, because it means that everyone is putting effort, energy and funding into those sorts of issues—but it would be quite nice if we could join them up a bit.

Way back, I had a pious hope that we could have one Bill—a joint agriculture and environment Bill. I thought it would be a good idea. But in view of the pace at which this Bill is going through the House—and despite the aspirations of previous speakers that the Minister stay in his post for ever—I think that if we had had a joint agriculture and environment Bill, the Minister would probably have done a runner at that stage.

We need to find a way to bring all these initiatives together. Amendment 129 would at least be a modest start in joining up the environmental and agricultural agenda, as it should be.

Baroness Garden of Frognal Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness of Garden of Frognal) (LD)
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The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, has withdrawn. I call the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe.

Agriculture Bill

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

(3 years, 12 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Agriculture Act 2020 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 112-VI(Rev) Revised sixth marshalled list for Committee - (21 Jul 2020)
Earl of Devon Portrait The Earl of Devon [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I am generally supportive of the amendments in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, and the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, and their desire to get younger farmers on to the land. This is crucial to improving diversity and productivity and is generally crucial to the health of the farming industry.

However, I oppose Clause 34 and the entirety of Schedule 3 standing part of the Bill. This is not because I think that agricultural tenancy reform is not much needed; rather, it is far too important an issue to be addressed in a simple schedule to this complex Bill. It must not be treated as an afterthought. In these constipated proceedings, we simply do not have time to do justice to agricultural tenancy reform. I have barely had the capacity to consider the provisions in Schedule 3; perhaps this proposal is aimed at sparing me and your Lordships the time of doing so.

I was horrified to learn that the average length of modern agricultural tenancy is just three years. This is the worst possible thing for the environment. For all our days of effort to define and incorporate a variety of public goods and worthy causes under Clause 1, probably the best thing we can do for the environment is simply adjust the term of agricultural tenancies from three years upwards towards 10. There is simply no way a farmer can commit the resources to maintain his or her natural capital, such as soils, hedges and trees, when he or she has only a three-year term and the bank that is financing the business needs to see a commercial return within that short timeframe.

I also keep in mind the excellent work of the Tenancy Reform Industry Group—TRIG—whose final report to Defra made wide-ranging and sweeping recommendations for agricultural tenancy reform. Schedule 3 is a wholly inadequate response to that. Many will say that we should take what we can by way of primary legislation in this area, as the chance does not come along too often. However, I would resist that and reiterate that this far too important an issue to be resolved by Schedule 3 alone.

Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I will speak on Amendment 222 in my name; I thank the noble Lord, Lord Randall, for putting his name to it.

The community infrastructure levy, known as the CIL, was introduced in 2010—[Inaudible.]

Lord Russell of Liverpool Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The noble Baroness’s connection is very bad. If she does not mind, we will leave her for a moment to try to get the connection back up and I will call her later. I call the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering.

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Baroness Garden of Frognal Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Garden of Frognal) (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I was about to call the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, but do we have the noble Baroness, Lady Young, back with us?

Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone [V]
- Hansard - -

We do indeed. I shall speak to Amendment 222 in my name. I feel, at this precise moment, like having a rant about the inadequacies of rural broadband, but I shall restrain myself. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Randall, for supporting Amendment 222.

The community infrastructure levy was introduced in 2010. Some local planning authorities apply it to new agricultural buildings, but some do not. Agricultural buildings are often required for things such as housing livestock or storing grain, and new buildings are often driven by changes in regulations on animal welfare or food safety standards; or, they may enable business growth or productivity. These things will be important in the new agricultural world we are envisaging in the Bill. New agricultural buildings, however, are not like commercial buildings or housing developments, which are built by investors for immediate profit by selling or letting. Farmers have to stump up for the CIL payment, which can be tens of thousands of pounds, for loans they have taken out to construct a building, and they add to the servicing costs of loans—a direct cost on the farm business.

We are, in the Bill, seeing an environment where farming businesses will need to invest in an innovative way to improve their competitiveness and productivity. The CIL charge for new farm buildings risks inhibiting such investment. It is even more complicated in the current position, because some planning authorities, as I said, choose to levy the CIL on new farm buildings, and some do not, so there is an uneven playing field across the country, for a farming industry that supplies national and global firms. I can imagine the conversations with the supermarkets if you tried to tell them about your CIL charge when they are pressing down on costs across industry as a whole.

We need to bear in mind what the CIL was intended to do; it was a charge to fund local facilities, infrastructure and services to meet increased pressures that new developments often cause. Agricultural buildings are often large in size, so they attract a higher CIL, but low in impact on community infrastructure and services. Cows do not really need social services or want enhanced transport routes. Agricultural buildings are clearly defined in planning laws, so there is no danger of this becoming a creeping extension to any exemption, and there is clear evidence that imposing the CIL discourages investment in these farm businesses. So, this amendment would enable the Government to help farm businesses when they are facing what will, by all accounts, be very uncertain times as a result of the major changes in the agricultural support system. I hope the Minister might see his way to supporting this amendment.

Lord Lucas Portrait Lord Lucas (Con) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I support what the noble Earl, Lord Devon, said about less than five years being far too short for average farm tenancies if we are to succeed with a comprehensive agri-environment scheme. I also agree with him that accepting half a loaf now may not lead to the other half appearing; I think we all ought to understand, in this House, how that works. I am very grateful for Tony Blair’s willingness to accept half a loaf all those years ago.

My interest in this group is in Amendment 242. I am not an agricultural tenancy specialist; I come at this from an education point of view. Subsection 11(3) is an odd bit of legislation. It abolishes a large chunk of Part 1 of Schedule 6 to the Agricultural Holdings Act, which is full of definitions—I cannot, for the life of me, understand how we can do without them, but presumably it all fits in with the rest of the Bill. The bit that we are left with is a restatement, effectively, of one bit of Part 1 of Schedule 6, which governs the interface between the successor to a tenancy and that successor going off and learning their trade at an agricultural college. But it says that you are allowed only three years, and a lot of modern level 6 courses in agricultural colleges now last four years, because they—quite rightly—incorporate a year’s experience.

Today, I listened to the Universities Minister, Michelle Donelan, urging universities to be much more flexible and offer structures that are part-time, modular and akin to continuous professional development over many years. Looking to the future, therefore, the answer is not my amendment, but to remove the time restriction from this clause entirely. A successor to a tenancy ought to be allowed to have been studying their craft, and it ought not to matter where and in what pattern they have been doing that, particularly when we are currently urging such institutes of education to offer a much wider variety of ways in which agricultural education can be obtained. We ought not to be stuck in the past in this clause.

Agriculture Bill

Baroness Young of Old Scone Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee: 6th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 6th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Thursday 23rd July 2020

(3 years, 12 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Agriculture Act 2020 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 112-VII Seventh marshalled list for Committee - (23 Jul 2020)
Moved by
227: After Clause 34, insert the following new Clause—
“Land use strategy for England
(1) The Secretary of State must, no later than 31 March 2022, lay an agricultural land use strategy for England before Parliament.(2) The strategy must set out—(a) the Secretary of State’s objectives in relation to sustainable agricultural land use within an integrated land use framework;(b) proposals and policies for meeting those objectives;(c) the timescales over which those proposals and policies are expected to take effect.(3) The objectives, proposals and policies referred to in subsection (2) must contribute to—(a) achievement of the purposes for financial assistance under section 1(1) and 1(2);(b) achievement of objectives in relation to mitigation and adaptation to climate change, including achieving carbon budgets under Part 1 of the Climate Change Act 2008;(c) sustainable development including the use of previously agricultural land for development and infrastructure;(d) the achievement of objectives of the 25 Year Environment Plan for halting the decline of biodiversity.(4) Before laying the strategy before Parliament, the Secretary of State must publish a draft strategy and consult with—(a) such bodies as he or she considers appropriate, and(b) the general public.(5) The Secretary of State must, no later than—(a) 5 years after laying a strategy before Parliament under subsection (1), and(b) the end of every subsequent period of 5 years,lay a revised strategy before Parliament under the terms set out in subsections (2) to (4).(6) The Secretary of State must, no later than 3 years after the laying of a strategy before Parliament under this section, lay before Parliament a report on the implementation of the strategy and progress in achieving the objectives, proposals and policies under subsection (2).”Member’s explanatory statement
This new Clause would provide a land use context to enable the Secretary of State to make optimal decisions about the balance of financial assistance to the various purposes in Clause 1.
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Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I declare my interest as chairman of the Woodland Trust.

