All 6 Lord Clark of Windermere 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
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
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
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

Agriculture Bill

Lord Clark of Windermere Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansarad) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansarad): House of Lords
Tuesday 7th July 2020

(3 years, 11 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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)
Lord Blencathra Portrait Lord Blencathra (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I declare my interests, as on the register. I too regret that I was unable to participate in the Second Reading, but I will be mercifully brief with my comments on this group of amendments.

My worry with this group is the same as that which I had with the first two groups, on which I desperately wanted to speak but, through my incompetence, I notified the Whips incorrectly. My worry is that these amendments, like the others, are too prescriptive and not necessary to achieve the objectives on which all noble Lords agree. I counted and, if all the amendments in the first two groups are agreed, Clause 1 of the Bill will have 42 new and additional purposes added to it. I think that is unnecessary.

I am very keen on access to the countryside and to all green space, and I share the views of my noble friend Lord Randall that we need to increase the number of people from minority groups who visit the countryside. Studies show that the problem is that some youngsters will not go to a park 500 yards from their home. In such circumstances, it is difficult to get them into the wider countryside. This is a huge educational problem.

I do not support the amendments of my noble friend Lord Randall and the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, on a small but important technicality. I believe that the word “supporting” can include “enhancing”; therefore, changing it is not necessary and could be damaging. If the definition is simply enhancing, it may freeze out farmers who have done a lot of access work, above the minimum, but can do no more to enhance it and would not qualify. It would therefore be a bit unfair if those farmers, having already reached a high access standard, got no payment, but those who had done little got payment for enhancing by just a small amount. I submit that the word “supporting” is adequate and can do all the enhancing work that colleagues suggested.

I say to the noble Earl, Lord Devon, that the NHS and Public Health England are working with lots of organisations, including Natural England, on something called social prescribing. I believe that, until a few months ago, about 2,000 NHS staff were being trained in GPs’ surgeries to get people to do various things other than queue up for pills. That put it rather crudely; I do not mean that to be unfair on people who need pills. But social prescribing could save the NHS billions. Once this Covid-19 crisis is over or under control, I hope we get back to social prescribing.

On Amendment 34, I agree it would be good if the wider or urban public understood what agriculture does or where their food comes from, but this is not a job for government. Farmers themselves and their organisations—the NFU, CLA and Tenant Farmers Association—through farm open days and schoolchildren visits, must promote public understanding and engagement with agriculture. That is their business. No one knows it better. They are the best people to educate the public, rather than the Government.

Lord Clark of Windermere Portrait Lord Clark of Windermere (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, the Government deserve congratulations for bringing forward this Agriculture Bill. It offers the same potential as the Attlee Government’s efforts in 1947 and the common agricultural policy that has dominated us for so long. I am particularly pleased that the Government have realised that farming is changing and changing quite dramatically. I sometimes feel that those at the centre do not quite understand the subtlety of those changes.

I have an advantage: I live in the area where I started work, on the land, 50 or 60 years ago. I can determine the changes in agriculture. I will come back to that in a moment on these clauses. This has been a particularly interesting eight hours of debate. There were issues in the previous two groups of amendments related to those we are discussing now, but I held back because I wanted to speak on rights of access, which I think are critical.

Before I develop that, it seems as if this has been a Second Reading debate, made even more confusing by the considerate and detailed response of the Minister, who has gone out of his way to sum up, on two occasions, which has been an advantage. One point has kept coming up about forestry and woodland. There is confusion on what the Government have in mind; perhaps they have not got their sights completely set at this stage. I was led to believe that certain parts of woodland, and certain forests—which were a bit different—might receive a public grant. We were certainly looking at huge areas of new woodlands being created up here in Cumbria, just outside the national park. There is a great deal of potential for access in and on forestry land.

