All 7 Lord Bruce of Bennachie contributions to the Agriculture Act 2020

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Tue 7th Jul 2020
Agriculture Bill
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Committee stage & Committee stage:Committee: 1st sitting (Hansarad) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansarad) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansarad): House of Lords
Tue 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
Agriculture Bill
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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
Agriculture Bill
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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
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

Agriculture Bill

Lord Bruce of Bennachie 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)
Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering (Con)
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My Lords, in speaking to my three amendments, I take this opportunity to thank the Minister, the Bill team and everybody for getting us to this stage. It is quite remarkable that we have a book of amendments almost as large as the Bill itself. I know the lengths to which my noble friend will go to accommodate us.

I will speak first to Amendments 24 and 104 in my name. I thank other noble Lords who have joined me in signing Amendment 24, which is for probing and debating purposes only. Obviously, I do not wish to see land taken out of “managing land or water” that will benefit from new financial assistance under the Bill. I am grateful to my noble friend, who is responding today, and to our noble friend Lord Goldsmith for responding to my concerns, which I have also set out in Amendment 104.

There will be opportunities for farmers to create reservoirs, working either on their own or with water companies. This will be recognised as financial assistance, other than where they may already fall within a flood plain, which I think is the one exclusion. My noble friend said that the equivalent of 25 Olympic-sized pools would fall within the provisions of the Reservoirs Act 1975.

We are absolutely delighted to have the Slowing the Flow at Pickering scheme. I am sure that many other schemes like it will benefit from the provisions of this Bill. I welcome that. It could be not just for farm use, but caravan parks and golf clubs may consider storing water temporarily or more permanently on their land. However, could my noble friend be a little more precise? In my noble friend Lord Goldsmith’s reply to me in a letter on 2 July, he said:

“The temporary storage of floodwater on land would not necessarily constitute a raised reservoir and would therefore be exempt from reservoir safety regulations in England.”


It would be helpful if my noble friend could place that letter in the Library so that I do not need to refer to it in any more detail. Could we have an assurance today on what will be considered temporary storage and what permanent storage, to reassure those seeking to retain water temporarily as floodwater that they will not fall within the provisions of the 1975 Act, which are particularly onerous for reservoirs and would reduce it to 10,000 cubic metres?

Further, the reservoir we had initially sought for the Slowing the Flow scheme could not be signed off by the panel engineer from the Institution of Civil Engineers. Can my noble friend assure the House today that even water stored temporarily to retain floodwater on land will not fall into that category? That would be most helpful.

Amendment 24 relates to financial assistance for upland and hill farms in particular, which produce pasture-fed livestock. There are concerns that hill farmers may not benefit because many of them are tenants. In North Yorkshire and other parts, I think almost 50% of farms are tenanted. Later we will consider county council farms, which are almost exclusively tenanted farms by their very nature. This is a probing amendment to see whether my noble friend would be minded to use financial assistance to promote pasture-fed livestock farming systems. It is something that we are particularly good at in the United Kingdom, in parts of northern England, Scotland, Devon and, I am sure, Wales and other parts as well. The taste of the spring lamb off the North Yorkshire moors is hard to beat but that is not why we are here today.

Pasture-fed livestock farming is responsible for the management of a significant part of our landscape. The national parks have done a great piece of work on this, which we will come on to consider. But it is particularly important in this regard to seek financial assistance for the way the uplands are managed. Too often, calves and other animals that are fattened on the pastures come in for unnecessary and unwanted attacks from interest groups which perhaps do not understand how red meat is produced and how important it is to a balanced diet. The uplands also play a role as a carbon sink—storing carbon in the grasslands—and in harvesting carbon from the atmosphere on an ongoing basis. Given the wider benefits of pasture-fed systems, I urge the Government to address this sector within the realm of public goods, under Clause 1(1).

I make it clear that this is complementary to and supportive of the provisions on native breeds, whether on pasture or other systems. I acknowledge that native breeds are probably already recognised, so I nudge my noble friend towards considering that pasture-fed livestock also come under the provision, for biodiversity and public health reasons as well.

Lord Bruce of Bennachie Portrait Lord Bruce of Bennachie (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I am glad to follow the noble Baroness, whose closing remarks on pasture-fed livestock echo my own Amendment 78, which seeks the following:

“In framing any financial assistance scheme, the Secretary of State must have regard to maintaining support for hill farms and other marginal land previously designated as less favoured areas.”


I support what the noble Baroness said in praise—not just support—of those areas.

