Committee (1st Day)
Relevant document: 13th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee
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Clause 1: Secretary of State’s powers to give financial assistance
1: Clause 1, page 2, line 6, leave out “may” and insert “must”
Member’s explanatory statement
A probing amendment to clarify whether the Secretary of State will provide financial assistance for the purposes listed under Clause 1(1).
My Lords, Amendment 1 is connected to Amendment 74, also in my name. Both amendments address the Secretary of State’s new financial assistance powers outlined in the first clause of the Bill. Clause 1(1) indicates ambiguity of delivery:
“The Secretary of State may give financial assistance”.
Picking up this aspect of uncertainty, Amendment 1 therefore implies that giving financial assistance, as envisaged, might not necessarily work out as intended, not least taking into account how current forms of international competition threaten to curb the viability of United Kingdom food production. Yet, if, within the Bill, incentives should fail to produce intended results, to some extent Amendment 74’s proposal can provide a remedy.
In itself, Clause 1 is evidence of an impressive vision. The Government are committed to preserving the national environment; thus, competent environmental land management can become a clear aim for farmers, who are properly rewarded if they achieve this. Nevertheless, so far, in other respects the Bill is less clear. What are the Government’s plans for sustainable food production? Post Brexit, will they develop new and even higher standards than those of the European Union? Or will they set land aside for afforestation, public access and wildlife conservation while leaving agriculture to market forces, as do the United States and Brazil? Among those options, although unstated, no doubt the Government would prefer that which combines high standards for environmental land management along with those for sustainable food production. Yet, if so, how can these two objectives best be realised and British farmers perform and compete against cheap imports from the United States and those from EU states paid a high level of agricultural subsidies?
Perhaps some of the answer, beginning at home, would be that, in order to further these twin objectives, the Government might better prioritise and adjust existing incentives within the Bill. For if that adjustment is made now, in the first place, then there will be a greater chance that, through time and against external market forces, much of those current joint aims for the United Kingdom of good environmental land management and sustainable food production can be attained.
Clause 1 details 10 purposes eligible for financial assistance. It is certainly right that funding should be provided for each of them carried out by a farm. Yet, where multiple purposes are addressed, the Bill could now be amended so that a financial bonus would apply. For example, if a farm accomplished [Connection lost.]
I shall have to move the amendment on the noble Earl’s behalf. I beg to move Amendment 1.
My Lords, I have attached my name to Amendment 1 and shall speak also to a number of other amendments in the group. I thank the noble Earl for tabling Amendment 1: it was something I was thinking about. Indeed, I spoke to the Table Office, because much of the discussion around the Bill has focused on the fact that it provides powers but not duties. I suggested to the Table Office that we could go through the whole Bill and change every “may” to “must”, and those in the Table Office persuaded me that that might not be the best way forward. I thank them for their patience and all their expert assistance. I think the noble Earl has managed to focus on the key part of the Bill, where “may” should be changed to “must”. I know he tabled it as a probing amendment, but we should think about this as a serious way forward: a duty to look after the key principles of carbon storage, ecosystems, the state of our natural world and healthy food. These should be a duty of the Minister.
Amendments 8, 22, 25, 31 and 50, in the name of my noble friend Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, are all about air pollution, which is a huge gaping hole in the Bill. It looks at water, at soil and at our ecosystems on the ground, but does not talk about the air; yet it is all part of an interrelated system and we know that air pollution and farming issues are closely interrelated.
I have also attached my name to Amendment 67 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, which says:
“Financial assistance may only be given for Environmental Land Management Schemes Tier 2 and Tier 3 if those individual schemes are in line with the local Nature Recovery Strategy”.
This addresses a crucial point: we need joined-up, systematic thinking about the nature of our countryside. At the moment, we have a number of silos. We have the Environment Bill, the Agriculture Bill and the now delayed food strategy, and we need to make sure that these are all joined up and working together, not at cross-purposes to each other. We need a whole-landscape approach, something the Wildlife Trust has been doing a lot of excellent work on, although we have to notice that what we see in the Environment Bill will lay new duties on councils, which, as we discussed in Oral Questions, already have enormous burdens on them.
Finally, Amendment 234 in my name, would add a clause headed “Agricultural extension”. It has notable similarities with an amendment in another group—Amendment 122, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester. Both of us are getting at the point that farmers need reliable, independent, secure, certain expert advice. In preparing for today I looked at the debates in your Lordships’ House back in 1996 and 1997 when the Agricultural Development and Advisory Service was privatised. There were some very telling words from the late Lord Mackie of Benshie, who talked about how, since the Agricultural Development and Advisory Service had started charging for its services, less use was being made of them. Some people —perhaps those who needed them most—could not afford them.
The state of our countryside and our agricultural land is a matter of national interest. It is something that we cannot leave to market forces. We have seen, in terms of agricultural extension and advice, a huge reduction, huge privatisation and a move towards many farmers being forced to take advice from the suppliers of agricultural chemicals and agricultural seeds, and even from their buyers, the supermarkets. Farmers need independent, expert advice. We need people to be able to develop careers in providing that advice. If we have an expert on growing potatoes in the south-west who spends decades focusing just on that, that is very hard to do in the private sector. If potatoes have a few bad years, no one can afford to pay that person and they do not have the chance to develop their skills in the way that they would in an advisory service.
We have to look at the whole system here. Part of a proper agricultural system has to be a government-run advice service. That is something that has existed historically for a very long time. It can a be traced back three millennia: in ancient China we know that there was a government Minister advising farmers on how to improve agricultural systems. This is a matter of national interest; it needs national involvement and a proper advice service.
My Lords, I shall speak to my Amendment 67 and I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, for her support for it. My main interest here is in connection with the broader environmental policies of the Government as they bring these forward in legislation. As I said at Second Reading, I very much welcome the ELMS initiative; it is a major step forward in the use of state aid for the farming industry and how it is to be targeted.
The Environment Bill is also coming through; I would be very interested to hear from the Minister when it is likely to hit this House. That would be useful for noble Lords all around the House. There are a number of important government initiatives in it which I also very much welcome, one of which is around nature recovery strategies and networks. We often talk about silos between government departments; I am concerned in these two Bills—particularly this Bill and in relation to ELMS—that we do not have silos within Defra between the agricultural side and the Rural Payments Agency, and Natural England and the delivery of a lot of the pure environmental objectives on the other.
My amendment is a probing amendment to understand this from the Minister. Of fundamental importance is how schemes such as nature recovery networks and ELMS will be co-ordinated, so that we can have the double benefit from making sure that they work together rather than, as perhaps in the worst-case scenario, conflicting with each other. I reread the consultation document on ELMS produced by the Government in February and was encouraged by its list of lessons learned, which is an excellent thing to have. One lesson on that list was that there needs to be local input, whether assistance or consultation, into how these schemes work.
I was also a little encouraged by tiers 2 and 3 of ELMS; tier 1 is for single farm measures, which I understand entirely we do not want to make too bureaucratic. Tier 2, which is about land management—probably collaboration between more than two or three farms together—mentions that it needs to coincide or work with some form of spatial planning. Tier 3 refers to peatland restoration and the nature for climate fund. Are the Government still pursuing those objectives, making sure that there is a synergy between these schemes and that local areas are consulted or somehow brought in without—I understand this point entirely— making this system too bureaucratic? Can the Minister start to explain how this will be approached? This is a fundamental way of ensuring that all our environmental objectives in this are truly delivered.
My Lords, I have a number of amendments in this group. Amendments 5, 17 and 89 question the different wording in different sections of the Bill. Clause 1(1)(a) uses “protects or improves”; Clause 1(1)(c) uses “maintains, restores or enhances”; elsewhere, “conserves” is used, which is defined as including “restoring or enhancing”.
Using different words in close proximity in the Bill gives the strong impression that different things are meant by them and that words which are not included each time are therefore in some way excluded. For simplicity of reading, we should choose one word. I would choose “enhances”; I have gone with “conserves” because that is the Government’s choice. If we have one word which is defined to encompass all the other concepts, this clause will read more clearly.
With Amendments 27 and 28, I wish to check with the Government that we are not confining ourselves to additional varieties and species, but that we will be able to apply funds to new species of animal livestock and in particular to new plant crop species. Genetic engineering should mean that we can move many of the crops that now grow some way south of us a good way north and therefore improve the resilience and variety of our agriculture.
Amendment 86 checks where the boundary is for an activity such as coppicing. It was not clear to me from the words used that the whole process of felling trees and particularly extracting them from woodland could be covered by finance. If we are going to make it profitable for small woods in particular—I declare an interest in owning one—to supply coppice for the power station industry, for instance, we must look at how we will get that wood extracted. If not, there will be no benefit in extracting it and therefore no benefit in coppicing.
Lastly and most importantly, Amendment 76 addresses local nature partnerships. In the Bill we ought ideally to recognise the role that these have come to play in the negotiations between the various entities which have a finger in the pie of looking after nature in our countryside. They have been remarkably successful and I very much hope we will continue to support them and embed them in how we take decisions about nature and the countryside.
My Lords, in speaking to my three amendments, I take this opportunity to thank the Minister, the Bill team and everybody for getting us to this stage. It is quite remarkable that we have a book of amendments almost as large as the Bill itself. I know the lengths to which my noble friend will go to accommodate us.
I will speak first to Amendments 24 and 104 in my name. I thank other noble Lords who have joined me in signing Amendment 24, which is for probing and debating purposes only. Obviously, I do not wish to see land taken out of “managing land or water” that will benefit from new financial assistance under the Bill. I am grateful to my noble friend, who is responding today, and to our noble friend Lord Goldsmith for responding to my concerns, which I have also set out in Amendment 104.
There will be opportunities for farmers to create reservoirs, working either on their own or with water companies. This will be recognised as financial assistance, other than where they may already fall within a flood plain, which I think is the one exclusion. My noble friend said that the equivalent of 25 Olympic-sized pools would fall within the provisions of the Reservoirs Act 1975.
We are absolutely delighted to have the Slowing the Flow at Pickering scheme. I am sure that many other schemes like it will benefit from the provisions of this Bill. I welcome that. It could be not just for farm use, but caravan parks and golf clubs may consider storing water temporarily or more permanently on their land. However, could my noble friend be a little more precise? In my noble friend Lord Goldsmith’s reply to me in a letter on 2 July, he said:
“The temporary storage of floodwater on land would not necessarily constitute a raised reservoir and would therefore be exempt from reservoir safety regulations in England.”
It would be helpful if my noble friend could place that letter in the Library so that I do not need to refer to it in any more detail. Could we have an assurance today on what will be considered temporary storage and what permanent storage, to reassure those seeking to retain water temporarily as floodwater that they will not fall within the provisions of the 1975 Act, which are particularly onerous for reservoirs and would reduce it to 10,000 cubic metres?
Further, the reservoir we had initially sought for the Slowing the Flow scheme could not be signed off by the panel engineer from the Institution of Civil Engineers. Can my noble friend assure the House today that even water stored temporarily to retain floodwater on land will not fall into that category? That would be most helpful.
Amendment 24 relates to financial assistance for upland and hill farms in particular, which produce pasture-fed livestock. There are concerns that hill farmers may not benefit because many of them are tenants. In North Yorkshire and other parts, I think almost 50% of farms are tenanted. Later we will consider county council farms, which are almost exclusively tenanted farms by their very nature. This is a probing amendment to see whether my noble friend would be minded to use financial assistance to promote pasture-fed livestock farming systems. It is something that we are particularly good at in the United Kingdom, in parts of northern England, Scotland, Devon and, I am sure, Wales and other parts as well. The taste of the spring lamb off the North Yorkshire moors is hard to beat but that is not why we are here today.
Pasture-fed livestock farming is responsible for the management of a significant part of our landscape. The national parks have done a great piece of work on this, which we will come on to consider. But it is particularly important in this regard to seek financial assistance for the way the uplands are managed. Too often, calves and other animals that are fattened on the pastures come in for unnecessary and unwanted attacks from interest groups which perhaps do not understand how red meat is produced and how important it is to a balanced diet. The uplands also play a role as a carbon sink—storing carbon in the grasslands—and in harvesting carbon from the atmosphere on an ongoing basis. Given the wider benefits of pasture-fed systems, I urge the Government to address this sector within the realm of public goods, under Clause 1(1).
I make it clear that this is complementary to and supportive of the provisions on native breeds, whether on pasture or other systems. I acknowledge that native breeds are probably already recognised, so I nudge my noble friend towards considering that pasture-fed livestock also come under the provision, for biodiversity and public health reasons as well.
My Lords, I am glad to follow the noble Baroness, whose closing remarks on pasture-fed livestock echo my own Amendment 78, which seeks the following:
“In framing any financial assistance scheme, the Secretary of State must have regard to maintaining support for hill farms and other marginal land previously designated as less favoured areas.”
I support what the noble Baroness said in praise—not just support—of those areas.
We need to recognise the geographical importance as well as the environmental, agricultural and food production importance. Less favoured areas in England cover the Pennines, the Lake District, the Yorkshire Dales —Yorkshire generally—Devon and Cornwall and most of Wales; and, of course, a huge chunk of Scotland, which I know is not directly covered by the Bill but this demonstrates how important it is. In those areas it is a very significant part of the local economy, in terms of employment, the environment, access and the general diversity of the economy. As the noble Baroness made clear, our uplands—our hill lands—are most useful for livestock rearing, grazing and pasture feeding, particularly of lamb and beef, and are not suitable, really, for cropping, other than in marginal circumstances.
Although less favoured areas, as they used to be designated, cover about 17% of the land area of England and Wales, they are concentrated in the north and in the south-west, where they constitute a much higher proportion. It is really important that we get clarity from the Government as to how they perceive the future of these areas. We all know that they have been heavily dependent on subsidies through the common agricultural policy. Indeed, many of them still do not make money. We all accept, therefore, that there has to be an integrated approach to production, farming, the environment and public goods. The farming community would assert that it is part of that public good and, indeed, without a vibrant farming community the ability to provide that range of public goods would be substantially compromised. If so, the landscape in these areas could change dramatically and in ways that I think the visiting public would not appreciate, even if they did not understand why the change had taken place.
The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hill Farming states:
“Farming is at the core of rural communities in upland areas of England and Wales and has played a crucial role in delivering safe, traceable and affordable food for the nation for decades. Working alongside nature is vital to our role as food producers and we take great pride in the cherished countryside we protect.”
I hope the Minister will be able to concur with that sentiment and make it clear that the Government recognise the need to find the ability and a mechanism to provide direct financial support that will enable us to continue to produce livestock on these farms, as well as managing the environment in a sustainable way. I will not dwell on this now because I have a later amendment about the implications on top of the Bill of the possibility of a no-deal or poor-deal Brexit, whereby heavy tariffs would make the export of high-quality products from these farms simply unsustainable and unviable. I will address that later.
Before I close—I think this is related, although it goes more broadly than that—I make it clear that I also support Amendment 66 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, which calls for co-operation between Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England in developing financial support. There is concern in Scotland that the Bill gives the UK Government the power to prevent certain mechanisms of support, even in Scotland, despite agriculture being devolved, in ways that could inhibit Scotland’s ability to promote a different form of farming, which is inevitably required given that 85% of the land area in Scotland falls into the category of less favoured area.
Again, I hope the Minister will give some assurance, although I think we would like more than that, that there will be no question of pursuing a strategy of support that did not take full account of the less favoured areas that are absolutely crucial in all the devolved Administrations—Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland—but equally important in the north of England and the south-west. Although people in the south may not see how important this is, the Government need to make it clear that they understand that if you have a policy of regional development, which is a very big commitment of the present Government, ensuring adequate support for upland and hill farmers throughout the United Kingdom is absolutely essential.
I call the noble Earl, Lord Dundee. We lost the connection earlier, but I understand that we can now hear him.
Thank you. I will resume at the point where I was cut off.
In itself, Clause 1 is evidence of an impressive vision. The Government are committed to preserving the natural environment, thus competent environmental land management can become a clear aim for farmers, who are properly rewarded if they achieve this.
Nevertheless, so far, in other respects the Bill is less clear. What are the Government’s plans for sustainable food production? Post Brexit will they develop new and even higher standards than those of the EU, or instead set aside land for afforestation, public access and wildlife conservation, while leaving agriculture to market forces, as do the United States and Brazil?
Among those options, and although unstated, no doubt the Government would prefer that which combines high standards for environmental land management with those for sustainable food production. Yet, if so, how can these two objectives best be realised? British farmers also perform and compete against cheap imports from the United States, and those from EU states pay a high level of agricultural subsidies.
Perhaps some of the answer, beginning at home, lies in how, in order to further these twin objectives, the Government might better prioritise and adjust existing incentives within the Bill. For if that adjustment is made now in the first place, there will be a greater chance through time and against external market forces. Much of those current joint aims for the United Kingdom of good environmental land management and sustainable food production can be attained.
Section 1 details 10 purposes eligible for financial assistance, and it is certainly right that funding should be provided for each of them if carried out by a farm. Yet where multiple purposes are addressed, the Bill could now be amended so that a financial bonus would apply. For example, if a farm accomplishes fewer than four of the purposes, it simply receives funding for each of them. However, if instead the farm were to carry out more than four purposes, such as five or six of them, it could receive a bonus grant for achieving that level of multiple purposes. There could be a further multiple purpose supplementary payment if seven or eight of them had been carried out, then a further and final one for achieving 10 purposes. For what we want to achieve is that farms should receive supplementary funding for carrying out many or even all the purposes. That is because doing so puts them at a commercial disadvantage to other farms, which might adopt only a few of the purposes—hence the connection between Amendments 1 and 74.
Amendment 1, as a probing expedient, seeks to illustrate that, while the Government’s vision to encourage both good environmental management and sustained food production together is much to be welcomed, nevertheless, the effect of their plans for delivering financial incentives is uncertain in two respects. The first is as a result of the challenge to UK food production from a combination of cheap imports from the United States and from the highly subsidised agricultural products from the European Union states. Secondly, and as already outlined, it is owing to the risk in the first place of an inadequate response to incentives arising from an inconsistent and anomalous delivery to recipient United Kingdom farms, whereby those best at multiple purposes are still insufficiently recompensed within the Bill as it is.
Amendment 74 offers a partial solution through a detailed bonus scheme, as already outlined, whereby farms carrying out multiple purposes would come to be rewarded better and in a fairer way than they are at present within the Bill. Through time, and in spite of international market competition, that would in turn also increase the likelihood that within the United Kingdom the Government could achieve more of the joint aims themselves of good environmental management and sustained food production.
Amendment 45, the third in my name in this grouping, seeks to encourage the purchase of domestically produced animal feed with the intention of reducing carbon emissions from imported feed. Considering the United Kingdom’s agricultural capacity relative to its population, it would be unrealistic to restrict imported animal feed too much. However, these imports have three major disadvantages. First, they undermine the United Kingdom’s food security; secondly, there is the carbon footprint arising from their production and transport; and, thirdly, there is the environmental damage which in the first place their cultivation causes in certain countries, notably soybeans in Brazil and Argentina. Efforts should thus be made to augment the supply of home-grown animal feed. At the same time, United Kingdom importers ought to be encouraged to buy feed from countries demonstrating similar environmental standards to those of the United Kingdom, with the process perhaps guided by international certification bodies. Hence, bearing in mind the Bill’s focus on environmental land management, this amendment on animal feeds simply calls for improved consistency of standards between what the United Kingdom imports and what it produces domestically.