This amendment would require the Government to put in place a land use framework for England to provide a structure for resolving competing land uses, including agricultural land use. I thank the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, for their support for my amendment. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, who had hoped to voice his support today before events intervened.

There are multiple pressures on our finite amount of land, and they are all growing. We need more land for increased food security, for storing carbon, for biodiversity, for managing floods, for trees and increased timber self-sufficiency, for recreation and health, and for built development, housing and infrastructure. There are probably more pressures that I have not added to the list. The University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership recently conducted a demand/supply analysis and found that,

“to meet a growing UK population’s food, space and energy needs while increasing the area needed to protect and enhance the nation’s natural capital”,

the UK would have to have a third more land than it currently has—so the future competition for land will be huge. As we tackle these multiple pressures for land, we are hampered by the lack of a common framework within which to reconcile these competing needs.

It is interesting that Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland each have a land use framework and are using it to greater or lesser effect to guide policy on these competing areas of land need. As we build the new future post Covid, it is overdue that England should develop and use such a framework. This has been called for by many people, including the Select Committee on the Rural Economy of your Lordships’ House a couple of years ago and the Food, Farming and Countryside Commission. That commission will be commencing some real-life, county-level pilots on land use frameworks in the next few months. So I urge the Government to agree that a land use framework for England should be put in place. Otherwise, the competition for land will be a free-for-all and will fail to optimise the choices made to ensure that the most important land uses are given priority in the places that are best suited to them.

I assure noble Lords, landowners and land managers that I am not talking about lines on maps and precise delineations of what goes where. I am talking about a high-level framework within which negotiations, probably at county level, can take place. Let me give an example from Wales, which has the most promising land use framework in the UK. There was considerable concern among Welsh sheep farmers that some of these competing land uses would simply mean that there were no sheep left in the uplands. Discussions on the best places to put additional trees and woodland and convert land to agroecological farming have shown that only about 0.2% of the current agricultural land in Wales would have to change its use. It will be a huge reassurance for sheep farmers in Wales that woodland and agroecology schemes are not the Antichrist, banishing sheep from the uplands for ever, but can be integrated with comparative ease. That land use framework was extremely valuable in that respect.

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Amendment 228A (to Amendment 227) not moved.
Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone [V]
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, for his amendment requiring close links between the planning system and any land use strategy. My view is that we need an overarching land use strategy which would guide all sorts of decision-making processes—the planning system, the ELM schemes and some of the initiatives the Minister referred to, such as local nature recovery strategies and some of the work of the National Infrastructure Commission.

I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, who rightly pointed out that we are at a time of great flux in land use and that a strategy is very much needed now. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Addington, who was quite right about it needing to be wide and not just about agriculture; this is really a strategy about what land is for and how we get the right balance between competing uses.

The noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, has huge experience in these areas and rightly stressed that there should be perhaps one framework at a national level and others more regionally, but also that we have to guard against the nimbyism of too local a structure. If I cannot get the Minister to agree to this amendment, I would be delighted if there were to be a relevant Select Committee of this House.

I listened very carefully to the Minister’s response. Much as I love the National Planning Policy Framework, and I have worked hard on it over the years, it is partial. The reality is that the planning system does not really do anything to weigh up from a range of competing needs what should happen in a given area. It is much more focused on development needs, particularly built development needs. I still think that, irrespective of the National Planning Policy Framework, there is a need for an overarching land use strategy.

The same goes for local nature recovery strategies, which are very much about biodiversity. We are currently looking at a piecemeal arrangement which needs integrating into this strategy. I do not think it needs to be statist at all; it can be generated in ways that make it very much about conversations at a county level and at a national level about the right way to maximise the benefit for all these uses of our limited land.

To touch on the point made by the Minister about the National Infrastructure Commission, I had a hugely interesting discussion with its acting chief executive just before lockdown. It is now getting the hang of its climate change responsibilities, but it has never been tasked with responsibilities for other things such as biodiversity. It is time that the Government tasked the infrastructure commission with taking account of biodiversity needs, as well as the other half of the twin challenges, climate change.

I thank the noble Lord for his offer of further discussion. Although I would much prefer him to accept the amendment, clearly that is not going to happen. I should say that even if we cannot get this amendment accepted in the Agriculture Bill, there are myriad opportunities on which I shall not be backward in coming forward, including the Environment Bill—if it ever comes to our House—and the rumoured changes to planning legislation. When we talk about flooding or carbon or water, I shall be there to talk about an integrated land use strategy. I shall become the Countess of Mar of integrated land use strategies.

As has been said, land is a finite resource—we are not making any more. We need a framework now, and the pressures are growing. I hope that the Minister will recognise the need for some such way forward, but at this moment I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 227 withdrawn.
Moved by
229: After Clause 34, insert the following new Clause—
“Duty to consult on a new environmental regulatory regime for agriculture in England
(1) The Secretary of State must, within the period of six months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed, publish proposals for a new environmental regulatory regime for agriculture in England in accordance with this section.(2) Following publication, the Secretary of State must consult all interested stakeholders on the proposals mentioned in subsection (3).(3) The proposals for a new regulatory regime mentioned in subsection (1) must include—(a) consideration of the role of agriculture in achieving environmental objectives;(b) clear objectives for the regulatory regime with specific reference to the agricultural sector;(c) a new model for securing compliance with regulation formulated with a view to ensuring significant change in the behaviour of producers;(d) targets for compliance with environmental regulation;(e) amendments to existing regulations and new regulations required to maintain agricultural environmental standards following the removal of cross-compliance, and to support the new environmental objectives and priorities proposed in accordance with this section;(f) assessment of the resources needed to implement the new model mentioned in paragraph (c) and achieve the compliance targets mentioned in subsection paragraph (d);(g) any other issues that the Secretary of State considers relevant.”Member’s explanatory statement
This new Clause would update the regulatory framework for agriculture to fill gaps and bring it in line with environmental objectives, and to create effective compliance mechanisms.
Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone [V]
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I hope that at this time of the night noble Lords are not getting fed up with my voice. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Quin, and the noble Earl, Lord Cormack, for their support for it. The amendment requires the Secretary of State to publish proposals for an updated regulatory framework for agriculture to fill regulatory gaps that result from our leaving the common agricultural policy, and which would bring the regulatory framework into line with the environmental objectives stated in the Bill and the 25-year environment plan. It would also help to create effective monitoring and compliance mechanisms.

Everyone is pretty clear that the regulatory framework around farming is not fit for purpose. Some farming and land management practices continue to have adverse environmental impacts—ammonia emissions, pollution of rivers, greenhouse gas emissions and soil erosion, to mention just a few. It is staggering that agriculture is the primary cause of 30% of our sites of special scientific interest—those jewels in our wildlife crown—being in an unfavourable condition. Yet the current average inspection rate for the environment on farms is once every 200 years. I am not counting inspections by the rural payments inspectors, which are about EU requirements to audit funding and which, hopefully, Brexit will see the end of. However, once in 200 years is not much of an environmental inspection regime.

