I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Friends of the Earth and its many activists across the UK and, indeed, the world for the support and commitment that they have shown on this crucial issue. I am indebted to Martyn Williams and his team for the hours of work put in to bring the Bill forward. I should also like to thank Dairy UK, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the National Trust, the Soil Association, the World Society for the Protection of Animals, the National Farmers Union, Compassion in World Farming and many other groups for talking to me about their views on this matter.
A number of people have asked why a Member of Parliament who clearly enjoys his food, and who represents an urban constituency and one of the more deprived areas of the country, should be bothered about how animals are reared for food production. As I intend to explain, it is precisely for those reasons and more that the Bill must make progress through the House.
Let me illustrate my point. Many people watching this debate will see adverts depicting animals being reared on pasture. It is not without good reason that the marketing staff of a certain burger chain show images of green fields and cattle grazing. They want consumers to believe that their burgers are healthy and natural. Equally, a dairy company ad shows a child bringing a glass of milk from the cow in the field to the dairy door to make into yoghurt. Why do they show such images? Because it is a natural instinct to equate ruminants with pasture grazing, yet the truth is something that the ad men wish to shield us from.
The reality is that, with some exceptions, our livestock are no longer grazed on natural pasture out in the fields, where traditional hardy breeds can live all year round. Our livestock are now routinely kept indoors for anything up to the whole year, and are fed on cereals, especially imported soya. Hardy breeds are being phased out in favour of high-yielding, carefully selected animals. The more I have dug into the subject, the more troubling I have found it. There have been books and papers galore written about the issues. There are seminars and discussions taking place on the subject across the globe even as I speak. At the risk of making what is perhaps quite a suitable pun, it really was a case of opening up a can of worms.
The United Nations report, “Livestock’s long shadow”, notes that livestock farming is among the two or three most significant contributors to global climate change on every scale from local to global. It has calculated that from 18% to as much as 51% of global anthropogenic greenhouse gases come from livestock production. Some organisations will say that that is a myth, or else that the answer to the adverse effects is even greater industrialisation of livestock production. Indeed, some will say that it is all a vegetarian conspiracy or similar, designed to stop us eating meat or to put British farmers out of business. Rubbish.
Some of the drivers behind climate change are hidden. For example, the production of soya in south America requires high-nitrate fertilisers and weedkillers, and there are greenhouse gas emissions from both the production of those fertilisers and chemical sprays and their transportation to farms. There is also the high energy use involved in harvesting the soya and transporting it halfway round the world to Europe for use in animal feeds. As I shall go on to say, the land clearance to grow the soya also releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and causes further climate change.
It is not just greenhouse gases that are an issue; there is the direct impact on people, too. The number of farms in the UK has declined, and with them, the number of farmers and their workers. Thankfully, the vast majority of farms are still smaller, family-run businesses in rural areas, but for how long? The advent of dairy super-sheds, such as the one proposed in Nocton in Lincolnshire, with its 8,000 head of cattle, can only hasten the demise of both the smaller British farmer and the rural economy that he or she supports. Our British farmers who get caught up in the vicious cycle of intensification are then at the mercy of soya prices, with their direct link to world oil prices.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, but the figures depend on how one measures emissions and where one puts the marker down, as organisations such as Dairy UK are more than prepared to accept.
It is not only in the UK that people are adversely affected by the issue. I met an activist from Paraguay who told me about the subsistence farmers in his country. They are forced off their land, either by the big-money soya farmers who are taking over vast tracts of their countryside, or through the indiscriminate use of glyphosate weedkillers, which are sprayed without consideration on to the genetically modified soya crops, poisoning the land and the water supply and, horrifically, in too many cases, killing and injuring local citizens. There are problems not just in Paraguay; in the cerrado area of Brazil, there were over 900 species of birds and 10,000 different species of plant. The cerrado or savannah has now been reduced to half its original size because of land clearance to grow soya and biofuels. The same applies to rainforests and other parts of the world.
On that point, has the hon. Gentleman any assessment of what percentage of that rain forest destruction, which I accept has taken place, relates to the import to this country of soya-based products, and what percentage relates to the rest of the world?
The hon. Gentleman raises an interesting point, and that is just the sort of thing that we should discuss in Committee, if the Bill receives its Second Reading today.
The claims over the past decade of abundant food and EU food mountains have now switched to the familiar cry that we need to double food supply in the next 10 years or so, yet how can such an increased reliance on oil help with food security? A dairy farmer in Whitmore, near my constituency, who is leading the way on sustainable livestock farming, put it simply. He said that it is now the job of dairy farmers to turn oil into milk. However, he sees his role as trying to produce high volumes of milk with minimal oil, and that is the sustainable, food-secure route. He does it by using natural pasture and clovers.
If we really need to increase food production, why are we feeding cereals to animals? It is very inefficient. It takes around 20 kg of cereal to produce just 1 kg of edible beef. That is not food-secure. Some 58% of EU cereal production is used in animal feeds, and that is supplemented by the 33 million tonnes of soya imported each year. How is that food-secure?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, and again, those are the issues that we really need to tease out in Committee.
The purpose of my Bill is not, contrary to what some have suggested, to add to the bureaucratic burden on farmers; that is nonsense. No one will find anything in the Bill that does that. Quite the opposite; the Bill says that the Secretary of State will have an obligation to ensure that British farmers are kept in their jobs.
Clause 1(2)(e) refers to
“changing the subsidies available to…support…farmers to promote sustainable livestock practices”.
Any change to the subsidy will have an impact on the application process that a farmer has to go through. That will put a practical burden on the farmer. Indeed, trying to adjust subsidies in the European Community is against World Trade Organisation and common agricultural policy practices and policies. I accept that the hon. Gentleman’s motivation is very positive, but the practical impact will be to impose red tape and a burden on farmers.
I am grateful again to the hon. Gentleman. He will find that the CAP subsidy system is up for review in the next couple of years and there may well be changes anyway. That is even more of a reason to ensure that the future subsidy system operates in a way that is both efficient and effective for the farmer, but also promotes sustainability.
My Bill simply requires the Secretary of State to think about how every policy he works on can improve sustainability. It has been said by some that legislation is not needed—indeed, I am expecting speeches on that point very shortly—and that the Government could simply implement policies that tackle the problem. I wish that were the case. To my regret, the previous Government, despite documents such as “Food 2030”, which acknowledged the impact of soya on climate change, did not take action on that. I am sad to say that the coalition Government thus far have issued the natural environment White Paper, but the Department’s own business plan for 2011 to 2015 has no mention of the impact of soya. Clearly, legislation is definitely needed. My Bill is a “direction of travel” Bill that gives the Secretary of State wide leeway, but nevertheless requires her to take sustainable livestock seriously, and to take action.
I know that there will be some in this Chamber who, for whatever reason, will be unhappy about the Bill, so for them let me quote some words from a 2008 speech:
“Calorie for calorie, you need more grain if you eat it transformed into meat than you do if you eat it turned into bread…As a result, farmers now feed 250 million more tonnes of grain to their animals than they did twenty years ago. That’s enough wheat to feed the population of Brazil—for twenty-five years.”
Those are not my words; they are the words of the Prime Minister when he was in opposition in 2008. He identified the scale of the problem, but sadly not a single policy has found its way into the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to do anything about it as yet—I hope it does. That is why we need the Bill, and why I hope that hon. Members across the Chamber will allow the Bill to pass today unopposed into Committee, where we can sort out the detail, have the discussions, get people around the table, which is exactly what the Bill proposes. I hope hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber will engage in robust debate, but then move on to the subsequent business of the day.
Before I start, I just want to pick up on a couple of points that were made by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Robert Flello). I congratulate him on coming second in the ballot for private Members’ Bills this year. The point that slightly confused me came quite near the end of his remarks. He said that not a single policy arising out of the comments from the then Leader of the Opposition, now the Prime Minister, had found its way into the policy platform for DEFRA in the coalition Government agreement. I have to say, having spent some time studying the Bill in the past couple of days, that the Bill itself is somewhat light on policy. I would submit, as I will explain in a moment, that there is nothing about policy in this measure. It is a bit rich to make that point because, as the hon. Gentleman himself says, the Bill is simply a “direction of travel” measure. It does nothing to suggest specific policies.
I have no doubt at all that the sponsors of the Bill have entirely laudable aims and good intentions. I am entirely in sympathy with those who would wish to see the ending of the indefensible deforestation of the tropical rain forests in south America, which are one of the last natural regions of the world that has not been ravaged by man. We should do all that is reasonable to try and protect them. I am sure that everyone who is promoting the Bill is well-meaning, and that no one would argue that we should not do all that we properly can to make wise and sensible use of our world’s precious resources.
The underlying rationale behind the Bill is one which I am sure that everyone would support—that is not in dispute. After all, who could possibly argue against the idea of sustaining the lives of cows, sheep, goats, pigs and so on? Sadly, I fear that the net effect of the Bill could well result, not in the continuation of livestock farming in this country, but in its steady and gradual decline.
Does my hon. Friend share my concern that one of the big problems is that the Bill has been oversold to our constituents, who have been writing to us saying that if it were passed into law, we would save the rain forest, do away with all large livestock intensive production, reduce the amount of meat eating and so on? None of those things will actually be achieved by the Bill. Can my hon. Friend confirm that?
I thank my hon. Friend for that point. It seems to me that there are many groups—and I will mention this later—who have supported the Bill and led their supporters to believe that it will bring about what they have been campaigning for. However, if any of their supporters had actually been sent a copy of the Bill, I fear that they would be very sadly disappointed, because it is silent on the specifics of those campaigns.
Does my hon. Friend have a view on why almost no land use or agricultural organisation in the whole of the UK is enthusiastic about the Bill?
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen and wherever for that good point. The people most closely connected with farming in this country, while they support the aims of the Bill’s sponsors, do not support the Bill itself. We have to ask why that is.
The Rare Breeds Survival Trust, which has connections with livestock and farming, thinks that the Bill is a good thing and may promote a local feed industry, which could help to protect British farmers from fluctuating feed commodity prices. Does the hon. Gentleman not welcome that?
I welcome the fact that there are groups such as the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, which works to maintain historic breeds and to promote organic farming. There is nothing wrong with that, and I appreciate the fact that it supports the Bill’s aims. However, my hon. Friend will agree that it represents a relatively small part of the farming community.
Is my hon. Friend aware—I am from Northampton North, by the way—that the National Farmers Union, which could be said to have the best knowledge about what is in the farming community’s best interests, does not appreciate the Bill? Although it believes that its intentions are admirable, it believes that it would make bad law and could lead to serious harm to the UK livestock sector.
I agree. My hon. Friend is right. Many people are concerned about that. They can already support organic farming by buying organic products. That is the way forward. I would like to see the problem resolved by organisations promoting organic foodstuffs and by individuals choosing to support, of their own free will, organic farmers and buying organic products. To try and achieve those aims by putting on the statute book legislation such as the Bill before us is not the way forward.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the issue goes further than that? Many people who support intensive livestock farming argue that it will help to save the planet by reducing the amount of methane going into the atmosphere. The Bill could be used as an argument in support of intensive livestock culturing.
My hon. Friend makes a good point. I am sure he will want to expand on it later in the debate.
My concern about the Bill is that it will not achieve what it seeks to do and that, by passing it, all we will have achieved is to put yet another piece of legislation on the statute book imposing a new raft of obligations on the Secretary of State. The effect of those obligations will be that the Secretary of State has no alternative but to increase the number of rules and the amount of regulation imposed on our nation’s farmers.
Does my hon. Friend agree that farmers throughout Britain, particularly in Skipton and Ripon and north Yorkshire, which I represent, are fed up with the amount of regulation, red tape and bureaucracy that they have had to deal with in recent years, and that the Bill is one further example of that, which they could well do without?
Indeed, but I am sure north Yorkshire is up there, at the top of the league table. From the comparatively small number of farmers in my constituency, Bury North, I know that what my hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Julian Smith) says is true. Farmers are sick to the back teeth of the amount of rules and regulations imposed on them over the years. Many arise out of the common agricultural policy, but some come from our own legislation. It is not the way forward to impose yet more rules and regulations on farmers, and I fear that that is what the Bill will do.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the Bill is particularly concerning because it is so broadly written, and that therefore we will not know what regulations could be introduced? It will become justiciable before the courts, and the House will lose power over the detail of regulation to the courts. That continues a trend that we have seen over recent years, to the disadvantage of the democratic procedures of the House.
My hon. Friend makes a valid point, to which I shall refer later. One of the major problems with the Bill before us is that it is not clear on specifics. There is a danger that all we are doing, ultimately, is leaving the matter to be decided by the courts.
The effect of the Bill will be that the Secretary of State has no alternative but to increase the rules and regulations for the nation’s farmers. It will serve only to damage the prospects of our farming communities.
Clause 1(4) highlights one of the problems which the Bill, if enacted, could create—that is, the importation of meats and foods from other countries, in particular Brazil. It identifies the problem by stating that further action would need to be taken by the Government to ensure that it did not
“lead to an increase in the proportion of meat consumed in the United Kingdom which is imported.”
The very fact that the Bill identifies that problem suggests to me that it will create that problem.
The hon. Gentleman makes an extremely important point, which I will deal with. The clause is, in many ways, a fig leaf. It tries to give the impression that everything will be all right because the Secretary of State must take into account the amount of meat consumed in this country and should not do anything that would increase, the proportion of imported meat consumed in the United Kingdom.
Two dangers arise from that. First, the provision slightly contradicts the rest of the Bill and would put the Secretary of State in a difficult position. Secondly, clause 1(4), which I shall come to later, makes no reference to dairy products, which are excluded. It is purely about meat eating. There is no reference to milk, cheese, butter or other dairy products.
My hon. Friend makes a good point. There is a danger that the Secretary of State would be in a cleft stick in trying to deal with the obligations imposed by the Bill and the competing obligations under the rules and regulations of the common agricultural policy.
Further to that point, it would be illegal and would be struck down by the courts if we were to discriminate against European meat, so the provision would be purely to the disadvantage of our Commonwealth friends: New Zealand lamb and Australian beef would be affected and we would not be able to do anything about French lamb. That would be the worst of all possible worlds.
My hon. Friend makes a good point. That is a real danger arising from the Bill. We would finish up with people having no choice but to eat only food that we could do nothing about and which was produced in the European Union. That would be bad for consumers, it would damage choice, and our good relations with countries such as New Zealand would be put at serious risk.
I am cautious about contradicting my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg), but if we inserted the provision “notwithstanding the European Communities Act 1972”, there would be nothing illegal about the clause whatsoever, and would not the courts be obliged to give effect to it?
As my hon. Friend knows, I entirely support the idea that the House should be sovereign, and if there is any doubt about which set of rules should reign supreme, it should be Acts of Parliament passed in this House, not those passed by the European Union. I do not want to spend too long proceeding down the line of European Union rules and regulations. I appreciate that that would stray—
Order. I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for what he has just said. It is very wise that he has made that observation and that he intends to operate in accordance with his own stricture. The point about regulation has been made and the point about European competence has been made. The hon. Gentleman, though a new Member, will be very well familiar with Standing Order No. 42 on the subject of tedious repetition and irrelevance, and I know that he will not wish to fall foul of that. In passing, although I know he is a man with an exceptional memory, I should perhaps just remind him and the House and others interested in our proceedings that on another private Member’s Bill on 22 October this year, he developed his argument for one hour and 39 minutes in respect of a two-clause Bill. This Bill has five clauses, it is true, but he behaved in a slightly unsatisfactory way on that occasion, and I feel sure that he will not want to repeat the experience.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. No, I mentioned the European Union, but it was brought up by others and I simply responded to them.
I am concerned about the Bill because it appears to me that in the long term it is likely to result in the decline of meat-eating in this country and it will also affect the dairy products that we consume. I will explain why that is likely to be the inevitable result of the Bill.
The Bill’s whole premise is to impose on the Secretary of State a requirement
“to improve the sustainability of the production, processing, marketing, manufacturing, distribution and consumption of products derived to any substantial extent from livestock”.
The requirement could hardly have been drafted in wider terms, although, to be fair, I am sure that that is exactly what the Bill’s promoter desired.
My hon. Friend may be about to comment on the coalition agreement, which already contains some very strong provisions on sustainability, honesty in food labelling and food procurement. The coalition agreement has some really positive statements about some of the things in the Bill.
Order. For the avoidance of doubt, I trust that the hon. Gentleman has no intention of offering the Chamber a disquisition on the contents of the coalition agreement. That would be a lengthy enterprise indeed, and I know that he does not wish to stray into that.
No, absolutely not. It is a very tiny matter really.
I want to deal specifically with clause 1. Subsection (1) states:
“It is the duty of the Secretary of State to ensure the sustainability of the livestock industry.”
What I am not clear about is why it should be the duty—I emphasise the word “duty”— of the Secretary of State to ensure the sustainability of the livestock industry. Surely the best people to ensure that farming is maintained are farmers. Surely it makes sense to rely on farmers’ desire for self-preservation to ensure that they tend their livestock and look after their land in a sustainable way. All the evidence points to the fact that we can rely on them, both to protect the welfare of their animals and to care for their own land properly. How can that responsibility be transferred to the Secretary of State? Do we really expect the Secretary of State to spend every weekend driving up and down the country doing spot checks to see whether farmers are doing their bit to maintain the sustainability of their farms?