My Lords, I echo the words of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, in congratulating the Minister and so many other noble Lords on marshalling such a remarkable number of amendments. In fact, there are so many amendments that it somewhat gives the game away that the Bill means so much to so many people. In the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, it is something of a dog’s dinner. I would not be so disparaging, but I would also say that it is more than a single dinner—it seems to be everything the dog has eaten for an awfully long time.
The first four of my amendments in this group relate to the deletion of the word “water” in the provisions of Clause 1. That is because I believe this is the Agriculture Bill, not the aquaculture Bill, the Fisheries Bill, the Environment Bill or the water resources Bill. As drafted—as I understand it, there is no limitation to the definition of water—it could spread the impact of the Bill very far and wide. In proposing a number of amendments, I seek to focus the Bill on agriculture and to not let its very positive environmental aims spread too far beyond those reasonable limits. If the Minister were able to provide some clarity in concluding, it would help us to know what water this applies to.
Noble Lords should know that, as well as a farmer, I am also a holder of intertidal habitat and foreshore rights, and it is interesting to me whether the provisions of the Bill and of ELMS will be able to extend to intertidal habitat. As I understand it, intertidal habitat has enormous potential for carbon sequestration and other very positive aspects, but it is not clear whether the Bill as drafted goes to that area between high and low tide, which is obviously such an important area around the coast of Devon.
Amendment 21 also seeks to remove reference to livestock from Clause 1(1)(d). This is merely so that it conforms to the other paragraphs. It is not clear why livestock should be included in managing land, water or livestock in a way that mitigates climate change, when it is not included in managing land or water in a way that protects the environment. It is very unclear as to why livestock should appear specifically in Clause 1(1)(d) when it does not appear in (a), (c) and (e). I note the points that the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, made around reservoirs, but farmers are not water managers. They use water, and I very much agree that the environmental aim should be to prevent what they do on their land having an adverse impact on water—but they are not by definition water managers, and we should recognise that.
To continue with the water theme, I propose Amendment 91, which adds the term “wetlands” to “uplands” in the definition of cultural or natural heritage. There is lots of important focus on uplands, because they are such an important part of our natural environment. However, I do not want your Lordships’ focus to depart wholly from wetlands, which are equally important to our biodiversity. They are equally marginal in many respects as a form of agricultural land, and are equally important culturally. I took the train this morning through the Somerset Levels, and we all remember the terrible floods they suffered a number of years ago. The focus should not be just on uplands. The other point about wetlands is that, given their often low-lying presence near the mouths of estuaries and rivers, they are often very proximate to large urban settlements. The interface between a large urban population and a rural, ecologically sensitive landscape is very important; it is an important part of ELMS and it should be focused upon.
The final amendment in this group, which I am proud to propose, is Amendment 236, which is supported by the Greener UK group. It seeks to add some teeth to the enforcement of the environmental provisions. As they currently exist under European regulations, good agricultural and environmental condition requirements cover the management of soils. This is in the cross-compliance provisions of the current European legislation. That will be lost from January 2021, and it is not clear that there will be adequate enforcement of the maintenance of the quality and nature of soil going forward.
The amendment adds to the agricultural diffuse pollution regulations and provides the Environment Agency with some teeth in forcing farmers to maintain the quality of soil. Soil is obviously all-important to the management of our agricultural land. Over this past winter we have seen how soil runs off in heavy rain, but how, if you have good organic matter in your soil, in a very dry spring such as the one we have just had you can retain some moisture. It enhances the resilience of our agriculture, and as climate change takes effect, that is absolutely key to our agriculture. Those are the amendments I wish to speak to now.
My Lords, there has already been some discussion which hinges on the question: what is the Bill about? We start off with a very important clause which lists nine environmental aims, together with one aim concerning
“the health and welfare of livestock”,
which at least is about agriculture. Is this an environmental provision or an agricultural one? Those of us who are very keen on the environmental aspects of the Bill must nevertheless recognise that it is fundamentally about the future of farming in this country, not about the wider issue of the environment. It is unfortunate, as has been hinted at by at least one noble Lord, that the Environment Bill has not come first and we have not legislated on the Government’s new vision for the environment of Britain and then been able to fit farming into it. This is a problem that runs through the Bill, as the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, raised at Second Reading.
However, we have the Bill as it is. I was pleased to add my name to the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, on drainage schemes and so on, which are crucial. There is an important thing here which links to the proposals for the three tiers of the environmental management scheme. I think everybody is beginning to understand the importance of managing water on a catchment area basis; otherwise, if you do something upstream which affects something downstream, they are not co-ordinated.
The Government talk about peatlands and tree planting as tier 3 schemes, and it is easy to understand how they might work because of their nature. A catchment area scheme, by its very nature, will involve a very large number of landholdings and land managers. It can succeed only if a large proportion of them take part; otherwise, people may be persuaded to take part if they benefit but refuse if they do not. The whole catchment area must be treated as a unity. If such a scheme exists, will it be a condition on a landholding that is part of that catchment area, for all the other grants that it might want, to take part in the tier 3 scheme—the catchment area scheme? I ask the Minister that question because it is crucial.
I very much support what my noble friend Lord Bruce said about hill farming, and I added my name to his amendment. As someone who lives in the middle of the Pennines, in the north of England, I endorse everything he said. There is a tendency among some people to suggest that in such areas, land managers should be just that and that farming becomes irrelevant—in so far as farming takes place, it is there simply because the sheep are needed to manage the land in the way that people want, and hill farmers should become some special variety of civil servant operating on behalf of the Government, because that is the only way they can make a living. The hill farmers I have known over the years in the Lake District, the Pennines and Wales—and, indeed, in parts of Europe—are not the sort of people who want their lives regulated by officialdom. That is putting it fairly mildly. Will it really work like that?
It seems to me that in the hills, in the less favoured areas—in the Pennines, for example—farmers will continue to exist only if they can continue farming and can make enough of their income, their livelihood, from farming. They will not want to become land managers engaged by some bureaucratic board to manage the landscape in a particular way. There are parts where that will be the answer, but they will be a minority. By and large, if our economies, communities and landscapes in those areas are to survive, they will need to make enough money from what they produce. I see no way in which direct subsidy of the products they produce can be done away with in those areas. In the rest of England, perhaps so, but in those areas it will not happen. As we know, at the moment, people are producing milk for more than the price at which the supermarkets sell it; that is the cost to them. They are able to survive because they get the subsidy.
The only other thing I want to mention briefly is that I have two amendments, Amendments 80 and 81, which are amendments to an amendment proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, who has not yet moved her amendment, so it is a bit awkward. She is talking about big cities; I agree with everything I think she is putting forward, which is that in many urban areas, the rural fringe between the towns and the countryside is a bit of a mess. It is what some of us call the zone of tatty land. All I will say is that that applies to small and medium-sized towns, not just big cities.
My Lords, I support Amendments 1 and 37. I understand what the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, said about Amendment 1: he seeks simply to probe in relation to financial assistance. We need to end the uncertainty felt by farming folk as we come out of the common agricultural policy and enter a new regime of funding. Therefore, there needs to be greater certainty about funding provided to farmers. Perhaps the Minister will provide some elucidation on that.
I support Amendment 37 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering. To me, many of the amendments in today’s groups deal specifically with how we manage our land environment and new financial assistance powers which are grounded in Clause 1. Amendment 37 gives an opportunity because it gives the Secretary of State the power to issue payments to those farmers who protect or improve and manage the landscape. It is important that farmers are allowed to manage their own land environment for food and livestock production because, after all, they work that land daily, they know about the soil texture and the production levels that the land they farm is capable of. In so doing, they are then enabled to protect the flora, fauna and wildlife, which are all part of the natural environment.
As the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, said, Amendment 37 is about ensuring that that financial assistance recognises and is provided for the protection, improvement or management of landscapes and biodiversity through pasture-fed grazing livestock systems. She referred in particular to upland farming, and I recall that when she was in the other place as chairman of the EFRA Select Committee, of which I was a member, she had a particular passion for the needs of upland farmers. Coming from Northern Ireland and from an area where upland farming is a central part of farming, I fully understand that.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, I believe there needs to be some co-operation between the devolved regions and Westminster, or Defra, on how this funding could be managed, how the less favoured areas classified under the old common agricultural policy, including those upland areas, could be managed and protected, and how farmers using that pasture-led grazing system can eke a subsistence and a living out of it and ensure a good farming life.
Always remember that the world’s soils represent the largest terrestrial carbon reservoir. In the UK, two-thirds of our farmland is pasture. Ruminants can effectively convert this into produce of value to us all. The capacity of pasture to build the fertility and health of the soil and the vital role of grazing animals in that process have been known for a long time. With a growing recognition of the environmental costs, and the cost of concentrate feed around five times that of grazed land, there is a shift to feeding ruminants increasingly on pasture.
Pasture-fed grazing livestock systems show a care for the animals, the environment, the land, the soils and the landscape. They bring value to the land, to the farming industry and to us as consumers. As the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, said, they produce good-quality food in terms of feed production. Pasture also provides a natural and unstressed environment in which ruminants can express themselves while producing nutrient-dense meat and milk that has measurable health benefits for us all and for the wider consumer market.
I believe this needs to be reflected in the Bill and am very content to support this amendment, which I have signed but is in the principal name of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering. I hope the Minister can provide us with some elucidation on adding that as a purpose for financial assistance and ensuring that the purpose of financial assistance in itself is much more, shall we say, mandatory than simply permissory.
My Lords, I will speak to my Amendment 79; I thank the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, for his support. This is a probing amendment. It aims to ensure that development of the land around our large towns and cities will feature in the Government’s strategy. By “large towns and cities” I am referring to urban areas with a population of at least 200,000, but of course priority is bound to be given to our great metropolitan cities—London, Manchester, Birmingham and others.
We know that green-belt land represents 13% of England’s land-mass: 1.6 million hectares. I believe the green-belt area doubled in size between 1979 and 1993. According to the Government’s official climate change advisers, the UK needs 1.5 billion more trees to absorb sufficient carbon dioxide and help restore wildlife. We can argue about how much agricultural land should be given over to trees, but there are swathes of undeveloped green-belt land. Surely we can do a great deal better than we do at the moment, not only for our urban populations but for the climate.
Mass tree planting is just one part of the solution to the green-belt wasteland, if I may call it that. Others include agricultural and horticultural development to provide the nearby urban populations with fresh food, in particular fruit and vegetables—avoiding the climate-destroying long-distance transport too often involved currently. Of course, an effective green policy for the green belt would need a shift in people’s attitudes to eating out-of-season fruit and vegetables. If people continue to demand to eat strawberries in December, however much we grow on the green belt will not help the climate as much as it should and could.
Finally, some investment on the green belt should surely be into energy products: solar panels and wind farms. Again, proximity to our metropolitan areas and other large towns and cities should be a driving factor for that. I hope the Minister will assure the Committee that climate-friendly development of the green-belt land will be an important element in the Government’s plan.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to be here today and to contribute to a debate on this wide-ranging group. I was quite taken aback to be balloted out of speaking at Second Reading. I could barely be more steeped in agriculture. I was brought up on a family farm in Wiltshire and used to stand in gateways from an early age to help my father keep the cows in order; I even knew their names. My Civil Service career was mainly at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, where I was responsible for the farm woodland scheme and the Food Safety Act. I spent more than 15 years as a director at Tesco and devoted a lot of energy to farming matters and green issues. I was a director at 2 Sisters Food Group before joining the Government. Now, to declare my current interest entered in the register, I am chairman of Assured Food Standards—Red Tractor, as we call it—which is responsible for assuring some £15 billion-worth of British food a year from all four nations of the UK.
In my view, anyone should be able to speak at Second Reading, and I hope the powers that be have learned from the unjustifiable exclusion of several of us. I also express my concern that my noble friend Lord Dobbs was excluded from proceedings in Committee today owing to the loss of an email and the deadlines laid down by the House under Covid. All this underlines the need to get back to normal working, as Peers on all sides of the House are beginning to say. However, I put on record my thanks to my noble friend Lord Gardiner for the courtesy of a meeting to discuss my thoughts.
I turn to my Amendment 82 on impact assessment. This Bill, especially Clause 1, represents a huge change in farming and countryside management in the UK; just look at its extraordinarily long title. This needs to be quantified. We need to look at the economic costs, benefits and risks that the new framework will entail, so it is a perfect candidate for an impact assessment at the Bill stage, when the parameters are being settled.
Interestingly, the Regulatory Policy Committee, which has the important responsibility of independently—I emphasise that word—vetting the quality of government departments’ impact assessments, agrees. From its relatively narrow perspective, it advised on 20 February that the Bill will have “significant impacts on businesses”. I cite the radical changes to financial assistance and its tiers and conditions, and the shift in marketing standards and carcass classification, which we will discuss next week.
The fact is that impact assessments should have been submitted to the RPC for independent scrutiny, seen by Ministers and provided to Parliament. I know how valuable this can be to us. For example, DWP did a high-class job on the Pension Schemes Bill, which eased its passage. The RPC added value to an MHCLG assessment on plans to exempt extra floors on housing developments, pointing out the need to provide for the cost and risk of moving telephone masts—vital to HMG’s important plans for digital connectivity. Data, cost and risk assessment are essential to good government—allegedly one of the reasons why the Prime Minister and his consigliere Dominic Cummings are reforming the Civil Service.
Although the subject of my amendment is the framing of the financial assistance scheme itself, that stage would be far too late. I believe the Government could help themselves and Parliament by submitting an impact assessment for this scheme—and, indeed, for this whole Bill—now, and promising to act similarly for future Bills on the environment and trade. They might even adapt the assessment framework to encourage the sort of data analysis favoured by Mr Cummings. I hope the Minister will seriously consider my request before I return to the matter on Report.
My Lords, I will pick up a theme started by the noble Earl, Lord Devon, when he mentioned the importance of this Bill. This is an absolutely vital Bill—a watershed Bill in British agricultural terms. It is going to be a template for the future, very much as the 1947 Act was a template for farming for about 50 years. It is a privilege to be allowed to take part in these proceedings, which demonstrate how important it is for the Government to get the Bill absolutely right, because it will set the tone for farming for many years to come.
The noble Earl, Lord Devon, was also right to question the wide spread of the Bill because the wider the Bill is spread, the less money there will be to go around, and important projects could well fall by the wayside. I too urge the Minister to clarify exactly how far this Bill is going to spread, whether reservoirs are to be included and whether the whole of forestry is to be included. There is a definitional problem here as far as I can see. In Clause 1(1) we talk about woodland and in Clause 1(2) we talk about forestry. Do these mean exactly the same things? I hope the Minister can be clear about that before we move to the next stage.
I added my name to two amendments in this group and I will first talk to Amendment 37, moved by my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering. I was attracted to this amendment because it refers to
“protecting or improving the management of landscapes”.
Farmers do not exist in isolation but within a landscape, and farming is absolutely crucial to that landscape and its productivity. I am a great believer in multi-functional landscapes. There is no such thing as the average farmer: farmers vary hugely, as does the soil on which they farm. What is able to be grown in one field could be very different from that grown in an adjacent field, perhaps because the soil has changed from green sand to heavy clay and there are two different products to deal with it. Farming is therefore a much more complicated business than a production factory.
The idea of landscapes is gaining momentum, as the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, said and I agree with him on this point. The key factor in making landscapes work sensibly is to work on a big, cohesive basis. The Minister knows a lot about the great success of the Northern Devon Nature Improvement Area, which is a template for how such projects could work. It is working on a water catchment area, as the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, said, and it brings farmers and other users of the countryside together to get the right policy for that area.
Amendment 7, which is a probing amendment, concerns growing crops for biofuel. There is potentially a very big future market for farmers growing bioenergy crops such as miscanthus for carbon capture and storage. I would not want them to be unable to obtain taxpayers’ money, considering the public good they would be doing. Can the Minister confirm that bioenergy crops are also included in this ambit?
Turning to Amendment 67 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, I like the idea in principle of trying to attach the rewards of this Bill to the Environment Bill. Of course, there is a fundamental flaw in the noble Lord’s proposal. If, for instance, he had a farm that was subject to a tier 3 grant in a nature recovery area, he could well be signing up purely to get the money. If I were farming outside that area—not a nature recovery area—but wanted to increase my songbird population, I would be excluded by the noble Lord’s amendment. I hope the Minister will take up this point because it is key to the success of this Bill. We have to enthuse the farmer: I would much rather the farmer was enthusiastic about biodiversity and improving the ecology and the soil—wanting to spend the time doing it—than in the scheme purely in order to get the grants.
I am happy to follow the noble Earl, Lord Caithness. I certainly identify with his comments on the 1947 Act and its significance. God help us if agriculture went back to the state it was in in the 1930s. There needs to be a reliable, transparent and dependable framework which our farmers and everyone involved in the countryside can depend upon. I draw attention to my interests as declared in the register.
This Bill applies primarily to England, although Wales will also come within its scope until such time as Welsh Ministers decide to have our own legislation. As the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, mentioned a moment ago, Amendment 66 addresses the question of the relationship between Wales, England, Northern Ireland and Scotland and the new regimes that will emerge. In the context of the European Union, there has been a framework for some understanding, whereas at the moment, unless some mechanism is brought in, there is a danger of us not having such a framework. My Amendment 66, which is in this group, attempts at least to flag up this question and seek an answer. This issue is probably better addressed later in the Bill, when we have already dealt with provisions relating to Wales—Schedule 5 and Part 7. Amendment 290, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, is probably a better point at which to address it. None the less, my amendment gives the Minister an opportunity to explain the initial thinking on it.
I agree with what was said in introducing the first amendment about the need for certainty and clarity. We need transparency regarding what exactly is going to replace the existing regime. The CAP can rightly be criticised for being expensive and bureaucratic, but it had one benefit: it brought certainty. It is important that farmers and others have certainty. In order to invest in the land, they need long-term certainty. We need to investigate that issue in Committee.
I also accept entirely what the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, and others said about less favoured areas. We need clarity and certainty there, too, because they depended so much on the European regimes. I support the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, on the question of reservoirs and water storage—an issue that might become even more important, given the climate change dangers we are facing. Having said this, many of these issues will be discussed in greater detail in considering later amendments, so on that basis, I will curtail my remarks at this point.
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Wigley. I will speak to my own Amendments 8, 22, 25, 31 and 50, which all relate to the issue of air pollution. I also support the amendments signed by my noble friend Lady Bennett of Manor Castle and Amendment 37, on pasture-fed grazing livestock systems, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering.
In this clause, there is near-unlimited potential for amendments, so we should all be commended if we manage to stay focused on our most pressing issues. As I said, the main focus of my five amendments in this group is on reducing the air pollution that results from farming and from land management, and on recognising the benefits of doing so.
Agricultural activities are a critical source of air pollution in rural areas—not just the fumes from machinery but the chemicals, slurries and manures that are applied to the land. Reducing this air pollution would obviously be of great benefit to the people who live and work on and around the land, but it would also benefit nearby towns and villages while reducing the accompanying smells. In most cases, farming-related air pollution is not an inevitable by-product of farming activity; it is in fact a huge waste of resources. For example, the offgassing of ammonia and nitrogen gases is an escape of nutrients that would be much better off retained in the soil.
There are many simple, straightforward and cost-effective methods for reducing this pollution, which in turn reduce the amount of fertiliser that needs to be applied to the land. This can be as simple as not applying slurry, manure or fertiliser on waterlogged or frozen land, not overapplying, and using methods that better incorporate these into the soil, rather than putting it on the top. Improving air quality and reducing air pollution is not only equally important to land and water, but intrinsically connected to those aims. The measures that would improve land and water quality will almost always improve air quality, and vice versa.