Changes to the farm support system, as outlined in the Bill, will further jeopardise effective farm regulation. Under the current basic payment scheme, all farmers and land managers in receipt of payments must, under the cross-compliance conditions, deliver something that is catchily called good agricultural and environmental condition—GAEC. It is the regulatory baseline of environmental performance. That requirement to achieve GAEC if one is in receipt of payments disappears with the common agricultural policy. There remains no less need to have a strong set of baseline environmental standards universally required of all land managers so that the specific public good provided above this baseline by the ELM scheme can be rewarded with payment. It would be heinous if ELM scheme public money were to be paid, for example, to improve water quality to a farmer, who, meanwhile, was failing to comply with the basic agricultural conditions that currently exist for other water quality protection arrangements.

Defra’s Farming for the Future update committed to introducing an alternative inspection and enforcement approach. I would welcome that, provided it does not mean a new stand-alone agricultural regulator which would duplicate the expert regulators we already have in Natural England and the Environment Agency—I declare an interest having been chairman of one and chief executive of the other—which not only know their onions but draw on knowledge gleaned from regulating a range of sectors, not just farming. That cross-learning from other sectors is very important. What these existing regulators need is not another regulator on the pitch but a proper framework for agricultural regulation, within which they can work with land managers. They also need proper resources to do an effective job in inspection and enforcement. All of this would be enabled by my Amendment 229, which I am moving.

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Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone [V]
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, rightly pointed out the possible environmental downside of those farmers who choose not to enter ELMS, which will of course be voluntary. The noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, rightly pointed out that if we have to pay for minimum environmental standards that are currently delivered under the cross-compliance regime it would have a huge impact on the public purse.

The noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, and the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, were anxious about a new regulatory regime being too burdensome for farmers at this time of flux, but I think that this is just the time. It is really important to give farmers a clear regulatory framework in which they can operate and make other changes to their farming businesses driven by the requirements of this Bill and our exit from the CAP. It would be really useful for farmers to know what is expected of them and to get the help and advice they need from the regulator on how to comply with the regulatory framework. I press the Government to move as quickly as possible on this.

I was not quite clear on, and I will want to read again in Hansard, what the Minister said about the continuation of some sort of cross-compliance. It would be useful to get from the Minister, if possible, a note to clarify the assurances that he gave about many of these issues being covered by other regulatory regimes, just so that we can be sure that all the things put in these amendments as needing to be preserved when the cross-compliance regime disappears are fully covered by existing regulatory requirements, particularly domestic regulation. We are not airbrushing that out; I simply continue to point to the fact that, even though we may have domestic regulation on soils, muddy floods continue to occur. It is only where we have seen local engagement by the Environment Agency with groups of maize farmers, for example, working with them collectively, that some of the intrinsically difficult practices in maize production have been reduced. The domestic regulation does not seem to be working; only in-depth collaboration in an advisory capacity with the regulator produces the results.

I thank the Minister for his offer of a meeting; I shall take him up on that. I look forward to the consultation and the extensive work on a new regulatory model that will kick off in the autumn. I hope that does not mean that anything dreadful is going to be done to the Environment Agency or Natural England. They need to get on with it, rather than be reorganised. We do not need a single environmental regulator just for agriculture. It is vital that we have skilful regulators who know what they are talking about because they are specialists and who draw their expertise also from case law and experience in regulating the same issues across a range of sectors. I welcome the fact that the Government will think long and deep and talk earnestly with the rest of us about that. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 229 withdrawn.

Agriculture Bill

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

(3 years, 11 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Agriculture Act 2020 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 112-VII Seventh marshalled list for Committee - (23 Jul 2020)
Before closing, I record my support for Amendment 271, which would require agricultural and food imports to meet domestic standards, and Amendment 273, which would ensure that UK standards on food safety, the environment and animal welfare cannot be undermined by imports produced to lower standards. In doing so, I declare an interest as a vice-president of the Chartered Trading Standards Institute, which also supports these amendments.
Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I support the spirit of these amendments, all of which seek to enshrine the Government’s manifesto commitment in the Bill. Recent polling shows that over 75% of the public think that it would be unacceptable to import food from the USA produced to lower standards. There would be pressure on our farmers to compete by lowering standards in this country. I am sure that the Minister will offer a number of assurances. He will say that the Government have repeatedly guaranteed, in statements, that the manifesto commitment will be observed. I would prefer something on the face of the Bill. As other noble Lords have said, Ministers and Governments come and go. The Minister may also say that the Trade Bill is the place for any statutory requirement on standards. However, that Bill is silent on this issue so far and I am sure that, when it comes to this House, noble Lords will be told that it is out of scope. Here and now are the place and time for statutory assurances on standards.

I will focus on environmental standards. Compared to the UK, substantially more highly hazardous pesticides are allowed in several of the major countries that we are seeking to do trade deals with—India, the USA and Australia. These pesticides are highly poisonous to pollinators, aquatic ecosystems and apex predators. Stocking densities can have a huge impact on air quality and habitats. It is worth while safeguarding our environmental standards as well as food safety and animal welfare.

The third thing the Minister may say is that import standards are against WTO rules, although I think I heard him reassure us earlier that he would not say that. I am sure that sensibly designed and properly justified import restrictions can be made compatible with WTO rules, and the UK should be taking the lead on this. However, we get a clue from the US and Indian negotiating mandates, both of which reveal that they see harmonising UK import standards as a threat. For “harmonising”, we should read “lowering”.

The Minister may also say that the same effect in protecting standards can be achieved by differential tariffs for products produced to a lower standard than our domestic one. The noble Lord, Lord Grimstone, has talked about this as well. Differential tariffs would need to be prohibitively high—that would be the whole point of them—to influence behaviour, so they would almost certainly be rejected by negotiating partners. We also hear that Secretary of State Truss is inclined to phase out such differential tariffs in general.

The Minister might also say that we could take a labelling solution: food labelling could safeguard standards and the public could then choose whether they wanted higher standards at higher costs. This would not work, because much of this food will go into ingredients for the out-of-home catering sector, where ingredients standards are rarely visible.

As the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, outlined, it would be pretty invidious if the better-off could choose to buy food produced to higher standards while those on a lower income would have to buy what they could afford, regardless of standards. This is not even Marie Antoinette’s “Let them eat cake”; it is worse—it is “Let them eat crap”. Apart from that, the US trade vote is against unjustifiable labelling. So we need provisions on standards on the face of the Bill, not just a labelling solution.

I turn briefly to the Trade and Agriculture Commission; I agree with much of what has already been said. The Government have already shown how little their commission would consider environmental standards by announcing a membership primarily about food and farming, with a tiny, last-minute concession of one person with an environmental background. Those representing human health and animal welfare standards do not get much of a look-in either. As has been noted, the Government’s commission is also flawed in having a limited term of six months, being purely advisory and reporting solely to the Secretary of State for International Trade. It is a fig leaf and we should not trust it.

I support the alternative commission promoted by the noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkharle, in his Amendment 279. It would persist beyond six months to scrutinise future trade deals and would be additional, not an alternative, to having the maintenance of import standards in the Bill. Most importantly, the commission proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Curry, would report not to the Secretary of State for International Trade but to Parliament, and there would be a requirement that its recommendations on the vital issue of trade standards would be fully debated in Parliament.

I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Mouslecoomb, that the Government have driven pretty much all interest groups on to the same side of this issue. No one thinks that the Government’s commission is anything other than a fig leaf. I hope the Minister will concede that he has a losing hand and can bring a decent amendment forward on Report.

Earl of Shrewsbury Portrait The Earl of Shrewsbury (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I too thank the Minister and all his colleagues for their stamina and good temper all the way through this mammoth Committee. I must declare an interest as a member of the NFU. My younger son is a free-range farmer in Lincolnshire, and he is extremely concerned—along with many of his colleagues in the free-range egg-producing world—about foreign imports produced to lesser standards.