I had the honour of being chair of the Forestry Commission for nine years. It will be no surprise to the Minister that I was very keen to promote the right to roam in forests. We were not covered by the legislation—that was mountains, moorlands and heath above a certain height. But, when I was chair, we decided that there would be a legal right of access in all our freehold Forestry Commission land. This has not caused any fundamental difficulties in running our forests. I press the Minister to look at the possibility of permitting access to forestry land as well.

I also want to make the point that, amazingly enough, quite a lot of forestry land is near the centres of big towns, cities and urban areas. There is great potential for access in those areas. You can often get there much easier, but there are difficulties. I remember trying to negotiate access to a large forest within two miles of the centre of Newcastle. The Forestry Commission—we the people—owned the freehold, but I could not grant access, because when the land was bought it was agreed that the shooting rights in the forest would remain with the original vendors. To this day, people in a concentrated, built-up area are not allowed to use that forest, because of the shooting rights. I hope it might even be possible that some of the money available under the new government proposals could be used to buy out those rights. I know that there are difficulties, but I cite this because it is the way we ought to be moving forward. The holistic approach which the Government are taking to agricultural support in the future is the right one.

I mentioned earlier the subtle changes. Just outside the Lake District National Park in the lower levels of the valleys there were a lot of small mixed farms. Those farms provided employment and were viable, but I can tell the House that in the Bowness-on-Windermere area in which I live, I cannot think of a farm that has a single cow. There is the odd steer about, but all the land is grazed by sheep. That means that most of the small farmsteads have been sold off to be converted into country cottages. We are now finding the cost of that. Field upon field which used to be pristine hayfields are now covered in reeds. Stone walls which were maintained and rebuilt if they fell over—you had to do that to keep the cows in—are now left unbuilt. It is a real problem when you are trying to have countryside that deals with so many people. The Lake District National Park—I tell the House this repeatedly, and I do not apologise—has 19 million visitors a year, a vast number.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist
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We have pressures on our time, so will the noble Lord draw his comments to a close?

Lord Clark of Windermere Portrait Lord Clark of Windermere [V]
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I was going to do that. We have 19 million visitors. In order to accommodate them, there need to be facilities. If we are going to have public access, we need small car parks and public transport to get people to the attractive areas.

Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering
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My Lords, I shall be brief as I do not have amendments in this little group. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Addington. Overall, access has been a phenomenal success although we heard from the noble Earl, Lord Devon, that that is not always the case. My concern is that the flip side of access should be responsibility on the part of those using the access. Over the lockdown period we saw regrettable behaviour by a few irresponsible people which unfortunately tarnished it for many.

I remember that when I was growing up there was something—I think there may be a later amendment on this—called the countryside code. It was on television. There were adverts saying simple things like, if you walk on the Pennine Way, which is near where I grew up, you close the gate if there is livestock in the field and that it is dangerous to enter a field where there is a calf, as the cow will defend it to the death. We have even seen a vet, who was walking their dog through a field, killed in the past two years. Like the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, I cut my parliamentary teeth next door on the CROW Bill, so I bear the scars. We ran one or two very unsuccessful exercises as an opposition, I recall. How can the Government ensure that the flip side of access will be responsibility and that the costs will not be disproportionate to the enjoyment? I hope those using the access will behave in a responsible manner. We saw some malicious fires—It was not just fly-tipping; the materials were burned to get rid of them so they could not be traced—and the irresponsible use of barbeques. When there are crops growing in a field, you cannot have access until the crops have been taken out. We need responsible behaviour so that the cost will be proportionate to the enjoyment.

Agriculture Bill

Lord Clark of Windermere Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Thursday 9th 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-III Third marshalled list for Committee - (9 Jul 2020)
Lord Blencathra Portrait Lord Blencathra (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I think we have all been slightly caught out there. For all the amendments on which I may speak today, I declare my interest as in the register.