This is not just about making things look better or smell better; it is about human health and how we can improve the health of people in relatively simple ways. For these reasons, it is important that air pollution and air quality are added to the face of the Bill so that they can be addressed and resolved holistically with the other issues in the Bill.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, and I certainly support her in her concern about air quality. Clause 1(3) of the Bill reads as follows:
“Financial assistance may only be given in relation to England.”
Amendment 66, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, to which I have added my name, adds to that,
“or to facilitate and implement the development of a framework for agricultural co-operation between England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland relevant to the purposes in subsection (1).”
In his speech, the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, called for certainty and clarity, and I certainly support him on that.
I have no objection to the Bill being, in the main, limited to England, because Wales passed its own important legislation in 2015 on land management and sustainable development. The Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 set out goals for Wales of a very similar nature to Clause 1, although perhaps with a rather wider scope. Goal 2 says that Wales is to be:
“A nation which maintains and enhances a biodiverse natural environment with healthy functioning ecosystems that support social, economic and ecological resilience and the capacity to adapt to change (for example climate change).”
Other goals call for:
“A Wales of cohesive communities”
“A Wales of vibrant culture and thriving Welsh language.”
The Act places all public bodies under a duty to carry out these goals, and it sets out the planning framework for achieving them. I have no doubt that there are similar aspirations in legislation in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
In achieving the goals set out in the Welsh Act or the goals for which financial assistance is to be available under this Bill in England, each administration is constrained by the nature of the land: its situation and its climate within its jurisdiction. Soil depth and quality, slope, wind exposure, drought and flooding—as referred to by the noble Earl, Lord Devon—are factors that cannot be changed by government decree.
As the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, pointed out, most of Wales is a less favoured area. Indeed, there is only one area of grade 1 land in the whole of Wales. It is some 400 acres around the village of Holt on the edge of the River Dee and the English border—some three miles from where I live. I do not have the happiest memories, I can tell your Lordships, of picking strawberries for two and sixpence an hour there as a schoolboy, with my nose pressed closely into grade 1 land.
Amendment 78, which I support, seeks to add to the goals for England set out in Section 1 an explicit reference to maintaining support for hill farms and other marginal land previously designated as less favoured areas. I support that amendment because it encompasses a large part of the agricultural industry in Wales.
However, suppose a conflict arises as to the level of support a Welsh hill farmer receives as compared to that of the Yorkshire farmer of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh. This could lead to significant competitive advantage or disadvantage in the United Kingdom single market. Levels of support between the four nations are bound to diverge. I referred to this issue at Second Reading, where the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, said that
“I am struck by the absence of any hint of common frameworks for the devolved Administrations.”—[Official Report, 10/6/20; col. 1802.]
He asked the Minister to indicate progress in the area of agriculture.
A paper published a year ago by the Cabinet Office, entitled An Update on Progress in Common Frameworks, contained this paragraph:
“The UK Internal Market. The UK Government continues to seek development of a shared approach to the UK Internal Market with the devolved administrations, and, alongside the work being undertaken by policy teams, we are considering how to manage internal market issues across framework areas.”
The paper contained an extensive illustration of a framework agreement, but in the field of hazardous waste. It describes, in considerable detail, the policy area, the scope of the framework agreement, an outline of the legislation required, how decisions are to be made, the roles and responsibilities of each party, dispute resolution and many other sections.
Seeing that it is government policy to abandon the common agricultural policy in six months’ time, I think we are entitled to know where we are and to have the questions that we put forward at Second Reading answered. I am with my noble friend Lord Greaves; we do not want to have an agricultural industry, particularly in the Pennines or in Wales, that is paid to mow the grass, clip the hedges and mend the stone walls, while we get our lamb from New Zealand, our chlorinated chicken from the United States, our beef from Brazil and our pork from the Netherlands. We want a vibrant countryside producing food—and healthy food at that—short supply lines, local produce for local people and an internal market that reflects the diversity of our farming but allows the four nations fair and competitive markets.
My Lords, I intend to be brief, as requested. I am very proud to be a member of the excellent organisation Peers for the Planet, set up by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, and a number of other colleagues. I want to see a much more sustainable farming system that incorporates a good balance between food production on the one hand and environmental protection on the other.
My main aim today is to support Amendments 1 and 74, moved so well by the noble Earl, Lord Dundee—I am glad we were able to get back in touch with him after that technical problem. These amendments will ensure that the Government must provide the financial resources necessary to support farmers to change their practices and to make these aims possible.
I believe that there should not be just an opt-in button for the Government when providing financial assistance to farmers, with the vital support that they need. With major changes expected in how we farm and utilise the surrounding land to protect wider biodiversity and provide a more inclusive system—one that is for the wider public benefit—the Government must provide the necessary financial assistance to support these infrastructural changes.
The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and others have mentioned ELMS—the environmental land management scheme—which is of course a central part of the Bill. It needs to be effective and attractive for farmers, while being deliverable by the Government. There therefore needs to be much greater support from the Government, not only in funding for equipment but in supporting new technologies, skills development and providing advice on signing up for new schemes.
Finally, as one of the large number of Scottish Peers I am glad to see speaking in today’s debate, I agree wholeheartedly with the noble Lords, Lord Bruce of Bennachie and Lord Wigley, and others. I too am keen to highlight the need for strong co-operation among all four nations of the United Kingdom. We saw the recently published report of the Constitution Committee highlighting the concerns about relations between the UK and the devolved Administrations. Disputes between the UK Government and the devolved nations are in danger of becoming increasingly likely after Brexit. Can the Minister, in summing up on this debate, give the Committee an indication of what work the Government are doing to proactively and effectively engage with the home nations to ensure that, where there are areas of devolved competence, there is as much co-operation as possible?
I speak in support of Amendment 66, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Wigley. If the UK had not been in the EU in 1997 when it started along the road to devolution, it would have been obliged to give more thought to the relationship between the four nations. As it was, EU regulations ensured common standards across a range of areas so that while agriculture was a devolved power in Scotland, most of the rules came from Europe. If the UK had not been a member of the EU when devising a system of devolution, there would have had to be much closer consideration of how decisions would be made on areas of common interest that cross territorial divides. That process would inevitably have resulted in changes to how Westminster interacted with the devolved Administrations and we may well have developed a more federal system of government.
However, we are where we are. In devising a way of recognising the rights and responsibilities of the four parts of the UK, there should be an acceptance that each Administration has parity of esteem. This will not be easily achieved when there is hostility, suspicion and concerns about Westminster power grabs. Whatever the reason for the lack of progress on common frameworks, the impact on the industry has been uncertainty, insecurity and concern for the future. For the politicians, it could further damage the prospect of ongoing co-operation, just at a time when that is vital for agriculture and other industries. However, I am pleased that the Minister will be moving an amendment that may alleviate some of the objections from the Scottish Government, who claim that the powers being given to the Secretary of State ought to require the consent of Scottish Ministers.
It is of course Northern Ireland that has been made integral to the withdrawal process. Just last week, your Lordships’ EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee completed a short inquiry on agri-food and the Northern Ireland protocol. The overwhelming view of those awaiting details of how the protocol will affect them was concern about the lack of meaningful government engagement. The fear is that any changes in standards will impact on the viability of Northern Ireland agriculture. There is real concern that the Bill does not provide sufficient safeguards.
If it is the case that we need a UK-wide internal market to replace the EU internal market, we have to work urgently to establish its rules of operation. It may have to involve a four-way arrangement, with each Administration having a right of veto. It cannot be the UK Government acting as a player in the discussions and then as final arbiter of the outcome. I hope that the Minister will take on board the issue of co-operation that the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, has raised with his amendment and that we can work for co-operation between the nations of the UK.
My Lords, I declare my interest as a Suffolk farmer. It must be a matter of real regret that the Second Reading of this important Bill was, in effect, guillotined. Only six hours were allocated for that debate, meaning that some 65 of the 90 Members who wished to speak were able to do so—and they had only four minutes each. Frankly, if there had been another two hours at least the other 30 Members could have been heard.
I am glad that we have my noble friend Lord Gardiner to shepherd us through what will be a complicated and controversial Bill, with this mass of amendments. He is one of the two finest Agriculture Ministers that we have had in the 29 years that I have been a Member of your Lordships’ House, the other being the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, who sorted out the shambles with the Rural Payments Agency, which his predecessors had failed to do. Although I was not one of the lucky ones to speak at Second Reading, I have, of course, read the whole of the debate. This first group of amendments covers a wide spectrum, so I make no apology for focusing on the context in which they should be considered.
The move from the confines of the EU’s CAP is a moment of both opportunity and danger. We should remember that the three objectives when the CAP was first established back in 1962 have not lost their relevance today. They were market unity, protection of that market and the need for financial stability in rural communities. The late Lord Cockfield, who I think was the United Kingdom’s second Commissioner in Brussels, used to describe the CAP as the marriage contract for Europe between France and Germany. France would accept German manufactures and Germany would look after French farmers. Both countries flourished in this marriage: German manufacturers came to dominate Europe, while France led Europe with a highly efficient and constantly modernising agricultural system.
Agriculture has, over the decades, been subjected to huge pressures and swings between prosperity and depression. Much can be learned by following the price of wheat. It had been at dangerously high levels, causing much social distress, in the first half of the 19th century. During the Napoleonic wars it reached £28 a ton, without allowing for inflation. That price was not reached again until 1953. Those high prices were of course helped by the 30 years of protection under the corn laws. After the American Civil War and the railways opening up corn-growing in the Midwest, a great agricultural recession reached Europe by about 1870, with wheat prices reaching as low as £5 a ton by 1894. After a revival to £15 during the First World War, there was another major agricultural depression during the 1930s, already referred to this afternoon, when wheat went back to £6 a ton. After a revival of output during World War II, there was a prolonged period of agricultural prosperity.
Farming has become hugely dependent on the common agricultural policy which, for many medium-sized farms, comes to an average of 70% of any taxable profit. In some years, it is well over 100%, but it is seldom under 35%. The idea that agricultural production can be sustained if a large proportion of this money is—[Inaudible] —schemes is high risk, as far as any sustainability of the food supply is concerned. That is why the basic concept of a Bill that says that public money is payable for public good only, and that food production is not a public good, is dangerous thinking, not just for farming, but for the whole rural economy. Above all—[Inaudible]—must be protected not by tariffs—[Inaudible]—food production or imported food—[Inaudible.]
The noble Lord, Lord Wigley, has described why it is essential that, although agriculture is devolved, financial support decisions intersect to affect all the UK. Wales has led the way with its legislation to look at the future generations principle, as set out by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford. We must also look to future generations in this legislation, recognising all partners in the legacy of the land and all it produces. The infrastructure to recognise this in practice must be in place.
The approach of the Government, in listening to Wales, has resulted in government amendments that Wales requested and I support. Collaborative working needs to be locked into a framework carried forward for future generations through clear financial arrangements that recognise diversity across the UK. Less favoured areas must be supported, as described by the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Bennachie, because support for variation in activities in farming results in far wider support to the economy in these areas. Devolution requires co-operation, and I hope that we will pursue Amendment 66 further.
Rather unusually, my Lords, I speak not to support an amendment but to oppose some. I live in Devon, owned Dartmoor ponies and share the concerns of the Dartmoor Pony Society and other Dartmoor groups about some of the amendments to Part 1 on financial assistance. These groups have no criticism of the present clauses and the financial assistance proposed is much welcome. We are concerned, because the amendments should not be accepted. There are two in the first group about which I wish to speak, Amendments 17 and 27.
The effect of these amendments is either to exclude or to reduce the preservation of the semi-wild ponies on Dartmoor. Amendment 17 does not include native ponies, because the definition of wildlife does not include it, so there is a problem with using “conserves”. Amendment 27, by leaving out “native livestock” and “native”, would completely exclude the semi-wild Dartmoor ponies, which are such an iconic part of Devon and English heritage. I therefore hope that these two amendments are not accepted.
My Lords, I asked to intervene on this group primarily to make a few general points, which relate to Clause 1 and the amendments to it, in this and subsequent groups. I also register my strong support for a couple of amendments that have already been spoken to. First, the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, spoke about the amendment relating to air pollution, which I strongly support. Secondly, Amendment 51 and other amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, relate to the public good that farming provides in relation to the rural community and economy.
I speak having been Agriculture Minister when the last dramatic change to the EU—and hence UK— subsidy policy was made in 2005 with the official reform. That did not go entirely well. As the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, said, it was introduced with administrative shambles here, although not quite so much in other countries. It was based on two premises that proved not to be the case. The first was that abolishing production subsidies would deliver us a multilateral trade agreement—the Doha round that never materialised. The second was that moving subsidy from production to the land would enable us to effectively ensure the environmental and agricultural status of all agricultural land, through a system of cross-compliance. Theoretically that has been the case and has worked in some places, but in many it has not, because of a lack of enforcement and clarity in the bureaucrats who were supposed to support it.
I strongly support the concept of public good in Clause 1 itself. However, we cannot get away from the fact that this introduces a system of subsidy that is substantially more complex than previous systems. The additional amendments, many of which I support in principle, probably make it more complicated. There is a need for farmers to relate to a much wider range of bodies than currently, not just in the way they practise farming but in their receipt of the subsidy—ranging from the Environment Agency to the water companies, private companies, local authorities and, presumably, the office for environmental protection and other bodies that will be set up by the Environment Bill and which we have not yet seen.
The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, warned us against putting everything into silos, and I recommend that the Government observe a number of principles in introducing this system. First, they should take it in stages. I therefore oppose any slow-down in the seven-year switchover period. Secondly, they need to require a system of whole-farm certification, in one form or another. That does not necessarily have to be onerous. It could include framework agreements for receipt of subsidies and be based on existing voluntary and commercial schemes. Thirdly, they need to provide a better system of advice and support to farmers. I mention ADAS; it does not have to be the same as ADAS, but farmers will need additional support. Fourthly and crucially, it needs to be made clear which bodies are responsible for which forms of support, and which for the responsibility of enforcement of standards and the conditions attaching support.
I favour multiple forms of support for farming, because farming has multiple outputs, but it is complex and the Government need to be clear, early in the process, what the bureaucratic structure is, how agencies will be co-ordinated, to what degree we can rely on commercial or voluntary arrangements and whether the agencies are adequately resourced and have adequate powers. If we do not get this right in the first year or two of switchover, there will be multiple problems later. The Government need to make this clear, because farming is not solely confined to itself. It is part of the rural economy and community, the food system, the nation’s health and diet, and the local, national and global environment. Government support needs to reflect all these dimensions but, for it to be a success, we need to be a lot clearer than the Bill and the Government currently are.
I also support Amendment 78, in the name of the noble Lords, Lord Bruce and Lord Greaves. Hill farms are of great concern, particularly the smaller ones, to me and many others. They are all marginal, almost by definition. More than their total profit comes from current forms of financial support. I have an amendment in a later group which seeks to protect the basic payment for the next three years for smaller farms in less favoured areas. All these farms, almost without exception, lose money, and they survive only through financial support, so, using the words in the amendment, I certainly support that Ministers should,
“have regard to maintaining support for”
these small farms. When the Minister replies, it would be very helpful if he could give us some reassurance on this matter. I also hope that the noble Lords, Lord Beith, Lord Greaves and Lord Wigley, may support my Amendment 149 which comes in a later group.
The third amendment which I shall support is Amendment 91, in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Devon. He specifically refers to wetlands. I think he has in mind lowland wetlands, but in many upland areas there are very important wetlands. They are an important absorber of carbon. Many of these upland wetland areas have sphagnum moss and other plants that absorb a great deal of carbon. If the noble Earl believes that it is advantageous to include wetlands in the definitions, I am happy to support him.
These three amendments would improve the Bill and, if they are brought back on Report, I will be happy to support them.
My Lords, I would like to make a general point about this group. We have a considerable number of amendments to Clause 1. They add further purposes for which the Secretary of State can give financial assistance. In my view, the Bill runs the risk of becoming a bit of a Christmas tree—everybody wants to hang a bauble on it. Many of these baubles are lovely. They highlight important activities which the new environmental land management scheme should support, such as integrated pest management and nature-friendly farming. I have signed to support some amendments, such as those on agroforestry and agroecology, so I am as guilty as many noble Lords in wanting to hang baubles on this Christmas tree as it passes. We all want our bauble to shine to impress on the Minister how vital they are so that he will consider whether these additions could be added to the Bill.
However, I think we need to examine our conscience and look at whether some of these proposals can be delivered under the current purposes in Clause 1, since they clearly come under the heading of improving the environment, mitigating climate change or improving soil et cetera. Many of them are about management practices rather than the purposes that those management practices are intended to deliver. So, although I will polish my baubles nicely when the amendments I have signed come up in order to impress on the Minister that they are important issues, I think we all have to ponder whether we really want the Christmas tree to crash to the ground overwhelmed by the weight of amendments in its first clause and to create an overly complicated framework for the future of agriculture and land management.
I shall also comment on those amendments in this group that could be interpreted as a return to payments directly for food production. We all know from the past that that distorted markets, encouraged environmental harm and ended up being a rather poor use of taxpayers’ money. The Bill needs to be much more visionary than that. It is a ground-breaking opportunity to set a new UK-based framework for agriculture. It needs to be focused with rapier precision, not a loose, baggy monster.
Finally, I support Amendment 1, which requires that the Secretary of State “must” fund the public goods that are listed in the Bill, rather than a discretionary “may”. We need a duty on the Secretary of State, not simply a power.
My Lords, I support Amendments 37 and 78. A great many noble Lords from all sides of the House have done so with great eloquence, so I will cut my speech short. The Bill needs to be beefed up in relation to pasture-fed grazing systems and support for hill farms and other marginal land.
In speaking as I do, I declare an interest in addition to those set out in the register as a patron of the Exmoor Pony Society and as someone with a particular interest in the conservation of rare breeds. I follow on from the remarks that have already been made by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss. Version 1 of the Agriculture Bill contained no provisions such as those which are now set out in Clause 1(1)(g), which provides the possibility of financial assistance for,
“conserving native livestock, native equines or genetic resources relating to any such animal.”
In tandem with the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, who I think is going to speak later, if this version 2 Bill had emerged with the same deficiency, we had intended to try to introduce just such a provision, so I am grateful that this second version made good that deficit as a result of a number of approaches from the Rare Breeds Survival Trust and many others, assisted, I do not doubt, by the Secretary of State for the Environment’s personal knowledge and appreciation of the value of the British Lop pig, a breed on the endangered species list.
It was therefore with some dismay that I saw Amendment 27, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, which proposes to widen the clause from native livestock to all livestock at a time when we all know that funds are going to be very limited. Were he to succeed, he would so water down the provision that the very purpose of this paragraph would be rendered pointless. The Explanatory Notes to the Bill say that it is,
“to provide financial assistance for measures to support the conservation and maintenance of UK native Genetic Resources relating to livestock or equines.”
A dilution of such funds as are likely to be available would necessarily weaken our ability to meet our obligations under Aichi target 13 of the biodiversity convention and United Nations sustainable development goal 2.5, both of which require us to conserve the diversity of our livestock breeds.