If any industry—if we are calling farming an industry, which I consider to be an unusual term, but for the purposes of the Bill it is an industry—in the United Kingdom can make a claim for having proved over the centuries that it is capable of sustainability, it is surely the livestock industry. Man has been tending animals since the beginning of time. Agriculture is the oldest of all industries continued in this country. What more can the poor farmer possibly be expected to do to make his “livestock industry” any more sustainable than it has been already?
Fortunately, the Bill’s draftsman has also spotted this potential problem, and in clause 3, headed “Interpretation”, we are helpfully given a most enlightening explanation of what is meant by the phrase
“ensure the sustainability of the livestock industry”.
We find that it goes much further than anything that we may ordinarily think. For the purposes of the Bill, we are told that the words mean
“addressing the economic, social and environmental impacts of all stages of livestock farming and consumption, in order to…reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and address climate change in the United Kingdom and overseas…prevent biodiversity loss in the United Kingdom and overseas…promote animal welfare…protect and enhance the landscape…protect the resilience of farming communities, and…promote food security.”
Not much to do there, then.
We see immediately that the idea of livestock sustainability has in one fell swoop been extended to include animal welfare, the well-being of farming communities as a whole, which I take to mean the whole of rural Britain, and the promotion of food security—matters that I feel sure any casual inquirer into livestock sustainability would not expect to see because they go well beyond any concept of sustainability, even if it is considered in its widest sense. This starts to demonstrate the enormous difficulties that face anyone who attempts to define the term “sustainable” in so far as it relates to farming. The Bill seeks to define sustainability not just in environmental terms, but in social and economic terms too. It is such a broad definition that it makes the Bill completely unworkable in any meaningful way.
I am concerned that the definition in clause 3(d) includes a requirement not just to protect the landscape, but to enhance it too. It is not clear to me why that requirement should be included in the Bill.
I am sure that my hon. Friend will appreciate the extent to which our farmed landscape, the visual beauty of which we enjoy every day, is owed to the farming practice of grazing. If we continue to go down the road that our farming industry has been going down of penning ever greater numbers of cows into industrial sheds to be fed imported soya, we will lose the entire warp and weft of our rural countryside, and we will lose much of the visual beauty that so many people, including farmers themselves, appreciate. Coming from a constituency that includes part of the Kent downs, I urge my hon. Friend to visit them and realise quite how much we owe to the traditional farming practices that created the country as it is.
Farmers have looked after the fields for generations, but does my hon. Friend agree that the problem is that, in future, people will aim to transmute that work, to take it away from farmers and to give it to bureaucrats, who build the sheds that we have criticised?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for allowing me to intervene before I make my main remarks. Many comments have been made about cows and fields and so on, but it would be helpful if I informed the House that the substance of the debate is where we get soya bean meal from. The vast bulk of it is fed to pigs and poultry, not to grazing livestock, so if we are going to discuss that issue we need to recognise that if we do not import such meal, we will not have any pigmeat or poultry meat.
My hon. Friend makes a reasonable point, and I accept that, in an ideal world, that might be the case, but in this country the climate does not always make such practices possible. Throughout history, cattle have been kept inside sheds for a large part of the year. Okay, perhaps in years gone by, they were kept in wooden sheds, and that might not be appropriate in this day and age, but it is fairly normal practice to bring cattle inside in the winter months.
My hon. Friend makes an interesting point, but if we accept that it is okay for, for the sake of argument, 60 head of cattle to be kept inside a shed in the winter, providing the animal welfare standards are acceptable for 60 and not diluted when extended to 600—
I hesitate to interrupt my hon. Friend again so early in his speech, but is he aware of any peer-reviewed or emerging evidence to suggest that animals kept in sheds in any number are somehow at a disadvantage compared with those that might not be? It would be interesting to hear what evidence exists for that, other than hearsay, and what sounds to me like a slight Disney-fication of the problem.
Taking up the Minister’s point about pigs, does my hon. Friend agree that there is another inherent contradiction in the Bill? Many people would regard the rearing of outdoor pigs on the landscape, with the attendant corrugated iron sheds, as more damaging to the landscape than intensively rearing pigs in a smaller area.
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. There are a number of apparent contradictions in the idea that the traditional—I think the phrase used in farming is “more extensive”—methods will result in any saving or extra protection of the environment. For example, a farmer has to drive to reach the flocks of sheep that are tended on the uplands, but if they are all in one place that is much more environmentally sound.
Absolutely not. That is, indeed, one of the glories, and as someone who has on many occasions enjoyed walking in that environment and eating such animals, I certainly would not suggest as much, but it is worth considering that even in the most natural of environments, that method of farming still has an environmental impact.
The Bill seeks to define sustainability not just in environmental terms, but in social and economic terms. The definition is so broad that it makes the Bill completely unworkable. I am concerned that duty (d) in clause 3 includes a requirement not just to protect the landscape, but to “enhance” it. I am not clear why that is necessary.
Alongside that definition, there is no mention whatever of the economic aspects of sustainability. We need farmers to make a profit and to be consistently profitable. It is surely essential to the sustainability of the livestock industry that farmers be economically viable, and at the very least the reference in clause 3, duty (e), to
“the resilience of farming communities”
should be redrafted to include that critical point.
Profit is important, but it cannot be the sole determinant of Government farming policy. I should prefer my hon. Friend to give some consideration to biodiversity. At our current rate, half of all existing species on the planet will be eliminated within 50 years, and if we continue down that track we will be moving to a world in which there are farmers, cows, people and not much else. I am sure that my constituents in Orpington, which gave the world Charles Darwin, the father of evolutionary biology, do not want that to happen.
I agree, and I am not suggesting that economics should be the only criterion by which farming is judged. There is clearly an environmental responsibility on farmers, and they would be the first to accept that. Indeed, the coalition programme for government, which was mentioned earlier, refers to the need to promote biodiversity.
Clause 3, which is entitled “Interpretation”, also contains a definition of “livestock”. One might have thought that, in view of the fact that much more obscure terms have not been defined, “livestock” was a fairly straightforward term that need hardly be mentioned. However, according to, and for the purposes of, this Bill,
“‘livestock’ includes any creature kept for the production of food, wool or skins, or for the purposes of its use in the farming of land or the carrying on in relation to land of any agricultural activity.”
As we would expect, it covers all the usual farm animals—cattle, sheep, pigs, goats, chickens and so on. However, the definition is much wider than that; the words
“use in the farming of land”
would include the trusty sheepdog. Would it also cover the farm cat busy catching the mice?
Clause 1(2) sets out everything that the Secretary of State must do to be able to demonstrate compliance with the duty in subsection (1). It requires the Secretary of State, when deciding how to carry out that duty, to
“give consideration to…supporting sustainable practices and consumption through public procurement of livestock produce…providing appropriate public information and food labelling…supporting research into sustainable livestock practices…reducing the amount of, and finding sustainable methods for use or disposal of, food waste…changing the subsidies available to and support for farmers to promote sustainable livestock practices, and…the effectiveness of existing programmes aimed at improving the sustainability of the livestock industry, and action that could be taken to increase their effectiveness.”
I should point out that, although the Bill contains a definition of what is meant by the scope of the phrase
“sustainability of the livestock industry”,
in so far as it relates to the duty under clause 1(1), no such explanation or definition is given in relation to the references to “sustainable” in paragraphs (2)(a), (c) and (e). It seems to me that a crucial part of the Bill is therefore open to challenge.
Clause 1(3) states that
“The Secretary of State must ensure that policies in relation to negotiations and other activities at international level, including at the European Union, are consistent with sections 1(1) and 1(2).”
It is not enough that Secretaries of State should have to devise a series of policies to try to meet the wide demands of the Bill in this country; they will also have to ensure that, with their ministerial colleagues, they try to persuade the other 26 nations that make up the European Union—and, during international negotiations, persuade other countries in the rest of the world—to adopt all the detailed duties set out in clause 1(1) and (2); effectively, they will have to try to impose the duty imposed on them on the rest of Europe and the world. I am sure that any Secretary of State would look forward to that little task with unbridled enthusiasm.
It is fair and reasonable to assume that the only way in which any Secretary of State could have any hope of showing compliance with all these duties would be to impose ream upon ream of new rules and regulations—not only on farmers, but on food manufacturers and packagers.
My hon. Friend is being extremely generous in giving way.
On the subject of legislation and the volume thereof, is it not right to say that Governments have proved very capable, especially in the last several years, of analysing and assessing the challenges of a more sustainable farming sector without the need for legislation? For example, is my hon. Friend aware that no fewer than 11—
My hon. Friend makes a very valid point. It is worth noting that the Labour party had 13 years in government to legislate in the manner that the Bill suggests. It chose not to do so. As my hon. Friend says, there were a number of initiatives to try to meet the Bill’s objectives.
It seems reasonable to assume that the only way in which the Secretary of State can ever hope to comply with all her duties would be to impose new rules on food manufacturers and packagers. In fact, clause 1(4) places on the Secretary of State
“a duty to ensure that the steps taken in accordance with this Act do not lead to an increase in the proportion of meat consumed in the United Kingdom which is imported.”
I see why such a provision is considered necessary; subsection (4) gives the game away. It is clear from it that those promoting the Bill fully realise that its effect will be to increase the burden of regulation and red tape on Britain’s farmers. In turn, the cost of British meat will increase and inevitably lead to an increase in imports. In what I submit would be a futile attempt to stop that happening, the Bill attempts to legislate to prevent market forces from working.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that a YouGov survey has demonstrated that 80% of consumers would buy cheaper meat regardless of whether its production had involved fewer CO2 emissions? Therefore, because of the point that the hon. Gentleman is making, it is impossible for the Secretary of State to prevent the influx of cheap meat. The demand would be there. The motive of the person promoting the Bill may be fine and good, but the Bill will not do what it says on the tin. It will inflict on our industry a huge increase in foreign, cheap meat from Brazil.
There is a danger that the Bill will do exactly that, because the more well-off members of our society will be able to afford to pay the premium, while the vast majority—ordinary, working-class members of our society—will simply be prohibited from purchasing higher-priced organic goods.
I share the hon. Gentleman’s concern about the burden of regulation on our farmers, but would he agree that one of the biggest challenges that our livestock farmers face is cheap imports from south America, which are gaining a competitive advantage over our producers because of the erosion of human rights and the use of environmentally destructive farming practices? Surely a more ethical, sustainable approach to procurement is one way to ensure that the high-quality produce of our farmers reaches the market on a level playing field.
The hon. Lady makes a valid point. We should be concerned about standards of meat production in other parts of the world. It would be nice to think that we could eventually bring farmers in all countries in the world up to the quality and animal welfare standards that we enjoy in this country. I submit, however, that there are ways of doing that other than through the Bill. There is no reason, for example, why the persuasion at international level could not take place without any legislation being passed. I am sure—no doubt the Minister will confirm this—that that will already take place, regardless of any extra legislation.
Clause 1(4) gives the game away. If, by some remarkable mix of policy initiative, the aims of clause 1 were somehow to be achieved, the net result would mean nothing less than a massive reduction in the level of meat consumption in the United Kingdom. Right hon. and hon. Members must be in no doubt that this Bill will have the effect of forcing millions of Britons into becoming not just vegetarians, but vegans. I should stress that I have nothing against anyone who chooses not to eat meat; I myself often choose to eat meals without any meat in them. [Hon. Members: “Shame!”] I have to—I cannot afford to pay for it. However, I submit that that it is not the role of Government to dictate what people eat.
I must make it clear that I fully support all the farmers engaged in organic farming, and I entirely agree that traditional methods of farming are to be applauded and encouraged, but that is not an appropriate matter for this House to legislate on. It is much better that farmers be encouraged to adopt more organic and, as the Bill says, sustainable methods of farming as a result of public pressure and genuine market forces than to try to force them down this route with yet another mountain of red tape.
Let me return to the specifics of the Bill. Not content with imposing a duty and setting out six separate policy areas to which the Secretary of State must give consideration, the Bill also contains, in clause 1(5), a long list of topics on which the Secretary of State must find experts and then consult them. The Secretary of State must
“consult…organisations and persons”
“have expertise on—
(a) livestock farming, relevant technologies and the production and processing of livestock produce,
(b) the production of feed and chemicals used in livestock farming,
(c) food retailing, the food service sector and the relevant supply chains,
(d) the environmental impacts of the livestock industry, particularly those relating to climate change and biodiversity,
(e) the health impacts of livestock farming and the consumption of livestock produce,
(f) consumer attitudes and behaviour,
(g) animal health and welfare,
(h) minimising and disposing of food waste”,
and finally, although it is rather difficult to imagine what other areas could possibly be added to such a wide list,
“(i) any other subject considered relevant by the Secretary of State.”
It is clear that the matters to be considered wander far away from the simple title of the Bill, “Sustainable Livestock”. I particularly note that although the Secretary of State is required to consult persons or organisations who are experts in the effect on our health of eating livestock and livestock products, the term “health impacts” does not appear in the definition of what constitutes a relevant factor in determining
“the sustainability of the livestock industry”
as referred to in clause 3. The Secretary of State is therefore required to consult people on matters about which the Bill itself submits it has nothing to do with.
As right hon. and hon. Members may be aware, the Bill appears to be supported by a dazzling and wide-ranging array of bodies, such as Friends of the Earth and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds—I declare an interest, as I am a member of that august charity.
My hon. Friend makes a point that I shall raise shortly, because the Bill is silent on that.
The list of bodies that support the Bill also includes the National Trust, the Campaign to Protect Rural England, the Campaign for Real Farming, Compassion in World Farming, War on Want, the World Wildlife Fund, the Grasslands Trust, and even the Guild of Food Writers, to name but a few.
One may well ask why the Bill attracts such wide support. The reason, I submit, is that they all intend to use it to achieve their own particular campaigning ends. The Bill might, on the face of it, appear to be simply about sustaining livestock, but all those diverse organisations see it as a means of forcing Government to carry out the policies that they would wish to see implemented. The House will have noted that unusually for a Bill, it does not contain any specific policies. It does, I accept, set out what might be called a policy aspiration, but there are no specifics as to what Government are expected to do. We can only speculate on what such policies might entail. Indeed, some may venture that the reason specific policies are not contained in the Bill is that they would be so unpopular that they would engender yet more opposition to it.
One clue is contained in the postcard campaign organised by Friends of the Earth which is headed “Join the Moovement”, with the strapline,
“Put your hoof down for planet-friendly farming”.
The covering letter sent to Members with the postcard states:
“The Bill calls on Government to produce a strategy that assesses the impacts the livestock sector has on the environment, sets out the policy changes needed to reduce them, ensures problems are not simply moved overseas, and supports a sustainable and thriving UK farming industry.”
Having read the Bill, I cannot see where the word “strategy” appears at all, and nowhere are any policy changes set out. I am not sure whether the promoter and sponsors of the Bill had considered the coalition Government’s “Programme for Government” document, but if they had, they would have found a series of policies—real policies—that seem to cover many of the areas of concern mentioned in the Bill. For example, on page 17 there is a commitment to introduce measures to protect wildlife, halt the loss of habitats and restore biodiversity. There is a commitment to working towards a “zero waste economy”, and on page 18 there is a commitment to promote high standards of farm animal welfare.
I submit that the reason none of these policies is sufficient is that the promoter and many of the supporters of the Bill would like to see the United Kingdom go much further. I entirely accept that these interest groups represent areas of concern for many people, but I wonder whether it is appropriate for what is, by any assessment, a minority of people to use this Bill as a Trojan horse eventually to force others to accept the diet that they themselves have chosen to adopt.
Given what has been said about the Bill by a number of Members, including my hon. Friend, does he acknowledge that it has, in fact, had support from a very wide range of farming organisations that have not been named? They include Farm, the Family Farmers Association, the Small Farms Association, the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, the Soil Association and the National Trust—which, I accept, is not a farming organisation, but it has an interest.
My hon. Friend reads out that list, and I accept that those organisations no doubt support the Bill. However, I wonder what they have been told the Bill seeks to do, because I suspect that if they had actually looked at it they might have been somewhat surprised by its content. It is probably easier to get people to say that they support a Bill if one tells them that it is going to do something that perhaps it is not going to do.
Of course, the one group who will be more directly affected by the Bill than any other is our nation’s farmers. It is worth noting what the president of the National Farmers Union has said about it. In a press release issued the day after it had been published, he said:
“First and foremost, this Bill represents policy aspiration, not law.
I believe the UK government, present or future, should be free to develop its policy on the sustainability of the food and farming sector, working in partnership with industry and other interested organisations, as it sees fit. While the aspirations of this Bill are admirable, they are unsuited to legislation.
I remain convinced there are better ways of improving farming’s environmental impact, primarily by seeing through the voluntary and industry-led initiatives that are already underway rather than by adding further burdensome regulation.”
As far as I can see, and as we have heard this morning, one of the primary reasons why the Bill has been introduced is the belief of some that farmers in this country are too reliant on feeding their livestock with animal feed based on soya imported from abroad. I appreciate that there is concern about the destruction of the south American rain forest for the purpose of growing soya crops, but that problem is already being dealt with. Farmers have taken steps to encourage the sustainable production of soya in Brazil through the feed materials assurance scheme, or FEMAS. The UK imported 2.2 million tonnes of soya in 2009, mostly from south America, although it should be noted that not all of it was used in animal feed. Some was used in consumer foods such as vegetable oil. Already, about 1 million tonnes of UK imports from Brazil are certified under the FEMAS production module, which not only covers deforestation but ensures compliance with social legislation.