We need to recognise the geographical importance as well as the environmental, agricultural and food production importance. Less favoured areas in England cover the Pennines, the Lake District, the Yorkshire Dales —Yorkshire generally—Devon and Cornwall and most of Wales; and, of course, a huge chunk of Scotland, which I know is not directly covered by the Bill but this demonstrates how important it is. In those areas it is a very significant part of the local economy, in terms of employment, the environment, access and the general diversity of the economy. As the noble Baroness made clear, our uplands—our hill lands—are most useful for livestock rearing, grazing and pasture feeding, particularly of lamb and beef, and are not suitable, really, for cropping, other than in marginal circumstances.

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Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
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My Lords, I want to make sure I get this right. I referred to the 2018 regulations for England about environmental outcomes that land managers must take action to avoid. There is no suggestion of any diminution of standards—in fact, quite the reverse. I will have to write and will put a copy in the Library. I want to make sure that I get all the regulations and how they are interconnected right. There is no intention from the Government on soil quality other than to enhance it, because that is the route to vibrant agriculture. I am most grateful to the noble Earl and will provide full details of all the requirements that will remain.

Lord Bruce of Bennachie Portrait Lord Bruce of Bennachie [V]
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I thank the Minister for his very positive response to my amendment, which I never doubted he would provide. When he says that the scheme will be farmer-led, how will that come about and how soon? Is there any timetable for when the structure of direct support for farmers in the context of rural payments will be clarified? I am sure he appreciates that the hill farming sector is extremely vulnerable, fragile and anxious to get a clear steer. How and when will that be provided?

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
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I am most grateful to the noble Lord. I did not have an opportunity to flesh out the tests and trials. The tests and trials on the ELM are designed to work with ranges of farmers in different topographies and tenures in all parts of the country. There are schemes that will be suitable. In this case, there are clearly tests and trials with hill farmers in the uplands so that we can ensure that those schemes are in place. Some are under way already and farmers are receiving financial assistance for participating in them.

When we roll out the entire ELM in 2024, we want to follow the success in the recording and improving of those tests and trials so that we can ensure that, in the case of the noble Lord’s concern about hill farmers, these schemes will automatically work for them. Hill farmers are key to ensuring that the environmental enhancements we all want are available. I am confident that, working with those hill farmers, we will get the sorts of schemes that will be of benefit and that the farmers will actively wish to be engaged in.

Agriculture Bill

Lord Bruce of Bennachie 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 (CB) [V]
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My Lords, I declare my interests as a farmer and landowner as set out in the register. I support Amendments 56, 60 and 69 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Northbrook, as it is so important to encourage the production of food by our farmers in an environmentally sustainable way.

I also believe that farming with new technology will be possible and appropriate in the urban environment, so I very much support Amendment 53, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, and Amendment 63, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, and the noble Earl, Lord Dundee. Industrial farming is moving to farm to fork, which looks more sustainable. Localism and resilience are the current watchwords, but some products, whether fruit or vegetables, can be grown only in hot climates. This is where technology comes in and where Amendment 63 is so important. Vertical, indoor farms are emerging, as fruit and vegetables can be grown in confined spaces, with light, heat and water controlled by technology. This can take place in cities, next to consumers, and, of course, uses less land. The Bill needs to provide for the next generation of farms, whether rural or urban. Look at Singapore, which imports 90% of its food and aims to produce 30% locally by 2030. Much of this is urban, using new technologies. I therefore support these amendments, which provide a setting for food security in the United Kingdom.

Lord Bruce of Bennachie Portrait Lord Bruce of Bennachie (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I support Amendments 35, 36 and 60 on food security and access to food that promotes good health and well-being: I would have signed them, but many other people wanted to do so first and I am very glad to support them.

Having represented an agricultural and food-producing constituency for 32 years, I have experienced the destructive effects of BSE, foot and mouth and, incidentally, the truck-drivers’ strike. BSE led to the laying off of 1,000 people in my constituency within a week, and although foot and mouth did not directly affect my constituency, the restrictions on movement had very serious impacts, so I am very aware of food security and how it can very quickly be disrupted.

We have seen an increase recently in food poverty, because although supply chains have adapted to deliver food alternatively, it has in many cases been at more expense, as when suppliers to the catering industry have offered to supply domestic suppliers—healthy, good fruit and vegetables, yes, but at a price that not everybody can afford. Of course, as a country we are heavily dependent on seasonal food imports; and not just seasonal food, but fresh fruit and vegetables from Spain and the Netherlands, in particular.