I am sorry to disagree with my noble friend Lord Lucas. While I am in complete agreement about the need to improve agricultural technology, robotics and genetics, I just do not think his amendment is necessary, since my reading of subsection (2) is that it does just that. It says that the Secretary of State may give financial assistance to

“starting, or improving the productivity of, an agricultural, horticultural or forestry activity”.

To me, that seems to cover what my noble friend has suggested in his amendment.

I agree entirely with him that we need a huge leap forward in technology, especially in the horticultural sector. I have read that one side-effect of President Trump’s curtailment of cheap Mexican and Latin American labour has been a big increase in robotics and technology in the United States to plant and harvest crops. We need to do exactly the same here. Exciting robotic machines are now being developed in the UK. In swotting up for this amendment, I looked at a recent video showing a machine operating in a vegetable-growing area; it had what I would call very fine fingers or tines knocking out the weeds between the plants but leaving the lettuces completely intact. Technology is the solution, not cheap eastern European temporary workers.

I also look forward to changes in the rules when we leave the EU so that we can do gene editing—not genetic modification, just gene editing. It is terribly important that we move to do that as quickly as we can when we leave the EU. We do not need anything in this Bill to give us the powers to do so.

I cannot support Amendments 43 and 54. These small local community farms do a good job, and they may currently qualify for support under ELMS, but they cannot feed the nation. I do not accept that they can supply up to 80% of the food this country needs. Huge changes are coming to mainstream farm production. I want all Defra’s efforts to be concentrated on the big picture of delivering ELMS and not diverted on to something nice but at the moment irrelevant to feeding the nation. It is quite possible that many of these local enterprises may qualify under the ELM schemes when they are fully developed. We should leave it at that.

Lord Clark of Windermere Portrait Lord Clark of Windermere (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I support Amendment 12, so ably moved by the noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkharle, and Amendment 13, which improves on the original amendment. We confirmed last time that forestry was included in the Bill. Amendment 13 spells this out, making the link between forestry and climate change. We all appreciate that trees have a massive beneficial effect in capturing carbon and climate change. We all want to try to take that forward.

I spoke in the first day of debate on this Bill about trying to open up forest areas for public access. I explained how the Forestry Commission had decided that all its freehold land should give access on foot under the right to roam legislation. Since then, issues have been raised. Could the Minister take these on board and give them some thought, not necessarily today but moving forward? We in the Forestry Commission, as a government department, took the decision to dedicate that land for open access in perpetuity. It has been suggested that, if the land is sold, that right falls. That is not what we thought was the case at the time. What is the case?

This has a bigger implication for how we work and give farmers greater freedom to farm in upland areas, where there is a lot of opportunity for increased tree- planting, which helps the economy of the area and the farm, and helps with climate change. If a piece of land on a hillside, currently subject to the right to roam under the freedom to roam access legislation, is converted to forestry, does that right of access fall? These two examples are quite important, because it might affect how this piece of legislation will help build the future sustainability of upland areas—or not.

Agriculture Bill

Lord Clark of Windermere Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Tuesday 14th 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-IV(Rev) Revised fourth marshalled list for Committee - (14 Jul 2020)
Lord Marlesford Portrait Lord Marlesford (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I first declare again the interests I declared last week, as in the register.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Agriculture Bill

Lord Clark of Windermere Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee: 4th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 4th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Thursday 16th 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-V Fifth marshalled list for Committee - (16 Jul 2020)
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]
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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.

Agriculture Bill

Lord Clark of Windermere Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee: 5th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 5th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Tuesday 21st July 2020

(3 years, 11 months ago)

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

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

Lord Clark of Windermere Portrait Lord Clark of Windermere (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, this has been a particularly thoughtful debate, as it should be, because underlying the whole series of amendments being advanced is the recognition that this is, first, a major change in how we approach support for our land and our farming. Coupled with that is concern about how we bring about the change, and concern that the period allowed to bring it about is not flexible enough and may not be of the right length. Various proposals have been argued very eloquently that perhaps it should be a bit shorter—five years instead of seven. I favour a seven-year period, because the challenge is so great that we will not be able to tackle it. There are so many changes, not only in our approach—public money for public goods, instead of just production costs—but against a changing background as it is. I do not think many of us fully appreciate the changes taking place in agriculture at the moment.