The amendment would remove something which I believe could be a means of encouraging and incentivising farmers to invest in rare and native breeds, many of which have gone already. We are only just at the very beginning of an appreciation of the genetic bank that we possess in relation to our native breeds. We are only just beginning to carry out widespread genetic testing, which is revealing just how precious and potentially valuable some of those genetic qualities are. A genetic ability to cope with extreme weather conditions, such as that possessed by the Dartmoor hill ponies of the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, the ability to thrive on inferior pasture, like the Exmoor pony, and docility, good mothering abilities and not running to excess fat, like George Eustice’s British Lop pigs, have not just an actual value but a potential one, which is as yet often unknown.
Some people still keep these breeds because they like them, out of tradition or sentiment, or due to local culture, which is not unimportant. However, without an incentive to farmers to conserve them, which is often the case at present, many have been lost and many more are under threat. Clause 1(1)(g) is their lifeline, and I hope that it will not be cut.
My Lords, I wish to add to the remarks made by one or two participants about being balloted out of the Second Reading. That was most unfortunate. With other major Bills in the pipeline, I hope it will be possible to ensure that alternative mechanisms are found to enable people to fully participate.
I will speak specifically to Amendment 7, in the name of my noble friend Lord Caithness, which refers to growing crops for biofuel. Biofuels are something that we in Northern Ireland know a little about, because we have had one of the greatest financial scandals ever on the back of them. The renewable heating scheme was designed to replace the use of carbon-based fuels with more natural products, but of course it collapsed. Nevertheless, the point made in the amendment is important, and we need to ensure that it is included. If we are to meet our environmental targets over the years, we need to include not only fuels that are currently available but fuels that may subsequently become available—otherwise a great opportunity will be lost.
A number of Members have referred to hill farms, and that is a huge issue for us in this part of the country. But there is a wider point I want to make to the Minister—one which is perhaps not fully understood. Whatever is in the Bill, the fact remains that, to all intents and purposes, we remain, in very large measure, within the European Union as far as agriculture is concerned. Therefore, amendments that we will come to later in the Bill, including one of my own on standards, become progressively more important.
In many respects, the Government have refused to concede or acknowledge the reality of what they have agreed with the European Union in the protocol that deals with Northern Ireland. Even this week, as we are having this debate, people here are talking about building border control posts and asking how many acres need to be set aside to provide for suitable inspections.
In many respects this Bill is taking place in a vacuum, in that some of us are still bound, as far as state aid is concerned, and will have to comply fully with all that. Perhaps the Minister will address this in his winding-up speech, but I wonder whether he and his colleagues fully appreciate the downstream consequences of this as we go forward. If trade deals are done with other countries and cheap food emerges, we in Northern Ireland will still be bound by European Union standards; our farmers will have to ensure that welfare and other matters are fully adhered to. So if imports are not protected and we do not get the adequate standards in the Bill, our farmers will be at a huge disadvantage.
The noble Lord, Lord Wigley, referred to a framework, but the framework we already have is the CAP and the standards that flow from it. In other words, we will end up with a two-track agriculture system in the United Kingdom—and we should bear in mind that agriculture is a much more significant part of our economy in Northern Ireland than it is in the UK economy as a whole.
I hope that the Minister, in winding up on this group, will be kind enough to address this issue and tell us how it is proposed to ensure that we have at least a parallel process in the United Kingdom, given that one part of it will be governed by the European Union, into which we will have no input, and yet the rest of the country will not. That is the dilemma that we face here.
My Lords, I want to pick up where the noble Lord, Lord Empey, has just left off on the hugely important issue of co-operation between different parts of the United Kingdom.
Amendment 66, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, looks to be superfluous, as I assume that the Minister will tell us that there is absolutely nothing to prevent a framework for agricultural co-operation between England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland by the free will of their respective Governments. The issue, then, is not whether a legal power is needed—I assume that no legal power is needed—but what machinery the Government envisage will be needed to promote co-operation between England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland on agriculture and the environment; I am not aware that any such machinery is in place at the moment. I think that the Committee would be grateful if the Minister could address that point. It is about not just ongoing talks but what institutional machinery there will be to promote co-operation.
The noble Lord, Lord Empey, has just raised a very important point. In respect of co-operating with Northern Ireland, that means co-operating with the EU. As so often in our debates, I am afraid that everything comes back to Brexit.
This relates also a very important amendment in this very large group which has barely been discussed, because there are so many other issues. Amendment 234, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, proposes that:
“The Secretary of State must establish a service to provide a means for farmers to associate, and to support, advise and assist them to deliver improvements in food security, nutrition and environmental standards.”
In respect of agriculture and the environment, this strikes me as a very similar role to that which NICE—the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence—plays in respect of the NHS, as an independent body promoting best practice on the basis of thorough research and engagement. Most people who have experience of the NICE arrangements in the NHS think that they work well, have by and large promoted good practice, and to some extent have helped to depoliticise what would otherwise be very thorny issues.
Amendment 234, and the body that the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, envisages, looks to me to be a very good move, and I hope that the Minister will be able to indicate a willingness to consider it. It may be that we could work this up into a proposal between now and Report. I cannot think of any good argument against it, including from the Government’s perspective, because it is in the interests of the Government that a body of impartial evidence and the promotion of best practice are encouraged.
This comes back to the issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, in Amendment 66. I am a supporter of devolution, and it is to my great regret that, in the past 20 years, Scotland and Wales have tended, as a matter of reflex, to define themselves against what England does. I think that sometimes they are right to do so and sometimes they are wrong to do so. To my huge regret, often what happens in Scotland and Wales is not a decision about whether or not policies are better than those in England, but just wanting to be different from England.
There is a real danger for the management of environment and agricultural support that Scotland, Wales and to a lesser extent Northern Ireland—Northern Ireland is effectively still part of the EU—will seek to define themselves against England for the sake of doing so. That would be hugely regrettable. Therefore, machinery to promote co-operation is important. An impartial best-practice body of the kind envisaged in Amendment 234 could act as a means to promote co-operation between the constituent parts of the UK. It would not be the Government in London seeking to promote in any partisan way their own policies and the interests of England; rather, if this works well, it would be serious experts and a serious process of promoting consensus that could, if that is done, even though it starts off being in respect of only England, have an impact on promoting co-operation between Scotland and Wales. It could also interact with the European Union, which would be good in its own right, but also enormously beneficial for relations with Northern Ireland.
I will speak to Amendment 83 to Clause 1, in particular the work that my noble friend Lord Greaves mentioned. I will highlight the issue of catchment areas and draw attention to the fact that, while they create great difficulty in some areas of the country, they also do so in some of the most favoured areas, if I may put it that way.
The catchment areas in question are a series of spring-fed chalk streams and their seasonal winterbournes, which define the landscape around Winchester in north Hampshire. Many people know that they are famed for their world-class fly fishing for the most favoured in the rivers Test and Itchen, and for the watercress industry around Alresford. The unique landscape is a product of human as well as natural history, providing drinking water for Southampton and, at one time, pure water for banknote watermarking at the De La Rue works near Basingstoke.
In the last 50 years—certainly while I have lived in the area—more than half of all wildlife species have declined across the UK, never more so than in Hampshire’s winterbourne and watercress landscape, including its conservation areas, sites of special scientific interest and areas of outstanding natural beauty. Historically, efforts to protect rivers and their ecology focused on the channel and possibly the immediate floodplain. There now needs to be an increasing awareness that a river system is inherently linked to and affected by its wider catchment.
The water framework directive recognises this and requires a holistic view of the needs of the freshwater environment. It identified the pressures affecting Hampshire’s seven headwater chalk streams and set targets for the improvement of the chemical and ecological status of each. It also required stakeholders to be involved in local decision-making and delivery. Clearly, the quality of the water in these headwater chalk streams is critical, contributing as the streams do to the Test and Itchen river systems and the groundwater resource they share.
It therefore has to be a cause of considerable concern that recent surveys have shown that all the streams are at risk from excessive levels of nutrients, sediment and pesticides, the worst case being the River Alre, which is literally on my doorstep. The lake behind a weir, built in the 16th century to control the river waters before entering Alresford’s watercress beds, is heavily polluted with nitrates and phosphates, largely due to agricultural run-off. The Environment Agency is understood to have recently tested the water in the River Alre above the lake and found it below standard. An industrial-scale salad-washing plant is nearby and is licensed to use the river water to wash all pesticides and other chemicals from salads imported from Europe and elsewhere for distribution across the UK.
Apparently, the Environment Agency is required to negotiate with polluters over infringements rather than close them, with predictable results. The Agriculture Bill should present an opportunity to strengthen this rather toothless organisation to tackle this extremely harmful abuse. To give just one example, Salmon & Trout Conservation considers the presence of these pesticides responsible for the marked decline in Gammarus freshwater shrimp, the foodstuff of the trout of the river.
I draw your Lordships’ attention to the UK Progress on Reducing Nitrate Pollution report from the other place. Have the Government taken action to take up and recognise the recommendations made by the committee that produced the report? They will be essential to tackle this hugely damaging problem of nitrates in our watercourses, water tables and water catchments.
My Lords, as one of the silenced ones at Second Reading, I must begin by declaring my interests in the register. In particular, I point to the fact that I farm, have land and am involved in land management in Cumbria. I endorse the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, and a number of other noble Lords about the condition of the uplands.
Although this afternoon should have been the second day of the Second Reading—after all, the Bill is not due to conclude until September—I do not propose to make a Second Reading speech. Rather, perhaps unusually, I intend to follow the recommendation of the Government Front Bench not to be repetitious. I have heard the various contributions made across the Floor of the House and it is clear that they run with the grain of my thinking through this discussion of the first group of amendments, many of which would improve, refine and calibrate the general principles on the Bill. It is necessary to be clear what the generalities might in turn entail.
Many of your Lordships have said that we are at a very important point of change—perhaps as important as joining the CAP or even the great radical changes of the 1940s. In fact, I suspect it is a more important change, because we have not only political and administrative changes; they are combined with very far-reaching scientific and social change and a great deal of enhanced environmental consciousness. That is why I join a number of your Lordships in saying that it is a great pity that this legislation is not being run in substantive tandem with the new environmental legislation due to come on to the statute book. The underlying reality is that many of the Bill’s provisions cannot be free-standing in their own terms. The remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, were particularly important in this context when he talked about the complications and importance of systems and administration.
We must also bear in mind that if we do not recognise that finance is an issue, we are all of us really just whistling in the wind. First, farming and land-use changes are both long term and cost money. They cannot be done instantly, and the money frequently has to be spent up front. On top of that, as we leave the CAP—a policy which, in popular perception at least, has succeeded rather improbably in combining enriching barley barons with feather-bedding French peasants—the standard of living of many people involved in agriculture in the British countryside has been declining in real terms. I would like to see the reversal of that process emerge from the political and administrative changes being discussed this afternoon.
As your Lordships may know, I am chairman of the Cumbria Local Enterprise Partnership and, as such, one of the NP11. We are engaged, with many others, in trying to level up the north. In many ways, agriculture has many of the economic attributes of the north of England and it too deserves levelling up.
My Lords, my interests, all unremunerated so far as they are relevant to the Bill, are listed in the register. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner, as he listens to these amendments, will be encouraged and proud that he has stimulated so much interest among his fellow Peers and that so many are anxious to help him ensure that the Bill is as effective as it should be. I always enjoy following the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood. As someone who lives in Cumbria, he has illustrated again today why he is held in such widespread respect. He always speaks with knowledge, experience, balance and wisdom and we should be grateful for that.
I strongly support Amendment 83, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves—in many ways, I wish I had put my name to it. If financial assistance is to be effective, it must be informed by reconnaissance and strategic understanding of all that is associated with the specific objective for which it is being given. This amendment makes a terrific contribution to the quality of the Bill by pointing out that it is essential to look at all the other activities, many of which will be receiving government assistance in their own right, and to make sure that what is being done fully harmonises with them. It strengthens the effectiveness of what is being sought. It also makes for better financial accountability, because it is possible to see how relevant the financial support really is. It does a great deal to enhance the potential contribution being made. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, has done a great service by bringing to bear his considerable experience on the front line of local government and rural affairs. I hope that he will pursue this issue on Report, if necessary, and that the Minister will feel able to respond positively.
My Lords, I will speak briefly on Amendments 5, 17 and 27, in the name of my noble friend Lord Lucas. I declare my interest as a landowner and land manager, and as Master of the Horse. My concerns centre on the fact that the breeds of semi-wild, native ponies on Dartmoor and Exmoor, and in the New Forest, are, in some cases, on the critically endangered list, yet represent important gene pools which we lose at our peril. These genetic resources could offer a sustainable way to increase food production and/or improve our capacity to adapt to climate change. They could also help us tackle the emergence of new animal or plant diseases by contributing to a breadth of genetic traits. As has been found in areas such as plant science, genes from ancient species can help us tackle 21st-century problems. These ponies do not fit neatly within the definition of wildlife, any more than they do within that of livestock. Amendments 5 and 17 could mean that the potential financial support and protections currently offered by the Bill for semi-wild pony herds is significantly impaired.
For the same reason, like the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, I have significant—perhaps greater—concerns about Amendment 27. Removing the word “native” would destroy the whole reason behind the clause, changing its meaning entirely. The Explanatory Notes point out that the clause is concerned with
“the conservation and maintenance of UK native Genetic Resources relating to livestock or equines.”
As the noble Baroness said, Amendment 27 might also inhibit the UK’s ability to comply with our obligations under Aichi target 13 of the biodiversity convention and sustainable development goal 2.5, which require us to conserve the genetic diversity of the UK’s livestock breeds. If Amendment 27 were upheld, it could lead to the waste of a great deal of public money because it would support investment in any breed, without differentiation. I am afraid that I cannot, therefore, support these amendments.
My Lords, I will say a few words in support of Amendment 78. I come from a long line of sheep farmers and I have no financial interest to declare, other than that my brothers, nephews and nieces continue the long family tradition. As I said at Second Reading, I am fully aware that the Bill applies to England and that it is for the devolved Governments to phrase their own financial provision, as they should, agriculture having been devolved. However, there is, allowing for divergence, an emphasis on a single UK market. For some years, the agreement reached with the Welsh Government will make that provision. My noble friend Lord Adonis coupled Wales with Scotland. He failed to understand the different approaches of Wales and Scotland in the agreements they have reached. The Welsh Government will, I suspect—hope—take fully on board what happens in England in the way agricultural support is drafted, and draft legislation suitable for the needs of Wales.
I will make three points. First, hill farmers operate on very narrow margins and survive, to some extent, on the present financial assistance. Secondly, there is only limited opportunity for alternative uses of the hills and marginal lands. Thirdly, there are possibilities for encouraging other financial uses of premises, particularly for tourism. It would be a great loss to the country, and to my nation in particular, if any substantial part of the hill farming industry went out of existence. The loss would not be confined to those engaged in the industry; it would affect those who enjoy the countryside and who visit the area from time to time.
Bearing in mind Gray’s elegy, an empty countryside would be very much less attractive to everyone. Hence, we need a policy for hill and marginal land. Do we believe in maintaining them, and to what extent? What financial support should we contemplate? This is crucial, so that such farmers can plan for the future. It would be an enormous loss to the whole country if we allowed hill farmers and marginal farmers to wither on the vine. I am therefore anxious to hear the Government spell out in detail their plans, so that those farmers know where they stand, what they can look forward to and what other financial support they can hope to receive.
My Lords, in the new farming environment there will be many challenges, which undoubtedly will affect some, if not all, of the four nations of the United Kingdom. In these circumstances, co-operation is not just desirable but necessary; that is why I support Amendment 66. Looking around us, we see the absence of co-operation between all four nations in relation to the virus. This should be an example to us of the importance of co-operation when it comes to agriculture. It is better to have an existing framework for Westminster, Cardiff, Edinburgh and Belfast than to deal with issues on the basis of ad hoc responses.
I have a few comments to add to the remarks of my noble friend Lord Bruce of Bennachie on Amendment 78. Support for what used to be the less favoured areas constitutes a set of public goods. First, it allows farming to continue in a viable business fashion. Secondly, it avoids the risk of land abandonment. Thirdly, it helps to maintain continued agricultural use. Of course, all three help to combat depopulation. But it goes further than that. Agriculture support helps to preserve communities and services such as education, and to maintain social infrastructure in areas where population is thinner than it is in the towns. Amendments 66 and 78 warrant support.
My Lords, I have enormous sympathy for my noble friend on the Front Bench. This debate is all-embracing; I take a specialist interest in horticulture and forestry, but I feel almost out of my depth here. It reminds me of the Maastricht treaty, but I remind my noble friend the Minister: that was a Bill of four clauses, 500 amendments in order and 25 days of sitting, with three all-night sittings. Having said that, I am going to be brief, as there are only two amendments that I wish to comment on.
One is Amendment 5 in the name of my noble friend Lord Lucas, in which he suggests substituting “conserves” for “protects or improves”. In the debate, he reflected that “enhance” would be better. I think he is right, and I ask my noble friend the Minister to consider that.
Secondly, Amendment 7, in the name of my noble friend Lord Caithness, is quite important, inserting the phrase
“including growing crops for bioenergy”.
This is a vital area. I had the privilege of being on the energy Select Committee when there were the beginnings of some thinking about this. That was quite a long time ago, but if we are serious about carbon capture and storage, as I think we are in this country—there is a great deal moving forward on that—farmers must be encouraged to grow crops for bioenergy, assuming that the soil is suitable, et cetera.
I very much hope that my noble friend the Minister will be able to accept my noble friend Lord Caithness’s Amendment 7.
My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, when opening the debate, observed that Clause 1 gives Ministers powers, not duties, so the financial assistance objectives of the Bill are only permissive and thus inevitably subject to the economic context in which it all becomes operational. It is all very well trying to allocate the most appropriate slices of the financial cake, as all amendments in this group do, but the overall size of that cake is the more critical issue for 2021 and beyond. Every single one of the bids for inclusion is at risk if the cake is drastically shrunken.
I said at Second Reading that I have no interests to declare, but in addition to substantial constituency and Commons responsibilities, until last year I had a small shareholding in a large farming company, and over the years, that enterprise had dairy and substantial arable interests, as well as renewable energy projects. I hope I can claim, therefore, to take an informed interest in the economic health of agriculture and rural areas.
The Bill is a legislative pig in a poke. Perhaps inevitably, but with dire consequences, it is entirely dependent on its context, and in the last week, since Second Reading, the likely context has deteriorated still further. First, the Government, for absurdly obstinate and dogmatic doctrinal reasons, refused to even consider giving the Brexit negotiators more room for manoeuvre by extending the transition. Secondly, Mr Frost then failed again to make any progress in the current discussions. Growers of fruit, vegetables and flowers are all too familiar with substantial frost damage. However, this frost damage is on an incalculable scale. We seem destined to charge towards a really bad deal for British agriculture, or, even worse, no deal at all. In his otherwise very comprehensive letter to us all on 29 June, the Minister completely failed to acknowledge this unprecedented uncertainty. He could make no concrete commitments. How could he, with the Covid-19 recession heading towards us at breakneck speed?
There are global trends to which our industry is especially vulnerable; for example, the failure of Trump’s attempt to build a market for US crops in China has left powerful American agribusinesses desperate to dump into the UK. On top of those major challenges, the combination of the Covid-19 recession and the Brexit failures is producing a uniquely unfavourable financial combination for UK farmers and growers, and the longer the crisis lasts, the nastier the results will be. For example, farmers will start to produce less. We are already experiencing the impact of having few of the 90,000 pickers we usually have from Europe. There will be resultant harvest losses. Then there is scarce credit. As operations slow down, loan terms are extended, cash is trapped and lenders are reluctant to finance commodities and are wary of volatile currencies. Governments everywhere will get scared. Export controls or attempted bans will cause price rises and shortages, with deprived communities hit disproportionately hard.