Soya is an important source of protein for livestock production in the UK, although its exact share of the livestock diet varies from as low as 3% for ruminants, through to 10% for pigs and up to 30% for broilers. Those involved in the farming industry have already agreed that the supply of responsibly sourced soya should be expanded by supporting schemes that can properly certify it as having been grown in compliance with sustainable principles, including environmental responsibility, responsible labour conditions and good agricultural practice.
Just in case clause 1 would not generate enough red tape, clause 2 would impose yet another duty on the Secretary of State—a duty to publish targets and report regularly on what progress had been made in achieving them. Subsection (1) would force the Secretary of State to publish the steps that were to be taken to show compliance with clause 1, including a set of indicators showing how progress would be measured. I would not like to venture a view as to whether an indicator is the same as a milestone, or even an horizon, but whatever they are, subsection (2) would require the Secretary of State, having published them, also to publish and update information about what progress has actually been made in meeting those targets. Those progress reports must include an explanation of the actual measures taken to achieve progress, and a comparison against the indicators. It sounds like a civil servant’s dream—new plans, new targets, more indicators, more progress reports.
If all that were not enough to keep the Secretary of State on track, there is a specific requirement in clause 2(4) for an “overall review of progress” to be published every two years. Fortunately, for the sake of all those rain forests that the Bill is intended to protect, subsection (5) specifically allows that the plethora of indicators, progress reports, updates, explanations, comparisons and reviews may be in electronic or hard-copy form. I sincerely hope that they would appear only in electronic form.
It seems reasonable to assume that having gone to such great lengths to spell out the duties and obligations on the Secretary of State, the Bill should contain some pretty blood-curdling consequences for failure to comply with its provisions. In fact, it is completely silent in that regard. Not a single sanction. There are no sanctions, no remedies, nothing. I could suggest that that is because the Bill contains so many vague terms and contentious definitions that any sanction would be effectively unenforceable.
I believe that the view of those who support the Bill is that remedy would be by way of judicial review. I can see the lawyers rubbing their hands with glee already. Day upon day would be spent in the High Court determining what actually constituted research into sustainable livestock practices, or perhaps whether the explanation provided under clause 2(3) was comprehensive enough. The list of potential areas of litigation would, I submit, be virtually endless. I argue that the Bill, which fails to include any remedy or sanction, is bad law. Surely it is the task of this House, and of their lordships in the other place, to determine the appropriate remedy for failure to comply with a law that we put on the statute book. We should not simply leave it up to the courts.
As was mentioned, perhaps one of the most worrying aspects of the Bill is the effect that it would have on public expenditure. As the House will note, it places onerous duties on the Secretary of State to consider numerous matters covering not only every aspect of farming but other matters. They include the provision of public information, food labelling, research, the reduction and disposal of food waste, and extending the nature of the negotiations that we carry on with other countries. It also includes a duty to consult a very wide range of expert individuals and organisations, not just on those matters but on others such as food retailing, the production of animal foodstuffs, climate change, biodiversity, the effects on human health of eating produce from livestock and animal health and welfare. Then, as we have just heard, there are all the progress reports that the Secretary of State must prepare and publish.
There can be no doubt at all that those tasks will be very time-consuming, and time costs money. The need to engage expert consultants in at least seven different areas will not be cheap, and it is fair and reasonable to assume that those experts will charge for the benefit of providing their expert opinion. Even if they all provided a lot of free advice, a raft of new civil servants would be required to meet the new obligations.
Nowhere in the explanatory notes is there any assessment of what all that will cost. Exactly what is the assessment of how many new staff will be needed? What will be the start-up costs to establish the new regulatory framework? What will be the cost of providing new offices and equipment? All that at a time when the Government are trying to reduce the level of bureaucracy and administration.
My hon. Friend is probably about to come on to this, but clause 4, on financial provisions, basically provides for a blank cheque to be given by the taxpayer for all the costs arising from the Bill, not to mention the costs that will fall not on the taxpayer but on consumers.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Clause 4 makes provision for the costs of the Bill to be met by Parliament, but as I said, there is no indication of what those costs are. If we pass the Bill, we will effectively sign a blank cheque. I would be interested to know what discussions, if any, the promoter of the Bill has had with Her Majesty’s Treasury about whether any funds are available to meet the wide-ranging list of new obligations to be imposed on the Secretary of State.
Before I move on to my conclusion, I should add that the Bill covers only England and Wales, and does not extend to Scotland or Northern Ireland. It will be for the devolved Administrations to deal with the matter in those areas.
My hon. Friend mentioned the fact that the interpretation clause refers to
“the United Kingdom and overseas”,
but he also said that the Bill applies only to England and Wales. Is there not some inconsistency there? How will the Bill be able to deal with issues in Scotland and Northern Ireland if it applies only to England and Wales?
My hon. Friend raises an interesting point, which I must admit I had not noted. It is indeed remarkable that the Bill refers at a number of points to the United Kingdom as the area that the Secretary of State must consider. Clause 1(4) refers to the
“meat consumed in the United Kingdom”.
Clause 3(b) refers to the need to
“prevent biodiversity loss in the United Kingdom”.
Clause 3(a) refers to the need to
“address climate change in the United Kingdom”.
If one is to believe clause 5, all of that would be outside the scope of the Bill to a large extent. There is a clearly a problem, and I would be interested to hear how the Bill’s promoter expects it to be dealt with.
In conclusion, I submit that the Bill is at best premature.
I presume that my hon. Friend is moving to the concluding parts of the first stage of his address, but before he does, will he deal with one point? My hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) is not in his place, but could the geographical issues that my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) has just raised possibly apply to overseas territories, given the lack of a clear definition in the Bill? That could create further confusion. Is it not also appropriate at this juncture to point out—
My hon. Friend raises an interesting point. The Bill requires the Secretary of State to ensure that these policies are consistent at an international level. One would think that the first place to start would be our overseas territories, and I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) would support that view and ensure that that is where we started, although whether the overseas territories would be that keen on having these burdens imposed on them is another matter.
Has my hon. Friend, with the help of my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope), not pointed out the total flaw in the Bill? If we amend clause 1(4) so that it refers not to the United Kingdom, but to England and Wales, we would have to object to imports of meat into England and Wales from Scotland and Northern Ireland. Surely that would be bonkers.
I thank my hon. Friend for that point. What he says would be clearly be the case. If we had to start distinguishing in the United Kingdom between the areas from which particular livestock products had come, that would indeed be a significant problem for not only farmers, but retailers, who would probably face a whole new raft of rules and regulations that would apply only to meat produced in Scotland. Perhaps we would need to consider that issue separately.
The Bill is at best premature. I set out a list of issues that the Government are already looking at, and the Bill may even be unnecessary in the light of the work that has already been undertaken by those engaged in farming and of the commitments that the coalition Government have made. There is no doubt that the Bill will significantly increase the bureaucratic burden on the Secretary of State. If the Secretary of State is to avoid constant threats of judicial review, there will be no alternative but for him or her to impose yet more burdens on our already struggling farmers.
I acknowledge that the Bill’s promoter and supporters are all well meaning, and it is indeed a laudable aim to have livestock eating entirely home-grown food in the green fields and natural pastures of England. My fear is that the Bill and the additional rules and regulations that will inevitably result from it will drive food production overseas. UK farmers will be put at a competitive disadvantage, and the only winners will be our foreign competitors. For all those reasons, I urge the House to oppose the Bill.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Robert Flello) on being so successful in the ballot and on bringing the Bill before the House. As he knows from my interventions and from a private conversation, I am not entirely in favour of his Bill, but I do congratulate him on securing this debate. It is important because it has brought the issue of agriculture back to the House and given us the opportunity to have an important discussion about where we want one of our most important producing industries—indeed, our critical producing industry—to go. This industry puts food in the bellies of our people and will determine the health of our nation, and this is an important debate for those reasons.
One of the best things that we do as a country—whether in England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland—is produce high-quality, traceable, nutritious food that is also profitable. We should be proud of that fact. We should encourage the industry and do everything we can not only to sustain it but to develop it and to ensure that the food that is produced in this nation is some of the best in the world and, indeed, the envy of the world.
We, and indeed the Minister and the Government, face a real challenge in ensuring that that happens, because there are many pressures on our food producers and farmers. We should do all we can to promote their livelihood and their industry. We should not succumb to siren calls to change our practices unless we are utterly convinced that those changes will perfect and develop further an industry that is crucial to our people.
We need to put into perspective some of the points that have been made about our industry. The livestock sector—beef, dairy, pig, poultry and sheep production—contributed £2.3 billion to agri-food output in Northern Ireland in the last year for which figures were available. Of that, approximately 72%, or almost £1.65 billion, was sold outside Northern Ireland. That means that we run a very successful export industry, and it is called the food industry.
We should be careful about doing anything that changes the careful balance in our marketplace. The Bill could affect that balance detrimentally. I do not believe that that is the intention of its promoter, but it could be the effect. We should remember that more than 20,000 people are directly employed in the agri-food sector in Northern Ireland alone. Tens of thousands more are employed across the rest of the United Kingdom.
What are the devolved Government of Northern Ireland and, by extension, the other devolved Governments across the United Kingdom doing to ensure that we address some of the matters that have been brought before us as a result of the Bill’s trajectory? The Climate Change Act 2008 is already in place, and action is being taken. Indeed, the Northern Ireland Programme for Government has a target for a 25% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in all sectors in the next 15 years.
I accept that point and I will discuss it when I deal with that aspect of the Bill, which, I believe, reflects the promoter’s gut instinct.
Our stakeholder group in the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development was formed at the end of July last year and wishes to consider how best to reduce greenhouse gases in the agricultural sector in Northern Ireland while remaining competitive in the marketplace. Our devolved Government have already taken several steps to address the issue, and I know that that also applies to the other devolved regions and to central Government in Westminster.
Do we need more legislation? Parliaments have a propensity to legislate when there is no need to do so. We should be careful not to load more bureaucracy—legislation for legislation’s sake—on to industry and the production of food. That is a key reason for my opposition to the Bill.
Given that work is already under way genuinely to address the problems, there should be no need for more legislative interventionism. Indeed, it would create additional bureaucracy and be less effective in delivering the necessary meaningful improvements and have an adverse impact on the agri-food industry.
There are three tests that the Bill must pass. The first is the economic sustainability test, which I believe it Bill fails. As I said, about £20 billion-worth of food is produced in the United Kingdom, and the Bill would force the Government to try to compel the new, ongoing common agricultural policy negotiations to change the subsidy rules so that every hectare of farm land in the United Kingdom would have to receive an increase in subsidy of between £100 and £200. For the life of me, I do not see the current European Union increasing food and farm subsidy in the current CAP negotiations. I wish that it would; it is not a realistic prospect, yet that needs to happen for the Bill to be effective. It will not happen in 2013, and we would therefore be arguing for something that is detrimental to the economy.
Production-limited support is contrary to World Trade Organisation regulations. If something is contrary to the CAP and WTO regulations, the likelihood of our getting an increase in the subsidy is small. The cost for farmers of having to purchase in a particular way in order to produce in a more carbon-efficient way would mean an additional burden and would be detrimental to the industry. Ultimately, who will lose? The farmer will put his hand in his pocket again and spend the money, but you, Mr Hoyle, I and the consumer will lose, because food prices will go up. Instead of good-quality, traceable food at a reasonable price, we will have more expensive food. The consumer will ultimately lose out.
What will the consumers do? They will do what all the polls tell us: they will buy not the high-quality food that is produced in the United Kingdom but the cheap, imported food, which will flood into the United Kingdom, further damaging our agricultural sector. In the past few years, we have fought against cheap meat from Brazil. If it is made even more accessible to our markets, when our consumers go to Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Asda, they will fill their trolleys with cheap Brazilian imports. Why? Because they are cheaper, and that is what will drive the consumer. We should realise that. I do not agree with the hon. Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) that such prices will make us want to become vegetarians or vegans; they will just make us want to buy cheaper food. That is a genuine downside to the Bill, so it fails the economic test.
The Bill also fails the social test. My constituency is made up of lowland and hill farming, and there is a certain shape and scope to our land. A previous contributor described it as God-given beauty. It has been shaped by the grazing habits that farmers have introduced. Under the Bill, that would change. It will become more expensive to graze our animals on the uplands because it will be more expensive to import the food for them. The shape of our land would therefore change dramatically, so the social impact would not be as effective as the Bill suggests.
The Bill also fails the environmental test. It would use the sledgehammer of environmental protectionism to crack a nut. The entire UK agriculture industry is responsible for only 7% of our greenhouse gas emissions, and our emissions have already fallen by 21% since 1990.
John F. Kennedy memorably said:
“The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie… but the myth, persistent, persuasive and unrealistic.”
We have heard some myths today which should be debunked. The Bill has an admirable aim to stop deforestation, but it will not do that. The House could pass the measure and say, “We want to stop deforestation,” but the Bill will contribute nothing to that aim. Indeed, its very publication contributes to deforestation because it needs paper. We must recognise the myth.
Another myth is that livestock will be raised indoors—that we will drive through our land and see great big silos and sheds where our livestock is raised. However, when I drive through my constituency, I see cattle and sheep in the fields.
Does the hon. Gentleman know that there is currently a planning application for a dairy farm in Lincolnshire, which will have more than 8,000 cows indoors practically throughout the year? There is also an application in Derbyshire for a pig farm that will host about 26,000 pigs. That is the direction in which the UK agricultural sector is moving. It is similar to what happens in some parts of eastern Europe and in America. That is a fact.
I accept that those two applications have been made—two applications in a massive industry. The planning service has the ability to restrict and reduce those plans if it considers them detrimental to the countryside. It is a myth that all farming will take place indoors. That cannot happen—milk cannot be obtained from cattle that are raised indoors.
I am interested in the Minister’s response to that point, because when I criticised the move towards raising cows indoors, he told me recently at Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs questions that I needed to go away and learn something more about dairy farming.
The hon. Lady can take that up with the Minister if she wishes. However, it is unrealistic to claim that, as we drive from the north of Scotland to the south of Devon, all that we will see in our countryside are huge sheds, inside which are animals that will never see the light of day. That is preposterous. It will not happen. It is a scare tactic that undermines the promoter’s good intention.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. We should get back to the point made by the Minister: the Bill will not affect cattle; it will have more of an effect on poultry and pig production.
In my constituency, there are 8,000 poultry producers. Those 8,000 farmers must raise poultry to compete efficiently and effectively with Brazil and other world producers. We export a lot of the poultry to the rest of the United Kingdom and across Europe. Indeed, most of the poultry that hon. Members eat—if they buy it in Marks and Spencer or Tesco—has been raised in my constituency, which is why it is so incredibly tasty. I encourage people to continue to buy it. By buying Moy Park and O’Kane Poultry produce, people are giving a vote of confidence to our local farming traditions. We should be proud of what we purchase and raise on our farms, and recognise that that productivity encourages and sustains jobs in the agri sector. Surely that is in all our interests. If we tamper with that and accept the myth that we are going to save a rain forest, we will lose jobs and end up buying poultry that is in fact produced in places where rain forests have been cleared—in other words, Brazil. That the Bill will stop the import of Brazilian-produced poultry or beef is a myth.
Another myth is that we require this legislation. We do not. It is in the interests of farming to be sustainable and to produce nutritional, clean and traceable food and to convince consumers across the United Kingdom and Europe of that. We therefore do not require legislation, because a good businessman—at the end of the day, farmers are good businessmen—will want to appeal to the marketplace, and the market wants good, clean, traceable and nutritional food. I hope that that produce is also profitable for the farmer.
Yet another myth is that the Bill will do what it says on the tin. It will not. It will do none of the things it says it will do. We need to recognise that even if we endorse the Bill and encourage such legislation, it will not do what it is supposed to do, which is to help our industry.
Let me appeal to the House. We all have different interests, but our key interest is keeping our people in employment. Farming is a key employer in my constituency and my country, and we should encourage, support and sustain it. We should not do anything that would undermine it.
At the outset of his commendable comments, the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) made the very important point that food and farming are too little debated in this House. I hope that the Backbench Business Committee will help to ensure that at least one day a year is devoted to a debate on food and farming.
I welcome the opportunity to take part in this debate for a number of reasons. I am the last surviving Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Minister in the House of Commons. In the general election immediately preceding the Great Reform Act, the Conservative candidate for Banbury had a four-word election address: “God speed the plough.” When I was first elected, Banbury had the largest cattle market in Europe. I am interested in this debate as a north Oxfordshire representative and former MAFF Minister, but I am also a former chair of the Select Committee on International Development and I was co-chair, with Lord Ewen Cameron, of the all-party group on agriculture and food for development.
How we ensure sustainable livestock is a complex issue, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Robert Flello) on introducing the Bill, which is clearly of interest to a large number of our constituents. I am not sure that we can do the topic justice collectively in the comparatively short period that we have for today’s debate, or individually in the time that each of us realistically and reasonably has to speak.