The Minister will not be surprised to learn that I was going to speak to Amendments 270 and 271. But, having listened to the debate, I support virtually all the other amendments and I agree entirely with all that was said by the noble Lords, Lord Cameron and Lord Curry, and by my noble friend Lady Hodgson. The Minister will be very aware of the groundswell of opinion throughout the country: well over 1 million people signed the food standards petition, run very well by the NFU, with huge media coverage.

I welcome the establishment of the international Trade and Agriculture Commission, but it must have real teeth and I too would prefer it to be permanent—we must keep it in the future. I do not want it to be giving advice to the Secretary of State of which they can take not a blind bit of notice. It must be there to guide the Secretary of State and Parliament on the standards that we need to keep and enhance in the future. We are a world -class act in the standards we produce in our agricultural industry; we must keep that up and go even further.

In my view, nearly all the arguments have already been stated on numerous occasions, so I will not repeat them. Suffice it to say that my brief words are simply to keep up the pressure and to hold Her Majesty’s Government to their pledges on food standards and to ensure that they do not compromise them in any ongoing or future trade deals.

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Earl of Lindsay Portrait The Earl of Lindsay [V]
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My Lords, as vice-chair of the APPG on Science and Technology in Agriculture, I believe that the Bill is a timely opportunity for the Government to consult on and thereafter create the option in future to oversee and regulate precision-breeding tools such as new gene-editing technologies. I therefore fully support the amendment and agree with everything said so far in its support. I also note the wide support that the amendment has attracted from reputable institutions across the UK, in mainland Europe and elsewhere in the world.

It is universally accepted that agriculture and food production must become more sustainable in a world that faces considerable challenges from climate change, environmental degradation and an increasing and more affluent global population. Most would accept that we need to be more innovative if we are to reduce the dependency on pesticides and fertilisers and tackle biodiversity loss while at the same time providing food that is sufficient, nutritious, sustainable and affordable.

The new generation of precision-breeding tools, properly regulated, would make a major contribution to delivering these vital objectives. It would be a step change in our ability to deliver a more sustainable, productive and climate-resistant agriculture. Finally, it would also align with the regulatory stance of other countries around the world whose scientists, breeders, farmers and consumers already benefit from access to these valuable precision-breeding technologies.

Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone [V]
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My Lords, I have rather drawn the short straw in being the first speaker to disagree with the rather stellar line-up promoting Amendment 275. I have huge trepidation in doing that because all noble Lords who have spoken so far are people whose views I hugely respect and who have the best possible motives.

I have listened very carefully to what they have said and remain pretty concerned about any loosening of the regulation of gene-edited crops. I shall not talk about health issues and the health impact, but will focus on the environmental issues associated with gene-edited crops. I was chairman of English Nature at the time that this was giving the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, scars in the late 1990s and I was on the opposite side from him then, but I hope that the noble Lords who have spoken so far will not dismiss my arguments as emotional. I am talking about science as much as they are, and I would be disappointed if that were dismissed as Luddism. One of the failures of this debate to date, as it was 20 years ago, is that it immediately starts polarising, opposing voices are demonised and there is a sense of battle lines being drawn up. That is something that we should not repeat.

There is no doubt that there may be benefits from gene-edited crops that would be hugely valuable in the face of growing world populations and climate change. Some have already been talked about, including high yields, increased nutritional content, greater proof against drought, pests and extreme weather, less use of land and less application of fertilisers, but there are undoubtedly well-evidenced down sides as well. Let me go through those that bear weight with me. First, there is the undeniable issue that once gene-edited species have been released, that is irreversible and if there are any consequential ill effects, they cannot then be put back in the bottle. So this is important and tricky stuff. Secondly, there is the possibility of gene flows taking place between crops and close wild relatives. The impacts of that, which may be unforeseen, need to be carefully taken into account. Thirdly, and I take issue with the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, on this one, producing insect-resistant crops is not just stopping the insects eating the crops; it will have an impact on the biomass of insects in just as dramatic a way as killing insects with pesticides. We have to think about what is happening to our insect populations if many of our crops are to be developed with insect resistance. That is their food source. Fourthly, although gene-editing tools are coming on by leaps and bounds, even CRISPR and the like are not yet as precise as is claimed and there is substantial research evidence of unforeseen changes in other parts of the genome.

At the moment these crops are regulated as GMOs and there is a full assessment of the environmental impact before they can be released. The noble Lord, Lord Gardiner, responding to the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, on 4 March this year, said that the Government would take a “science-based approach” to gene editing and there would be “strict controls” to safeguard the environment with

“a robust case-by-case safety assessment taking full account of the scientific evidence.”—[Official Report, 4/3/20; col. 609.]

How does the Minister see such assessments taking place if there is a change from the regulatory framework for gene editing, and where will scientific advice on the impacts on the environment come from? I made some inquiries with the chairman of Natural England a couple of weeks ago, which formally advised the Government on the impact of genetically modified crops on the natural environment, and he has revealed that Natural England, English Nature’s successor, can no longer afford a specialist team in this area so it has disbanded any expertise that it had.

Of course, a perfectly good EU review of the whole issue of gene editing of crops and animals is under way and due to be published next April, so why are we rushing to make an amendment to the Bill that would jump the gun? Can we not wait to see what that review reveals? Rushing to deregulate gene editing, as some wish to do, to bring us into alignment with the US risks us pursuing the US market, which will always be a smaller, specialist market for UK food products, and risk our not being able to continue to do business with our major existing EU markets, depending on what they decide.

Therefore, why not wait to see what the EU decides to do after April 2021? In the meantime, the Minister would have the opportunity to lay out more clearly how his assurances on controls to safeguard the environment would work and it would enable a much broader public debate on acceptability. The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, talked about open and transparent consultation, but changing the entire regulatory regime for gene editing under cover of darkness in the Agriculture Bill without any prior public consultation does not seem the right way to start off in an open and transparent way with the general public, who, for good reason or bad, are sensitised to this issue.

This artificial need for haste feels very like going back to the bad old days of the late 1990s, which the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, recalled during a debate on previous amendments. Monsanto tried to ride roughshod over British public opinion and the British political process. It got a very bloody nose and set any case for responsible genetic modification back by 20 years.

The signs are there again. One side has terrific zeal that this technology will solve all problems; the other side is denigrated as an unscientific bunch of woolly- pully tree-huggers. Public concerns are reduced to an equation that says, “Well, if we explain it more carefully to the public, of course they’ll accept it”, but that is the worst possible way of approaching a public consultation exercise that involves something very near and dear to the hearts of all people in this country—what they put in their mouths and what happens to the environment.

Let us not fall into the trap of 20 years ago. Let us take this steadily and have a properly scientific, open and transparent debate, and let us not set off on the wrong foot by accepting this amendment.

Lord Taylor of Holbeach Portrait Lord Taylor of Holbeach (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I declare my interest as a member of a family farming and growing business, as listed in the register. Perhaps I can reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, that that is exactly what the amendment is about. It is about a consultation—it is about talking about the issue and trying to get some sense around it. I usually like to hear what the noble Baroness has to say but I found what she said today terribly negative and almost backward-looking.

At the heart of this is a consultation on a future regulatory status for new precision breeding techniques such as gene editing. I think we all agree that there is no foreign DNA involved in gene editing. It offers an enormous step change in the speed and precision of breeding crops and livestock. Therefore, it opens up significant opportunities for scientists, breeders, farmers and growers to keep pace with demands for more productive and sustainable production systems, with improved resource-use efficiency, more durable pest and disease resistance, improved nutrition and resilience to climate change. That is all to the good, I say.