This all adds up to all the sectors of UK agriculture and horticulture finding it impossible to plan or invest in a climate of unprecedented uncertainty, just as the Government will be grappling with the worst economic crisis since the Second World War, and here, I thought the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, were very relevant. In these circumstances, Ministers can hardly be blamed for being so vague about the multiannual financial assistance plan specified in Clause 4. I am willing to bet that this appears only much later in the year, long after the Bill has reached the statute book.
In his letter, the Minister wrote:
“The Government intends to provide more detail about the early years of the transition, including Direct Payments and future schemes, in the autumn.”
I warn farmers and growers not to expect a cheerful Christmas present. With all the other competing claims—the NHS, the care sector, schools, reviving our already hard-pressed manufacturing sector and trying to stabilise service industries that are forced out of Europe—the Treasury is never going to be very generous to farmers.
Clearly, No. 10 plans to bury Brexit under the Covid-19 recession, but it risks burying large numbers of farmers and growers in the process, with calamitous consequences for consumers and for the nation’s food security. These amendments are crucial. They require the Government to be realistic and frank, because empty promises are literally worthless.
My Lords, I am very pleased to be back in the Chamber after nearly 15 weeks, and to reflect on what the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, and others have said about the need to accommodate more Members and get back to normal as quickly as possible. I have a personal interest in that I have discovered that I am very poor at reading a speech into a computer microphone, or even improvising, and whatever skills I have in oratory, humour and irony are absolutely wasted when online—not that I intend to draw on all three of those this afternoon.
I want to reinforce points made by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, and the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, and to comment on the speech by my old—not in age but in longevity of friendship—friend, the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher. For those who do not know, the city of Sheffield incorporates in its boundaries a substantial part of the Peak District; in fact, a third of the landmass of Sheffield is in the Peak park. For the benefit of the noble Baroness, I can say that it is not, like some other cities, tatty—I think that was the word used by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves—land on the edge of the city. It is an essential part of the Peak park, as well as a breathing space, as it always has been, for the city itself.
The reason I mention it is that, as lockdown diminished—this was not one of those forays to discover whether I could drive a car safely—I went out into the area, still in Sheffield, around the Redmires Reservoir, and heard a curlew, one of the greatest sounds you can imagine. As the speeches this afternoon have emphasised, I simply want to say that in conserving as well as developing our agriculture, we should nurture the natural environment. I am all in favour of growing trees—they have to be the right trees—but we need our moorlands. On a point about water-gathering and conservation, we need to understand the essential nature of upland wet areas, particularly the peat bogs, which 13 years ago dried out to the point where, at around this time, in late June or early July, we had the most enormous flooding. At that time, civil servants told the Secretary of State, who happened—and continues —to be a friend of mine, that we were exaggerating when we said we had a problem. When the RAF lifted people by helicopter off the Meadowhall shopping centre, and when a 14-tonne piece of equipment was lifted out of its moorings and swept 100 yards from the Forgemasters factory in the lower Don Valley, I think they may have changed their minds. We need to be aware of what we do, how it affects our environment and why the Environment Bill that is to be brought forward and this legislation should go hand in hand.
I want to comment briefly on land management. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, is right to indicate that small farmers—tenant farmers, herdsmen—have a job surviving; they use their skills to try to make a sufficient living from keeping the countryside working. But I say to the noble Earl, Lord Devon, that there are large landlords who, like the Duke of Devonshire—no relation —have been struggling to manage the watercourse. They have been working to defend the river running through the land around Chatsworth House from the scourge of American crayfish—which is not one of the breeds that I hope we will be protecting so Amendment 27 is, perhaps, not appropriate after all. They have been trying to do this by persuading Defra to give them a licence so that, having dealt with these crayfish under proper regulations so that nobody thinks of farming them, they can dispose of the fish in a way that allows them to cover the enormous costs involved. I am talking about 20,000 crayfish per year from a stretch of water of just two miles, which destroy the embankments, undermine the area around and are incredibly dangerous in relation to flooding.
All these things go hand in hand. My plea this afternoon is that, as we go through this Bill in Committee and on Report, we reserve for amendments those things that are in synergy with each other, to ensure that the Bill comes out not as a Christmas tree but as a good English pine.
My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, and strongly endorse his remarks with respect to the need to get back to this House properly, as soon as possible. I declare an interest as a trustee of the Fonthill Estate in Wiltshire, as listed in the register. I have read and considered all 36 of the amendments in this group and believe that the majority are unnecessary, even if they are well intentioned.
My noble friend Lord Lucas likes to use the verb “conserve” and attributes to it a meaning wider than words such as “protect” and “improve”. I sympathise with his intention to broaden the scope of the purposes for which the Secretary of State may provide financial assistance, but I am not sure that his suggestion to use “conserve” actually clarifies approved purposes, except in the cases of species of animals and plants.
My noble friend Lord Dundee and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, seek in Amendment 1 to clarify whether the Secretary of State really will provide financial assistance for the activities listed in Clause 1. I should have thought that this was obvious, but I welcome this amendment if it will encourage my noble friend the Minister to be much more specific in informing your Lordships of how much financial assistance will be made available under the ELMS scheme, and whether it will completely compensate for the loss of direct support payments, which will hit farming businesses hard in 2021.
It may be true that the larger estates are better able to survive the withdrawal of direct payments, but it is also true that the larger farming businesses employ a large majority of agricultural workers, and the prospects for those currently furloughed to return to the payroll will be enhanced if the Government can give a lot more clarity on how businesses can mitigate the loss of direct payments. Indeed, it should be made possible for those who are particularly innovative and active in introducing new, environmentally friendly practices to receive more than they have been receiving under the present system.
The noble Earl, Lord Devon, proposes changing the public’s
“enjoyment of the countryside, farmland or woodland”
to specific public health benefits deriving from agricultural land. However, his amendment would remove reference to “the countryside”, a general term, and to woodland. It is easier for landowners to provide access to woodland than to agricultural land under cultivation, and I am not sure what health benefits he refers to. He also seeks to remove water from the scope of the Bill. I am not sure if this is because he thinks the land includes inland waterways and lakes or whether he thinks it does not have much to do with agriculture. In terms of what the Bill seeks to do, water is obviously less important than land, if only by the very much greater area that it comprises. I have some sympathy with his wish to remove livestock from Clause 1(1)(d), if only because the management of crops should perhaps also be included.
While in no way do I disagree with the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, that reducing air pollution is an excellent and necessary thing, I do not think it necessary to include it four times in this clause. Air pollution damages the environment but the very first purpose that qualifies for financial assistance is to protect or improve the environment, and I would have thought that that obviously included reducing air pollution as well as other forms of it.
Again, while I strongly believe that the management of landscapes and biodiversity is surely protected and may be improved through the greater use of pasture-fed grazing, I would have thought that Amendment 37 in the name of my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering and Amendment 45 in the name of my noble friend Lord Dundee could be better dealt with by widening the purpose contained in Clause 1(1)(f) to protect or improve the health or welfare of livestock. I am not quite sure what the reason is for the separation of the purposes contained in Clause 1(1) from those in Clause 1(2).
I am interested in Amendment 66 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Wigley. It surprises me that the powers that have been and will be returned to this country after we leave the EU should sensibly be handed to the devolved Administrations. Even if overarching framework powers for agriculture had not already been surrendered to the European Commission, I rather doubt that they would have been devolved to the three nations because it would have been recognised that a UK-wide national framework had enormous advantages for the whole United Kingdom. The powers that were devolved were just those that could sensibly be operated relatively locally but within a Europe-wide framework. He is quite right that we need a United Kingdom-wide national framework for agriculture.
Amendment 76, proposed by my noble friend Lord Dundee, suggests that payments might be greater to those farmers who pursue measures designed to support multiple purposes among those listed under Clause 1(1). The amendment calls for much more clarity from the Government as to how farmers’ contributions to these purposes will be measured and how they will be rewarded, otherwise farmers cannot plan for the future. Clearly they should be given enough information so that they can plan for how their businesses will change from the beginning of next year.
My Lords, we have engaged in a long and wide-ranging debate on part of the first clause of this Bill, as tends to be your Lordships’ practice in Committee. The first clause of any Bill sets the tone for the rest of the Bill, and in this case, since agriculture is moving from direct payments under the EU CAP and into UK law, it is quite right that the powers surrounding financial assistance should be at the front of the Bill.
As we have seen from the debate on this group of 36 amendments, there are a range of views about what measures should or should not be included in the list of purposes for which the Secretary of State can give financial assistance. Some 40 Peers have spoken this afternoon, only 20 fewer than took part at Second Reading. The way that Second Reading was organised shut out a list of important Peers from contributing to this debate, and that could have been avoided by spreading the debate over two days. Like other Peers, I believe that the Government have a lot of lessons to learn from that.
The noble Earl, Lord Dundee, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, feel that the Secretary of State “must” give assistance to all items in the list, and that this should not be left to his or her discretion but enshrined in the Bill. I support that view but there is a question mark over the number of additions that would be made to the list. There is huge uncertainty in the farming community about what is going to happen and how those who manage the land, grow crops, tend animals and produce food are going to make a living. The Bill presents an opportunity to move forward and away from what many saw as the straitjacket of the CAP funding, but this needs to be done in a way that will provide reassurance for all concerned, especially farmers. While I would normally support flexibility as likely to provide the best solution, in this case I feel that “must” is the only way to produce that reassurance.
My noble friend Lord Teverson spoke about the need for the nature recovery strategies to work together with ELMS. I support this view but note the objection to it from the noble Earl, Lord Caithness.
Water management is key to land management. The noble Earl, Lord Devon, would like water removed from the list in Clause 1(1) while the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, would like to know how flood mitigation will be provided for, how new reservoirs will be funded and whether that will be under the Reservoirs Act 1975. How we make provision for the management of our water resources is key to the success of land management and food production. The noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, made links with the Environment Bill and I support that view; it is key that the two Bills are worked together.
Opposition to Amendment 27, which would take out “native”, has come from several noble Lords: the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, and the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss. I support them in opposing the amendment; I think it unwise to broaden the clause.
I was interested in Amendment 7 tabled by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, regarding growing crops for bioenergy, and others have supported it. However, we should tread carefully here. The spectre of growing bioethanol crops in South America to power domestic vehicles in the West led to the start of the destruction of the rainforest in a gallop to plant palms to provide oil for this purpose. We have all seen the disastrous results of that and the massive loss of habitat of some of the world’s most iconic species. Great care is needed.
Many noble Lords have referred to the very wide range of the Bill, expressing concern that the agricultural budget will be spread too thinly. I would be grateful to hear the Minister’s response on that.
The reduction of air pollution is important and needs to be a thread that runs through the various clauses of the Bill. I look forward to the Minister’s response to the points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, supported by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty.
Several noble Lords also spoke about how co-operation between the devolved Administrations will take place. These include the noble Lords, Lord Wigley, Lord Thomas of Gresford, Lord Foulkes and Lord Empey, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Bryan of Partick and Lady Finlay. It is really important that the devolved Administrations are fully involved in what is going on.
Many noble Lords are attempting to widen the scope of Clause 1 to be in effect a catch-all. Hill farming, as described by my noble friend Lord Bruce of Bennachie, has been the subject of many debates in this Chamber. Despite warm words from the Government, we have still not received a firm commitment that hill farmers will receive support—that is, unless the contribution from Defra to suggest grazing bison on the uplands is serious. That would appear to be in direct conflict with one of the main aims of the Bill, improving accessibility to the countryside. There is a world of difference between walking along an open footpath through a hillside of sheep and attempting to do that through a herd of bison. These areas are heavily dependent on subsidies but are part of the public good and deserve support in future, despite being classified as less favoured areas.
Given that the Bill is only a framework, it was inevitable that increasing its scope would be a prime objective for all taking part in this opening debate. Many of the amendments are vital to the success of a proper agricultural policy in England. Many deserve to be covered in other Bills, some in the upcoming Environment Bill. We have a long sitting in front of us and I look forward to the Minister’s response.
I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken on their amendments today. We have indeed had a very wide-ranging debate, and many of those amendments have set the scene for more detailed discussions that we will have elsewhere in the Bill as we journey through it. However, we do not get the opportunity to reshape the future of agriculture in the UK very often, so it is right that we debate and test the boundaries of what is possible within the constraints of a public subsidy as far as it can go. The fact that so many amendments have been tabled is a measure of a real enthusiasm among noble Lords to shape the legislation for the next generation into something that we can be proud of, but also something with which we can learn the lessons of the past.
As many noble Lords have said, their amendments are probing amendments, which do just that. As such, we welcome many of the intentions behind those amendments. I will come back to some of the specifics shortly, but I will make a couple of general points first.
First, we believe that the Bill is broadly on the right track and we welcome the improvements that have already been made since it was introduced. The underlying principle of public money for public goods is important and it is right that we should incentivise those who work on our land to restore and improve the natural environment.
Secondly, however we look at it, we are dealing with a limited pot of money. It would be a brave person who thought that we would get more than the £3 billion a year which the Government have already promise and— who knows—the economic crisis might even put that promise on the line. We will deal with the detail of how that money is to be divided up and allocated when we discuss amendments to later clauses, but we need to be wary of spreading too widely the purposes for which that money can be allocated. This point was well made by a number of noble Lords, and I liked my noble friend Lady Young of Old Scone’s analogy of a Christmas tree, with its baubles crashing down, overweighed with good intentions.
What we do not want is for existing active farmers, with the good will and enthusiasm to embrace good environmental practices, to find that they cannot access sufficient financial assistance to make their farm pay. I agree with my noble friend Lord Whitty that there is a danger of creating a very complex system of payments and tiers of regulations which is no better than the system that we had in the past. We do not want farmers to find that that very bureaucracy prevents them accessing the money to which they are entitled. We cannot make light of this, because the impact of the Covid pandemic has illustrated all too starkly that many farm incomes are indeed in a perilous position. We cannot replace one bureaucracy with another, and we need to make sure that the income of our farming communities, when they agree with the new ambitions that we have, is secure. As I have said before, this is a delicate balance between the environment and agriculture, and it is our responsibility to make sure that we get that balance right as we work our way through the Bill.
Thirdly, the one fundamental area in the Bill where I do not think the Government have got it right is food policy—the importance of farmers producing healthy food and contributing to greater UK food stability. We will return to this in later groups, but it is flagged up in this group in Amendment 234 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, which talks about better advice for farmers in order to deliver improved food security and nutrition. I agree with all of that, but the advice should be expert advice. We have some later amendments about the need to put some limits on the number of advisers and consultants who will try to move into this space, when really what we need is for the money to go to its core purpose.
I turn to some of the amendments. The noble Earls, Lord Devon and Lord Dundee, and other noble Lords referred to the need for farming to play its part in mitigating climate change. We agree, and that the management and protection of soils and peatlands can play a huge role in good agricultural practice, as well as mitigating climate change. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, raised the important issue of the impact of agriculture on air pollution. We agree with those points. Our Amendment 272, which we will deal with separately, sets out in more detail what we believe to be the Government’s responsibilities to ensure that agriculture meets all the Paris Agreement targets on climate change.
The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, the noble Earl, Lord Devon, and other noble Lords sought to spell out in more detail what good environmental policy should look like. They referenced pasture-fed livestock, the protection of soil and the link with natural recovery strategies. They rightly raised the need for those policies to have a synergy across other Bills, such as the Environment Bill, and environment policies. We agree with these points and feel that there ought to be a way of embedding those principles in the Bill but also making sure that we have a common approach on these issues. We also agree with the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, and the many other noble Lords who have spoken on this issue that hill farmers and upland farmers have a particular need and desire for reassurance about and support for their future. I hope that the Minister will be able to provide some of that reassurance in his response.
Several noble Lords, including the noble Earl, Lord Devon, and the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, raised the issue of water and the extent to which financial support should be given for managing water, including for flood risk and reservoirs. This raises an interesting question, which we began to tease out but did not reach a full answer on, about the interface between land and water and where any subsidies should be directed. The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, asked a number of questions. I look forward to the Minister’s responses. The noble Earl, Lord Devon, said—and I agree —that the Bill is about agriculture, not aquaculture. We need to know where the limits of responsibility for activities in the water and on the water will lie. I look forward to the Minister’s response on that because water is referenced a number of times in the Bill but I am left with some questions about what that really means.
The noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, raised the need for an impact assessment on the operation of the scheme. I agree with her about that. She raised some important questions, which it will be helpful for the Minister to address, about why there is not an impact assessment and whether there could be one.
I have added my name to Amendment 139, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs. It has a similar intent, which we will come to in later debates, which is to monitor and assess the positive impact of the scheme. Again, I think we are all in the same territory here, looking for value for money and to make sure that the money is spent wisely, and that we have regulations in place to make sure that we learn the lessons as we go forward.
I have enormous sympathy with the points raised by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, my noble friend Lady Mallalieu and the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, about the need to value and preserve our rare native breeds, such as Dartmoor and Exmoor ponies. Like them, I question the intent of Amendments 17 and 27; the original wording in the Bill seemed to address the issues better. I hope the Minister can confirm that there is that support for semi-wild native breeds and that it will continue.
Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, and many other noble Lords rightly raised the need for a framework for agricultural co-operation between the different parts of the UK. We agree that there is an urgent need for a formal framework to bring the interests of the devolved nations together as they set the separate courses on agricultural policy to which they are entitled. Our Amendment 290 sets out proposals for an agricultural co-ordination council. The noble Lord, Lord Wigley, has already indicated his support and I hope that other noble Lords who have spoken in the debate will look at our amendment, which I think addresses their concerns, and that when we come to debate that issue, they will add their support.
There have been many other interesting contributions. I apologise to noble Lords if I have not mentioned them; I cannot possibly do justice to them all. Despite the wide range of contributions, I have been impressed by the common themes that have come out. There appears to be a consensus around what needs to be done to improve the Bill. Let us hope that that spirit of consensus continues as we debate later clauses. I look forward to continuing the debate in that spirit. In the meantime, I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, this has quite clearly been an extensive debate; it has been most rewarding for me to hear such a range of views on Clause 1 and financial assistance. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Judd, that I have thoroughly enjoyed this debate. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch: there will be disagreements along the way—I have no doubt—but I think we should all be enthusiastic about the opportunity that we have.
I open by declaring my farming interests as set out in the register. I also say to the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, that I agree with the sound comments he made in many respects. That is precisely why there is an agricultural transition period of seven years and why we are working with farmers on tests and trials, so that we get this right.
Turning to the amendments, as I must and will, I may ask for your Lordships’ indulgence and support in my discussion with the Chief Whip if I go a little over time, because I want to address all the amendments properly.
On Amendment 1, we have chosen to use the term “may” rather than “must”, which is entirely consistent with other legislation. Free from the constraints of the common agricultural policy, the Government need the flexibility to reprioritise and adapt in response to changing environmental circumstances and new evidence. “May” also gives the flexibility to establish and fund schemes for a range of different purposes. The Government set out their long-term vision for what we will use public money to fund in the 25-year environment plan and the policy document published alongside the Bill. I emphasise to all noble Lords and absolutely confirm that there is no doubt that we will introduce new financial assistance.