I note that the Bill has the support of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, of which I am a member. When I completed 25 years service in this House, my local constituency association presented me with two Gloucester old spot sows—affectionately named Hazel and Harriet—and I think that a paragraph in the RBST’s summarises why a number of people involved in agriculture and farming believe that the Bill might be helpful:
“The Rare Breeds Survival Trust is supporting this Bill because it calls for a strategic approach to livestock farming. The Bill would ensure that policies aimed at reducing the global impact of livestock production will give farmers in the UK an opportunity to maximise the use of extensive grazing systems, including using traditional breeds which will not only reduce our reliance on imported soy, but also greatly reduce the carbon footprint of livestock production, deliver benefits for wild life in the UK and support upland farmers who are protecting upland habitats and landscapes.”
No hon. Members will have any quarrel with that aspiration, but the question is this: do we need more regulation and more legislation to achieve a strategic approach to livestock farming, or do we trust farmers to continue to seek to improve farming’s environmental impact?
I note that coincidental with the Prime Minister’s recent visit to China, we exported a large number of breeding sows to China—they were not Gloucester old spots, alas, but high-pedigree UK pigs. We should not forget during this debate that standards of animal husbandry in the UK are among the best in the world.
However, I should observe that I got the impression from some of the letters, e-mails and briefing papers that I received before the debate that the main motivation of some of the supporters of the hon. Gentleman’s Bill is that they are either inclined to be anti-farmer or opposed to livestock farming as a concept. That is a pity. Such an approach is short sighted, because farmers here and elsewhere in the world have an important role to play in ensuring that we have the food that we need and that it is produced in such a way that we can pass on this planet to succeeding generations at least in a condition in which we would ourselves have hoped to have inherited it.
In that respect, there is a very real difficulty with the Bill. I get the impression that some supporters of the Bill seem to think that its provisions will achieve objectives that are not entirely clear. In e-mails that I have received, it has been suggested that those objectives include a ban on large dairies, an enforced reduction in meat and dairy in people’s diets, and the setting up of trade barriers on imported animal feed. I assume that that follows from references in the Bill to the use of subsidies or grants to encourage or discourage the use of particular practices, methods, feeds and crops; the use of taxes or levies to encourage or discourage use of particular practices, methods, feeds and crops; and the use of public information campaigns to encourage or discourage particular consumer behaviour.
I get the clear impression that some people hope that the Bill will do things that it is not immediately clear will be achieved. However, the ambiguity of the provisions and the confusion of aspiration about what the Bill intends may well cause more confusion than constructive engagement.
We live in a world of rapidly growing population, and those people need to be fed. The population is also becoming increasingly urban. In a comparatively short time, more of the population of Africa will live in major cities than will live in the countryside. It is also important to recall that more than 200 million people in Africa—more than one in four of the continent’s population—suffer chronic hunger.
I am glad that the Government have reaffirmed their commitment to the L’Aquila food security initiative, which was agreed at the G8 summit in 2009. The agreement aims to increase food production in developing countries, making food more affordable for the poorest and most vulnerable, create wealth and lift the poor out of poverty. Within the G20, the UK has committed to improving food security by making agricultural trade and markets function more effectively and reducing food price volatility, in order to protect those most vulnerable to food price increases, and I am glad to note that next year the UK Government will be publishing a major new foresight review of the future of farming and food, which will consider how the world can continue to feed itself sustainably and equitably over the next 40 years.
However, as my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for International Development pertinently observed in a debate earlier this week on food security in Africa:
“Agriculture is a private sector activity”—
the point that the hon. Member for North Antrim made—
“whether it involves subsistence farmers, smallholders…or large-scale commercial farming. The bulk of the investment needed to ramp up productivity will come from the private sector: from farmers’ own pockets, from banks and micro-credit agencies and from local and national investors.”—[Official Report, 9 November 2010; Vol. 518, c. 62WH.]
We live in a world challenged by climate change—a world where ease and globalisation of transport means that it is possible to transmit human and infectious diseases globally within a very short time span. Climate change means that there is often increasing competition for resources. For example, to those of us who have witnessed at first-hand the tragedy of Darfur, it is clear that much of that tragedy happened as a consequence of the Sahara desert moving inexorably onwards from Chad into neighbouring Sudan, and resulting in a conflict for land between nomads who have traditionally driven their cattle across the country and farmers using land to grow crops.
I do not think there is any dispute that livestock production contributes to climate change by making greenhouse gases either directly, such as from enteric fermentation, or indirectly, from feed production activities or the consequences of deforestation that creates new pasture. However, I think we do need to put this in perspective. The Food and Agriculture Organisation has concluded that, taken together in a food chain approach, livestock contribute about 9% of total anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions. However, that also means that the livestock sector has an enormous potential to contribute to climate change mitigation. That will clearly require research and development of new mitigating technology—technologies to mitigate greenhouse emissions and the improved ability to monitor, report and verify emissions from livestock production.
I think we need to reflect that livestock are very often key assets held by poor people, particularly in food-insecure systems. Livestock often fulfil a number of economic, social and risk management functions. Indeed, for many poor people the loss of their livestock assets means that they decline into chronic poverty, with long-term effects on their livelihoods. So while of course there is understandable concern about some livestock production becoming more intensified to exploit economies of scale along the supply chain and concern about livestock hotspots, such as Amazonian ranches, and a trend of deforestation to provide more land for cattle or land for soya to feed cattle, there are also trade-offs in the increased efficiency of production; but those trade-offs have to be set against the implications for natural resource use, and adding a small amount of animal-based foods to a predominantly plant-based diet can yield large improvements in maternal health and child development.
Livestock contribute 40% of the global value of agricultural output and support the livelihoods and food security of almost a billion people. Indeed, livestock provide food for at least 830 million food-insecure people and in many developing countries livestock are a valuable asset, serving as a store of wealth, collateral for credit and an essential safety net during times of crisis, with outputs making a sizeable contribution to cash income.
We also need to recall that livestock are very often central to a mixed farming system. They consume waste products from crop and food production. Livestock help to control insects and weeds. They produce manure for fertilising fields and they provide draught power for ploughing and transport. I have a vivid recollection of seeing farmers in the highlands of Ethiopia using draught cattle to pull their ploughs to give them strength to enable them to use fairly basic wooden ploughs to plough very rocky marginal land. And, of course, livestock produce milk.
At the global level, livestock contribute some 15% of total food energy and 25% of dietary protein, and indeed products from livestock provide essential nutrients that are not easily obtained from plant-based foods. So although I appreciate that there are many people who for ethical reasons do not wish to eat meat, and although those who wish to be vegetarian or vegan must of course be free to do so—I have two vegetarians and a vegan in my close family—I think it is wholly unrealistic for those who have an instinctive, ethical or intellectual opposition to livestock production to think that the world is going to abandon cattle, goat, pig or poultry production.
We have to maximise the sustainable benefits of livestock production and minimise the risks, as far as possible, and the damage that some livestock production is doing to the planet. Reducing the risks, of course, also means reducing the risks to animal and human health. I do not wish to be alarmist, but the World Organisation for Animal Health estimates that 70% of all newly emerging infectious human diseases originate in animals. At least half of the known causes of infectious diseases in humans have a reservoir in animals, and about three quarters of new diseases that have affected humans over the past 10 years are caused by pathogens originating from products of animal origin.
It is in all our interests that there should be a sustained investment in developing countries to reduce the risk to human health, and we need to think how we might enhance the capacity of poorer countries to participate in the design of better animal health and food safety standards, although I think we should always recall that it is always the poor who are at the greatest risk here. Poor people are more likely to be chronically affected by health problems that have been caused by contact with sick animals, such as brucellosis or internal parasites, and for many of the poorest families livestock disease is particularly damaging because it threatens the very asset that they use for dealing with other crises.
The hon. Member for North Antrim raised the very sound point that if the Bill becomes law, it may well have an effect that we have seen all too often: if one creates perversities in the UK agricultural marketplace, very often it simply results in our importing foodstuffs that have been produced in parts of the world that do not have our animal welfare standards.
We need to work with farmers and agriculture Ministers in developing countries to enhance their capacity to meet the human risks associated with livestock diseases. The most serious health threat is that of a human pandemic, and that was recently highlighted by the outbreak of a new strain of influenza A—H1N1—which contains genetic material from human, swine and poultry viruses. So it is fully understandable at a time of growing population pressure and growing urbanisation that the production of livestock, particularly pigs and poultry, is becoming more intensive, more geographically concentrated, more vertically integrated and more linked with global supply chains. But all that also has risks and what we need to be doing is maximising the potential for livestock to contribute to poverty alleviation and minimising the risks. We also need to improve food security, increase the sustainability of natural resource use and improve efforts to manage animal diseases.
I do not think that anyone challenges the need for the livestock sector to improve its environmental performance; this is about how to use resources more efficiently and how to capture the waste that livestock generate and turn it into resources. What we need, so far as is possible, is what economists would describe as producers and consumers internalising both the positive and negative factors generated by the livestock sector, so that producers and consumers pay the real price of the impacts of livestock production on natural resources and the environment and we do not steal land from, and degrade land for, future generations.
I do not believe anyone would challenge the concept that the livestock sector should seek to ensure its development is as environmentally sustainable as possible. That will require investment in agricultural research and appropriate actions along the food chain. What we are seeking to achieve is not that we campaign against farmers or producers but that we have a sustainable livestock industry, both in this country, and elsewhere in Europe and the world. But that gives rise to the question: do we need primary legislation to achieve such outcomes?
In effect, what the Bill’s supporters are saying is that Ministers in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs should come forward with a Government-drafted and Government-devised regulatory framework to impose on the UK livestock sector. I have to say to my colleagues, particularly those on the Government Benches, that it would be considered very strange at a time when we are, in general, seeking to reduce red tape, to deregulate and, wherever possible, to reduce the burden of regulation, if we were to seek, by primary legislation, to set up a maximalist regulatory framework for Ministers to seek to regulate every livestock farmer in the United Kingdom. I suspect that if this Bill were to get into Committee, the contradictions inherent within its wording would become more apparent the more one considered it line by line and clause by clause.
The previous Government became increasingly disingenuous on private Members’ Bills to which they may have been opposed—supporting or allowing them through on Second Reading and then seeking, in effect, to talk them out on Report and Third Reading. That was disingenuous, because if one does not support a Bill, one should not vote for it on Second Reading. I do not think that Members of Parliament collectively would support the introduction of a wholesale new regulatory regime at the moment for any other sector of UK business or commercial activity, so why would they support one for farming and agriculture?
I wish to make another point about the Bill and today’s debate. The Bill is a piece of a primary legislation that has been presented to the House and it contains five clauses. The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Robert Flello), who introduced it, spoke for just 10 minutes in support of it. The Bill lists 10 sponsors, but with three honourable exceptions—my hon. Friends the Members for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood), for Crawley (Henry Smith) and for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith)—none has been present during the course of this debate. The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) put in a fleeting appearance at the start of the debate and then disappeared, but not a sign has been seen of the other sponsors: the hon. Member for St Ives (Andrew George); my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone); the right hon. Members for Cardiff South and Penarth (Alun Michael), for Salford and Eccles (Hazel Blears) and for Oldham West and Royton (Mr Meacher); and my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West (Peter Bottomley). A fundamental principle is involved here, because if those who sponsor a private Members’ Bill do not even consider it worth while to attend and speak during the debate in support of the Bill and its promoter feels able to speak for only 10 minutes in support of it, that gives very little confidence to the rest of the House that the Bill should be supported in the Lobby.
However, I also think that today’s debate, and a number of the interventions made during it, send a very clear message to UK farmers and the farming industry that they have to do a lot more to explain what they are doing with initiatives such as the greenhouse gas action plan, the beef and sheep road map, and the encouragement of sustainable soya production in Brazil and elsewhere. I am sure that farmers are, and want to be, part of the solution. Today’s debate shows that in the minds of all too many, present-day agriculture is part of the problem, and only farmers and the farming community can demonstrate that they are genuinely committed to responsible animal husbandry and sustainable livestock production.
May I apologise for chancing my arm with my earlier intervention, Mr Deputy Speaker? I shall have to find another opportunity, when you are not looking, to make the same point.
Let me join in the general feeling in the House by congratulating the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Robert Flello) on introducing the Bill and the debate. It is always good to have a lengthy debate in the House about rural affairs, particularly in quite measured conditions. I should start by declaring a bit of an interest because in the 10 years before my election to the House I was involved in the largest European group with an interest in rural affairs—the ever-excellent Countryside Alliance. I mention that because this issue is all about people, and Members of this Parliament and others sometimes forget that there is always a consequence for communities, individuals and jobs, as the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) accurately stated. I shall restrict my comments to those issues and I hope that the House will forgive me for not going into quite as much detail as my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) did in dealing with different aspects of the Bill.
I want to start by bigging up our farmers because in the past 20 years they have sometimes got a pretty bad press, and undeservedly so. Farmers, particularly those in my area and members of the Farmers Union of Wales, of the National Farmers Union Cymru and of the Country Land and Business Association, have been at the vanguard of sustainable land use and food production for longer than it has been fashionable to talk about those issues in this House, and they do not often get the praise they deserve for their fantastic work in producing good-quality food and maintaining the landscape as we expect to find it when we visit the countryside.
I think that my hon. Friend probably knows the answer to that question, which is, of course, no—but not in an aggressive sense. Farmers simply want a chance to compete on a level playing field not only with other farmers across Europe and the world but with other industries in the UK. This is not about special pleading, but about their pleading to be treated in a similar manner to everybody else. The Bill contributes to a suspicion that individual Members of Parliament want to do things to agriculture rather than for it. If there has been a long-running problem it is the latent suspicion hanging over everything we do that we act in our interests rather than those of farmers.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that there is a trade-off here, given that the UK agriculture industry benefits from billions of pounds-worth of subsidy from UK taxpayers? Do not the taxpayers who are not involved in the farming industry have a rightto express an opinion on how farming is conducted? If they think it important that higher environmental standards are met, that is a perfectly valid point for them to make.
Yes, I do agree. That is perfectly reasonable and the evidence clearly shows that nobody in agricultural food production would disagree. Indeed, people in the industry have been making such points for longer than the hon. Lady or I have. This is all about fairness, to use a word that is also becoming rather fashionable. On that point, our countryside and industry are the envy of Europe not because of politicians but despite them. My hon. Friend the Member for Bury North, who has just left his place, accurately raised that issue in his intervention. We have to be careful that when we pass legislation that affects rural Britain, particularly agriculture, we do not create a more complicated and therefore less competitive agriculture industry, thereby failing to achieve the benefits that the supporters of the Bill have quite reasonably set out to achieve.
Does my hon. Friend agree that much of the subsidy to farmers that the hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) mentioned is for benefiting biodiversity, for stewardship and for taking great care of the environment being farmed?
I do, and that is a very visible shift in subsidy policy that has taken place over the past 10 or 20 years. Instead of subsidy of food production simply for food production’s sake, we have moved much more towards environmental stewardship. The point I was trying to make was that we should not assume for one moment that environmental stewardship is not taken extremely seriously by farmers across all aspects of agriculture, not just food production; they value environmental stewardship and have been part of it because they feel that that is their duty, not only to their farms but to the community. That has always been the case, yet that gets lost in these debates. Somehow, there is the underlying view that we have to make farmers take environmental stewardship seriously. That is not the case. The farmers whom I know take it extremely seriously. The only barrier between them and successful environmental stewardship has generally been politicians, not a desire to make money at the expense of the environment.
If I were to shine a bright light on the Bill I would point out that surely any decent Secretary of State of whatever party would automatically insert into their thinking, if not their legislation, all the checks and balances that we are told are now so essential that they have to be enshrined in law. I have to ask why, over the past 13, 15 or 20 years, successive Secretaries of State at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and its predecessor, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, did not do that as a matter of routine.
I recall the creation of something called the Rural Advocate under the previous Government. I am not even sure, to my great shame, whether he still exists, but his job was to oversee a sort of rural-proofing exercise to ensure that any legislation—not just that sponsored by DEFRA, but legislation from any Government Department —passed the test as far as rural communities were concerned. My criticism is that perhaps the Bill takes far too narrow a line of attack, at this stage, at any rate.
I want to move on to the vexed question of sustainability. It is difficult to define it as accurately as we might like in this debate. I suspect that it is tempting for Members, particularly new Members, to resist the chance of objecting to anything that has “sustainability” in the title, because we may somehow be seen as regressive or as dinosaurs if we do.
As far as the Bill is concerned, most of us have come under heavy bombardment over the past few weeks from various pressure groups, some of which have had more compelling arguments than others. Three particular people have pushed me as close as I was happy to go towards supporting the measure. One was my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith); I value his opinion on every subject, but we cannot quite agree on this one. I was subject to some late-night lobbying yesterday from Mr Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, but even his persuasive argument, including the promise of a River Cottage hamper for Christmas if I changed my mind, was insufficient. I should also mention the fantastic efforts and unique lobbying skills of Mr Stanley Johnson, who is up in the Public Gallery today, but even the combined heavy bombardment from those three expert individuals, whom I respect greatly, failed to convince me that we are anywhere near defining sustainability as well as we might, for the purposes of the Bill becoming an Act.
I do, and we sometimes forget that there is a strong social and economic ingredient in that definition; it has been missing so far in this debate. I am sure that the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South will tell us that we have got that wrong, but I have seen nothing, in the hundreds of e-mails that we have had so far, to convince me that the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Henry Smith) has been properly addressed.