Our homegrown fruit and vegetable production has been disrupted recently by a shortage of labour: Covid-19 restrictions have perhaps given us a taste of what a post-Brexit labour shortage will do for our supply chain. I can certainly say that, in our area, some producers are struggling to harvest our berry crops, of which Scotland is a major grower—for the whole of the EU, incidentally, not just for the UK. Indications are that the UK could face shortages of fresh fruit and vegetables, either because of tariffs or the diversion of EU exports elsewhere, because of higher transport costs and delays and losses because of necessary border inspections. After all, £700 million is being laid out to create a lorry park in Kent, where, I suspect, it will be difficult to keep food as fresh as it would be with the just-in-time delivery we currently enjoy. Quite simply, I worry that EU suppliers, who are currently happy to send fruit and veg to the UK, might find it less profitable and choose to divert to alternative markets within the EU, where there is less bureaucracy, less cost and less risk of delay and disruption.

Do the Government recognise that we may, for both security and nutrition, need to provide additional support to homegrown production, which will not face this disruption? What plans are in place to do that? Are we prepared for a sudden drop in supply or a dramatic increase in prices from 1 January 2020? The Government had not planned very well for the unexpected pandemic; they cannot suggest that what happens on 1 January is not foreseeable. How well are they planning for it, and how sure are they that disruption will be avoided?

Those who campaigned for us to leave the EU constantly promised an abundant supply of cheap food. The questions in this debate have been whether that cheap food is also nutritious food, and whether it is as good as the food we currently get or could get from our own production and our own sources. How can the Government guarantee that there will be an adequate, affordable supply of nutritious, affordable food if there is a shortfall of supply from our current EU sources? I commend these amendments and I hope that the Government will take them seriously, because if they do not, there will be a price to pay, in cash, in quality and potentially in shortage of good-quality, nutritious food.

Lord Cormack Portrait Lord Cormack (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I am delighted to follow the wise words of the noble Lord, Lord Bruce. He has asked some pertinent questions, which deserve clear answers.

What you never have, you never miss, but you soon miss what you have taken for granted. That has been underlined, time and again, during this very difficult Covid year. It is important that there is a smooth transition at the end of December. I personally greatly regret the fact that Ministers have been so obdurate about that date, but there it is. We have to face up to the fact that it is the prime duty of every Government to defend the realm. As the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, made plain in his splendid speech, part of defending the realm is keeping people properly fed. As one who grew up through the war years, when our affairs were brilliantly managed in the face of often seemingly overwhelming odds, I know that and so do many of your Lordships.

I was glad that my noble friend Lady McIntosh began this debate with such a prudent and sensible speech. There have been many of those in this debate, and there are very few amendments to which I would not have been glad to put my name. However, when we talk, as my noble friend did at the beginning, of public payment for public good, what is a greater public good than ensuring a proper supply of healthy food to maintain the health of the nation? It could be argued that that is the greatest of all public goods. I hope that the Minister will reflect on that when he comes to reply. He is a very well-regarded Member of your Lordships’ House and he knows about farming and agriculture at first hand. He also knows that his is the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. I am glad that “Food” features so prominently, as it did in the old Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

It is essential that we have a quality supply of good food. We are dependent upon our farmers for that. Some colleagues have, quite justifiably, made disparaging comments about what those who process the food do to extract nutrition from it, but our farmers produce excellent food. They must be encouraged to do so in every possible way while having proper regard, as we debated last week, for the countryside and the environment in which they operate and for which they are responsible.

I refer again to the admirable speech by the noble Lord, Lord Bruce. I very much hope that there is adequate planning to ensure a smooth transition at the end of the year. Above all else, the Government will be judged, not only by how they have handled the pandemic but by how they create a smooth transition, so our people can still take for granted a ready and steady supply of healthy food for the good of the nation and future generations.

Agriculture Bill

Lord Bruce of Bennachie 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)
Lord Bruce of Bennachie Portrait Lord Bruce of Bennachie (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I also wish to support Amendments 197, 198, 199 and 207. The Minister will now be aware that there is strong support right across the Chamber for the role of the Groceries Code Adjudicator to be sustained and strengthened. Indeed, the evidence has shown how effective the adjudicator has been since it was established.

I make no apology for recording the fact that that Act was passed by the coalition Government and was very strongly championed by the Liberal Democrats Colin Breed, Andrew George, Ed Davey and Norman Lamb. They have been vindicated in the effectiveness that the adjudicator has demonstrated. Her latest annual report shows a refreshing drop in the proportion of suppliers who have issues with retailers, from 79% in 2014 to 41% in 2019, and 36% so far in 2020—although that suggests that there may have been an upturn, given that it is a part year, and I predict that that will intensify with Brexit and the consequences of Covid-19. It is still high, and I suspect that there is still a need for indirect representation as well.