I agree with the noble Baronesses, Lady Young of Old Scone and Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and my noble friend Lord Trenchard that the construction of the Bill is deliberately broad so that we can embrace almost everything raised on many of the matters. I will have to say that the Government are very clear on some amendments. If, when we come to it, I mention ponies and other breeds, that is the context in which the Government have problems with some of the amendments. We want to ensure that we have it broad deliberately, so that many of the points noble Lords have made are embraced.
On my noble friend Lord Dundee’s Amendment 74, the Government recognise that farms should be incentivised to deliver multiple purposes. However, it will be very hard, if not impossible, to separate farms into single-purpose or multipurpose farms in this way. To take an example, if financial assistance is given for
“managing land or water in a way that protects or improves the environment”
under Clause 1(1)(a), many of those actions are likely to contribute to other purposes, such as mitigating or adapting to climate change in Clause 1(1)(d), reducing environmental hazards in Clause 1(1)(e) and so forth. This would tie the Government into creating systems that attempt to unpick the complexity of the natural environment to meet a bureaucratic requirement—albeit, I accept, a well-intentioned one. I think this was a point the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, made from his experience: beware of creating a bureaucratic monster by trying to have a perfect form.
In Amendments 4, 16, 21, 91 and 236, the noble Earl, Lord Devon, seeks to limit the scope of the purposes for giving financial assistance to the management of land by removing “water”, thereby narrowing what the Government can pay for under future financial assistance schemes. There are critical actions related to the management of water, and indeed of livestock, that the Government would want to pay for, particularly through ELM. For example, the mitigation of and adaptation to climate change can be supported by encouraging farmers to manage their livestock feed, to help reduce emissions that are emitted from livestock. Protecting and improving our environment or our cultural and natural heritage may involve the management of water. For example, creating, maintaining and restoring water-based habitats on farms can support a healthy ecosystem and ensure that we meet our commitments to biodiversity. This may involve the management of ponds, lakes and ditches, which would not be included in a definition of agricultural land.
I take this opportunity to refer to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, about nitrates. The Government have taken action to mitigate nitrate pollution by placing farmers under regulations and providing them with grants. Farmers in nitrate-vulnerable zones are bound by the nitrates regulations.
The requirement of
“managing land or water in a way that maintains, restores or enhances cultural or natural heritage”
includes the management of our wetlands. Just to clarify, the marine environment is not in scope of the Bill, but I was very pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, mentioned curlews. A much longer conversation with the noble Lord is required on crayfish. I have worked on this, and there are difficulties. At a later time I will perhaps spend some time explaining the issues.
Clause 1(1)(j) provides for financial assistance to be given for the protection and improvement of soil. This assistance will further aid in meeting this ambition for sustainably managed soils. Soil is clearly one of our greatest natural assets and the Government are committed to having sustainably managed soils by 2030, as set out in our 25-year environment plan, under which we are developing a healthy soils indicator. I also say to the noble Earl, Lord Devon, that the Reduction and Prevention of Agricultural Diffuse Pollution (England) Regulations 2018 define environmental outcomes that land managers must take account to avoid, including soil run-off and erosion. Indeed, civil sanctions are available.
On Amendments 5, 17, 89, 27 and 28 from my noble friend Lord Lucas, the Bill already allows funding for the management of land and water in a way that conserves the environment or our cultural or natural heritage, which could include “conserve” habitats. On the amendment that would expand the definition of “conserve”, Clause 1(5) already includes creating, protecting and maintaining.
Clause 1 allows support for the conservation of species and habitats if it contributes to protecting and improving the environment or maintaining, restoring and enhancing cultural or natural heritage. For example, ELM could support farmers to manage moorlands using traditional grazing techniques and native breeds or provide funding for the creation of new woodlands or flood plains. Clause 1(1)(g) and 1(1)(i) could be used to incentivise farmers to rear rare and native breeds or support measures to utilise crop wild relatives, thereby safeguarding those genetic traits that may offer a way to sustainably increase food production or improve our capacity to adapt to the emergence of new animal or plant diseases. I say to the noble Baronesses, Lady Mallalieu and Lady Jones of Whitchurch, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, and my noble friend Lord De Mauley that the Government are wedded to the current drafting of the Bill. I say to my noble friend Lord Lucas that the Bill already caters for support for the conservation of newly established crop species that contribute to the provision of public goods.
Amendment 45 touches on existing work taking place to support the development of the UK’s domestic animal feed production. We are already funding research in this area through the Pulse Crop Genetic Improvement Network, a project due to end in 2023. A key part of our programme looks at how to produce better-quality animal feed and potential alternatives to imported soya protein.
On Amendment 76, the Government’s current proposals for the ELM scheme already include a significant space for the direct involvement of local groups. Local nature partnerships would be ideally placed to apply their expertise and ensure that tiers 2 and 3 of ELM are designed to support land managers in the delivery of environmental outcomes by providing the right things in the right places. The Government are already working closely with many of the organisations involved with local nature partnerships.
Turning to Amendments 86 and 7, the Government support the generation of heat and power from low-carbon technologies, including those using crops and forestry biomass, helping to deliver the net-zero greenhouse gas emissions target for 2050. We are presently consulting on future support for low-carbon heat, which includes proposals for a green gas support scheme and a clean heat grant with support for heat pumps and, in some instances, biomass. I should also say that although this is work that is already under way, Clause 1(1) includes provision for the Secretary of State to give financial assistance for managing land in a way that mitigates the effects of climate change. Clause 1(2) will support farmers and foresters in England in their contribution to existing and emerging markets. The Government are consulting on the England tree strategy, which includes questions on how best to support energy forestry, such as short rotation coppicing.
Turning to Amendments 8, 22, 25, 31 and 50, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, reducing air pollution remains a cornerstone of the Government’s plans to enhance our natural environment and mitigate climate change, through the clean air strategy published in January 2019. The 25-year environment plan cites clean air as one of its key priorities. Clean air is captured by the purposes in Clause 1(1) and will be part of ELM. A range of actions to reduce air pollution is being considered as part of the scheme, including such activities as planting trees, the creation and maintenance of buffer strips and supporting more efficient nutrient management—for example, through targeted fertiliser application—all of which can help reduce the concentration of ammonia in the atmosphere.
Turning to Amendment 24, in the name of my noble friend Lady McIntosh, there are many ways in which actions taken by land managers could reduce the risk of, and enhance our resilience to, flooding. For example, ELM could incentivise the creation of leaky dams that slow the flow of water and good soil management practices that improve water retention in soils. As well as flooding, Clause 1(1)(e) will also allow us to address the other side of the coin, which is drought. ELM could pay farmers and land managers for land and water management practices that help to reduce the impacts of, and enhance resilience to, drought. Farms may include ponds and rivers, and it is important that these water assets are included in the Bill, to provide the Government with the greatest possible flexibility to deliver public benefits.
Turning to Amendment 37, in the name of my noble friend Lady McIntosh, the Government are committed to supporting the delivery of environmental public goods, including our landscapes and our biodiversity, provided for in Clause 1(1)(a) and (b). The purposes already in the Bill will allow the Government to do just that, for example, through Clause 1(1)(a), which allows us to fund the management of land in a way that protects or improves the environment, and Clause 1(1)(c), which allows for funding to maintain, restore or enhance our rural and cultural heritage, which includes landscapes, such as—among many—the beautiful grazed fells of the Lake District. The new ELM scheme will offer farmers across a variety of land and farm types, including livestock and uplands farmers, public money in return for delivery of these environmental public goods.
Turning to Amendment 104, in the name of my noble friend Lady McIntosh, currently, only large raised reservoirs are regulated by the Reservoirs Act 1975, as amended by the Flood and Water Management Act 2010, which made provision for the threshold to be reduced and regulate small raised reservoirs—those between 10,000 cubic metres and 25,000 cubic metres in volume. Consideration will be given to how farm water storage is best managed alongside reservoir safety regulation. Indeed, proposals will be consulted on later this year and next, which may lead to the amendment of regulations made under the Reservoirs Act 1975, the principal legislation on reservoir safety. Clause 1(2) allows us to fund reservoirs through productivity grants. In the interests of time, I confirm that my noble friend Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park wrote in some detail to my noble friend on the subject of reservoirs. The letter did not say that a copy would be placed in the Library, but I shall ensure that one is for noble Lords.
Turning to Amendment 51, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, the Government recognise the valuable contributions rural areas make to our national life, economically, socially and culturally. As set out in our manifesto, the Government intend to introduce the UK shared prosperity fund to replace EU structural funds. Defra officials are working closely with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, which leads on the fund’s development, to ensure that its design takes account of the dynamics of rural economies and the particular challenges faced by rural communities and farmers.
Turning to Amendment 83, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, and Amendment 67, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, as the Government develop schemes under Clause 1, we will take into consideration local and regional circumstances. Local nature recovery strategies are a new tool that will be created by the Environment Bill, designed to drive more co-ordinated, practical and focused action to help nature. The Government are seeking to resume the passage of that Bill as soon as possible. I think all noble Lords will understand that the passage of legislation has been interrupted, but the Government clearly want to return to the Environment Bill. These strategies will map valuable existing habitats, make proposals for creating or improving habitats and wider environmental goals, and agree priorities for nature conservation. By engaging with stakeholders, we want to ensure that tiers 2 and 3 of ELM are designed to support land managers in delivery—I underline the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson—of locally targeted environmental outcomes, enabling delivery of the right things in the right places to reflect societal and environmental priorities.
Turning to Amendment 78, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, my view is that farming communities are the backbone of the countryside. I agree with my noble friend Lord Caithness; these schemes will work only if they are the farmers’ schemes as well. That is key. Hill farmers, I take the opportunity to outline, already provide many environmental benefits, such as clean air and water, and help maintain some of our most iconic landscapes. I strongly believe that ELM will enable hill farmers to receive payment for the vital environmental public goods they provide. Indeed, Clause 1(5) specifies that
“‘cultural or natural heritage’ includes uplands and other landscapes”
so I say, particularly to my noble friend Lord Inglewood, whom I have met in his capacity as chair of Cumbria LEP, my noble friend the Duke of Wellington, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Aberavon, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, that this is a very important feature of our support for hill farmers.
Turning to Amendments 78 and 93, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, and Amendments 80 and 81, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, Clause 1 does not limit financial assistance to a specific land type, and thus does not exclude any land from being eligible. However, I emphasise that, given that approximately 70% of land is agricultural, we are confident that financial assistance will be primarily focused on managing agricultural land. I emphasise this so that there is no concern from farmers about what the Bill is intended to support. Because of time, I will write to the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, about the green belt. The green belt is clearly very important in preventing urban sprawl and we updated the National Planning Policy Framework to say that where green belt boundaries are redrawn, there should be compensatory improvements to the environmental quality and accessibility of green belt land.
Turning to Amendment 83, in the name of my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe, the Government published two evidence and analysis papers in September 2018 to support the introduction of the Bill in the last Parliament: first, Agriculture Bill: Analysis and Economic Rationales for Government Intervention; and secondly, Agriculture Bill: Analysis of the Impacts of Removing Direct Payments. These documents provide evidence on the high-level costs and benefits of government intervention in agriculture, and an analysis of the impacts of removing area-based direct payments. The department also regularly updates The Future Farming and Environment Evidence Compendium, which brings together existing statistics on agriculture to summarise the current state of the agricultural industry in the United Kingdom.
On Amendment 234, we will return to food in later groups, but I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, that the UK has a high degree of food security, built on access to a wide range of sources, including robust supply chains across a number of countries to supplement our excellent domestic production. I will elaborate further and set out details of the independent review that the Government have commissioned Henry Dimbleby to undertake, when we discuss Clause 17. The Government are committed to maintaining and improving environmental standards. As set out in Farming for the Future: Policy and Progress Update from February this year, the Government are developing their vision for a future regulatory system, which we will keep under review to ensure that we meet the ambitious goals under the 25-year environment plan.
I well understand the importance of Amendment 66 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Wigley. This issue was raised by the noble Lords, Lord Foulkes of Cumnock, Lord Thomas of Gresford, Lord Empey, Lord Adonis, Lord Campbell, the noble Baroness, Lady Bryan of Partick, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Aberavon. The Government understand the importance of collaborating with the devolved Administrations on agriculture policy to ensure that it is well co-ordinated and does not undermine a functioning internal market.
Good progress has already been made by the United Kingdom Government and the devolved Administrations in developing an administrative framework for co-ordinating agricultural policy on the basis of co-operation and mutual consent. The UK Government shared a first draft with officials from the devolved Administrations in February this year. Talks continue with the devolved Administrations on common UK frameworks, including the agricultural support framework, in order to have formal mechanisms for co-operation in place for the end of the year. Co-operation and co-ordination continue constructively at official and ministerial level. There is no requirement to fund the framework as it is an administrative arrangement. The UK Government’s election manifesto guaranteed the current annual budget in every year of the new Parliament, giving significant certainty on agricultural funding for the coming years.
I should have said to the noble Lord, Lord Empey, that our priority for Northern Ireland will be to ensure that nothing negotiated through our EU FTA in any way disadvantages its people—in fact, quite the reverse. The work being carried out aims to deliver on the commitment to ensure unfettered access for Northern Ireland’s businesses to the whole UK internal market.
This has been a brisk gallop. If I look at Hansard and feel that any points have not been properly covered, I will come back to noble Lords. But I have tried to explain that all the important points noble Lords have made are eminently possible within the broad framework of the Bill. I pick up what was said about bureaucracy by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, and about why this clause has been deliberately designed as it is, by the noble Baronesses, Lady Young of Old Scone and Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and my noble friend Lord Trenchard. It has taken a lot of consideration. We can all argue about different words and so forth, but I am confident that the key points noble Lords have made are eminently compatible with how the Government have brought forward the Bill and particularly this clause.
With what I hope are genuine reassurances as to the opportunities the Bill provides, I hope my noble friend Lord Dundee will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I have received requests from a number of noble Lords to speak after the Minister: the noble Earl, Lord Devon, and the noble Lords, Lord Bruce and Lord Teverson. I call the noble Earl, Lord Devon.
My Lords, I apologise for keeping us a little longer on this group of amendments, but I would not do so were it not for a very important issue. I refer to Amendment 236 in my name relating to soils. In August 2019, Defra stated explicitly
“we will not allow environmental standards to decrease when we leave the EU.”
If I understand the Minister correctly, he is saying that the GAEC standards I referenced, particularly standards 4 and 5 on maintaining minimum soil coverage, will not be replicated in domestic legislation—those standards will be lost and standards will decrease. Could he clarify that point?
My Lords, I want to make sure I get this right. I referred to the 2018 regulations for England about environmental outcomes that land managers must take action to avoid. There is no suggestion of any diminution of standards—in fact, quite the reverse. I will have to write and will put a copy in the Library. I want to make sure that I get all the regulations and how they are interconnected right. There is no intention from the Government on soil quality other than to enhance it, because that is the route to vibrant agriculture. I am most grateful to the noble Earl and will provide full details of all the requirements that will remain.
I thank the Minister for his very positive response to my amendment, which I never doubted he would provide. When he says that the scheme will be farmer-led, how will that come about and how soon? Is there any timetable for when the structure of direct support for farmers in the context of rural payments will be clarified? I am sure he appreciates that the hill farming sector is extremely vulnerable, fragile and anxious to get a clear steer. How and when will that be provided?
I am most grateful to the noble Lord. I did not have an opportunity to flesh out the tests and trials. The tests and trials on the ELM are designed to work with ranges of farmers in different topographies and tenures in all parts of the country. There are schemes that will be suitable. In this case, there are clearly tests and trials with hill farmers in the uplands so that we can ensure that those schemes are in place. Some are under way already and farmers are receiving financial assistance for participating in them.
When we roll out the entire ELM in 2024, we want to follow the success in the recording and improving of those tests and trials so that we can ensure that, in the case of the noble Lord’s concern about hill farmers, these schemes will automatically work for them. Hill farmers are key to ensuring that the environmental enhancements we all want are available. I am confident that, working with those hill farmers, we will get the sorts of schemes that will be of benefit and that the farmers will actively wish to be engaged in.
I thank the Minister for his extensive reply. I was particularly pleased that he mentioned the shared prosperity fund. I realise that it is not a Defra issue, but it is an important structural issue and there has been very little information about when this fund, which is a Conservative Party manifesto pledge, will actually start. While I would like to ask him that question, I am sure he does not know the answer to it as it is not a Defra issue. However, will he really press his colleagues in Government to get this fund going? The EU structural funding is going to end very soon. There will be an end there, and it is very important that the rural parts of that funding start. Will he press his colleagues to get announcements here so that people can prepare and not have this gap?
I am most grateful to the noble Lord. Clearly, rural-proofing means that anything we do across Whitehall should be considered in terms of the impact on rural communities, and UK shared prosperity means rural communities. I am also grateful because I can assure him that the whole of Defra takes this approach and, as Minister for Rural Affairs, I get my teeth into this regularly because clearly we need to work with MHCLG so that this goes across all communities and will benefit rural communities, which, after all, have so much to offer the country.
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in welcoming and supporting the Bill, and I thank the Minister for his helpful responses to this Committee debate, which has covered a wide range of matters concerning sustainable food production and a well-cared-for environment.
Proposed amendments have included: requests for better soil management; the mitigation of floods—whether or not these may have been induced by crayfish, as the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, warns; the reduction of air pollution; a focus on the predicament of farmers having to deal with hill and marginal land; the case for being ever alert to promote innovations, such as further developments in energy crops or new livestock species; the case for improved management of land around towns and cities where it is not being used for housing development; the need for timely advice to farmers on how to raise and maintain standards in terms of the Bill; the need for impact assessments; and, not least, the desirability that all parts of the United Kingdom should benefit together from the Bill’s useful prescription.
I am grateful to the Minister for his comments on my Amendment 74 about how incentives might be paid slightly differently for those farms that are responding to what is already offered by the Bill. Meanwhile, I beg to withdraw Amendment 1.
Amendment 1 withdrawn.
My Lords, we now come to the group beginning with Amendment 2. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate. Anyone wishing to press this, or any other amendment in this group, to a Division should make that clear in debate.
2: Clause 1, page 2, line 7, after “purposes” insert “to those involved in agriculture, horticulture, forestry or land management”
My Lords, the origins of this amendment are fairly straightforward. As we go through this Bill, we talk about great changes to agriculture. We start off with a list of changes and where things are going to change in relation to government support for agriculture. We do not actually define those whom we are going to support, and I feel that they should be on the face of the Bill. If they are not on the face of the Bill, we should know exactly where that list is.
All the positive changes that might affect the environment and people’s access to it, which I will discuss at considerable length in the next group, are going to be dependent upon farmers taking much of the action and getting through financially in what they need to do. Unless the Government pay them, it is not going to happen. Unless we are getting some sort of new force that is going to go marching into the countryside equipped with whatever it is and on whatever legal authority it is—which I have seen no hint of anywhere —we are dependent on those involved in farming and related industries actually to fulfil this for us. The only way we can reasonably expect them to do it is if they are properly paid, so there is a symbiotic relationship there: they get money for changing their behaviour.