I have a particular interest in the uplands and hill farming, but one cannot look at hill farming without looking at the low-level farming that depends on, feeds on and feeds from the upland areas. One has only to drive in the national park, for example, and once one gets on to the low-level farming, there are no longer any cattle, mixed farming or dairy farming: all the sheep are down on the low level 12 months a year, and that is causing problems in itself. So there is the unstable nature of farming to start with, and we then wrestle with the problem of how we make sure that the various aspects of the new legislation are tied together. Is Defra capable of handling such a major change when it is also dealing with Brexit and will face the challenge of pressure from the Treasury, in spite of what the Government may say? Then, from my experience of running the Cabinet Office, I am concerned about the ability of the Government, or any public body, to run major computer programmes. We are not always able to employ the best people, we do not have the experience, yet we take so much for granted when we look at these proposals.

I must admit that when I look at the ideas, I think Amendment 146, in the name of my noble friend Lord Grantchester, has some suggestions of a way forward. It suggests a slightly later start date—2022—coupled with some flexibility if we find that even that is too early. It even goes so far as to say that if we find that the seven-year period is not correct, it can be changed by affirmative resolution. I am not sure that I entirely agree with that, but I could be persuaded in an emergency that it is the way forward.

We are right to spend so much time debating this. Unless we get it right, the whole thing will be a disaster and there will be tears of woe, not only from the farming community but from foresters, environmentalists and a whole range of people who love our countryside.

Lord Holmes of Richmond Portrait Lord Holmes of Richmond (Non-Afl) [V]
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My Lords, this has been a very interesting, thoughtful debate and I associate myself with many of the comments, not least those of the noble Earl, Lord Devon. In normal circumstances, I would agree wholeheartedly with my noble friend, Lord Blencathra, about not extending a deadline, because projects will simply extend to fill the space provided, but we are in extraordinary times, not just because of Covid but because, for the last four years, Defra and much of Whitehall have been able to focus only on one piece of wildlife, that being Yellowhammer.

Yesterday was Report on the Business and Planning Bill. In our deliberations, it became clear that emergency legislation needs to be passed in various situations and circumstances which will run to September 2021. In light of that, it seems logical and coherent across government policy that a move regarding the start of the transition period, from 2021 to 2022, would dovetail very much with that same legislative logic. Does my noble friend the Minister agree?

I also very much support the amendment in the name of my noble friend the Duke of Wellington. If legislation means anything, it must mean that it touches on those in the greatest need. I believe that my noble friend’s amendment very much goes to the point of covering those who fundamentally understand and deliver on stewardship, guardianship, public good and, indeed, equity. Does my noble friend the Minister agree?

Finally, will my noble friend the Minister comment on the current situation with the IT system within Defra? What is proposed for the new scheme, and is this set in stone or are discussions still afoot as to exactly how to structure the scheme from an IT perspective?

Agriculture Bill

Lord Clark of Windermere 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)
Baroness Humphreys Portrait Baroness Humphreys (LD) [V]
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, and it has been a pleasure to take part, albeit a very minor part, in these early stages of the Bill. I have been full of admiration for the passion and knowledge about agriculture shown by so many noble Lords. My family’s connection with farming ended when my great-great-grandfather’s farm in north Wales was taken over as a result of the rent increases imposed during the agrarian revolution of the late 1800s, which precipitated the social change his son described so graphically in his autobiography.

It seems to me that as we discuss the importance of agricultural and food standards in relation to Amendment 271, we could be standing at the cusp of another type of agrarian revolution, one which could again lead to changes in the viability of farms, not just in Wales, but in the whole of the UK. The threat of cheap, poor-quality imports leading to the lowering of domestic standards and a reduction in farm income is very real.