All of us want to thank the outgoing Groceries Code Adjudicator, Christine Tacon, for what she has achieved and her vindication of the role. We appreciate that she has stayed on in the current crisis, and trust that her successor will be given the opportunity to continue and develop the good work. I suggest that, at this time, the office may be needed more than ever. The disruption we are currently facing, which will be compounded by Brexit, will put pressure on the margins of suppliers and retailers—inevitably.

Agriculture Bill

Lord Bruce of Bennachie Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee: 5th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 5th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Tuesday 21st 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-VI(Rev) Revised sixth marshalled list for Committee - (21 Jul 2020)
Lord Bruce of Bennachie Portrait Lord Bruce of Bennachie (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I am very glad to follow the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and the wise words that he has given us. I hope the Government will take heed of what he has to say and the need for action. I support and endorse everything that has been said about food poverty and the difficulty of finding affordable and nutritious food for many people on low incomes.

I will speak in support of Amendments 164 and 167, which I have signed, as well as Amendments 160, 170 and 171, and will take a slightly different approach. The first two amendments are aimed at securing co-ordination on food security across the UK. This is essential if we are not to risk disruption in the supply chain and unfair terms of access to affordable and nutritious food in all parts of the UK. Looking at the devolved regions, one can see that Scottish food exports are about £3.6 billion per annum to the rest of the UK and about £1.6 billion internationally. Northern Ireland exports £3.5 billion, of which £1.26 billion goes out of the UK, and Wales exports around £337 million, most of which goes to the EU. Therefore, agriculture is important to the economies of the devolved Administrations in terms of value and employment, proportionally more so than across England, although the north and the south-west of England also have significant agricultural sectors.

Of course, all parts of the UK are dependent on food imports. We are a long way short of self-sufficiency, as many people have reminded us. Therefore, it is not hard to see the potential tensions that could arise. In reality, the south of England is the main domestic market for the devolved Administrations’ food production. In normal times, this is a good example of our internal market, and I am very proud that we in Scotland produce extremely good-quality food that I think people in London and the south-east appreciate and are often prepared to pay a premium to receive.

However, if there was a crisis of supply that left home-grown food for domestic consumption in short supply in the devolved Administrations while maintaining supply in the south, this could cause problems. Alternatively—in reverse—if the south was kept short by diversion into local markets, the same problems would arise. By the same token, if there was disruption to imports of key food that led to the supplies being diverted to the larger markets at the expense of the periphery—meaning people in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland would face shortages or higher prices, or both—the same difficulties would arise.

Therefore, for something as critical as food, the market cannot be the sole recourse at times of crisis. The noble Lord, Lord Hain, has quite starkly pointed out that the market puts nutritious food beyond the reach of many people. Co-ordination among all the tiers of government is required to ensure a fair and equitable distribution of affordable and nutritious food. There is a problem now, but it could be considerably worse if we take the combined threats that we can see ahead.

The other amendments that I support are aimed at anticipating the possibility of potential shortages in good time so that appropriate UK-wide action can be taken. It is quite likely that, when we leave the EU on 31 December, we could face disruption to our food supplies; I have pointed this out before. There will be delays for inspection of foods, cost and additional bureaucracy, all of which could lead to a loss of supply and a diversion of supply away from the UK. I have made the point that it may not be due to a lack of willingness to supply the UK or any kind of boycott; it may just be that bureaucracy and cost make other markets more attractive and profitable, leaving us at a disadvantage. Indeed, if trucks or fresh food transport is sufficiently delayed, then food will perish or be damaged, and lose quality.

Even if we manage to avoid a spike that causes that to happen, readjustments will take place in UK and EU agriculture and food production to take account of Brexit arrangements that we do not yet know about. These other amendments, therefore, require the Government to set targets, anticipate adverse changes, take action and report—in the first place within 12 months, and then every three years.

In the post-pandemic, post-Brexit world, with looming climate change and other problems potentially disrupting harvests and yields, the UK cannot rely on the global marketplace and must have a domestic strategy. The Government have not been good at planning for crises or disasters. Accepting these amendments might show that they are willing to learn.