It is odd that the Bill focuses purely on livestock production. It seems obvious that if we are to talk about sustainable farming, we should not restrict ourselves purely to livestock. I am not convinced that the Bill has been properly considered in that respect. To pluck one example from the sky—no pun intended—let us consider poultry production. It seems odd that we have not properly examined the argument that intensive poultry production has less of an adverse carbon footprint than extensive poultry production. That has not been addressed, nor had consumer purchasing habits until the hon. Member for North Antrim raised them. There is a reference in the Bill to rural resilience. I do not know what that is, in the context of the Bill, but I do know that it is something with which I have been extremely familiar for 10 years. The resilience of the rural community is far from being a satisfactory excuse to increase the burden of regulation on the rural community. We cannot possibly simply depend on the resilience of our friends in the livestock industry for the purposes of the Bill.
We have not discussed in any great detail the Bill’s possible adverse effects on livestock producers. There was one reference, and only one, this morning to profit—a sort of dirty word, it seems, when we talk about sustainability. Unless there is profit in farming, and unless there is the sort of profit that enables farmers to invest long term as opposed to short term, then there will be no sustainability of any sort—no environmental sustainability, no social sustainability and no economic sustainability. There was a famous bumper sticker in America a year or so ago, which quite simply said, “No farmers, no food”.
We overlook the sustainability question and the long-term profitability of farming at our peril. While there has been a bit of a debate about intensive dairy units and what number of cows constitutes unacceptability, it seems interesting that, at long last, there are people out there who are prepared to consider investing several million pounds in UK agriculture. We have been striving for generations to persuade people to do that. The moment somebody comes up with a cost-effective way of doing so, we fall on them like a pack of wolves and try to stop them. We have got to be careful about being carried away by a scare story.
As I listen to the hon. Gentleman, I wonder whether he is talking about the same Bill as I have been looking at. One of its central themes is to try to reduce dependency on imported meat and the risky practices that happen outside this country. I thought that that was a major defence of British farming and I am surprised that he does not support that.
Does the hon. Gentleman wish to intervene? I suspect that the sponsors of the Bill are responsible for explaining it to the people whom it affects. My earlier comments about having to be careful that legislation is not seen to over-regulate our farming industry, and thereby make it less competitive, must be taken seriously. In the hon. Gentleman’s favour, I would say that the aspirational elements of the measure are to be commended. It is fair to say that there are a number of Members across the House who might not be able to support the Bill today, but who support its aspirational elements, particularly local procurement for institutions such as the NHS and the Ministry of Defence. Indeed, I think the Conservative party manifesto said that we would pursue such a measure. Perhaps the Minister could expand on that. Equally, as we have heard, farmers have signed up enthusiastically to a number of environmental schemes, with the possible exception of Glastir in Wales, which has proved to be a bureaucratic nightmare, unlike its excellent predecessor.
To conclude, I want to deal with the question of balance. With all these things, it is difficult to strike the right balance between encouraging and generating economic sustainability in the farming industry which, in my opinion at any rate, leads to environmental sustainability, and the interests of those who wish to use the land for non-agricultural or non-food production purposes. It is difficult to strike the right balance between those who have a duty to produce good-quality, affordable food and those who maintain sensible, measured and worthy considerations. Perhaps my greatest concern is that the Bill does not seem to strike that balance. Although it rightly puts the focus of responsibility on the Secretary of State and on the politicians, it does not deal with that in a way that, if enshrined in law, would be fair, reasonable or balanced. It is good to see a measure that regulates us rather than farmers, but it is not quite in the right condition yet. For that reason, for anybody who has a real interest in striking that balance and in supporting the desire of rural communities to be economically, socially and environmentally sustainable and responsible, it is impossible, at least on this occasion, to support the measure.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak in such an important debate. I congratulate the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Robert Flello) on advancing his private Member’s Bill. Debating it has been a valuable use of our time today.
Livestock, and dairy farming in particular, is important to the local economy in my constituency. Local farmers produce milk to drink and to process into clotted cream, for which Cornwall is famous, and also to make butter, ice cream and award-winning cheese. Many local people and tourists alike enjoy the delicious meat produced from the local herds, not least in our Cornish pasties.
When I was growing up in my constituency, every parish had a number of dairy farmers. That has, sadly, dwindled over time, especially under the previous Government, whose lack of understanding and support for farmers, coinciding with outbreaks of disease, almost wiped out that entire industry. Some tenacious and determined farmers, often paying a high personal price, have soldiered on. I believe they have a good future as more people understand the value of locally produced food as part of living in a healthy and sustainable community.
I must declare an interest, as I am a proud to say that I am vice-president of the Truro Christmas Primestock and Produce Society, which hosts a popular annual event in December that aims to raise awareness of the high-quality food producers in our community. Events like these and local farmers markets help more people understand and appreciate how important it is not only to the local economy, but to human health and well-being to support the local production of food. Penair school in Truro won the BBC food and farming award last year for its locally sourced food and excellent school dinners. The Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust has been nationally recognised for the locally sourced and homemade food that it serves to patients.
I want to ensure that the livestock farmers in my constituency and around the UK are supported by the coalition Government. The sustainability of those farmers is vital to the sustainability of our economy. Although I agree with the Bill’s aims, especially its aspiration to reduce deforestation in south America and the Amazon, to reduce foreign imports of meat, and to improve human rights, I agree with the NFU when it says:
“Many of the ‘solutions’ that have been put forward will not, as is often claimed, benefit UK farmers. They can be unworkable or illegal, damaging for the industry on these shores, and in many instances simply export the perceived problem abroad.”
I agree with hon. Members and organisations outside the House who support the Bill and want to move away from factory farming to environmentally friendly farming, to cut our CO2 emissions and to protect our wildlife and natural environment, but we also need to ensure that we have an economically sustainable farming industry.
As the global population is growing so rapidly, it is vital that we produce more food in this country. It has been estimated that in the next 40 years, demand for food will increase by 70%. Farming will be one of the most important sectors in the global economy. Should not Governments across the world be helping all farmers to develop sustainable methods to meet this huge surge in demand? As my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) so ably described, that will be very difficult to achieve, as farming methods have evolved over hundreds of years in response to the community, society and, not least, environment.
I had the great pleasure of living with my family in Italy for four years, and there I visited a number of organic farmers. Dairy production in Italy, deemed to be of the highest standard, is done inside. All dairy cattle are kept inside all year round, even in north Italy where I lived, for the simple reason that there is no pasture because of the environment and the climate. Trying to achieve sustainable farming throughout the world, which I believe is essential, will be a complex matter and will require considerable negotiation.
I will be happy to do so, because I have a great interest in locally produced food and organic food, particularly as I grew up in a rural area and am very aware of the high standards of animal husbandry in this country. People in Italy have a great passion for their food, so when I lived there I was interested in meeting farmers and those in food production. I was surprised—as surprised as I expect my hon. Friend is—to visit a large-scale organic farm just outside Milan where all the cattle were kept indoors all year round. As anyone who knows that part of the world will know, it is hot, and pasture cannot be grown sustainably to enable the livestock to graze outdoors as dairy cattle can in Cornwall. It brought home to me that we should not always be so judgmental about how other nations go about farming in a sustainable way that has, by its very nature, to respond to the natural environment that they find themselves in.
I hope that hon. Members will agree that rather than persist with the Bill in its current form, with all the issues that have been so ably raised by my hon. Friends, we should build on the very successful publicity that it and today’s debate have received, and work with the various Ministers who are already working on a range of plans and policies that will address the complex and often interrelated issues that the Bill raises. In doing so, we will be assured of more effective outcomes and policies that balance the needs of environmental protection and climate change adaptation with economically sustainable farming.
In the last Parliament there was cross-party support for the Climate Change Bill, and I urge Opposition Members to work constructively with the coalition Government in this Parliament to bring in the changes that are needed today, tomorrow and in the years to come, so that there is a future for sustainable British livestock farming.
I have listened with enormous interest to my hon. Friend. Does she agree that it would be unsuitable to do this on a national level? If ever there was something that had to be dealt with at a United Nations level, it would be this type of issue, and we simply cannot do it from this Parliament.
I am happy to agree with my hon. Friend, and that point was ably demonstrated by my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury, with his considerable experience of farming and farming practices around the world, and our important role in helping developing countries to develop in a sustainable way. It is vital that we proceed in the way suggested and I am sure that we will hear from the Minister about the considerable lengths to which the Government will go to achieve that.
As my hon. Friend knows, I spent quite a lot of my childhood in the wonderful constituency that she has the privilege of representing. In that constituency there is a big problem of bovine TB. Does she think that keeping cattle in sheds might be a way to prevent cattle from being affected by bovine TB, thereby avoiding the enormous waste that is involved in the slaughter of cattle that are affected?
I thank my hon. Friend for his kind words about what is, indeed, a very beautiful constituency. It is my great privilege and honour to represent it. As he rightly points out, we are particularly blighted by bovine TB in Cornwall; it is a real hot spot. There is no doubt that for a long period farmers in my constituency have suffered when tackling that disease, which is absolutely appalling not only for badgers, but for the cattle that it infects. Sadly, because of the lack of action taken by the previous Government, bovine TB has spread to other livestock in Cornwall, including pigs, which are farmed in a free-range way. It is a huge problem. I am, however, confident that the measures that the new coalition Government are taking, by building up an evidence base with the widespread consultation of all concerned, will come up with a range of solutions that can be urgently implemented to reduce that terrible disease in the new year.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Robert Flello) on speaking with such eloquence, authority and relative brevity to this important private Member’s Bill, on which he has worked so assiduously, and I commend those other hon. Members who have participated: the hon. Members for Bury North (Mr Nuttall), for North Antrim (Ian Paisley), for Banbury (Tony Baldry), for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire (Simon Hart) and for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton). They have provided extensive initial scrutiny of the proposals.
Agriculture is one of the most significant parts of the UK economy. It directly employs 534,000 people and contributes £7.1 billion directly to the UK economy each year, with the agri-food sector constituting almost 6.7% of economic output. It is increasingly recognised that farmland has a wider role than simply agricultural production. In particular, it has a role in water protection and in sustaining landscapes and habitats that are rich in biodiversity.
Globally, as the “Food 2030” study by the previous Government made clear, world population growth of between 2 billion to 3 billion in the next four decades will necessitate increased global food production, but that must be sustainable.
Not at all, because I have farmland at the northernmost tip of my constituency, so I am aware of precisely the issues that Members from English, Welsh and Northern Irish constituencies have discussed today.
The Bill points to a future of greater food security and more effective further action on reducing global greenhouse gas emissions. Agriculture accounts for 14% of global greenhouse emissions, and in 2006 the food supply chain was responsible for 160 million tonnes of CO2-equivalent emissions: one third came from primary production; a further third came from manufacturing, distribution and the sale of food; and a final third came from household food emissions and emissions embedded in imported food. Just as every other part of our economy is making its contribution to tackling climate change by reducing emissions by 34% by 2020 and by 80% by 2050, so too must agriculture. Currently, under the low-carbon transition plan, agriculture in England has an emissions reduction target of 3 million tonnes by 2020.
One key concern that has been raised is the use of soya in animal feed as a source of protein and for the generation of certain biofuels. In some parts of the world, such as Brazil, soya production has become connected with deforestation and environmental damage, amounting to almost 80% of Brazil’s greenhouse gas emissions. Friends of the Earth pointed out in its recent analysis that global soya bean production increased by 4.6% annually from 1961 until 2007 and reached an average annual production of 217.6 million tonnes between 2005 and 2007. World production of soya beans is predicted to increase by 2.2% annually to 371.3 million tonnes by 2030.
Let me pay tribute to the work that the English pig industry is doing to promote the sustainable and seasonable sourcing of products, cut the use of imported soya in animal feed and encourage the development of sustainable soya production in Brazil through FEMAS, the feed materials assurance scheme that the hon. Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) referred to, and other initiatives. The Bill provides an excellent opportunity to assess how agriculture can further maximise its role in the vital function of reducing greenhouse gas.
The market for meat is increasing in other continents. In 1985, the average Chinese consumer ate 20 kg of meat a year; now he or she eats more than 50 kg a year. In developing countries as a whole, the demand for meat has doubled since 1980. As the 2009 UN Food and Agriculture Organisation report on the state of food and agriculture says, between 1980 and 2007, China increased its production of meat more than sixfold. Today it accounts for nearly 50% of meat production in developing countries and 31% of world production.
Brazil expanded meat production by a factor of almost four, and now contributes 11% of developing country meat production and 7% of global production. But agriculture also has a central role in driving an increase in global economic growth, food security and poverty reduction. According to the FAO report, agricultural productivity growth has positive effects for the poor in three areas: lower prices for consumers; higher incomes for producers; and growth multiplier effects through the rest of the economy, as demand for other goods and services increases. The 2009 FAO report also establishes that agricultural growth reduces poverty more strongly than growth in other sectors.
Recent research by Julian Alston, published by the OECD, has found that the world has benefited greatly from productivity growth in agriculture, a substantial amount of which has been enabled by technological change resulting from public and private investments in agricultural research and development, although he encourages countries to increase their levels of investment in such R and D. But that poses a clear question: what policy changes must be made to ensure sustainable growth? The FAO’s agriculture and commodity prices report of last year found that in June 2008, the prices of basic foods on international markets reached their highest levels for 30 years, threatening the food security of the poor worldwide. In 2007 and 2008, mainly because of high food prices, an additional 115 million people were pushed into chronic hunger. Since then, although prices have declined, they are still high by recent historical standards.
Last December, to enhance the role that agriculture plays in reducing climate change, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), then Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, sought to increase international co-operation, collaboration and investment in public and private research by confirming our participation in the Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases at the climate change summit in Copenhagen.
How does the Bill meet the challenges of increasing food production sustainably but in ways that protect our environment? Clause 1 sets down a statutory duty for the Secretary of State to ensure the sustainability of the livestock industry with reference to factors including public procurement, appropriate public information and labelling, the support of research into sustainable practices, and a reduction in the amount of food waste, as well as finding suitable means for disposing of it. The Secretary of State would also have a duty to consult appropriate stakeholders on livestock farming, technologies, production and processing, environmental impacts, consumer attitudes and animal health and welfare. Clause 1 appears to strike a balance between enhancing growth and protecting our environment, and it would allow the Secretary of State, in devising policy, to create such a balance.
Clause 2 would create a further duty for the Secretary of State to publish the indicators against which progress on sustainability can be measured, with the use of two-yearly reviews. Such an approach, with the Secretary of State accountable for that report in this House, would increase the accountability that she will have in relation to food security and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
In fact, subsection (1) requires the publication of the review of progress to be much more frequent than every two years. We can only assume that that is the case because the review of progress referred to in subsection (4) is the overall analysis and review. Would the shadow Minister like to comment on that?
The key point for the hon. Gentleman to consider is that the Bill would not introduce any order-making power that affected the agriculture industry. It would create a duty for the Secretary of State to have a balanced strategy that took on the points made by the National Farmers Union and Friends of the Earth, and it would allow the Secretary of State to calibrate a balanced policy for which she will be accountable to this House.
I will make a little progress and then give way.
Clause 1(3) would ensure that the UK, in its discussions at international level, promoted sustainable food production. At the moment, EU policies promote a reduction in two forms of greenhouse gas emissions: methane emissions from livestock digestion processes, which are stored in animal manure, and nitrous oxide emissions, which originate from organic and mineral nitrogen-based fertilisers. Currently, about 9% of total EU greenhouse emissions stem from agriculture. That represents a 2% reduction from comparable statistics from 1990. The Commission’s 2009 White Paper indicates that agricultural emissions in the 27 EU member states reduced by 20% between 1990 and 2007 owing to the marked decline in livestock numbers, more efficient application of fertilisers and better manure management. This 20% fall in emissions from agriculture is significantly higher than the 11% reduction in emissions in all EU sectors, and contrasts with the 17% increase in global emissions stemming from agriculture.
The cross-compliance and rural development measures of the EU’s common agricultural policy are assisting in the further reduction of agricultural climate change emissions, through the modernising farms programme, extending the use of energy-efficient equipment and buildings, expanding the available support to generate biogas through anaerobic digestion, and the compensatory measures for farmers who assist in environmental protection through agri-environment schemes. These measures should form key elements of a reformed CAP, which members on both sides of the House will wish to see emerging by 2013. They are measures which, under clause 1(3), the Secretary of State would be able to promote at EU level.
It would be more effective if the Secretary of State could bat for Britain in the EU Council and demonstrate to this House the progress that she is making towards effective CAP reform, which all of us will want to see by 2013.
I wish to highlight another point that the 2009 European Commission report stressed, which is the scope for improvement in livestock management, such as changes in diet, the use of additives that can mitigate methane emissions, the increased use of anaerobic digestion, and better nitrogen-based fertiliser management in order to cut nitrous oxide emissions. If the Bill commits the Government to negotiating the expansion of those or similar policies, it will make a substantial contribution to reducing our greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture and be worthy of the House’s support.
The Opposition support the principles behind the Bill. Should it receive a Second Reading today, several clauses will undoubtedly require detailed scrutiny in Committee, but its commendable purpose is to bring about a step change in food security, promote the greater efficiency of food supply chains in the UK and the EU, and ensure that alongside other industries in this country, agriculture makes its contribution to the ambitious greenhouse gas reduction targets established by the previous Government and accepted by the current one. It is a bold and ambitious Bill in pursuit of a noble cause, and I hope that Members throughout the House will provide us with the opportunity to give it detailed examination in Committee and a fair chance of the further progress that it merits.