The amendment has attracted widespread support, and not just the support of science. It will also ensure that our small and medium-sized breeding companies have the same access to these promising new techniques as the very large multinational companies, which the noble Baroness, Lady Young, mentioned. For example, down the road from me in Spalding is Elsoms Seeds, an independent, family-owned business that recently celebrated its 175th anniversary. The company wrote to me to express its support. Why? Elsoms works with a wide range of different crops, including small-scale vegetable crops and speciality crops. Having access to these techniques in a proportionate and enabling regulatory environment would be a game-changer for the company and the growers it supplies, not least in helping the fresh food sector to cope with the challenges of pests and diseases when so many chemical products are, probably rightly, being withdrawn from the market.

Agriculture Bill

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

(3 years, 10 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)
Lord Naseby Portrait Lord Naseby (Con)
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My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady McIntosh for tabling this amendment. When I first read it, I thought the key words were

“protecting… the food security of citizens”.

I am of the generation who went through the war. We had extensive food rationing, even after the war ended in 1945; it was nearly 10 years before we got rid of all food rationing. Did we not have a reminder in the first few days of the coronavirus lockdown of just how important food supply is? I pay tribute to our supermarkets and the supply chain, particularly those suddenly putting on extra production and extra harvesting in a magnificent way.

I very much support Amendment 12, tabled by my noble friend Lord Northbrook, and Amendment 11, spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and the very wise words of the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott. The Minister has told us in his briefing notes that he is aware that agriculture is going through a major transition stage. As we move to this new subsidy arrangement, I am confident that the Minister is aware of the challenges and is alert to them. At the end of the day, food security is vital and absolutely fundamental to this country.

Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone (Lab)
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My Lords, I repeat what I said in Committee about this part of the Bill. It is a bit like a Christmas tree that everybody wants to hang their favourite bauble on. Indeed, many of these baubles are very admirable, but we risk getting to the point where the list of the purposes for which the Government can give support becomes so long and detailed that the Bill threatens to collapse under its own weight, and, as noble Lords have said, give undue prominence to those elements that just happen to have had a handy pair willing to put them on to the list.

However, I must give myself a moment of indulgence on this one—while I am ticking everybody else off—and say that, if I was asked which one candidate bauble I would favour, it would certainly be the agroecology- and agroforestry-related Amendments 8, 21 and 23, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, which he very eloquently introduced. However, to be honest, the environmentally sound practices included in several of the amendments in this group, including my favourite bauble, can already—and hopefully will be—supported by the new ELM scheme and the list of purposes already listed in Clause 1(1), and I am sure that is what the Minister will say.

I am afraid I cannot support Amendment 12, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Northbrook. Food security is important, but an amendment here is not the way to secure it. Even in the interests of food security, food production is already supported by markets, as the Minister said in Committee, and we must not erode the already skinny funding needed for the environmental and other public goods that are already supported by public funding and would simply be diminished if funding for food security were to be added to that list.

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Moved by
14: Clause 1, page 2, line 31, at end insert—
“( ) The Secretary of State may only give financial assistance under this section for or in connection with environmental land management if all those standards for good agricultural and environmental condition set out in paragraphs 3 to 6 of Schedule 2 to the Common Agricultural Policy (Control and Enforcement, Cross-Compliance, Scrutiny of Transactions and Appeals) Regulations 2014 (S.I. 2014/3263) as are applicable are met for the relevant land.”
Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 14, in my name and those of the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, the noble Lord, Lord Randall, and the noble Earl, Lord Devon. I am very grateful for their support. Currently, all farmers in receipt of common agricultural policy payments have to deliver, under the cross-compliance regime, a range of standards described as “good agricultural and environmental conditions”—a snappy little title. Some of the standards have now been enshrined in UK law but some have not, and would disappear when the good agricultural and environmental conditions provision disappears with the end of direct payments to farmers and the end of the cross-compliance regime.

The standards that would be lost are primarily those covering the management of hedgerows, the protection of soils and the provision of watercourse buffer strips. My amendment is aimed at ensuring the delivery of all the standards for good agricultural and environmental conditions, which were previously assured by cross-compliance and which all farmers receiving subsidy had to respect, and to make sure that they will continue to be a condition of receiving public money under the new system.

The Minister very kindly organised a meeting with himself and Defra officials, and they acknowledged that the holes that I have identified, which would be left by the cessation of the cross-compliance regime, were indeed holes, and that something would have to be done to plug them. The Minister has indicated that the Government plan

“an intensive consultation on standards in the autumn, laying out what standards should be achieved by all farmers receiving public subsidy, but there is not yet any agreement on the mechanism for enforcing such standards and the design principles and regulatory strategy are still being worked up.”

As noble Lords know, direct payments are due to start to taper shortly, though the date will be a subject of debate in this House later on Report. It is not entirely clear when cross-compliance requirements may disappear. Can the Minister clarify that date? Whenever it is, we could well end up with a gap in hedgerow, watercourse and soil protection during the transitional phase, and possibly beyond, depending on the results of the intensive consultation on standards. I suggest that the holes that the Minister acknowledges in environmental protection would be very easily and, if I may say so, elegantly plugged by this amendment, so I hope that he will accept it. I beg to move.

Lord Randall of Uxbridge Portrait Lord Randall of Uxbridge (Con) [V]
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My Lords, taking my cue from the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, on the previous group of amendments, I do not want to pontificate about this. The amendment has been eloquently proposed, and I am delighted to have added my name to that of the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone. She has previous talked about baubles on Christmas trees, and now she has provided us with an eminently suitable plug. I am concerned that if we are not careful, these things will, although maybe not on purpose, be allowed to slip down the plughole, so I urge the Minister to ensure that we have an ample plug, to stop this happening.

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Baroness Morris of Bolton Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Baroness Morris of Bolton) (Con)
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My Lords, I have received no requests from noble Lords to ask a short question, so I call the noble Baroness, Lady Young.

Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone (Lab) [V]
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I thank those noble Lords who contributed to this debate. The majority recognised that there was a real hole to be plugged and that something needed to be done.

I thank the Minister for her remarks, but before I talk about them in a little detail, I want to address the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh. This is not just about soils, and paragraph (j) alone does not provide the required protection. To give a couple of examples—one of which has been raised already—one of the provisions in the GAECs concerns cutting hedgerows in the breeding season. Alas, I see that happen too often these days. If there were no requirement for that to be prevented, other than the Wildlife and Countryside Act, I am not sure that farmers would recognise that issue in all cases. The other example is even more germane, because it can impact on the economic profile of a farm business. At the moment, farmers are required to provide two metres of green cover in each direction from the centre of a hedge. If that provision disappeared, we could see the wholesale ripping-up of farm headlands, which would not be protected by any existing legislation.

I very much welcome the letter from the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner, after Committee on the good agricultural and environmental conditions, but many of the schemes that he outlined in the letter are not statutory requirements but voluntary or guidance schemes—that is, schemes that people need to sign up to. They do not have the statutory and regulatory clout of the GAECs and cross-compliance.

I take the Minister’s point on taking the time needed to get the new regulatory system right, but 2022 is not very far away for the delinking of payments and the abolition of the good agricultural and environmental conditions requirements, so I hope that she means getting it right in terms of both timing and content. Personally, I would welcome the entry requirement for ELM being a statutory provision—as the Minister mentioned—with the maintenance of standards and adherence to a basic range of standards being a requirement for ELM. Of course, the big problem is that ELM is a voluntary scheme and bears down only on those farmers who take up that provision.

There is a lot to be done to get a good regulatory framework. The one thing that we do not want to do is pay for measures that farmers have come to know and love—they have got used to them; they have built them into their farm businesses; they see them as giving them legitimacy in the eyes of public and showing that they are looking after the farmed environment; and they are proud of the fact that they have wildlife and habitats on their farms. We cannot then go back in time and see them as something that farmers must be paid for, rather than the minimal social contract with the nation on how farmers will deliver basic environmental conditions.

I will restrain myself and wait for the consultation in the autumn. I hope that it happens quickly. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 14 withdrawn.
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Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I start by begging the forgiveness of the noble Earl, Lord Devon. I feel a slight rat in that, having had his support of my immediately previous Amendment 14, I am going to speak against his Amendment 15, as well as Amendment 26 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering.