Lord Judd Portrait Lord Judd [V]
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My Lords, this amendment has been very important in enabling a wider debate. As we have been hearing, food security is fundamental to the welfare of the nation, in terms of health, diet, fitness for work and the ability to live life fully, but it also has implications for what our agricultural production does that accelerates climate change. It relates also to all the other impacts of climate change on our agriculture—a terrific and complex range of impacts.

In view of this, it seems simple and clear that we cannot afford to have a laid-back approach to reporting and accountability. There needs to be vigour and frequent reporting, as far as is reasonable. The Bill is currently too relaxed and complacent, and the debate has emphasised the importance of the first amendment in this group, which demands more frequent reporting. From that standpoint I am very glad that my noble friend has moved this amendment and am only too pleased to support it.

Agriculture Bill

Lord Bruce of Bennachie 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)
Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd Portrait Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd [V]
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My Lords, I wish I had the privilege of following the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, but I will be brief, in view of the lateness of the hour. I support Amendments 255, in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, and 263A, in the name the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff. The noble and learned Lord has clearly analysed the issues that need to be addressed in relation to the interrelationship of the Bill with the internal market proposals. The noble Baroness has eloquently spelled out the consequences of our failing to deal with that properly. Both amendments, therefore, are examples of what needs to be done if we are to respect the devolution schemes or change them to make them work better. Again, I pay tribute to the Minister’s efforts in this respect in relation to agriculture.

We must now concentrate on two matters. One is the way in which the internal market is to operate in relation to agriculture; the second is the structures needed. It is too late to begin on the internal market tonight, but I urge that when we return in September to consider the Bill on Report, we are in a position to look at the interrelationship of the Bill with the provisions to be put forward on the internal market. Also, as the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, spelled out so clearly earlier, we must have something to look at on the structures that are necessary to make this work. If we fail to do so, even at the eleventh hour, the consequences for the union will be dire indeed.

Lord Bruce of Bennachie Portrait Lord Bruce of Bennachie (LD) [V]
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I am not sure what happened there, but I am glad noble Lords can now hear me. I shall speak to Amendment 255, in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, which I would have signed had there been space to do so, and Amendment 263, in the name of my noble friend Lord Tyler, which I have signed, along with my noble and learned friend Lord Wallace of Tankerness and the noble Lord, Lord Holmes of Richmond. We have already had an important debate on devolution with specific reference to devolved issues throughout the Bill, and I very much appreciate the clear and valuable case made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, in Amendment 267, which I have also signed.

Amendment 255 requires the Secretary of State, when making regulations for England, to consult the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland Administrations and bodies that represent the UK farming industry. The scope of these regulations is a extensive and detailed, covering every aspect of agricultural production, processing, packaging, standards and distribution. Any significant changes could be very disruptive to the UK single market if it means divergence from practices in parts of the United Kingdom outside England.

Livestock production is more prominent in the devolved areas, especially in the more prevalent and less favoured upland farms. As I have pointed out in previous contributions, England is the main market for much of the produce from farms in Scotland and Northern Ireland. It matters, therefore, to Scottish and Northern Irish producers, that any changes to established practice and procedure do not interfere with farming methods and costs for non-English producers.

It also matters to English consumers if it disrupts or increases the costs of supply for markets to England. It would be invidious to single out individual companies, but I can think of a number in my part of Scotland whose main markets are in the south. The products are high-quality and well-received; indeed, the fact that the ingredients are sourced from quality Scottish farms is a key part of the branding. I hope that English Ministers would resist any measures deliberately designed to disadvantage farmers in the devolved areas, but lack of consultation could do damage unintentionally, to the detriment of producers and consumers throughout the UK.

Turning to Amendment 263, which I was pleased to sign, there can be no doubt that the protection of traditional speciality food and drink products delivers comparative advantage, which is of huge importance to our terms of trade. There are many parts of the world where the only visible expression of UK brands is Scotch whisky—where that is all you would know about the United Kingdom. It is one of our leading exports, if not the leading one. But there are many products that are distinctly British and that benefit from GI protection; so, are the Government resisting maintaining reciprocal GI arrangements, and if so, can the Minister explain why? The suggestion that EU GIs can be replaced by a domestic regime puts exports in an invidious position. Are there products from the EU 27 that the UK Government want to deny GI to? Do we want the freedom to designate English sparkling wine as champagne?

Over the years, battles have been fought to secure GI designation. Why should we now throw it to the winds? If we refuse to recognise established EU GIs, and it creates a conflict between our brands and theirs, it will sour the entire trade relationship. I support my noble and learned friend Lord Wallace of Tankerness and his powerful analysis of what the consequences would be. I urge the Government to accept this amendment.