May I start by reminding the House of my interests, as declared in the register?
I congratulate the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Robert Flello) on drawing second place, I believe, in the ballot. Many of us have been in the House far longer and have never got on the list at all, and there is always an element of envy when people manage to get a high place on it in their very first Parliament.
As the hon. Member for Glasgow North East (Mr Bain) said, the Bill provides the opportunity for a hugely important debate. I hope the House will forgive me if I spend some time going through a number of related matters and explaining what the Government are already undertaking. Before doing so, may I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on what I believe is his first speech at the Dispatch Box? He will forgive me if I am mistaken, but it is certainly the first one opposite me. He made a very good speech, and I agreed with virtually everything he said, which will probably finish his political career completely. The exception was his brave effort to say that the Bill would help. I could see an element of fence-sitting there—I hope it was not too painful.
The hon. Gentleman rightly referred to the importance of agriculture as an industry and to the increasing world demand for food. He clearly agreed with a number of my hon. Friends, who have said that simply pushing for less meat-eating is not the way forward, given the increased demand elsewhere. He rightly said that agricultural growth was the best form of economic growth in poorer countries, and mentioned the 20% fall in agricultural emissions, which is considerably better than in many other sectors. Those were all good points on which I support him entirely. I hope he will forgive me if I chide him slightly by asking why, if the Opposition are so supportive of the Bill, the Labour Government opposed it when it was presented by my then hon. Friend Peter Ainsworth. No doubt they are learning by their mistakes, for which we must all be grateful.
This has been a good debate, and none of us could argue that the sustainability of the UK livestock system is of anything but prime importance to everybody. It has, however, given rise to a number of what I can only call myths and misunderstandings about today’s livestock industry. For a start, there has been a lot of talk about large-scale dairy enterprises. The hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) referred to my remarks at a previous Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Question Time. I am grateful that she remembers them five weeks after I made them—that does not happen very often, so I will bask in the reflected glory. When we discuss the matter, we need to know certain facts. It is not for the Government to be for or against large-scale dairies, and the particular case in question is subject to a planning application, but I hope that the debate can be held on the basis of facts.
The reality is that the animals at the proposed 8,000-unit diary will still be fed largely on roughage, as are all ruminants. The fact is that ruminants—cattle and sheep—cannot survive on all-cereal diets, because their digestive systems cannot cope. They must have silage, grass, hay or something similar as a substantial part of their diet. The difference with the proposition at Nocton is that the grass or silage will be brought to the animals; they will not go out to it, although they will still be on it.
Someone referred to the NFU briefing, and the reality is that ruminant diets contain on average only about 3% soya bean. The fact that a dairy unit is large does not mean that it will use any more soya per cow than a small dairy unit. As I said in my intervention, the vast bulk of soya feeding, and indeed grain feeding, goes on in the pig and poultry sectors, where the livestock cannot live on anything else. Pigs will eat a bit of grass, but they cannot extract the nutrients from it, and poultry, of course, feed on seeds—hence their diet of grain, nuts and things like that, certainly in the wild. If we try to curtail the use of soya or grain, it is the intensive white-meat sector—the pig and poultry sectors—that will be most affected.
As a number of colleagues have said, the livestock sector accounts for more than half the £20 billion gross output of UK agriculture as a whole. That primary production is part of the biggest manufacturing industry in this country. The hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) is no longer in the Chamber, but he made a pertinent point about the importance of domestic food production. He referred to high-quality, traceable and nutritious food. The word “traceable” is one we must spend a moment on, because the more food that comes from abroad, the harder the challenge of ensuring traceability becomes. As we all know, traceability is critical to food safety and production standards.
The food manufacturing industry employs almost 400,000 people and contributes £20 billon in gross value added. Unless our farming industry produces the raw materials for that industry, we will lose that manufacturing sector as well as our farming sector.
As several hon. Members on both sides of the debate have said, the contribution made by farming is about much more than simply food; it is about creating and maintaining our landscapes and our biodiversity, as well as about our food security. Indeed, it is also about the viability of many of our rural communities, because more remote communities tend to be in areas where livestock is the only form of production possible.
I want to re-emphasise a point that I made earlier, because there is a belief on both sides of the House that if we stopped importing soya, all the stock would somehow go out on to grass and we could return to the chocolate-box days when there were cows in every field. That is not the reality. Cattle is not the sector where the majority of grain and soya is used.
Like everybody in the Chamber, the Government wholly accept and share the objectives and aspiration in the Bill, which is about ensuring the sustainability of our livestock industry, but it is not right to try to do that through a regulatory framework, as the Bill does.
As my hon. Friend said, there is a public misconception about the link between soya imports and large-scale dairy units. What is his Department doing to put the public right on that and to remove that public misconception? Obviously, his speech today is helping, but what else can his Department do?
It is not for the Government, directly, to say that one form of production is right and that another is wrong. What matters most—I will come to this in a minute—is that consumers are properly informed about how and where their food is produced. They can then make the right judgment according to their own views and beliefs.
The best way of keeping consumers informed is, of course, through honesty in food labelling. I understand that the Government propose to move the responsibility for that from the Food Standards Agency to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Perhaps the Minister will comment on how that will play a part.
I will indeed, but perhaps my hon. Friend will bear with me until I get to that point in my remarks.
The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South slightly chided the Government when he said that our structural reform business plan contained no reference to the use of soya, yet there is no reference to it in the Bill. However, the Government’s business plan has a priority of supporting a competitive and sustainable British food and farming industry. That is our No. 1 objective. Alongside it go issues such as enhancing the environment and biodiversity to improve quality of life and support a strong and sustainable green economy that is resilient to climate change. It cannot be made any more obvious that a sustainable livestock industry sits clearly in that framework of ambition.
We support a sustainable future for livestock farming and food production in which the whole chain—the farmers and their representative organisations, food chain businesses, consumers and the Government—plays its part by operating efficiently, sharing information and learning, and, as the hon. Member for Glasgow North East said, eliminating waste. However, I emphasise that we do not believe that the best way of going about that is through the regulatory approach in the Bill, or even, as some have suggested, through a soundbite approach of giving the Secretary of State a duty to ensure the sustainability of the industry. Clearly, that is impossible for any Secretary of State; it flies in the face of common sense.
There has been some debate about the scope of the Bill. Hon. Members have referred to the fact that Scotland and Northern Ireland are excluded, yet clause 5 implies that Wales is included. That is simply another fundamentally flawed aspect of the Bill, because agriculture and sustainability are devolved to the Welsh Assembly.
Taking the matter forward requires clear resolve and determination from the Government. It requires a resolution that we will work with industry in partnership as it delivers its commitments and, when necessary, take steps to ensure that those commitments are fulfilled.
We also need the ambition to realise that Government do not have all the answers. The Government have never pretended—and will never pretend—to know all the answers to everything. It is for those with the best knowledge of their businesses and activities to devise solutions. That is why I am happy today to offer a different approach from the detailed prescription in the Bill, which sets out how and when the Secretary of State should consult and so on. I want to make the Bill’s promoter and sponsors a genuine offer from the Government. I invite them to participate in a broad conference of all those concerned with the sustainability of the livestock industry, to be held early next year, and convened and run by stakeholders in the industry. It will reflect on and debate the activities that are already under way in the livestock sectors, and consider what has been achieved and what remains to be done. I will expand on that shortly.
I shall outline some of the activity that is already taking place and the Government’s approach. Like the previous Government, we believe that a partnership approach is right. First and foremost, I want to show that we can trust farmers to do the right thing. If we trust people, they must accept responsibility. The UK livestock industry is showing its leadership and commitment to operating sustainably. The dairy supply chain forum’s milk road map is a good example of what can be achieved through bringing producers, processors and retailers together to commit themselves publicly to milestones for more sustainable operation on, for example, dairy farm land, and in environmental stewardship, nutrient planning, recycled plastic milk bottles and so on. I look forward to seeing the new targets for sustainability in the updated road map when it is published next spring.
The hon. Member for Glasgow North East referred to the pig sector and the work it has done in producing its own product road maps. The beef and sheep sectors are also working to produce road maps to provide frameworks for measuring the sustainability of their operations. I am genuinely encouraged by their commitment to developing supply-chain approaches to sustainability. The Government will work closely with each of those sectors to encourage the agricultural industry in partnership in England to implement the reductions in on-farm greenhouse gas emissions, which were set out in the frameworks for action earlier this year.
There are other areas where the Government can and do help in respect of the subject matter of the Bill. On public procurement, which was mentioned in the debate, we are developing Government buying standards for food. They will be mandatory for central Government and our agencies, and we will promote them to the wider public sector. The standards will set a clear definition of healthy and sustainable food procurement and will allow us to lead by example in influencing procurement practice.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) said, labelling is also a key priority for the Government. Ensuring the integrity of the information that labels provide to consumers is crucial to a sustainable livestock industry. That is why the Secretary of State and I want to ensure that unprocessed meat is clearly labelled with the country of origin and information on where the animal was born, raised and slaughtered. We also want to ensure that processed foods that are labelled as made in the UK show the origin of their main ingredients if they come from outside the UK. Again, that is to avoid any confusion for the consumer. I am very encouraged by the response that I have had from the food supply chain businesses in developing the principles in that voluntary code, but more work remains to be done to ensure clarity for consumers, and the Government have always made it clear that we reserve the right to legislate if we cannot achieve what we want voluntarily.
Tackling food waste is a Government priority. The Secretary of State has already announced a thorough review of all aspects of waste policy and delivery in England, including household and business waste and arrangements for recycling collection. The hon. Member for Glasgow North East referred to anaerobic digestion. We want to see a big increase in renewable energy from anaerobic digestion of both agricultural and human waste. We are working on the steps to achieve that through the rural development programme, which will knit in with the feed-in tariff system. DEFRA’s support for a sustainable livestock industry is, I believe, shown through its commitment of significant resources to research to improve our knowledge base of what works.
The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South, among others, mentioned soya, but we need to be clear what we are talking about. We import something like 2.2 million tonnes of soya bean meal, and 0.8 million tonnes of soya beans—a total of 3 million tonnes. Of course, not all of that is for animal feed. Virtually all our processed food—soya is a major ingredient of vegetarian food—contains soya. Not all soya is fed to stock. In fact, about two thirds of all our manufactured food products contain derivatives of, or ingredients made from, soya. Nevertheless, the debate has focused on the livestock use of soya.
The 3 million tonnes should be seen in the context of current UK cropping and we must look at the implications of the ultimate objective of the Bill, which is to produce all our protein within the UK. A yield of 5 tonnes per hectare of the equivalent of soya—the nearest we have are dried peas and beans, which we already grow—is quite high, but with that assumption, the 3 million tonnes of soya imports equate to 600,000 hectares of British farmland. We currently grow about 1.8 million hectares of wheat, just over 1.1 million hectares of barley, 581,000 thousand hectares of rape and only 233,000 hectares of peas and beans. It does not take much working out to see that if we were to replace that soya import, our cropping practices would need to undergo a massive change, with the consequential increase in imports of whatever crop is displaced to grow some form of protein to replace soya.
What we are doing as a Government is to co-fund research with the livestock industry on the environmental consequences of replacing soya with home-grown legumes in diets—for pigs particularly—and on the life-cycle analysis of poultry production systems, on an analysis of nutrition regimes for ruminants to reduce greenhouse gases, and on work to improve the welfare and health of dairy cows, including in the large-scale units that we have debated at other times.
Has my hon. Friend seen the report “Pastures New—A Sustainable Future for Meat and Dairy Farming”, produced by Friends of the Earth? In it, quoting research by the Royal Agricultural College, Friends of the Earth says that we could use 2.25 million hectares of land to provide crops as an alternative to soya imports, rather than the lower figure to which my hon. Friend referred.
I do not think I have actually seen that figure, but if it is to be taken as the correct figure, that is half our arable land. So the increase in imports of all the crops that would be displaced by that crop would obviously be dramatic and would have other implications; we would probably have another Bill trying to stop that.
On top of the research that I referred to, we are committed to tackling the deforestation that the Bill rightly aims to reduce, and which has accompanied some soya production. But we must recognise that soya consumption is not all about livestock. DEFRA is leading a programme of work, with businesses and non-governmental organisations, on another major food ingredient that has not been debated this morning—palm oil. We want to support production without the forest footprint of replacing rain forest with palm oil production.
We are also working closely with our European and other international partners. Much has been made of Brazil; in particular we are working with that country to tackle the drivers of deforestation. We are also working with EU partners to tackle illegal logging, which destroys forests and biodiversity and contributes, as we know, to CO2 emissions.
I have attended this morning’s debate with a genuinely open mind, in accordance with the commitment that I gave to my constituents—we are very interested in the Bill. I suspect that what drives much of the sense of urgency of the Members who spoke in favour of the Bill, is a sense that we are hearing merely warm words and promises, and among working people everyone is a little concerned that those timelines will slip. The Minister has conceded that he agrees with a great deal of the sentiment behind the Bill. What reassurance can the people who support the sentiment behind the Bill have that progress will be made in a reasonably rapid time frame?
I am grateful for that question, part of which I will come to in a few moments. First, let me say that the issue is not about the principle of ensuring that our livestock sector is more sustainable; the debate is about how we go about it—whether to adopt the highly regulatory approach proposed by the Bill, or to continue with the approach that, as has been said in all fairness, was begun under the previous Government—and continued and emphasised by the present Government—to achieve the aim with partnership working throughout the sector. A lot of progress is being made, and in a few moments I shall outline how I think the Bill could be counter-productive in achieving that.
I was saying that we are working closely with the EU, Brazil and others. In particular, bringing us right up to date, we made great strides forward at the recent conference in Nagoya, not only in agreeing targets for reducing the loss of habitats including forests, and for tackling forest degradation, but in making real progress on the links between climate change and biodiversity. The Government announced as part of the spending review that we will provide £2.9 billion towards tackling international climate change. A significant proportion of that will be used to address forestry issues, and that meets and goes beyond the commitments made at Copenhagen by the previous Government.
Could the Minister tell the House what conversations have taken place on this issue between DEFRA Ministers and Ministers in the Department of Energy and Climate Change? I was a bit concerned that when I raised this issue at yesterday’s DECC questions, the Minister who was answering did not seem to have the slightest idea that the Bill even existed. This is important in terms of putting the issue on the agenda at the international climate change talks.
Obviously, I cannot comment on what may have taken place in the Chamber yesterday, but I assure the hon. Lady that those discussions do take place. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has engaged in a number of conversations with the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change about our stance, and did so before going to Nagoya, so we had an agreed Government position. Further discussions are taking place—some have taken place—prior to the meeting at Cancun in two or three weeks’ time. I can assure the hon. Lady that those discussions most definitely are taking place.
The £2.9 billion going towards tackling international climate change that I mentioned is obviously very significant, but the key international mechanism for tackling deforestation and ensuring that forestry contributes to our action on climate change is the REDD+ programme—reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation—in developing countries. Part of making that programme work will be an examination of all the drivers of deforestation, including forest conversion to agriculture. The progress that we made at Nagoya on ensuring that a successful REDD+ programme delivers benefits for biodiversity was a major breakthrough, in which the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs played a key role. As I have just said, we need to build on that at Cancun in a few weeks’ time.
In addition, I can tell the House that the Technology Strategy Board, in conjunction with DEFRA and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, is planning a call of up to £15 million for business-led applied research projects that will help to deliver a sustainable future supply of protein for the UK. As I announced last week, DEFRA and the devolved Administrations are committing £12.6 million to research to improve our understanding of greenhouse gas emissions from farms across the UK. At the same time, we are working with our partners in the Global Research Alliance of 30 countries to collaborate on research into agricultural greenhouse gas emission reductions, including from livestock.
It is important to emphasise that a range of different views about agricultural emissions still exist and that this is an extremely complicated field, because it involves many interacting purposes. For example, grassland, which has been the subject of a lot of discussion today, is itself a huge reservoir of carbon and so it is arguable that the more grass we have, the better. However, if ruminants graze that grass, they emit methane and so a balance needs to be worked out. We must also consider an issue that is very relevant to some of the conversations that have taken place in the Chamber this morning: intensive versus extensive. I am not advocating this necessarily, but it is part of the dilemma faced by the industry that if we keep stock in an enclosed building, we can then deal with the emissions. By contrast, if the stock are kept free range, the emissions are emitted into the atmosphere and we can do nothing about them. That is just part of the conundrum that we need to try to resolve, hence that further investment of £12.6 million that I announced last week.
The Government’s commitment to a sustainable future for UK farming is, as I have said, right at the top of our business programme. So it is very clear, particularly at a time of fiscal restraint. However, I suggest—this comes back to the point made in an intervention a few minutes ago—that if we were to adopt the Bill as it stands, we would find that much of it is completely undeliverable and unachievable. Expecting the Secretary of State “to ensure” certain things is an impossibility, because all these things fall way outside the Secretary of State’s real powers. The Bills states that it is the Secretary of State’s duty
“to ensure the sustainability of the livestock industry”
That is not just down to the Secretary of State; it is down to countless other businesses, individuals and so on. Clause 1(3) states that the Secretary of State
“must ensure that policies in relation to negotiations and other activities…including at the European Union, are consistent with sections 1(1) and 1(2).