The change of behaviour for farmers is going to be difficult: culturally, financially and in every other way, it is going to be a change in a way of life in many cases. To what extent and where depends on who they are and in what situation, but that is what I am trying to get on the face of the Bill. I do not pretend that this amendment is perfect because I literally went through and thought, “Good, this is in the Bill or that’s in the Bill” and at the end of it, I said, “What about land managers? Let us try to get some idea about this.” They are the delivery system for the other changes set out in the Bill, so let us make sure that they get some support. It does not really go much further than that, other than to say that we have to make sure that they are there and identified. If the identification comes somewhere else, that is great, but if it means running down a list saying, “By the way, if you look across and go legally through and jump across sideways, that’s where the definition is,” that is the classic way to make mistakes. The lay person will not be able to find out what is going on. We have all, in this Chamber, been involved in situations where somebody said, “Legally, it was there,” but we could not find it. It might be slightly more straightforward here than in some of the cases we are talking about, but that is what I am trying to get at.
There is another amendment in my name, Amendment 115, on the accountability system for taking on any action. That probably would have read better in the next group, but if the Government have any undertakings on this, let us find out what is going on. That is really what my initial thinking was about, and I look forward to hearing from those who are going to speak on the rest of the group, but that is my primary motive for moving this amendment. I beg to move.
My Lords, I will speak to three amendments in my name in this group and thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb and Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, and my noble friend Lord Caithness for supporting Amendment 65. The purpose of this amendment is again to probe the Government. As was said in conclusion by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, we have a limited pot of money being spread very thinly. I hope that we can focus where the money goes on farming, obviously within the remit of agriculture, horticulture and forestry.
In keeping the focus on farming, I will turn to Amendment 103. Just before I do, I will take the opportunity to ask my noble friend the Minister about the types of activities that he feels may be covered. For example, there have been sectors in the past that have received no support but have spent huge amounts of money—I am thinking in particular about antibiotic use, which we have reduced at some considerable expense, although I think this has put Britain in the driving seat with regard to the reduction of antibiotics.
There may be possibilities of supporting, for example, pigs through outbuildings and storage facilities, which will help to tackle climate change and bring a number of benefits while improving the way that we manage—or rather pig producers manage; I do not, obviously—manure and slurry reduction. While it has not been beneficial in the past, I hope that it will help to tackle climate change and increase production. Is that something that my noble friend thinks might be supported?
I want to flag up something that I am sure we will return to in later groups: the potential funding gap between when basic farm payments phase out and when ELMS—which I know we are going to explore in more detail in further amendments—will come in. How is that going to be addressed? I am also looking at the socioeconomic aspects of this, where natural capital seems to have been the focus of great emphasis, although it benefits only those who own the land, for the most part, and it cannot necessarily be shared with tenant farmers, who actually do much of the farming on that land in many circumstances.
I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb and Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, for supporting Amendment 103. I am sure that my noble friend will recognise this text because it has come, in great part, from the Government’s own paper Health and Harmony. The public good is very ephemeral and opaque, and I give him the opportunity to put more meat on the bones and reward activities that are related directly to the production of food or farming in its broader aspects and, furthermore, activities from which tenants may benefit. We might focus too much on trees and the planting of crops like special grasses that soak up the water and have many qualities, and I want to make sure that landowners and tenants will benefit.
As such, I was very taken by what the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, said earlier about catchment management, and I should state that I am one of the honorary vice-presidents of the Association of Drainage Authorities, and I know that drainage boards do a lot of work at low levels.
In Amendment 103, I set out the type of schemes that can benefit—such as Slowing the Flow at Pickering —namely, those that
“mitigate flood risks, particularly in managing uplands,”
those that “restore peatbogs”, and so the list goes on. Given the time available, I highlight the reduction and risk of animal and plant disease, and especially something in this amendment that the Government were invited to focus on more than once:
“(h) to promote resilience of rural communities, rural proofing and productivity”.
I hope that the Government might see fit to return to trying to rural proof all the policies that we as the Government come forward with, to make sure that they are fit for purpose, will not damage rural communities, and will make sure—for example, with regard to healthcare—that rural communities can benefit as much from them as urban areas, which are attended to more often.
I turn now to Amendment 106, which looks at setting out the activities of farmers. We used to talk about the active farmer and I am now trying to focus more broadly on agricultural activity. The point I will make here is that something that has developed is very regrettable: dual use, whereby landlords, as the owners of the land, often take up the scheme and directly benefit from it, while the tenants are left to do the work for it. That is a regrettable development and I hope that my noble friend will put my mind at rest by saying that that is not going to be the case and that he and the good offices of the Government, in so far as they can, will ensure that tenant farmers benefit.
If we are moving away from active farmers, it is important that we come up with a definition of what will be covered under this. Obviously, we are looking at operating to high environmental, animal welfare and food safety standards, but we need to be absolutely clear and give our farmers and producers, at the outset, the widest possible understanding of what will be covered under the Bill.
My Lords, I will speak to two amendments I have tabled in this group, namely Amendments 118 and 121. These aim to ensure that we get a strong regulatory framework to enforce this new system of paying public money for public goods because, as it stands, the Bill says that the Government only “may” introduce regulations to do this. It should be not just a power but a duty to do so, given that what we are talking about is ensuring public confidence in the money spent to deliver societal goods.
We know that the current regulatory framework for farming is not fit for purpose. It is estimated that only every one in 200 farmers will get inspected, and the Government have known this for some time. They commissioned a review in 2018 but have not done anything since then to overhaul the existing regulatory framework, so it is really important that the Bill states that the Government have a duty to put together new regulations and work quickly with relevant stakeholders to draw up a new framework to give the public confidence. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, for supporting me in that amendment.
I appreciate that this is almost two sides of a coin. I am talking about the regulatory side that we need to ensure is in place to manage the giving of public money in the future. I am very much in support of other noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Teverson and the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, who have talked about the vast majority of farmers; we know that they are doing and want to do the right thing, and there is a real need to ensure that, alongside a strong regulatory framework, there is good provision of advice. I want to ensure that Members do not think that I think all farmers are bad apples; they are not. However, we need to ensure that good farmers have their reputations preserved by a strong regulatory framework.
I would find it very helpful if in winding up the Minister would say something about the Government’s current thinking on the timeframe and the consultees—almost the how and the when—when they are producing this new regulatory farm framework, so that the public can have confidence that taxpayers’ money is being properly spent to deliver the environmental and animal welfare benefits that we all want.
My Lords, I shall speak to my Amendments 108 and 109. I am looking for two reassurances from the Minister. The first is that we are going to look at a system of risk-based regulation. We have a lot of changes and improvements to make. We need a system of regulation which, supported by science, supports change without destroying older technology, in both of which aspects the EU system has proved deficient. Secondly, I want reassurance that we will permit local variation—indeed, individual variation. This ought to be a bottom-up system of support. No farm is the same as any other farm. No set of geology or human geography is the same. Everything will need to be local if it is going to work well. I very much hope that this is the way in which the Government are looking at regulation.
Amendment 110 has been stranded in this group. I will speak to this subject under the group beginning with Amendment 29. Suffice it to say that, as far as I am concerned, the answer lies in the soil.
My Lords, I apologise for not taking part in the Second Reading of the Bill due to logistical issues on my part.
I shall speak to Amendment 115 in this group, to which my name is attached. I support the words of the noble Lord, Lord Addington. There are many opportunities through amendments to the Bill to establish a different and positive way for more people to access the countryside. Existing public rights of way are the primary means by which people can get outdoors. The return on investment will be enhanced where existing access is well maintained so that the public can benefit from enhancement in, for example, biodiversity, cultural heritage and air quality.
It is also important that the regulatory framework that encourages farmers to keep paths clear as a condition of receiving payment from the public purse is right. I would like to see increased creativity in how we move forward with this Bill in creating paths, circular routes and links to connect communities with transport hubs and amenities and, close to my heart, in improving surfaces and infrastructure, such as gates and stiles, with less restrictive alternatives. They are often put in place to stop misuse but are a huge barrier for to wheelchair and handbike users. It would open up much-needed space.
A set of conditions, including those relating to public access, provides clarity for farmers over the baseline standards expected. It also helps to create a level playing field within the sector. Many farmers fulfil their legal obligations, so it would be unfair for those who do not to be treated equally, without any sanction for their failure to keep access open.
To sum up briefly my support for this amendment, I believe that, in the interests of transparency, information published should include details of the conditions of receipt of financial assistance and evidence of compliance with these conditions. As the money is from the public purse, it should be clear that recipients of funding under the scheme are meeting any conditions set by the Secretary of State.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson. I was also excluded from the Second Reading by virtue of being a surplus Peer when we were not able to get all of us into our virtual Chamber. I am sure that that was in the early days of remote working and could not possibly happen again on any future big Bills.
I have signed three amendments in this group—Amendments 65, 103 and 106—which are all in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering. Clause 2 could be greatly improved so that the legislation and the resulting funding schemes reflect the scale of ambition that the Government are laying out. Amendment 103 would better target financial support to specific environmental and social outcomes. The conditions would help focus schemes around specific purposes, rather than leaving so much room for ministerial discretion. I know the Minister will soothingly reassure us about why this is all better left to ministerial discretion, but your Lordships’ House may favour the greater wisdom contained in our greater numbers. That is what I am hoping, anyway.
The other probing amendments in this group are about ensuring funding is directed to the most effective places to achieve the aims of the Bill. Funding must be available for a wide range of land managers, so that whatever are the most environmentally and socially beneficial activities can be encouraged. That said, it is worth probing the Minister on how the Government will ensure that that will be the case so that money is not put into the wrong hands. We must remember that these are large sums of money, so we must target them well and be able to explain who is eligible for public funds and why.
Some noble Lords have taken the opportunity to lobby for a return to the new normal of us all returning to the Chamber. I would just like to point out that many of us like remote working. We do not want to risk disease and death. We have to remember that coronavirus is likely to be part of the normal for the next few months and possibly years, so let us take advantage of the fact that we can be a hybrid House, unlike the House at the other end of the building.
The amendments I have tabled in this group largely go to the same issue which the noble Baronesses, Lady McIntosh and Lady Jones, have touched on, which is who is to receive payments under the ELMS and for what specific land they are to receive them. Noble Lords will see that I have suggested that it should be agricultural land. As I said previously, this is the Agriculture Bill. I would hate these payments to go to highways, Heathrow or Hyde Park. As the Bill is currently drafted, it strikes me that environmental land management in all those non-agricultural spaces would qualify. For that reason, Amendments 3, 15, 20, 23 and 30 focus the Bill and Clause 1 specifically on agricultural land.
In Amendment 85, I have lifted the definition of agricultural land from the current rules for the BPS. However, I added to that definition “common land” because, under the current rules, there is some uncertainty around whether common land, which is often found in uplands which we have discussed a great deal today, qualifies, as the right to claim BPS for common land is quite opaque. I would appreciate it if, in summing up, the Minister could address how common land will be treated under ELMS, because a major concern for common rights holders on Dartmoor and elsewhere is whether they will qualify and how.
Amendment 64 suggests that ELMS payments should be directed to farmers and those who are active in the management of agricultural land. This amendment and its wording find favour with the NFU and is therefore strongly supported by the agricultural and farming community. It allows us to determine exactly who should be the recipients. As the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, said, we do not want the money to be given to people who are not engaged in agricultural practices.
The final amendment to which I would like to speak is Amendment 10, in which I specifically address the use of the word “enjoyment” in Clause 1(1)(b). It currently identifies
“supporting public access to and enjoyment of the countryside”.
However, one man’s enjoyment is another man’s nightmare. Certainly, many people enjoy the countryside by driving 4x4s noisily all over it. Others enjoy shooting in the countryside; there are all sorts of ways of enjoying it. But that is not a public good and does not create a public benefit. It is incredibly subjective and such terms should not be used in the Bill. I have suggested as an alternative
“health and wellbeing benefits from”
the countryside because that is a public good.
It may be difficult to define, but one topic that has not been raised thus far in our far-ranging debates is social prescribing, and the incredible value of the countryside and nature to people for mental health and physical health. We have seen that emphasised over the recent months of the coronavirus lockdown. Certainly, in Devon we have seen those who are able to do so stream into the countryside to escape the confines of home, the lockdown and the social restrictions it has imposed. More than ever before, we see now that the health and well-being benefits of the countryside are to be encouraged. The Bill should explicitly do that, rather than just encouraging our enjoyment of the same.
I have just been told that because I was not here at the beginning of this group, I cannot speak. I thought that it was a Committee where you could wander in and out all the time. It is not a desperately important point that I want to make, so I will discuss it afterwards with people.
My Lords, I support Amendment 106 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering. There are two principal points here. The Government want this Agriculture Bill, which is a major Bill and the first in many years, to be about public money for public goods. The second point was raised by the previous speaker, the noble Earl, Lord Devon: who is to receive those funds?
I believe that money should support those actively involved in farming activity. They used to be known as active farmers but, as the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, said, that definition has probably broadened now to the wider issue of agricultural activity. If that is the case, and the Government support it, then we can ensure high standards in environmental works on the farm and in food production. We can ensure high standards of food security and perhaps in so doing, we will be able to ensure, along with good food security, good accessibility to food for all in terms of the food chain.
On reallocated entitlements, applicant farmers must be able to demonstrate that they enjoy the decision-making power, benefits and financial risks attached to the agricultural activity on each parcel of land for which an allocation of entitlements is requested. That is right and proper; it is also ethical and moral.
Furthermore, the Minister referred during the previous group to the ongoing work and discussions between Defra and the devolved Administrations. What actual work has been done on broadening agricultural activity? Who will be eligible for such payments and what grades of activity will be eligible? Land ownership probably varies throughout the devolved Administrations compared with what pertains in England. Coming from the Northern Ireland context—there will possibly be some separate legislation for Northern Ireland—I know that we have a conacre system, which is an ancient Irish system whereby people keep land under conacre for one year. It differs from the tenant farmer situation that exists in Britain. What discussions have taken place on agricultural activity between the Minister, his ministerial colleagues in Defra and ministerial colleagues in the devolved regions?
In introducing the amendment, the noble Lord, Lord Addington, said that farmers would have to get paid to do all these good works in the future. We should pause and thank all the many farmers doing exactly these now without any money at all from the Government. They are doing it of their own free will because they love the land that they farm—they might have been farming it for generations—and the biodiversity and nature that goes with it. We must pay them a big thank you for continuing the work.
The noble Lord, Lord Addington, jogged my mind. It slightly irks me that we paid farmers to take hedges out and destroy landscape and biodiversity. We are now going to pay the same farmers to put those things back. It is worth remembering that a lot of farmers did not take out any hedges and kept the biodiversity but got no money at all for that.
I put my name to Amendments 65 and 106 and I was pleased to do so. Amendment 65, tabled by my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering, would add the words,
“agriculture, horticulture and forestry in England”
to the end of Clause 1(3). At the moment, the wording just stops at “England”. It seems logical to put the words in the amendment into the Bill.
While I am on forestry, my noble friend Lord Gardiner did not say on the first amendment—I am not surprised —what he actually means by “woodland” and “forestry”. Are they the same or two different things? If there will be grants for help for forestry and biodiversity, presumably there will be no grants for people planting vast acres of Sitka spruce, which are biodiversity unfriendly.
Forestry also raises another issue covered by Amendment 106: who gets the benefit of these payments of public money? I will focus on tenant farmers, as my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering did. When I was a land agent, my experience was that pretty well every tree was not in the tenancy agreement; it belonged to the landlord. Tenants were not allowed to plant woodland. That was excluded and outside the tenancy agreement.
We have an imbalance here and two different classes of farmer. We have the owner-occupier, who can do everything on their own land, and the tenant, who will be severely restricted. Who will get the benefit from these payments? If the tenant signs up to a scheme, I know many landlords who will say to them, “Thank you; I’m glad you signed up to that scheme. I’m glad you’re getting the money. Your rent is now going to increase and I’m going to take most of that money from you because you can afford to pay it.” Who will get this money? Is there a way one can incentivise tenants to do these schemes and reap the benefit that they deserve for putting the risk, capital and expertise at stake in doing so?
My Amendment 94, which I will speak to solely, addresses a central weakness in the Bill, identified in this debate and the preceding one: the open-ended nature of the powers given to the Secretary of State under Clause 1, which states that money can be used for
“managing land … in a way that … improves the environment”,
or cultural heritage, or mitigating climate change, or improving the health of livestock, presumably including racehorses et cetera. That strikes me as far too open-ended an approach in a Bill that is, after all, an agriculture Bill.
Therefore, later in Clause 1, at page 3, line 12, I propose that these words be added:
“‘land’ means land that is used for agricultural, horticultural or forestry purposes or which is intended to be so used, or used for purposes ancillary to those functions.”
That gives a clear definition, to my mind, of the purposes of Clause 1(1). Without something along those or similar lines—no doubt the wording could be improved—it is far too open-ended. Although the present Minister and Secretary of State would want to work within the confines of the Bill, once it is on the statue book it will be open to all sorts of abuse. I do not think that is the intention of an agricultural Bill and that is why I propose this amendment.
My Lords, I declare my farming and land-owning interests, as set out in the register, in particular my receipt of basic payments over the years. I support Amendments 2, 3, 15, 20, 23, 36, 64, 85 and 106, which aim to concentrate this agricultural Bill on farming, horticulture and forestry, with the associated aims of encouraging sustainable farming, strengthening food security, and improving animal welfare, access and the environment. However, we need to consider the starting point and existing situation, if the Bill is to succeed.
Currently, farmers are governed by the CAP and receive area-based payments. Figures show that 25% of farmers are profitable without the BPS. Direct payments account for around 58% of average farm businesses’ income. Figures rise for both beef and sheep. Although it is accepted that area-based payments are going and that payments will be made in exchange for public goods, there is little understanding among farmers of what this means. This is not helped by the almost complete lack of detail. Only 10 days ago, I received the policy discussion document on environmental land management schemes. It says all the right things, but clearly demonstrates how much more is to be done. The low take-up of current environmental schemes is due to them being both complicated and bureaucratic.
Farmers are not a homogenous group of wealthy landowners; nor is land homogenous. Farmers have very different levels of education and expectations of life. The Bill will shock most of them, because so much detail is missing and may not be available until 2024. This brings into question the Minister’s statement that there is a seven-year transition period. We will be clearer about what we are transitioning into only after 2024, which makes it a four-year transition by some definitions. Many farmers will just close their eyes and continue to farm as they know best.
For the Bill to be a success, there needs to be a high take-up of the new ELM scheme, otherwise farming profitability will sink, farmers will go to the wall and important farming skills will be lost. To avoid this awful scenario, ELM details are essential as soon as possible. In particular, we need to know how much farmers will be paid. Area payments have worked well, in the absence of any other reliable measurement, so do not discount them, although they sound like winding back the clock.
The other key point in strengthening the Bill with a view to getting early take-up by farmers is to be careful about the level of bureaucracy and generous in understanding that some factors, such as weather and disease, are outside farmers’ control. Unnecessary sanctions will put off farmers. Let us concentrate on supported improvements to farming, with access to advice for farmers on how they can implement the ELM schemes that are suitable for their farms and part of the country, together with improving technology, and therefore investment. Let us not add to the bureaucracy and think that the Bill can cover everyone’s wishes.
The majority of amendments in the second group aim to strengthen the farming provisions in this Bill and I support them. I now come to my own amendments, which are very much supported by the NFU and the farming lobby. Amendment 114 is driven by the fact that this is an enabling Bill and full details of the future agricultural support regime will appear only later, through delegated legislation. The Bill as drafted allows for the Secretary of State to delegate functions relating to the giving of financial assistance to “any other person”. This amendment seeks to limit aspects that can be delegated to administrative matters.