Farm businesses and farmers will be the primary recipients of payments for public goods, but the environmental land management scheme will be one of the main ways of delivering the objectives of the 25-year environment plan and should not be limited in scope to agricultural land and farmers. It must support wider land management and multi-objective uses of land, since we now have land needs in excess of the land we have. We will have to get land to work several times over for its living if we are to meet all these land use needs.

Farmers need to think of themselves as land managers in the future, delivering multiple objectives—food, obviously, but also carbon sequestration and storage, biodiversity management, water quality management, soil management, flood risk management and a whole bundle of access, recreation and human health benefits. We need to see that farmers of the future are not just going to be about farming for food but delivering those multiple objectives.

I will give a couple of examples of the sorts of thing that would be prevented if the payment restrictions were only to farmers. One is non-agricultural habitats like blanket bogs, which often occur in farm holdings but may not. They are pretty crucial to combating climate change, and they are cost-effective ways of improving water quality. I should declare an interest as chairman of the Woodland Trust: a second example is support for owners of non-commercial woodlands, such as community woodlands, to plant more trees in the interests of biodiversity, climate change and all sorts of other benefits that trees deliver, which ought to be embraced within the scope of these schemes. I cannot support Amendments 15 and 26.

Earl of Caithness Portrait The Earl of Caithness (Con)
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My Lords, I rise to support the noble Earl, Lord Devon, and my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering, because they are on to a good point. I also take the point that the noble Baroness, Lady Young, has just mentioned. Therefore, I ask my noble friend the Minister to clarify exactly how many extra people or units will be able to claim out of the same pot of money. The noble Earl, Lord Devon, made the good point that the current budget—the current amount that comes out of CAP in its two forms—goes to a set number of people. How many more people are likely to be eligible to get their hands on that pot of money? What will the effect therefore be on current farmers, who rely primarily on the basic farm payments system to exist and continue to farm their land? Of course times have to change, and farmers have to become more diverse, but it is important to know exactly what we are talking about, and I hope my noble friend can help us on that before a decision is made on whether to put this to the House or not.

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Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I will be very short. I was working from an old version of the Marshalled List when I signed up to speak on this group and I discover that the amendment I wished to speak to has been regrouped somewhere else, so I am not going to say anything. I am sure the House will be deeply grateful.

Lord Judd Portrait Lord Judd (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I simply want to say that I strongly support Amendment 30, because where the end is wished, the will must be provided. There is altogether too much hollow rhetoric and good intention in this area. We need firm commitments, and that involves the discipline of preparing the budgets that are necessary to deliver them. I congratulate the noble Lords concerned on having emphasised this vital point.

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Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering (Con)
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My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, and his co-signatories on bringing this amendment forward. It is absolutely essential that farmers have the best advice available before they make a decision. I notice that the explanatory statement for the amendment given by the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, refers to

“training, guidance and advice to be made available to persons receiving financial assistance.”

I make a plea to the Minister that this advice should be given before they even apply for financial assistance to enable them to decide how best to seek that financial assistance and to put it to good use.

I urge the Minister, when she sums up this debate, to agree to the sentiments behind the amendment and to consider who would best give such advice. Agriculture societies, such as the Yorkshire Agricultural Society, and many farming charities are very well placed to do so, in addition to many government bodies such as Natural England and others that the Minister might have in mind. I commend the amendment to the House.

Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I add my support for the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Grantchester on the provision of advice, training and guidance for those in receipt of financial assistance. The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, made a good point about there being a kind of free application need as well.

As a nation, we are asking farmers and land managers to make big changes in the way they manage the land —to deliver not only productive and efficient farm businesses but a whole range of public goods as well. Therefore, good advice covering all those issues will be really important.

It was delightful to hear the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, reminisce about the demise of the publicly funded agricultural advisory system. It flourished after the war to get productivity up but got knocked on the head in the 1990s. Now, many farmers get advice solely from their commercial agronomists, which is altogether too narrow a focus. Advice and training will be particularly important for small farms.

I do not think that a publicly funded or publicly promoted advisory system needs to be top down and statist. Many noble Lords have made the point that local conditions are very important, and that is absolutely clear. We have experience in this country of a number of organisations that have set up county branches to give advice and support, and to bring together farmers around common issues on a local basis. I think that we could rapidly reinvent that. Therefore, the role of the Government needs to be to stump up some money and to give a modest amount of assurance on the quality of the advice being given. At the end of the day, farmers will take advice only from people whom they trust and feel comfortable with, so that has to be built into whatever system is introduced. It would also be beneficial to create some small local businesses in the advisory field to help boost the rural economy. There is a real role for government here.

Lord Judd Portrait Lord Judd (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, this is a very sensible amendment. In everything that we have debated in session after session, the scope of responsibility that we now see lying with farmers and their families has been emphasised. The significance of that cannot be underestimated. Therefore, we must ensure that, particularly with all the new requirements that we are properly asking of them, there is proper preparation.

I cannot help smiling when I think back to a time in the 1960s after my and my wife’s graduations—I was at the LSE and she was at Exeter; I am surprised that this is not mentioned more often. Through our marriage, we had a very good friend who was in what was called the agricultural advisory service. Back then, I thought what a sensible, practical service it was, and he was an enthusiastic professional working with it. He brought a lot more to it than just a professional background and skills; he brought a great deal of commitment and imagination, and he formed a real relationship with the farming community. Incidentally, he also told us a good deal about the realities of farming.

I congratulate my noble friend on having introduced the amendment. I am just very sad that, after all these years, we are reinventing the wheel.

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Baroness Chisholm of Owlpen Portrait Baroness Chisholm of Owlpen (Con)
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My Lords, I shall speak briefly on why I cannot support Amendment 36 in the name of my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering. Leaving the EU, and now dealing with the pandemic, has led to farmers feeling that they are in a more uncertain place than ever before. They are under pressure to feed the nation now more than ever. Therefore, support to them is vitally important, and introducing new schemes that reward farmers for producing that which they do best should not be delayed.

The present system will be simplified. It was in Committee that we heard that Defra is on track and organised for implementation for 2021, and, even more importantly, that the money is in the piggy bank and oven-ready to go to those who will benefit most from the payments. New and existing countryside stewardship agreements can still be applied for up to 2023. Delay appears unnecessary and possibly harmful, and instead of bringing certainty, allows for another year of possible uncertainty. The farmers where I live appear content with the 2021 start.

Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I hope that the Minister will resist Amendment 36, which would delay the start of the agricultural transition. Climate change and the biodiversity challenge are urgent, and we need to provide the financial support and the advice and guidance as soon as possible to equip farmers and land managers to tackle these challenges.

On Amendment 38, in his name, the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, admitted that he was not a great fan of organic farming in the past. I have not exactly waved a flag for it either—but he, like me, is concerned about the decline in the area of land farmed organically in the UK compared with most other developed countries. Organic production accounts for only about 2.5% of agricultural land in the UK; the EU average is 7.5%, and Austria has a whacking great 24%. Yet the UK organic market is growing like a mushroom—far faster—and we are sucking in imports as a result. UK farmers are basically missing out on the growth in the organic market.

The public benefits of organic production are well attested in things like biodiversity, environmental performance and animal welfare, so growth in the organic acreage would be a good thing. What is needed is not only support for the organic transition to be enhanced into the future; it needs to be coupled with the provision of advice. It is a big step change for farmers and to do the transition well they need support. There used to be something called the Organic Conversion Information Service, but support for peer-to-peer learning would be a help.

We also need to see help with ongoing market development, as other countries have done. Using public procurement to increase the amount of organic food consumed in public settings would be an excellent thing. Copenhagen, for example, can now boast of over 80% of food consumed in public settings being organic. What support can the Minister give to organic growth?