I suggest that that, too, is impossible. Many other factors bear down on our negotiations, and giving the Secretary of State a duty
“to ensure that the steps taken in accordance with this Act do not lead to an increase in the proportion of meat consumed in the United Kingdom which is imported”
is clearly impossible. We live in an open market economy, thank goodness—I believe that the Opposition share that perception these days—and we could not, because of European and World Trade Organisation laws, simply put up the siege barriers and say, “We are not importing any meat.” That might be what Mr Putin has done about wheat, but it is not realistic to expect us to do it for meat.
I am afraid that some aspects of the Bill are clearly outwith what would be sensible legislation, which is one major reason why we oppose it. Another is that if the Secretary of State were to divert considerable DEFRA resources to do everything required by the Bill, that would slow down our progress. As I have tried to illustrate, we are making considerable progress in a range of ways and I want to drive that forward because I believe strongly in that agenda.
The honest answer is no, but the costs would be considerable. In this time of major economic constraint, DEFRA clearly does not have the resources for this; a reduction in its overall budget has already been announced. Also, as my hon. Friend said in his excellent speech, the cost of the measures and of regulating them would have a considerable impact on the industry.
There are a number of reasons why the Bill is not the right way forward. I believe in the partnership approach of working with the industry that I have outlined. We are ready to show the necessary leadership and resolve to challenge the industry to act sustainably. That is the best way of producing the results to which we and the Bill aspire. Most of our farming leaders and the farming and food businesses they represent understand the Government’s resolve to ensure a sustainable future for livestock, farming and food.
We hope and expect the agricultural industry’s climate change task force to deliver its commitments to a greenhouse gas action plan with tangible measures for on-farm abatement. I hope that the plan will be published in the next few weeks. We will review it in 2012 and be ready to take the necessary steps should it seem unlikely to deliver the progress on farm-level abatement that we need.
We want to encourage all parts of the livestock industry to challenge themselves in thinking about the sustainability of their sectors and to set challenging goals for pro-environmental behaviours. In this time of restraint, and with the Government’s overriding priority of reducing the deficit, we need to focus resources on where they can make the most difference rather than on the statutory reporting and monitoring envisaged in the Bill.
Unsurprisingly, I repeat that the Government cannot support the Bill. Although its general sentiment is admirable, its terms are too broad, the duties it would impose on the Secretary of State are too ill defined and, indeed, undeliverable, and it is not consistent with the partnership approach that we want to engender. Let me return, therefore, to my earlier offer. Rather than impose additional layers of reporting, we would like to offer something substantive: our participation in a conference of interested parties in the first half of next year to take stock of the progress made by the UK livestock sectors in delivering sustainability objectives. I look to interested parties to set up and host the conference, but I give a commitment that either the Secretary of State or I will attend it. A year after the conference, DEFRA would report on the role of all parties with an interest in the sustainability of our livestock industry.
On the point about the guest list, bearing in mind the confusion that arose this morning about the extent and scope of the Bill in the United Kingdom, will the Minister confirm that he will invite interested parties from not just England, but Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland?
I have just answered that point. I do not want to control the guest list, but I certainly think that the conference should be seen as a UK event.
Before I conclude, I want to refer to one or two comments made by hon. Friends. We have heard some good, solid speeches; my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North made a very solid speech. He was interrupted a couple of times for very relevant purposes. My hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) was, as we have very quickly come to learn, exceedingly perceptive, particularly about some of the shortcomings and illegalities of the Bill, to which I, too, referred. My hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Joseph Johnson) referred, quite rightly, to the importance of biodiversity, but we need to look at what the Bill actually says, rather than at what we might imagine it could do, say or achieve. In this House, we are responsible for the detail of legislation. In my time here, far too many Bills have gone through without adequate scrutiny that would enable us to understand what they truly say. I stand second to nobody in recognising the importance of recognising biodiversity in our agricultural policies, but passing the Bill would not be of much assistance.
We heard a superb speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry), the last surviving Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Minister in the House. He brought to the debate his tremendous knowledge of the developing world. To be fair, the hon. Member for Glasgow North East referred to agricultural growth as the main driver of economic growth there. My hon. Friends the Member for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire (Simon Hart), and for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton), referred to the importance of agriculture to rural Britain, and to local food production.
I will conclude with one or two comments on the speech of the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South, who introduced the Bill. I mentioned that the bulk of soya and grain goes to pigs and poultry, a fact that I think had eluded him, judging by the way that he spoke. I want to make sure that a couple of statistics that he quoted are corrected; I am afraid that they were fundamentally wrong, and it would be irresponsible of me to leave them on the record unchallenged. He said that agriculture now uses 20 million tonnes more animal feed than it did 20 years ago. In fact, the figure is 2 million tonnes. He also said that it takes 20 kg of cereals to produce 1 kg of beef, but in fact it takes about 6 to 7 kg of cereal, or concentrate food, to produce 1 kg of beef; that is the real conversion rate. In any case, as I said earlier, no ruminants are fed entirely on grain and soya, because their digestive systems could not cope with that. Clearly, if one takes out the roughage—the long material that they are eating—the consumption of cereals goes down.
The hon. Gentleman also referred to the situation in Paraguay. I do not in any way want to diminish the importance of deforestation in Paraguay, but we do not import any soya from there, so the Bill would not have an impact on Paraguay. I think that I heard him say that we should not be feeding cereals to livestock at all, all of which would mean, as I said, that we would have no pigmeat or poultry meat in this country.
We have had a lot of debate, and this is an important issue. I repeat my congratulations to the hon. Gentleman on bringing the issue to the House. I do not in any way decry his having done that; it has been a valuable morning. I hope that I have been able to persuade hon. Members on both sides of the House that the Government are totally committed to ensuring, developing and improving the sustainability of our livestock industry, but the Bill is not the way to go about doing that. We are determined to proceed in the way that I described, working with our partners to make livestock production sustainable, without the need for the regulatory process suggested in the Bill.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman and others will accept, participate in, and welcome the constructive alternative way forward that I have already offered him. I am the first to admit that the proposals have been a matter of great debate in Government, because we share the fundamental objectives of what the Bill is trying to do. We would have liked to support it if we could, but after careful analysis, some of which I have shared with the House, I am afraid that we cannot do that. Nevertheless, the debate is worth while, and the Government remain determined to proceed with the overall issue.
I do not know whether the promoter of the Bill, the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Robert Flello), in the light of the very generous offer made by my hon. Friend the Minister, will seek leave to withdraw his Bill. That is open to him at any stage, and he might need time to reflect on the content of my hon. Friend’s helpful speech. I hope that hon. Members recognise that it is far better to have a proper conference and debate with a response from the Department than to put this half-baked Bill into Committee and try to have that conference in Committee time, which is effectively what the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South was asking us to accept in his opening remarks. He said that he realised there were a lot of contentious things in the Bill that should be discussed and so on, and that we could discuss them all in Committee.
We might be able to do so, if we were going to serve on that Committee, but I suggest that that would take a very long time. As the discussion would inevitably be constrained by the fact that each debate would have to take place in the context of an amendment or a new clause, there would be unnecessary constraint of what could be achieved.
The chance of a discussion or proper conference before the middle of next year, followed by a response from the Department, is a very good offer that, if accepted by the hon. Gentleman, will show that he has not used his slot, coming second in the private Members’ ballot, in vain. He will have achieved something and it is always important, for the promoter of such a Bill, to be able to tell his supporters that he has achieved something. Whatever else happens, particularly if he accepts the offer from my hon. Friend the Minister, he will be able to say that he has achieved something. Another thing that he achieved was to bring a number of people together yesterday evening, with support from Friends of the Earth, to listen to MP4 and share sustainable food and beverages in the Attlee suite. That will be welcomed by many Members of this House and others from outside.
As the Minister said, the Bill should be about how to achieve sustainability, not whether sustainability is a good idea. I do not think that anybody who has spoken, including me, is suggesting that sustainability is not a good idea. The question is whether the Bill is the right way to try to achieve that. My hon. Friend referred to the myths around the Bill. Unfortunately, many of the myths have been propagated among our constituents, who have engaged in a letter-writing and postcard campaign. I am not sure whether Royal Mail, in its desperate situation, put them up to that or not, but those postcards and letters have been arriving in significant numbers. Most of them are based on a misconception of the Bill’s provisions and what they could achieve. I suspect that many organisations said that they supported the Bill before it was published. It was published only a few days ago, and it is apparent that much of the campaign in support of it was based on a Bill—an earlier draft, perhaps—that contained provisions very different from those in the present Bill.
My hon. Friend the Minister referred to the 8,000-head dairy unit at Nocton and made the point that ruminants are fed largely on silage, grass and hay, and that ruminant diets contain only about 3% soya, yet the soya debate is the main avowed rationale for the Bill. The explanatory notes helpfully provided by the promoter state at paragraph 4, under the heading “Summary and background”:
“The driver for the Bill is the fact that much of the environmental impact of consumption of livestock produce in the United Kingdom takes place in other countries. For example, the growing of feed crops such as soy is leading to the conversion of rainforest and other wild areas to plantations. Such deforestation causes biodiversity loss and results in large emissions of climate change gases.”
This is not a Bill about the destruction of the rain forest. Nobody in the House supports the destruction of the rain forest. It is an extremely emotive means of trying to get support for a proposition to say, “Vote for this, and we will save the rain forest.” The sponsors have unashamedly used that method to try to exploit public opinion for their own ends. That is perfectly legitimate, but it should be recognised for what it is and exposed to public debate so that the public can see what has been happening.
My hon. Friend went on to talk about traceability and how much the Government are already doing to try to achieve that, without their needing to rely on the contents of the Bill. Going through this list, it seems to me that I might be in danger of making the first speech in this Parliament that is fully supportive of the Government’s position on any proposition. My hon. Friend’s persuasive powers have encouraged me to do so.
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend that the Bill is far too prescriptive. We should be looking for a much less prescriptive alternative. He made the alternative offer of a joint conference, coupled with the partnership approach. He referred to what is already happening with product road maps, as they are called, in the dairy, pig and livestock sectors.
I refer the House to what has been happening in relation to soya, as a result of a scheme to which my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) referred in his magnificent contribution to today’s proceedings. He said that much work was already being done on responsible soya production. One organisation that has been set up for that purpose is called the Round Table on Responsible Soy—
My information says responsible soy, but perhaps there is more than one round table. I downloaded it from www.responsiblesoy.org, which sets out many sensible measures being undertaken across the globe so that people engaged in the soy value chain—so-called soy value chain stakeholders—will be able to ensure that soy can be produced in countries across the world to a high environmental standard, and that there is some assurance for buyers.
I am sure that farmers who use soy in this country would much prefer to use soy that had not been produced at the expense of cutting down the rain forest, and, because of the work that organisations such as the Round Table on Responsible Soy Association are doing, developing a chain of custody model, that will be possible. At the beginning of 2011, the global market will be able to buy RTRS certified soy. The approval of the principles and criteria for responsible soy by the General Assembly took place in June 2010, and that will be implemented at the beginning of next year. Even now, in the second half of 2010, the new standard is available in the form of a certification system. I do not need to go into the full details of all that, but anybody who is concerned about the fact that the rain forest is being chopped down in order to produce soy should be able to take quite a lot of comfort from that, because it shows that the producers themselves realise that if they cut down the rain forest to produce soy, they will not be able to export that soy to markets such as the UK because people will not want to buy it.
I hope that that is right. Certainly, that is a much more commonsensical approach than adopting the idea of replacing imported soy with home-grown alternatives.
I drew the Minister’s attention to the statistics contained in “Pastures New”, a Friends of the Earth briefing on a sustainable future for meat and dairy farming. At page 10 of that document, which I obtained last night at the gathering of people interested in the Bill, under the heading “Strength in Numbers: How much soy could be replaced?” it says:
“The RAC’s research for Friends of the Earth estimates the proportion of soy bean meal that could be replaced by UK protein crops…show that: Field beans could substitute 14 per cent of soy bean, requiring 221,000 hectares…Peas could substitute 17 per cent, requiring 323,000 hectares…Lupins could substitute 15 per cent, requiring 263,000 hectares…Oilseed rape could replace 14 per cent, requiring 214,000 hectares…Sunflower could replace 17 per cent, requiring 512,000 hectares…Linseed could replace 14 per cent, requiring 425,000 hectares. In addition, lucerne silage from some 438,000 hectares of pasture or leys could replace 42 per cent of soy bean for ruminants.”
As my hon. Friend pointed out, if such a replacement occurred, over half of our agricultural land would be taken over with soy replacement, and that would squeeze out the production of wheat, barley and other agricultural products, and we would no doubt have to import those as a substitute.
I know that one of the most important aspects of agriculture policy is to ensure food security, and I wonder whether my hon. Friend is in fact saying that this Bill would fundamentally undermine food security in this country because so much of our land would be going to soya production, rather than to providing the food that we actually need.
My hon. Friend, as so often, puts his finger on a really good point, and it highlights the Bill’s inherent contradictions. On the one hand, the Minister will be asked to have regard to food security through compliance with clause 1; on the other, one of the main measures that the promoter intends to introduce would undermine and damage food security. I do not think that that is intentional on the part of the promoter, but when one looks at the Bill in detail one finds that it, like many good intentions that are brought before the House and converted into draft legislation, will achieve quite the reverse of what its promoter thought.
Replacing all that soya with those alternative crops is the wrong thing to do. Lupins, sunflowers and, arguably, linseed can look quite attractive in the countryside at particular times of year, but I am not sure whether many people would say that field upon field and hectare upon hectare of such crops, which are not native to the United Kingdom, would enhance our landscape.
On Fridays the tradition is that, when a speaker lacks the confidence to test their argument in the Lobby, they start reading out lists of the Latin names of hermaphrodite invertebrates, or gleanings from the libertarian internet. Does the hon. Gentleman have sufficient confidence in the force of his argument to see it tested, now, in the Lobby?
The hon. Gentleman is usurping the position that should be occupied by his hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South. I hope that the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South will have a chance to respond to the debate and to explain to Members who are interested in the subject whether the Minister’s offer is a good one, and whether, on the basis of it, he wishes to seek leave to withdraw the Bill.
I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman if he wishes to tell me that he wants to withdraw the Bill, because we can then move on to the next business, but I cannot force him to intervene. I am giving him the opportunity to do so, but he is declining. The hon. Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound) knows very well the procedures of the House and exactly what the Bill’s promoter and sponsors can and, perhaps, will do between now and half-past 2 if they do not want to accept the Minister’s offer.
Considering that my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North spoke for an hour and a quarter, I am just getting into the beginnings of my contribution. I thought that it would be helpful not to make a speech de novo, but to make a speech that built on what my hon. Friend the Minister said. We are meant to be having a debate rather than a dialogue of the deaf, and it is a pity that at the moment there is no indication that any more Opposition Members want to engage in it.
My hon. Friend the Minister went on to say that he was keen to ensure that the Government introduce mandatory standards for the public procurement of food, but I am not sure that I am. I can understand the desire in relation to Departments, but not in relation to going further and trying to impose such a demand on the whole public sector.
If I did not make it clear at the time to my hon. Friend, I should like to clarify the Government’s proposal. The guidelines would be mandatory on central Government and their agencies; local government and other aspects of the public sector would be encouraged to adopt them, but they would not be mandated.
I am most encouraged by my hon. Friend’s response. I am glad that he recognises that it would be a mistake to impose on local government and other parts of the public sector.
My hon. Friend went on to talk about labelling. I agree wholeheartedly that we should try to get better labelling, but I fear that unless we can renegotiate our position in relation to the European Union, we will not be able to do that as easily or quickly as my hon. Friend would like.
I still do not understand why we are not able to feed food waste to pigs, as we always used to. There was an unnecessary health scare about all that, and it would surely be much better if we fed our food waste to pigs, rather than putting it into landfill or disposing of it in some other way. I hope that in due course the Government will readdress that issue.
Pigs will eat almost anything. As you may recall, Mr Deputy Speaker, it was not that long ago that a citizen was murdered in Wimbledon and it was discovered that his body had been fed to pigs. I am sure that you will be advised that that point is far outside the remit of the Bill, and, funnily enough, dealing with such issues will not be one of the burdens put on the Minister if the Bill passes into law. That is fair enough. I am illustrating the point that pigs are omnivores. It is a pity that we do not allow pigs to devour food waste and thereby the reduce the amount of soya that they consume.
The point about food waste needs to be looked into very thoroughly. I seem to remember that the last outbreak of foot and mouth was caused by diseased waste. Before putting food waste into the food chain, it has to be treated enormously carefully. The Bill may not be doing that in the right way.
My hon. Friend rightly brings a cautionary tale to bear on this. My parents used to keep two pigs—one was called Humpty, and the other Dumpty. We used to feed them all the food waste, and there was never an outbreak of foot and mouth disease as a result. Those pigs were very healthy, and, because it was a time of rationing, when they were slaughtered we did not keep all the meat ourselves, but shared it among the people in a sort of collectivist action.
I was pausing to take breath, so I failed to hear what the hon. Gentleman said. However, I am sure that it was very witty and pertinent, and I look forward to reading it in the Official Report in due course.