I was conscious, as I listened to some earlier debates, that most of the speakers spoke from experience of large farms in England, and it was a pleasure to hear the noble Lords, Lord Wigley and Lord Hain, speak earlier about small family farms, which are so prevalent in Wales. As a young female farmer, Beca Glyn, said in her blog, these farms make,

“valuable contributions … to animal welfare, landscape management and culture; especially the Welsh language”.

Wales is, of course, hilly and mountainous and our climate is mild and wet. This means that only a small proportion of our land is suitable for arable cropping, but grass for the grazing of livestock is in abundance. Our upland and hill farms therefore provide grazing for hardy breeds of cattle such as Welsh Blacks and for hardy Welsh Mountain sheep. Our farmers, who work hard in sometimes very difficult conditions, are proud of their produce and the standards they achieve in animal welfare, and none more so than farmers around the Conwy Valley, where I live. I cannot imagine that there has ever been a time when the quality of our farmers’ produce has been appreciated and valued by customers in the UK and in France as much as it has been in recent years. I share the concern of the noble Baroness, Lady Quin, about future access to the French market for our sheep.

For our local butchers, mart operators and abattoirs, quality is key, a quality that comes from adhering to high standards. Search their websites and Facebook pages, and the words “pride”, “high standards”, “quality” and “traceability” appear in abundance, so it is hardly surprising that farmers and consumers across Wales have been justifiably appalled and angered by the refusal of the Government to agree to an amendment which would guarantee a commitment to equivalent standards on imported agricultural or food products in this Bill. For them, there is no logic that an Agriculture Bill says nothing about protecting the standards which they have strived for and to which they have adhered. They cannot understand why a Government who committed in their manifesto, just seven short months ago, not to compromise on British farming’s high standards, found it so difficult to accept the amendment introduced at Third Reading in the other place.

Sadly, even the commission announced by the Government today, with its temporary nature and inability to give binding advice, will be seen by farmers and consumers alike as an ineffective sop. Unfortunately, and I dislike having to say this, this has now become a matter of trust. Farmers and consumers alike question why the Government are so reluctant to enshrine their manifesto commitment in law. They ask: could it be that a manifesto commitment is easier to renege on? The Minister is held in the highest regard in your Lordships’ House. He is courteous at all times, even at midnight on Day 6 in Committee, and I know he is a man of his word, but Amendment 271 is on the Marshalled List because farmers’ leaders and consumers have asked for it to be there. They know that in reality we are not dealing with a Minister we know and trust but with a Government who increasingly talk in doublespeak and cannot always be guaranteed to stand by their word. That is why their word has to be on a statutory basis in the Bill.

Lord Clark of Windermere Portrait Lord Clark of Windermere (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I am very pleased to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Humphreys. When she was describing the difficulties of farmers in the north of Wales she could have been describing my county of Cumbria. The similarities are uncanny, but we knew that, even down to the weather. This seven-day Committee stage has been one of the finest debates that I have been involved in in almost 50 years in the Houses of Parliament. I think a lot of it is due to the way in which we have been led by the two Ministers. I am speaking as a member of the Opposition and am proud to be a Labour Peer, but the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner, has been an admirable Minister. He deals with us all, from whatever side, equally and in a tolerant way and tries to answer the questions, and he is ably assisted by the noble Baroness, Lady Bloomfield, who shows the same tolerance. I thank them both very much.

My colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, speaks with a great deal of sense and independence. He said that this was the most important agricultural Bill he had ever been involved in since he and I came into Parliament in 1970. He is absolutely right, but it is more challenging this time because, finally, we have realised that agriculture is not completely about farming. It is about forestry. It is about horticulture. It is about land use. It is about food standards and quality. It is about the environment. It is about what can be done through agriculture to cope with climate change. Today, this group of amendments brings home to us the result of Brexit and, accompanying that, trade deals.