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP) [V]
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I support Amendment 38 in the name of the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington. There is really no doubt that UK performance in the area of organic conversion has been astonishingly poor, and we have not seen a will or determination from the Government to make the progress that we might have hoped for in the past but can now hope for in the future. This amendment is a very modest step in that direction.

We can only look with envy at what is happening across the channel. The EU’s farm to fork strategy aims to see a 50% reduction in the use of pesticides by 2030 and a 50% reduction in the use of antimicrobials for farmed animals and aquaculture, as well as 25% of farmland being used for organic farming—roughly 10 times as much as we have now—by 2030. We are being horribly left behind. We look at countries around the EU and see that Austria is already at 24% and Italy at 15%.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, said, one of the things our failure to support this conversion means is that we are seeing more imported food. It is often food of higher value and it is being denied to our farmers—that is, farmers do not have access to that market because they are not growing organic food.

The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, said that other forms of farming can be environmentally friendly and sensitive. I would certainly say that of course you do not have to be organically certified to be environmentally sensitive, but this is the only system of registration, recognition and guidance that we have for agroecology. Organic systems by definition are agroecological. Anything else is just making a claim or suggesting that it is happening. Many of us probably feel we know it when we see it when we walk into a field, but that is not the same as something that immediately pushes in that direction.

I encourage the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, to consider pushing this issue forward if we do not hear a satisfactory answer from the Minister. We need to take at least this modest step forward.

I also want briefly to express support for Amendment 42. We know that farmers, like many other small and medium-sized enterprises, can have huge problems with payments from the large companies they supply, such as multinational manufacturers and supermarkets, but they really should not be waiting for payment from the Government; they should be able to rely on that.

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Baroness Chisholm of Owlpen Portrait Baroness Chisholm of Owlpen (Con)
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My Lords, I hesitate to disagree with this amendment, tabled by my noble friend Lord Cameron of Dillington. He is godfather to my daughter and one of my oldest friends. When I say that, I mean that I have known him forever, not that he is old in age, obviously.

I understand where the noble Lord is coming from: the needs of farmers and their households, along with rural communities, must be supported through the challenges they face. Now that we have left the EU, we have the opportunity to drive enterprise and jobs by re-energising our rural areas and those who live and work in them, and the UK Shared Prosperity Fund will do just that. It will cut out bureaucracy and create a fund that invests in UK priorities and is easier for local areas to access. To that end, I know that departments are working closely together to address the challenges faced by our rural communities. I hope that the Minister can elaborate on how that will pan out, with the UK Shared Prosperity Fund being very much part of dealing with those challenges.

Importantly, the problem with the support programme suggested by my noble friend is, I believe, that it would bring unintended consequences, taking money away from the UK Shared Prosperity Fund and therefore muddying the waters—which, I am sure, is not what was intended by this amendment.

Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone (Lab) [V]
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As the noble Baroness who has just spoken said, we all have huge admiration for the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington—but, alas, I cannot support his amendment either. The whole point of the Bill is to move farming subsidies away from simply supporting farmers to exist as farmers, and the amendment seems to try to reverse that. I believe we should be giving support and advice to farmers to innovate and transform, and to provide the public goods that the public want and be paid for it.

I fully recognise how upland farmers in particular have had their whole livelihoods dependent on subsidy. The whole point of these agricultural support changes is to show how such marginal farmers, whose pure farming enterprise is likely to be insufficiently profitable, can earn a living by diversifying into producing a range of public goods.

Similarly, Amendment 44 in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Devon, has a very worthwhile objective, the continuity of socioeconomic programmes currently funded under the EU rural development programme. These have been very important for many of our most underprivileged and remote rural areas in the UK, but I do not think the continuity of socioeconomic support should be gained by kidnapping the limited funding that will exist for ELMS and under the previous CAP budget.

Instead, we really have to hold the Government’s feet to the fire to move forward more rapidly on clarifying the role, operation and size of the UK shared prosperity fund so that there is no delay or gap. My worry is that when the shared prosperity fund fully emerges, it may be neither shared with the rural areas, in that it is showing signs of being very urban focused, nor indeed terrifically prosperous, not having much money behind it. I hope the Minister can allay my fears.

Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Portrait Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I congratulate those taking part in this group of amendments on their stamina. Given the late hour, I will be brief. These two amendments in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, and the noble Earl, Lord Devon, deal with assisting farming families through wider rural economy means. I have listened carefully to the interesting and informative debate we have had, and can agree with the majority of the comments made.

However, as the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, said during his contribution on the first group of amendments, this is the Agriculture Bill and should be primarily about land cultivation and management. This is a view shared by many, but not all, noble Lords who have spoken during the first day of Report.

I believe that the shared prosperity fund should support those in very rural areas and provide for them through RDPs, but wish that this should be confined to the transition period. I look forward to the comments on this group by both the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox of Newport, and the Minister.

Agriculture Bill

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

(3 years, 10 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Agriculture Act 2020 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 130-III(Corrected) Third marshalled list for Report - (17 Sep 2020)
Baroness Boycott Portrait Baroness Boycott (CB) [V]
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My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and it has been an enormous pleasure to serve on the committee of which he was the chair. I think that our report has been invaluable and is extremely thorough, and I know that, like him, we are a little disappointed by the Government’s reaction. However, also like him, I very much thank the Minister for the time he has spent with us.

It is roughly 12 years to the day since I began work as the chair of the London Food Board—appointed by our current Prime Minister, in fact. I have worked for many years in this area: I have loads that I could talk about and loads of things that I have done. However, despite all the effort of so many people working across the sector—charities, Governments, think tanks, consultancies, agencies, doctors and health departments—the situation has not got better. Actually, it has got worse.

Next week, the Food Foundation—of which I am a trustee—publishes the updated version of its annual publication, The Broken Plate. It makes for terrible reading. I will give the House just a few snapshots. Within food advertising budgets, out of a rough spend of around £300 million, 14% is spent on soft drinks, 17% is spent on confectionery, 17.7% is spent on snacks and just 2.9% is spent on fruit and veg. The poorest 10% of households would need to spend 76% of their disposable income to meet the Government’s recommended diet, the “eatwell plate”. Since last year, this has risen by over 2%.

If you are a baby born today, these are your life chances with the system we now have. At age five, 13% will be overweight and 9% will be obese. At age 21, 21% will be overweight and 25% will be obese. However, at 65, 22% will be overweight and a staggering 57% will be obese, and they will have a range of illnesses: diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancers and osteoporosis, as well as really bad teeth.

Why on earth do we let this carry on? I have been asking myself this question repeatedly for 12 years. I have also been involved in many measures to fix it: little moves that perhaps make something a bit better; bits of Sellotape over this problem or that problem. But the thing is—and this is why this amendment is so important—it is not about fixing one little thing here or another thing there; this is a system that is largely outside the Government’s control. As the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said on the previous group of amendments, it is a system run by a few very giant companies that have become very rich at our expense.

If you apply simple capitalism to the food system, this is what you get: sell more products made from ever-cheaper ingredients. It is easy to see it when you talk about clothes or cars, but it is also what we do with food, and these are the results we see around us. We have foods that contain chemicals, that have necessitated cutting down rainforests and that have deprived orangutans of their homes. In short, we have created a system that is out of control. What we have is the politics of the market and not the politics of health.

If we want to make proper improvements, we have to support this amendment. It is only by having a proper food strategy—one that cuts across government, involves all the departments and is treated with the serious attitude that it deserves—that we will make the proper changes that we need. When noble Lords are thinking about voting on this, I ask them to please remember that food is also the major driver of our biodiversity. That is why it belongs here in this discussion about agriculture.