My next point is one that my hon. Friend the Minister made. It is about the need to concentrate on putting resources where they can really deliver some good. Effectively, what he was saying was that if the Bill was to pass into law and these onerous duties were imposed on him, his Department would have to transfer resources from where they are being deployed at the moment to other areas. That would be a mistake. I have every confidence that my hon. Friend and the Secretary of State have a grip on the best allocation of resources within their Department to meet the Government’s policy objectives. If they were diverted from doing that by what is contained in the Bill, that would be a matter of regret.
My hon. Friend the Minister referred to the £2.9 billion that the Government are giving to deal with global climate change. That is a far more focused approach than that adopted by the Bill’s promoter, and it is regrettable that he did not refer to it in his opening speech. He might have said, “I respect and applaud the fact that the Government are doing so much in these areas, and this Bill is, in many respects, designed to encourage them to go further.” However, the Government do not need to be encouraged to go any further—they are doing more than sufficient with that £2.9 billion, which is, in anybody’s language, a significant sum of money.
My hon. Friend made an important point that is perhaps sometimes forgotten by those of us who mow our grass too regularly during the growing season—that grassland is itself a reservoir of potential carbon emissions. That introduces yet another set of conundrums and dilemmas in relation to promoting healthy livestock production while ensuring that we do not increase CO2 or CO2-equivalent emissions.
One part of my hon. Friend’s speech that he glossed over rather too quickly for my liking concerned clause 1(3), which says:
“The Secretary of State must ensure that policies in relation to negotiations and other activities at international level, including at the European Union, are consistent with sections 1(1) and 1(2)”
of the Bill as enacted. If my hon. Friend had been perfectly frank with the House, he would have said that there is no way that that is ever going to happen unless we withdraw from the European Community.
The Deputy Speaker declared that the Question was not decided in the affirmative because fewer than 100 Members voted in the majority in support of the motion (Standing Order No. 37).
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Most hon. Members will not have had a chance to see the written statement that the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr Blunt) slipped out this lunch time. I understand that he found the time to be in the Chamber earlier. The written statement says that the Government have abandoned their plans to introduce defence anonymity in rape cases. Can you clarify whether the Under-Secretary sought an opportunity this morning to make an oral statement so that hon. Members could have a chance to question him? If not, what are my options as a new Member, if I want the Minister to come to the House next week and give hon. Members a proper chance to scrutinise the announcement?
Thank you for that point of order. No Minister has approached the Speaker to ask to make a statement today. However, as the hon. Member knows, it is for the Government to decide how they wish to make the announcement, whether through an oral or a written statement. Clearly, in this case, they have decided to make a written statement. Members on the Treasury Bench will have heard the hon. Member’s remarks and I am sure that, if the Under-Secretary wants to make an oral statement next week, the hon. Member will see on the Annunciator screens that that is what the Government wish to do.
Further to that point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Surely the issue does not rest entirely with the Ministry of Justice. The Home Office has also been heavily engaged in the dispute, which has been running for a long time. At one point, the Government announced that the idea would be dropped, but then they reinstituted it. Given the amount of genuine fear and concern that has been expressed to me in my constituency—I know that I am not alone in that experience—surely the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Justice should make a statement, and then hon. Members can justifiably put questions to them.
I do not have much to add to my response to Thomas Docherty. As the hon. Lady knows, there are other avenues whereby she can raise the issue—in Adjournment debates, Westminster Hall and in questions to the Department, when they arise.
Clause 1(3) has the requirement that
“The Secretary of State must ensure that policies in relation to negotiations and other activities at international level, including at the European Union, are consistent with sections 1(1) and 1(2).”
As the Minister said, he would not be in a position to ensure that. I submit that it is not open to anybody in the Government or the House to ensure that various policies are consistent with what is going on in the European Union on matters about which we do not have the final say and are subject to qualified majority voting. As I understand it, there is a discussion at this very time on whether the EU budget should increase by 2.9% or more next year, but the House has no final control of that. Clause 1(3) is rather like saying, “The Prime Minister shall ensure that the UK contribution to the EU budget does not increase.” We do not have the power to do that, just as my hon. Friend the Minister has no power to ensure that EU agriculture policy is as we would wish it to be.
It is relevant in that context to mention a very helpful report by Friends of the Earth that shows how EU subsidies currently encourage unsustainable practices, which is obviously at odds with the Bill. Friends of the Earth has calculated that some £700 million of English taxpayers’ money was spent on propping up factory farming through the common agricultural policy in 2008. Its report states:
“Small farms are losing out to factory farms—the most damaging link in a chain that connects the food on our plates to forest destruction…UK factory farms also contribute significantly to the UK greenhouse gas emissions and undermine rural livelihoods.”
The Friends of the Earth figure of £700 million is
“based on the best available information and calculated on the basis of subsidies”—
British taxpayers’ money that goes to the EU and is then recycled for the purpose of subsidising parts of agriculture—
“for cereal production…Export subsidies which largely go to companies and processing industries…Untargeted direct payments which are increasing money being received by the intensive pig and poultry sectors…Historical payments that award the biggest payments to the farms that produced intensively in the past…Dairy payments that are based on historical production quotas”
“Lowland grazing livestock untargeted subsidies that do not support extensive models adequately and therefore continue to support the increasing tendency to intensify or exit the farming sector”.
The CAP was last reformed in 2003. We hope that a more substantial reform is about to take place, but I will believe it when I see it. The reform is the one we were promised when Mr Blair gave away a large part of our rebate on the basis that the CAP would be reformed. The next few months will be decisive in determining whether we will get anything significant in return for giving up that rebate, but the early suggestions are that we will not get anything like what we are looking for in that revision of the CAP.
I predict that because the word “sustainable” is rather trendy at the moment, there will be a lot of guff about sustainable this and sustainable that in the CAP reforms, but economic sustainability, which my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North and others mentioned, will probably be omitted. A proper recognition of, and reference to, economic sustainability has been missing in this debate. I take the view that the CAP is not only environmentally unsustainable—indeed, it undermines environmental sustainability—but economically unsustainable. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister will make those points in his typically tough and uncompromising fashion when he goes to negotiate CAP reform. I am sure he will tell the French that although we agree on certain aspects of defence, we need to go a lot further before we agree on support for the agricultural sector.
Interestingly, the Bill contains quite a lot of material that is relevant, or could be relevant, to the second Bill on the Order Paper—the Public Bodies (Sustainable Food) Bill, promoted by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Joan Walley), who has a long-standing interest in improving the quality of food available in this country. Last night she introduced me to somebody from “The Food Programme,” and we were talking about that Bill. I am sure that if the hon. Lady were to seek to participate in this debate, there would be sufficient scope for her to make some of the points relevant to her Bill under the umbrella of—
Order. Mr Chope, could you restrict your comments to the Bill that we are discussing now? Let us not move on to the second Bill. Clearly, if you are keen for the hon. Lady to speak to her Bill, you would resume your seat and we could move on.
Mr Deputy Speaker, I am not sure whether I am in a position to be able to say that the hon. Lady can introduce her Bill. All I am saying is that there is quite a lot of common ground between what is in her Bill and what is in the Bill before us, and that because she has not participated in this debate so far—
Mr Deputy Speaker, I have made the offer—made the point—and as you rightly say, it is a matter for the hon. Lady whether she wishes to take up the suggestion.
On the issue of the further duties being placed on the Secretary of State to ensure that there is no increase in the proportion of meat consumed in the United Kingdom that is imported, as my hon. Friend the Minister said that is prima facie contrary to World Trade Organisation rules, and it is probably against EU rules as well, and yet somehow it has found its way into the Bill.
I cannot speak for the promoter of the Bill, and unless he seeks to intervene to clarify that matter, I fear that it will remain unanswered.
The final point that I want to make is that there is a real muddle in the Bill about its extent and application. As my hon. Friend the Minister said, the Bill purports to relate to England and Wales, despite the fact that Wales has devolved responsibility, but the body of the Bill contains all sorts of references to applicability to the United Kingdom, and indeed to countries overseas. I think it shows that the Bill was cobbled together at the last minute—but that is not to suggest that the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South put the Bill together at the last minute.
I have a suspicion about what happened—I do not know whether I am correct, but it has often happened in the past. Hon. Members bring forward a private Member’s Bill. They get it drafted, but they are not quite ready to have it printed because they are waiting for the Government to provide an answer on various points. Then when they get the Government’s answer they realise that the Government are rather against a lot of the Bill’s provisions, so they redraft the Bill, perhaps on an iterative basis. That means that the Bill is redrafted very close to the time when it should be presented. The consequence is that it contains inconsistencies.
The hon. Gentleman has a tremendous reputation in the House, both for the ability to talk and for his concern for the democratic process in this place. Just to clarify the point for him, the Bill in its original form was subjected to severe and detailed amendment following a discussion with the Minister, and the new version of the Bill was put together following consultation with a range of organisations, not least the National Farmers Union. It has had a lot of discussion and a lot of planning in its current form; it was not rushed through. It took a little bit of time to prepare and went through a few iterations to ensure that it would have credibility and meet with understanding in the House.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that, but it makes it all the more disappointing that the Bill, notwithstanding all that careful work that has been done on it, contains such fundamental flaws as it is presented to this House. If we are to ask hon. Members to take up time examining Bills in detail in Committee, those Bills should be in a much better state before they go to Committee than this Bill is in. For that reason, were this matter to come to a vote, I would vote against giving the Bill a Second Reading.
When I was a child, I had a mug that detailed the wonderful and famous lines:
“Let the wealthy and great
Roll in splendour and state.
I envy them not, I declare it,
For I eat my own lamb,
My own chickens and ham;
I shear my own fleece and I wear it.
I have lawns; I have bowers.
I have fruits; I have flowers,
The lark is my morning alarmer.
So jolly boys now,
Here’s God speed the plough.
Long life and success to the farmer.”
On a point of order, Mr Evans. I have come here today to support the Bill promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Robert Flello) and to introduce the Second Reading of my Public Bodies (Sustainable Food) Bill, on behalf of many thousands of people in the UK who care about food, who do not want poetry recited in the House of Commons and who, in the run-up to the 800th anniversary celebrations of the Magna Carta, want this place to be dealing with real issues about sustainable food. Is it not time that the business leaders of the House of Commons, with Mr Speaker and you, Mr Deputy Speaker, find a way to deal with Bills such as mine, which are not mischievous, which deserve to go into Committee to be properly discussed, in the interest of public health, and which are supported by organisations such as Sustain? People expect the House of Commons to give a proper hearing to the real debate, so what can be done?
I will bring the hon. Lady’s comments to the attention of Mr Speaker on Monday morning. I know how frustrating a private Members’ day can be when you have the second, third or fourth Bill to be presented; I am a veteran of Friday mornings and I have been fortunate enough to have had several private Members’ Bills, one of which had fair wind from the Government and sailed through. The others did not, so I know how frustrated she might be. The procedures we are following are set down in Standing Orders and, as I say, I will bring her comments to the attention of Mr Speaker on Monday morning. Before Mr Rees-Mogg resumes his speech, may I say that I hope he will confine his comments to the Bill and there will be no further repetitions of the poetry, as interesting as it was?
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I would not, of course, wish to repeat the poem, but I think it reminds us of the importance of supporting farmers. As I said in an intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall), who made a quite brilliant speech, our countryside was made by God and the farmer; it was not made by bureaucrats in Westminster or in Whitehall. It would be sad to see in this Bill the final triumph of bureaucracy—of the view that the man in Whitehall really knows best—with a range of things covering farming and agriculture to be decided by one person in Whitehall, rather than by the multifarious decisions of farmers across the world and, in particular, in our own country.
Let us examine every detail, clause and part of this Bill to see what it really means. When we do that, we find that it divides neatly into two parts; there are two clear options for us to examine. The Bill could be re-titled “Sustainable Livestock (Motherhood and Apple Pie) Bill”, a Bill that everybody agrees with and thinks is wonderful. However, that raises a question of parliamentary procedure. Is it right for us to pass laws that do not actually do anything specific, but just talk vaguely about how nice the world could and should be, if only we all clubbed together, rallied round and jollied along?
I have great doubts about the seriousness of the Bill as a proposition. We could go back to motherhood and apple pie: I imagine that apple pie would be the responsibility of DEFRA, because it is food, and that motherhood would be covered by the Secretary of State with responsibility for welfare, but this is not how laws ought to be made. They should deal with specifics and detail and should have causes and consequences; otherwise we get the vagueness, vagary and randomness of our laws being decided in the courts. If the Bill is merely aspirational, we should not be debating it at all and the issue should come before the House not in this format but in a general debate.
Of course, I want the rainforests to flourish, of course I want farming to be sustainable and of course I want people to eat British meat. If they have any sense they will buy their meat from Somerset, which is well-known for providing the best and most glorious cuts of meat in the world. Some people like Kobe beef, but I think it rather fatty and that one can get better beef from Somerset. That is the answer to most of our food problems. I want my eggs from Somerset too. There is an egg factory, or poultry plant, near Keynsham in Burnett—a wonderful place that I have visited. It is a small family operation that is committed to the highest standards of food production, but does that mean there should be a law that my friend from Ulster, the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley), should eat only Somerset eggs? He might think that a great imposition on him and his fellow Ulstermen, and we know what Ulster says when it does not want to do something—usually, no.
We do not want this kind of legislation. We are talking about public procurement of livestock produce. Is that just an aspiration? If so, it is probably one that the Government have anyway. If clause 1(2)(a) is aspirational, it is pointless because that is already the Government’s hope and aim. Clause 1(2) would place a duty on the Secretary of State in relation to sustainable livestock and
“providing appropriate public information and food labelling”.
I do not see a connection between the sustainability of livestock and the suitability of labelling, as they are different things. We are all in favour of honest labelling. We have heard terrible scare stories about chickens being injected with water and salt, which sounds a pretty ghastly combination. I can tell hon. Members that that does not happen to Somerset chickens. Of course, such food should be labelled as chicken, salt and water rather than just as chicken, but that is a matter for the Government to deal with through other means and regulations, not through a vague responsibility for the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
Clause 1(2) also addresses “sustainable livestock practices” research, but where will the money come from? We have sat in the House and listened to erudite speeches on both sides about how we should cut expenditure and raise taxes and how to afford the enormous Budget deficit that we have been left by our socialist friends. The deficit will not be magicked away, abracadabra-style, by passing more costs on to Secretaries of State. We must be responsible about what we wish for, how we go about getting it and the costs we wish to impose.
Food waste has been addressed in a wonderful discussion about pigs and what they might decide to eat. I had hoped that someone might mention the Empress of Blandings, the only pig in history to win the silver medal at the Shropshire show for three successive years. It ate a vast quantity of potatoes every day and was more than happy to eat waste food. If we are not careful, however, we will risk reintroducing problems such as foot and mouth disease, which cost the country, the taxpayer and Her Majesty’s Government billions of pounds to put right. There has to be a sensible balance when it comes to dealing with food waste.
Sustainable methods of dealing with food waste conjures up all sorts of nasty thoughts. In the 19th century, there were people who went round collecting what was politely described as night soil. It was then taken to farms and used as a fertiliser. Night soil was replaced by guano, which is the same thing, really, but from seagulls. It made a great deal of money for one particular family, who live in North Somerset, rather than North East Somerset. My hon. Friend is right to conjure up thoughts and horrors about what might be done in the recycling of food. We do not want to go back to the days of people collecting night soil. Mr Bazalgette and the sewage system that was installed in the 19th century are more capable of dealing with some waste products than the means perhaps suggested in the Bill are.
“changing the subsidies available to and support for farmers”,
I come back to my question: is the Bill a sort of parliamentary wallpaper—a wish-list of what we want—or serious business? I doubt that there is an hon. Member, an hon. Friend, a right hon. Member, a right hon. Friend or an hon. and gallant Member who does not want some reform of the common agricultural policy and a change to the subsidy system that seems to make it cheap for the French to produce food but comes down on our farmers like a ton of bricks. There is a uniform view that that should happen, but there is one grand obstacle. There is entente cordiale, as long as it is not about agriculture. As soon as it is about agriculture, we are back to Agincourt and Crécy. I will not go on about Agincourt and Crécy because, although I know that those two battles are particular favourites of yours, Mr Deputy Speaker, I feel that they are not immediately pertinent to the Bill, but the behaviour of the French in matters of agriculture is. If we think of the French, we need only think of the riots that we had the other day; French students do that day in, day out.
I was talking about subsidies and how we cannot do what the Bill says because the French will not let us. They will take to the streets if we try to attack subsidies across the European spectrum. People in this country—Ministers and even Prime Ministers, with all the authority that Prime Ministers have—have not been able to wean the French off their subsidies. We may share a Navy with them, but we find it difficult to share subsidies so easily.
The Minister will also have a duty to look at
“the effectiveness of existing programmes”.
If he is not already looking at their effectiveness, he is an idler and should not be in his job. I know that the Minister is far from being an idler; he is well known for being one of the most assiduous Ministers in Her Majesty’s Government, and he is the friend of the farmers. He will, therefore, be doing that already, so we are back to a grand and jolly wish-list of nice-to-do things.
Let us review subsections (1) and (2) of clause 1, headed “Duties of the Secretary of State”, as if they were not a wish list, because that is the frightening alternative. If we are talking about measures that are grand and good and fine and dandy, this should not be a Bill, but if it is real and costed and expensive and a burden on farmers, we should oppose it as a Bill, because it would be ruinous for our agriculture.
Our farmers have had a terribly difficult time in recent years. The subsidy system has changed, and they have been hit by various disasters—none o