Lord Palmer of Childs Hill Portrait Lord Palmer of Childs Hill (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I am speaking against Amendments 254 and 258.

What concerns me is not the labelling of meat products, as it is right that, as far as possible, purchasers should know how an animal was killed. There is an increasing number of people who are against the slaughter of animals for food. I respect these views; however, what is being addressed in these amendments is an acceptance of people eating meat, but a desire to label as to the method of slaughter. I must say, a visit to an abattoir could easily make one a vegetarian.

What concerns me is that when the supporters of labelling make their case, there is often a concentration on whether the animal was or was not pre-stunned—in other words, a preoccupation with describing meat killed by kosher or halal methods. I have no problem with this labelling as long as it describes all methods of slaughter. I draw your Lordships’ attention to FarmWell’s proposal: a method-of-slaughter label with 12 categories. Three are electrical methods and two are gas methods; then, there is halal, halal pre-stunned, the Jewish shechita method, the non-penetrative captive bolt, the penetrative captive bolt, and, of course, lastly, being shot—the animal, that is, not your Lordships.

Where the bolt method is used, it should say whether it takes more than one attempt to kill or sedate the animal. If meat is to be labelled as humane religious slaughter, why not label when it is shot? Why not label that a captive bolt gun to the skull was used for cows and sheep? Why not label where chickens were shackled by their ankles and dipped in a water bath with an electric current running through it, which your Lordships should know does not always work, depending on the size of the chicken? Should labels also say whether pigs are herded into a room and gassed? A previous speaker has told the Committee about the numbers so killed. Then there is trapping and clubbing, but that is mostly by hunters. here are reputable reports on the failure rate of mis-stunning for the penetrative captive bolt for cattle as being 6.6% to 8%. The failure rates at the first attempt for non-penetrative captive bolt stunning and electric stunning could be as high as a fantastic 31%.

Some 2 million cattle, 8 million pigs and 9 million sheep and lambs are killed each year. The Jewish community slaughters only 90,000 red meat animals. Rounded to the nearest percentage point, I get 0%. Some 750 million birds are killed. The Jewish community kills a mere 500,000—that is a lot of chickens, but still not a lot.

Previous speakers—particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu—spoke very eloquently about labelling. She made an important point about labelling the country of origin. I certainly subscribe to labelling the country of origin for whisky. I like to think I can tell the country of origin, but maybe it should be labelled for others who cannot. When she went on to say that the method of production should be labelled, the only production method she mentioned, as far as I am aware, was whether it was pre-stunned or not. What I am trying to make clear is that I am against Amendments 254 and 258 but I am for labelling as long as it is comprehensive or not labelled at all.

The noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, produced what I suppose could be a red herring, but it was actually horsemeat. Labelling horsemeat as beef or lamb is fraud; it is nothing to do with whether the customer has the choice.

If we are looking at labelling to stop cruelty, I am afraid that most abattoirs are really cruel. They try their best, but the electricity method of killing animals—mainly chickens—very often fails. The bolt system fails and they have to do it again. If we are labelling, can we just bear in mind that it should be labelling not specifically with regard to stunning and pre-stunning but for all forms of slaughter?

Agriculture Bill

Lord Bruce of Bennachie 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)
In conclusion, I reiterate what I said at the beginning: I welcome the establishment of the Trade and Agriculture Commission and its membership. The amendment is not proposed to replace the commission with an alternative body, but preferably to strengthen, enhance and extend its role as already announced. It is very much in the Government’s interests to accept the amendment, and I hope that the Minister will be able to do so. I look forward to his response.
Lord Bruce of Bennachie Portrait Lord Bruce of Bennachie (LD) [V]
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My Lords, my Amendment 280 is in this group, and I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, for his support. It is slightly different from the groups of amendments that we have already heard about, although I support most of the comments made in support of those amendments.

The specifics of this amendment relate to the lamb and beef sectors, which potentially face an existential threat in the event of a no-deal Brexit. The amendment therefore calls on the Government in that event to produce a report for Parliament to deliver their analysis of the impact on the lamb and beef sectors within three months of no deal having happened.

The situation for cattle and sheep farmers in the event of no deal, or indeed a hard Brexit, is unclear and complicated. The Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board has produced a series of reports outlining the challenges facing these key livestock sectors, which are crucial to the uplands of England and pretty well the whole of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

According to ADHB, around 82% of beef exports and possibly more, amounting to £400 million to £500 million a year, goes to the EU, while 89% of lamb exports, worth more than £400 million a year, also goes to the EU. That is not only crucial to the profitability of UK livestock farms, but disruption could dramatically upset the supply and demand balance in the domestic market. There is also a significant export market in live calves and lambs for finishing, which contributes to the viability of many farms.