It is not just that we are getting ill from our food system: insects are dying, while animals all over the world are losing their habitats. Right now, roughly 65 billion animals are sitting in some sort of cage somewhere on our planet, eating food that, as was said, often requires deforestation to make, and waiting to be killed and processed on the journey to our plates. This is a really lousy way to run such an important system. It is a tragedy, because nature gives us healthy food—amazing and extraordinary stuff. I believe that we all have a right to it, wherever we live and whatever we own. I beg noble Lords to support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs.

Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I declare my interests as a member of the Food, Farming and Countryside Commission and a former chief executive of Diabetes UK.

Agriculture Bill

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

(3 years, 10 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)
Lord Burnett Portrait Lord Burnett (LD) [V]
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, who brings ministerial and practical experience as a farmer to this debate. I declare my interests as set out in the register. I shall speak to Amendment 89ZA and Amendment 93, tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Grantchester and Lord Krebs, my noble friend Lady Bakewell, and the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott.

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

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

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

Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I speak in support of Amendments 89ZA, 93 and 103, and I simply ask the Government to honour their election manifesto commitment that

“In all of our trade negotiations, we will not compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards.”


Amendment 93 would ensure, on a statutory basis, that import standards cannot be lowered to below equivalent domestic standards as part of free trade agreements. Such agreements cannot be a race to the bottom; environmental, animal welfare and food standards need to be protected and improved over time. Imported products produced to lower standards than required from UK farmers would undermine our farming industry and create unfair competition. Import standards have not been addressed in the Trade Bill, so they need to be addressed here. I do not accept the belief of the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, that the Government can be trusted to stand by their word; we need statutory assurance.

For example, a few weeks ago, I was one of a number of Peers briefed by the Trade Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Grimstone, who said that such standards issues would be best dealt with by differential tariffing against substandard imports. I remain unconvinced that tariffs alone would effectively prevent the import of substandard products. However, I am very interested in Amendment 103 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, which would ensure that tariffing, combined with other measures, also worked in the interests of maintaining standards. It would be a useful, but not sufficient, condition.

Others have talked about labelling, but, with regard to standards, this will not work. If you are poor and hungry, cheaper food will be attractive irrespective of standards. To enshrine the Conservative manifesto commitment in primary legislation is, in my belief, entirely in line with World Trade Organization rules, which allow countries to put in place non-discriminatory measures designed to protect human, plant or animal health or a limited natural resource. The Government need to use fine UK ingenuity and leadership to design and justify sensible import restrictions, which could be made compatible with WTO rules; that is what Governments and trade negotiations are for.

We know that the US negotiating mandate for a free trade deal sees harmonising standards as a central objective, and this means harmonising them to their standards. We know that statutory instruments introduced using European Union (Withdrawal) Act powers have already deleted from the statute book considerable amendments governing, for example, antibiotic levels in foodstuffs. That is just one example of what can happen if we do not keep our eye on government commitments.

Once the transition is over, the Food Standards Agency adjudicates on the risks of foods and treatments, but its chief executive officer has recently said that Ministers have the final say on whether food produced to lower standards can make it onto UK supermarket shelves. I think that UK supermarkets will have a view on that. Maintaining high standards is supported by farmers, by 75% of the public and by major retailers across the board, and they are responding to the concerns of their customers. They will not stock produce that they believe their customers do not want to see on their shelves.

I know that the Government will want to maintain wiggle room in the trade negotiations, but, to be frank, the more they wiggle, the more they will reap the wrath of the people they are here to serve, who are committed to high food, environmental, employment and human health standards.

Earl of Dundee Portrait The Earl of Dundee (Con) [V]
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My Lords, within this grouping, I support my noble friend Lord Trenchard’s helpful amendments. First, on United Kingdom and EU standards, he corrects a misapprehension or, maybe, he forestalls it before it has time within the Bill to solidify as a regular misunderstanding. For, as he points out, there is no difference between domestic standards and European Union ones. They are identical.

Secondly, what is also insufficiently known—and as my noble friend also usefully observes—in certain respects, the UK and EU are not compliant with World Trade Organization rules. I am in favour of Amendment 103 of the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, which urges that United Kingdom global tariff rates should take into account the well-being of the agricultural sector and that imported goods must be equivalent to, or exceed, domestic standards.

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Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I support Amendment 101 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkharle. It ensures that the Trade and Agriculture Commission that the Department for International Trade has established will not be toothless, transitory and a bit of a fig leaf. Your Lordships can hear that I am being rather less complimentary about the establishment of the commission than many other noble Lords. In my view, it defies description that it can be expected to carry out this valuable role in the time it has been given. I will come on to talk about the inadequacies of its composition.

We absolutely need the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Curry, to ensure that the commission has an ongoing, effective role in ensuring standards and holding the Government to account through all the successive trade negotiations, that it has that valuable, essential ability to report openly to Parliament and that Parliament has the opportunity to influence successive agreements.

I also support Amendment 102 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, which provides criteria for appointment to the commission. One of the reasons I am anxious about the nature of the commission is its reporting arrangements. At the moment it reports to the Department for International Trade and is a bit of a poodle body of that part of government.

I know the Minister will tell us that Defra is fully involved and working jointly with the Department for International Trade, but the impression I get is that the environment is very much an afterthought. There is only one environmental member of the commission, and there has been very little discussion of any environmental issues in the commission’s two meetings so far. The noble Lord, Lord Trees, has just admirably demonstrated how the arrangements for oversight of issues such as animal welfare and the environment are inadequate in its current construction.

I support the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, because it clearly lays out the criteria for membership of the commission and would help plug the gap that very much exists at the moment, in that consumer and environmental organisations and experts are, if not underrepresented, totally missing. It would mean that the commission has the right range of skills to go with the full set of teeth that the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Curry, would give it. I think we should support both those amendments.

Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Portrait Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville (LD)
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, and I agree with her comments on the TAC. This group of extremely important amendments completes our debates on this issue. A large number of your Lordships have spoken knowledgeably and passionately on the subject.

During previous debates on this subject, many noble Lords reiterated the inadequacies of the Trade and Agriculture Commission as currently proposed. It is advisory only; there is no compunction on the Government to follow its advice or recommendations. The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, asked the Minister whether the Government are satisfied with the temporary commission or whether an amendment to make it permanent would be better, so that it had some teeth and would therefore be able to respond to the first Dimbleby report.

There are no members representing the views of environmentalists or animal welfare or consumer groups. Can the Minister say how the commission as set up will inspire and maintain the confidence of the public, given that its chair referred to public concern over chlorinated chicken and hormone-treated beef as “alarmism”? Making such a statement does little to reassure the public of his independence.

Amendment 101 from the noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkharle, sets out how the TAC should be established and operate. This is very specific, and I will avoid making a Second Reading speech. It is bizarre that the Government do not wish the TAC to continue its work into the future. This amendment will not create a barrier to trade. The majority of farmers’ income will come from producing and trading food.

The noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, in his Amendment 102, seeks to correct the deficiencies of membership of the original commission and ensure a more inclusive membership. This is an amendment to the splendid amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkharle. The noble Earl, Lord Dundee, has similarly spoken to his amendment on membership of the TAC.

My noble and learned friend Lord Wallace of Tankerness has reminded us of the view of the NFU in Scotland that the standards of our farmers should not be undercut by trade deal standards and should be safeguarded.

The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans made powerful speeches. The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, reminded us that the NFUs of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, together with the CLA, all support this amendment, which respects the primacy of Parliament.

With a few notable exceptions, every speaker is in favour of the Trade and Agriculture Commission, which had enormous support during previous stages of the Bill.  Ensuring the TAC is independent, representative and has the necessary legislative backing is vital if it is to be successful.   

 This group of amendments is all about protecting farmers and ensuring that the public can feel confident in the food we buy and eat. I feel certain that the Minister understands the strength of feeling in the House on this issue. I trust that his response to the questions posed this evening will be positive, and that those of us concerned about this subject can be reassured. And I apologise for my croaky voice.