In the weeks after the referendum result, I was informed that in some livestock markets, lamb sales for export fell by 80%. Although demand recovered, because by definition there was no alternative source to be found at short notice, it gives an indication of how things will change. Of course, in the meantime, EU importers have had a chance to plan.

In the event of no deal, tariffs will be imposed at levels which could make the trade uneconomic. The tariff on a beef carcass is 92% and on a lamb carcass it is 45%. Not only that, there are additional tariffs on cuts which can add up to over 100%—more than the cost of the cut itself. In addition, even if we secure a tariff-free agreement, all meat products entering the EU from third countries, which will be us, have to be veterinary approved to EU standards and inspected at the point of entry. Without such approval, we will be banned from exporting lamb and beef to the EU altogether. Will the UK be able to secure EU-approved health certificates by 31 December? How will the need for border inspection affect costs? Despite assurances to the contrary, we know there will be a massive increase in bureaucracy even with a deal. The government website is advising people to prepare for this by hiring a customs agent or taking on extra staff.

The European Affairs Committee of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, of which I am a member, looked at the Brexit arrangements being put in place by the Port of Dublin at a cost of more than €30 million. They involved substantial changes to the port layout to provide time and space for inspection plus back-up lorry parks off-site to manage the flow through the port. At the moment, a beef sandwich for sale in Marks & Spencer Dublin is shipped in from Liverpool. How will that have to change in the event of a hard Brexit? How will cross-border movements be managed? It will surely depend on trust, and the refusal of the UK Government to allow the European Commission to have an office in Belfast does not bode well. The unique arrangement of the Irish protocol, and the need for cross-border movement of beef and lamb, can work only if the origins of the products are clear and transparent.

Prices of beef and lamb may fall, which may seem to be to the benefit of the British consumer in the short run. However, if there is a large-scale welfare cull by farmers unable to feed the animals with no market in prospect, much of the stock may never reach the shelves. In any case, in that situation the UK lacks the cold storage to absorb a mass cull on this unprecedented scale. At the same time, if it sees the rearing of sheep and cattle undermined and bankrupt farmers—some of them will be bankrupt in these circumstances—leaving the sector, it could lead to future shortages and a radical change in the landscape, especially of our uplands. To prevent that happening will require rapid and substantial government intervention.

It is argued that we can find new markets, but in a fiercely competitive international marketplace we will not be able to replace the volume and value of the EU market any time soon. On day one, we lose the trade deals in place for the EU, with in most cases no successor deal in play or in short or even medium-term prospect. In any case, what is the cost and environmental logic of shipping meat across the world instead of to our neighbours? I know New Zealand does it, but on a radically different agricultural regime which we cannot match. For UK farmers, it may not even be profitable. If we leave the transition without a deal, the disruption will be immediate and catastrophic. We will not have significant alternative trade deal markets. The likelihood of any deal with the USA by then is nil. If a deal is ever negotiated, it will be on “America first” terms, and if we end up importing products that do not meet our own or EU standards the EU will insist on rigorous measures to prevent them reaching its markets.

Obviously, this is a probing amendment, but it has serious intent. No deal would plunge the sector into immediate, and for many farmers existential, crisis. A report within three months will not be enough without immediate action, but at least farmers will know that there will be a quick assessment. I urge the Minister to accept the amendment or to propose a similar government alternative. We are facing not just the prospect of millions of lambs for premature slaughter but the decimation of a sector which dwarfs the fishing industry in its importance in terms of jobs, value, heritage and landscape, yet is largely ignored by Government and the media. I hope the Government and the House will recognise that no deal will be so disruptive in this sector that it will transform British farming for a generation and change the landscape of much of the United Kingdom.

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Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
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I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Curry, has answered the question put by the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, because I was mightily confused at the idea that the noble Lord, Lord Curry, had had a discussion with me or any Defra official.

I said I had made a very careful note of the points that were made. I do not think I can say any more than that at this stage, but I will certainly be ensuring that my ministerial colleagues know the strength of feeling across much of the House. However, it is also incumbent upon me to say to your Lordships that we are a revising and scrutinising House, and the other place—the elected House—also has a very strong constitutional function to fulfil.

Lord Bruce of Bennachie Portrait Lord Bruce of Bennachie [V]
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The Minister recognised the importance of having a deal; without one, it will be a disaster, especially for producers of cattle and for the whole of the lamb sector. However, even with a deal, there will be a requirement for veterinary health certificates and there will obviously be inspections. Is the Minister mindful of the fact that this in itself will create some friction and cost? Would the department be willing to look at that situation and determine whether support is required to maintain that flow of export, even in the circumstance that we have a deal, while acknowledging that with no deal there is very little we can do other than face disaster?

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait Lord Gardiner of Kimble
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I am most grateful to the noble Lord; that is an important point. The department is working on all those matters, because we recognise that we need a successful trading agreement, and we are mindful of the importance of the speedy passage of products, particularly in the food sector. The department is fully seized of and is working on these matters so that we have the resources and personnel in order to effect what the noble Lord is seeking.

Agriculture Bill

Lord Bruce of Bennachie 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)
Moved by
60: Clause 20, page 17, line 28, at end insert—
“( ) Before laying regulations made under subsection (1), the Secretary of State must consult— (a) the Scottish Parliament,(b) Senedd Cymru, and(c) the Northern Ireland Assembly.”
Lord Bruce of Bennachie Portrait Lord Bruce of Bennachie (LD) [V]
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My Lords, in moving Amendment 60, I will also speak in support of my Amendment 92, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Humphreys, and the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, have added their names. Both amendments have a similar purpose, although Amendment 92 is put in stronger terms.

Amendment 60 relates to the Secretary of State’s powers to make regulations regarding markets and storage in the event of exceptional market conditions. While these powers, if used, would apply to England, the implications for agricultural sectors in the devolved parts of the UK could be significant, as much of the output—certainly a significant amount of it—of farms and food processors in the devolved areas is marketed to and through England.

The Bill gives the Secretary of State the power to provide financial support or make regulations where there are exceptional market conditions, described as “a severe disturbance” or the threat of such, in agricultural markets. That could create a situation where financial support for English producers, or regulations inhibiting non-English producers, disadvantages producers from other parts of the UK. That could arise without deliberate intent, so I argue that it is in the interests of the Secretary of State to accept Amendment 60, which would require him or her to consult the Scottish Parliament, Senedd Cymru and the Northern Ireland Assembly.

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Lord Faulkner of Worcester Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Lord Faulkner of Worcester) (Lab)
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I have received no requests from noble Lords to speak after the Minister, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Bennachie.

Lord Bruce of Bennachie Portrait Lord Bruce of Bennachie (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I thank all those who have spoken in this debate for their support for my amendments and the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, and noble colleagues who have spoken on the Northern Ireland sunset clause so clearly and unequivocally. I believe that all three of these amendments are central to how our devolution settlement is to proceed.

The Minister is a face of government that we all find attractive: he is constructive and conciliatory, and I am sure that, given his background, when he talks about engagement and discussion across the devolved Administrations, he does it in entirely the style that we see here. However, I am afraid I have to say to him that there are other members of the Government whose style is far less conciliatory and can be abrasive.

We have legislation coming down the track that is absolutely crucial to the future of the devolution settlement, especially the Trade Bill and the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill, where it would appear that the Government, frankly, are bent on centralising control and weakening the devolution settlement. Given the point about agriculture being so important to the devolved Administrations, there is perhaps an opportunity in this Bill to put those markers down. Actually, I would have liked it if the Minister could have accepted Amendment 60; I accept that Amendment 92 was a tease for further discussion about some form of qualified majority voting.

However, with regard to just saying, “We consult; therefore, we do not need to consult”, I say that the time will come when some decision will be taken without consultation, and there will be no recourse because there is nothing in law to prevent it. That will be disruptive and a shame. The Prime Minister says that he is moving his legislation to protect the future of the union. The reality is that nobody threatens the future of the union more fundamentally than our current Prime Minister, and Ministers should understand that the precious union is very delicate at the present time.

Ministers need to reach out not just with reassurance but a willingness to create a mechanism, as my noble friend Lady Humphreys said, that will enshrine the way decisions are taken and disputes are resolved in ways that do not leave it—because this it is where the Bill leaves it—to Westminster and the English Secretary of State to override devolved decision-making. The Bill allows that to happen; these amendments were designed to prevent that happening, and I regret—but am not entirely surprised—that the Government have not accepted them. However, I can assure him—and I am sure that other noble Lords will agree with me—that these issues will return in spades in the debates we will have on the coming legislation between now and Christmas. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 60 withdrawn.