Farmers do not want to face a lottery of whether or not they may be able to access to financial support. There is a role for delegating delivery schemes to other people, particularly administrative functions, and to allow local decision-making to influence the shape of future financial assistance schemes. But the Government should not devolve their responsibilities to ill-suited non-government bodies or organisations. Allowing the Government to delegate the design and purposes of schemes risks a rise in inconsistencies and unfairness across the country.
Amendment 116 covers the transparency of information. Transparency is in the public interest. However, we must be mindful that, in many cases, farmers running farm businesses from their farms also live at those farms, with their families and children. Family farms are the backbone of British farming. There are times when it would be appropriate to limit the publishing of private information. For example, in the past, campaigns have been run targeting dairy farms and poultry farms. Public disclosure of information should be handled sensitively and be limited in nature to ensure that the private interests of farmers and their families are not jeopardised.
My Lords, this is my first opportunity to speak on this Bill, as unfortunately I did not make the cut at Second Reading. I would like to say briefly that, having been involved in the backroom in a previous iteration of this Bill, as adviser on the environment to Theresa May, I know the immense hard work that has gone into it by many civil servants, the Bill team and Ministers. This is a pretty difficult circle to square, because there are so many interests—as we have heard today. I would also like to pay tribute to Michael Gove, who had the inspiration to bring forward the innovative and ground-breaking idea of money for public goods.
In that capacity, I was fortunate enough to make a series of visits to farms. I have no direct farming interests, although if you were to go back three or four generations, I think you would find that my family worked on the land. I echo the words of the noble Earl, Lord Caithness: farmers are custodians of the land. They want to look after the land, and they want to know what they have to do. By and large, they care for their land in a way that perhaps those of us who only visit it cannot really understand. I also echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington. Having been in a family business myself, as the fourth generation, I understand exactly the problems and concerns of family businesses. As the noble Lord said, these are not just businesses; the family lives on the land. Those are important issues.
I understand the general drift of the amendments in this group, particularly those tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Addington. There is a great danger of narrowing the recipients. Farmers and farming businesses are, of course, going to be the primary beneficiaries of the management of public goods. However, the aim of the Bill is to make it a little wider, mainly because the environmental land management scheme will also be the principal mechanism for delivering many of the ambitions of the 25-year environment plan. We should not, therefore, limit the scope to agricultural land only. I have a great deal of sympathy with Amendment 103, which talks about other things that should be included. For example, I do not think that blanket bogs would be classed as agricultural land, yet they will play a vital role in future climate change mitigation.
I also associate myself with the words of the noble Earl, Lord Devon, about social prescribing and the merits of getting out into the environment and nature. It does not always have to be in the countryside. Agriculture and farming are not exclusive to rural areas. In my former constituency of Uxbridge—from where I am speaking now—there are several farms, and most people would not realise that. They are not something that you get only in the rolling landscapes of England.
My Lords, I was delighted by what the Minister had to say about native breeds. None the less, there are a number of amendments in this group which I would like to identify as potentially limiting the financial assistance for native breeds such as Dartmoor, Exmoor or New Forest ponies. They are Amendments 10, 15, 30, 64, 85 and 103. There is a particular concern about Amendment 64, which appears to suggest financial assistance only for agriculture, leaving out the native breeds. Amendment 103, after Clause 1, would limit the benefit of financial assistance in such a way as is likely to be a disincentive for landowners to use native ponies for conservation in other regions. Dartmoor ponies are currently used as conservation grazers right across the country.
My Lords, I apologise that I was not able to speak at Second Reading; I was not sworn in to your Lordships’ House due to illness. I am having trouble with my broadband, so I will make this incredibly brief. I will comment on Amendments 106 and 103, which I see as key.
On Amendment 106 in particular, I am very much opposed to the money going to the person who is not taking the risk in managing the land on a day-to-day basis or in occupation of the land. During my two spells as a Farming Minister, in MAFF and in Defra, I did many farm visits. I remember on more than one occasion being taken to one side privately by a farmer to spell out the fact that they were doing certain things that were improving income and diversifying but the landlord had started to interrupt and take a slice. I would be very much opposed to the National Trust, for example, being a big recipient of this money on behalf of tenant farmers. We should be quite ruthless about where the money goes. It is essentially farm income; it is not for other bodies. I am not singling out the National Trust, but I can think of two or three examples where it was the main culprit.
I very much agree with Amendment 103. I would like to make a couple of points that impinge on the next group, on which I will not speak because there is an overlap. First, on the monitoring of animal health and welfare, farmers have to be proactive. There is of course a fear that leaving the CAP might mean less form-filling and more of a free-for-all. We cannot afford that; there has to be really proactive monitoring of animal health and welfare, and farmers have to be encouraged to do that. Secondly, in respect of public access, better paths around field margins to replace unsafe lanes, deliberately creating circular routes rather than single routes, have to be of great benefit to the public.
I will give the Committee a good example to go and look at. In the Langdale valley in Cumbria there have been massive changes in recent years to allow access on the floor of the valley to wheelchair users. What has happened there has been quite dramatic. I would say that that example, above all the others that I came across, is absolutely fantastic. I will conclude there.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Rooker. He was a distinguished Farming Minister and it is good to see him back with us.
I declare my interests as set out in the register. I will speak to Amendment 2 in the names of my noble friends Lady Scott and Lord Addington. The effect of the amendment would be to limit financial assistance to those involved in agriculture, horticulture, forestry and land management. One of the main purposes of the Bill is to continue to maintain financial support for agriculture and other activities specified in the amendment. Farmers, growers and others are, like so many other businesses, extremely apprehensive about the future, especially when the transition period ends on 31 December this year. They understand from media reports that the Brexit negotiations seem to be going nowhere, and it is becoming more likely by the day that we shall leave the EU on WTO terms. The financial shock to our whole economy of such a crash-out will be immense, and farmers, growers and others described in the amendment will need all the support that they can get. I mentioned at Second Reading the likely disastrous effect on stock prices, especially in the sheep sector but also quite possibly in the beef sector.
Over the years, farmers and others have wholeheartedly embraced policies to protect and enhance the environment and the countryside, to farm extensively and to achieve high standards of animal welfare. They have diversified as much as they can. Our farmers are aware and proud that they are the custodians of our landscape, including the uplands and the vast bulk of the landmass of the country that is turned over to agriculture and forestry. Farmers strongly resist the cheap and dangerous solutions practised elsewhere, such as the use of growth hormones and toxic pesticides. They value our landscape and our countryside. Farmers and growers embrace their role in producing the bulk of the food to feed our country. However, all this comes at a high cost, not only a high capital cost but often a cost in the diminution of future income.
Many farmers, including many in the south-west and on the uplands of Dartmoor and Exmoor, are barely making a living. They depend for their livelihoods on financial support. The financial support earmarked in this Bill should go to those involved in agriculture, horticulture, forestry or land management. The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, is quite right: those who take the risk should get the benefit. If support is required for other businesses or other purposes, or for businesses only remotely tangential to agriculture or horticulture, that support should come from a separate pool of money and should be provided for in separate legislation.
Potential problems with the drafting of this clause have already been identified in this debate; for example, does the support go to the landlord or the tenant? The drafting of this amendment should be tightened up before Report stage, when I hope it will come back to the House.
My Lords, I am no expert on agricultural questions but, as a Cumbria county councillor, I am deeply interested in them because they are so important to our local area. I hope that the Government will listen to what the noble Lord, Lord Burnett, has just said. The prospect of failing to avoid tariffs in agriculture in our current discussions with the EU represents a serious threat to the agricultural sector and, frankly, makes our present considerations under this Bill look relatively insignificant.
We have an opportunity to create a better system of support for farming and for the countryside. The debate on this group of amendments brings out my view that there is a lack of clarity about the objectives. Is this about farmers or about the wider rural economy? I strongly support Amendment 103, which outlines a broad set of objectives for financial assistance. I would be interested to know the Minister’s reaction to that amendment. Are the Government supportive of it, or do they think that it stretches the definition of eligibility for the ELM payments too far?
I have another concern. The common agricultural policy, which had many faults, was introduced as a measure almost of social assistance to facilitate economic transition on the continent from a rural to an urban society. In the 1950s, 30% of people in France worked on the land, while 25% did so in Germany and 40% in Italy, yet we saw in the decades after that a tremendous move to the cities. This was achieved with little social friction, and the support for farming was an important part of that transition. Of course, the way it was done had serious snags to it. Initially, it was done by giving subsidies to production. Why was it done that way? Because there was no other way of regulating it—no other simple way of handing money to the agricultural sector when it was in this process of transition.
I have two doubts about the Bill, both of which I think are relevant to this group of amendments. The first is: what are we setting these objectives for, farming or the countryside, and who will be eligible to receive the payments? How will these objectives be regulated? The Government give us little detail on that point. How are we going to tell whether farmers have met these very worthy objectives that are being debated in this set of amendments?
My second point is that, while I dare say economic assessments have been done—this is an economic question—when it comes to the problems of low-income farmers, who fulfil a vital social function in areas such as the hill farms of the Lake District, can we be sure that this new system of setting them environmental objectives will give them a sustainable living? That is what matters: are they going to get enough money to continue to do their job? The answer is that I do not know. What the Government are saying about environmental land management sounds very good and of course I support it—who would not?—but how is it going to be done and what will its economic consequences be for different farming communities? The Government have to give better answers to those questions before we can give proper consideration to the Bill.
I want to follow on closely from what the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, was saying. I believe that the Bill has to be changed somewhat. First, the emphasis should be more on the rural economy, of which farming is of course a key element. I believe that the way forward is to consolidate and formalise the diversification approach that many farmers have already moved on to. We should do so through the concept of the rural business unit, or RBU, as originally set out in 1992 in the Bunbury report of the CLA. At that time it was not adopted by the Government, but the CLA, of which I am a member, has developed the idea and recently presented it to the Treasury.
Historically, farmers have been among the earliest entrepreneurs, always open to new ideas of how to make the best use of areas of land, large or small. Equally, they have always seen themselves as being custodians of the land. That custodianship must continue to be buttressed by a strong and sensible planning system. The planning system that we have in this country is, together with the NHS, one of the two great inheritances from the post-war Attlee Government, and I have been rather concerned at stories that the Government are in some ways aiming to try to dismantle part of it. I say right away that they will have no support from me if they weaken the planning system.
The sort of activities that should be encouraged through the rural business unit include, obviously, tourism in its many forms; the protection and enhancement of the landscape; conservation and encouragement of our diversity of flora and fauna; forestry, as has been referred to, especially hardwoods; the provision of additional housing, especially through the sensitive conversion of redundant farm buildings into dwellings; the development of premises for small businesses to use, whether for homeworking, offices or manufacturing; the provision of additional access, with facilities for walkers and riders; sporting facilities, including shooting and fishing; and, certainly not least, the adding of value by processing the products of agriculture or forestry, whether arable, vegetable or animal. All this may involve changes to the tax rules to offer the same advantages of accounting integration that have long been encouraged for other industry and commerce. I hope that the Minister might look favourably on this approach.
My Lords, I am a bit puzzled as to the intentions of the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, with Amendment 2. I should have thought that, by engaging in activities to support any of the purposes listed in Clauses 1(1) or 1(2), someone must by definition be involved in one of the four activities mentioned in the amendment. Therefore, I feel the amendment is unnecessary.
We have already discussed Amendment 4, proposed by the noble Earl, Lord Devon, and perhaps his Amendment 3 would have been better grouped with that. However, I cannot support his intention to exclude managers of land other than managers of agricultural land, which would exclude forestry, horticulture and other landholdings.
The noble Earl rightly challenges the drafting of Clause 1(1)(b), on “supporting public access”. It has always struck me as interesting that public access in Scotland is much more freely available under the right to roam legislation. However, most of Scotland has very much lower population density than England, and I believe the Government should tread carefully here. Many birds and animals may benefit from less intensive agriculture but will surely suffer as a result of greater disturbance caused by increased numbers of walkers and perhaps a more intrusive network of public footpaths.
As for Amendment 10 in the name of the noble Earl, I agree that the word “enjoyment” in relation to the countryside, farmland or woodland seems a little strange. I would support the inclusion of “health and wellbeing benefits”. Perhaps the term “natural capital” is a better and wider term than “environment”, and I think “awareness” is better than “understanding”, which may be too subjective.
In Amendment 64, the noble Earl seeks to restrict those who may be entitled to financial assistance, but I am not sure that his amendment is necessary. There are many farmers whose businesses have diversified into other activities, but it is clear that their ability to receive financial assistance relates only to the purposes set out.
As I thought about the noble Earl’s amendments, it occurred to me that “financial assistance” is not quite right as a term to describe the Government’s intentions. It sounds as though farmers are being helped because they are in need. Some may be in need, but others are not. Surely, what is proposed is that farmers should be appropriately rewarded for the value they add to the land they own or occupy. I do not think that a company provides “financial assistance” to its employees for doing their work in a diligent manner. Perhaps “support” or “compensation” would be better.
In Amendment 106, my noble friend Lady McIntosh seeks to ensure that financial assistance is targeted at active farmers and land managers. However, what about an estate owned by a person or persons not in day-to-day management control of their land because they are busy in other businesses and have appointed agents or managers to run the businesses? They retain ultimate control through their ownership of the land or farming business. It is not clear whether the amendment might disqualify some estates from the scheme.
I caution against adopting Amendment 108, proposed by my noble friend Lord Lucas. We have heard a great deal about following the science, but we know that science is based on different scientists’ different interpretations of the facts: it is not absolute and is very subjective. I agree with his intention on soil management contained in Amendment 110, but I am not sure why he thinks it necessary to spell that out here, when it is arguably covered in Clause 1.
I briefly mention Amendments 114 and 116, proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington. I think he is right both to seek assurance that the design and purpose of schemes is not delegated to non-governmental, non-accountable bodies and organisations and to strictly limit the publication of information relating to the recipients of financial assistance.
My Lords, I am afraid that I want to take a different position from several noble Lords who have already spoken about the amendments in this group. I speak specifically to reject Amendments 64 and 106 and other amendments in the group that would restrict payments to agricultural, horticultural and forestry land only. This Bill is about delivering public good through land management, and the environmental land management scheme will be one of the major ways in which the Government’s 25-year environment plan will be delivered. Therefore, although many of these public goods will be delivered by farmers and farm businesses, not all of them will: for example, restoration of non-agricultural habitats, such as blanket bogs, and the creation of non-commercial woodlands, such as community woodlands, both of which are important for combating climate change. I therefore do not support these amendments, which would limit the scope to agricultural, horticultural and forestry management rather than wider land management. These would reduce the Bill’s effectiveness in delivering its key purposes.
A number of noble Lords have said that this is an Agriculture Bill and so it should be about farmers and food production. I do not agree: I believe that this Bill is not about modest changes in the way we support and incentivise farmers but about how in the future we support anyone who manages land to deliver the things that the nation needs from the land. This will include food production, but it will also include a wide range of other things. This Bill is not simply about filling the gap left by leaving the common agricultural policy; it is about setting a vision for the future of the way the scarce resource of land is managed. Farmers will form a vital part of this transition and need to be helped and supported to make this transition, but it cannot be about farmers alone. Can the Minister assure me that the restrictions in these amendments will not be accepted?
I turn to Amendments 118 and 121 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter. I share her view that the checking, enforcement and monitoring of the new financial support schemes cannot be optional: they have to be required on the face of the Bill.
I understand that the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, has scratched, so I now call the noble Lord, Lord Empey.
My Lords, one theme that has come up today has been the theme of definition. In the last group, the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, led to a discussion of the differences between “conserve” and “enhance”. In this group, the noble Earl, Lord Devon, has drawn our attention to the difference between “enjoyment” and “health and wellbeing”. I am inclined to agree with him on that, and the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, did so as well. When we look at access to the countryside, clearly a balance has to be struck: where large amounts of taxpayers’ money are being invested in the countryside, then quite clearly many people wish to seek access to it. I understand that, in certain cases, people who seek access to the countryside under certain circumstances can cause harm in so far as they can spread diseases and so on. Lots of people feel that, as part of the country, they need to have access and have a right to have access, so it is a question of getting the balance right. The point that the noble Earl, Lord Devon, was making was that by making health and well-being a public good, it categorises something. Enjoyment is such a broadly based point that it lacks any kind of clarity. Those terms should be revisited.
On the general point about access to the countryside, we encourage people for health and well-being purposes to go there if they are resident in cities. However, we have to remember that many people live in the countryside who are not farmers, and there are many parts of the agricultural sector that are not farms. Some people have this idea that it is the job of people who work in the countryside to make sure that the hedges are well trimmed so that when the city dwellers come out at the weekend, it all looks very pretty. That is not what it is—it is not a museum. It cannot be maintained in aspic. The rural areas are living, working workplaces in many cases, and we want to ensure that that continues. However, I say to the Minister that the question of balance requires some consistency in how we define these matters, particularly when we are establishing public good. The general thrust of the Bill is good, but we must put more effort into consistency of definition.
I call the noble Lord, Lord Naseby. We cannot hear him so we will move on to the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, and will try to get the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, back later.
My Lords, I will speak briefly to Amendment 103, the impact of which would be to limit the range of activities benefiting from the Secretary of State’s financial support outlined in the Bill. In line with my comments on the last group of amendments, I consider that to do so would risk closing off the incentives for farmers and landowners to use native equines for conservation grazing in regions away from where they are traditionally bred. For Dartmoor, for example, this would dramatically shrink the size of the sink where the rare genetics of the Dartmoor hill pony, whose benefits I spoke of in my comments on the last group, would be safely held.
Such ex situ sinks are essential if the populations on Dartmoor ever need to be replenished: for example, if the semi-wild herds on the moor were devastated by disease. That would risk the loss of the rare genetics such ponies hold, which are so important to surviving and grazing on the uplands, creating habitats for wildlife. It would shrink a market selling native ponies as conservation grazers and would exacerbate animal welfare problems. If not sold, semi-wild native ponies, which must leave the upland herds in order to comply with number limits imposed by Defra agri-environment schemes, will be culled. So I am therefore very concerned by this amendment.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 106, which I support in spirit. It is good to see my noble friend Lord Rooker back, and I look forward to sitting next to him when the House resumes in its proper role.
I will be very brief and will ask the Minister a question. We know that under the CAP system, as I understand it, there is no restriction as regards the receivers of EU money. I believe that this is untenable in the future. The amendment sets out new limitations to confine financing assistance to those actively engaged in farming or land management. I support the spirit, as I said, but the amendment may need redrafting. There is no other justification for spending taxpayers’ money. I ask the Minister specifically: will there be any restrictions or limitations on who payments will be made to in future under the Bill?
My Lords, forgive me if I turn off the video, because my signal is very poor. I declare my interests as in the register; my background is in livestock production in a hill area. As a Scottish farmer, I am particularly interested in the outcome of the devolution framework negotiation.
I was interested to hear my noble friend Lord Marlesford saying that we must emphasise the context in which we are. Behind it all, we have to bear in mind that as a country at present we should go out and buy exotic food or cheap food as and where we can find it, but we need to remember the warnings in the Beddington report that before too long these other parts of the world will need most of what they produce to feed themselves.
The Bill as it stands already opens up 10 headings of activities or causes for which the Government propose to offer financial assistance. Many noble Lords have tried to define a more focused approach to the payments. The noble Earl, Lord Devon, told us of his rationale for focusing only on agriculture and how he envisages rural support to be directed. I was interested to hear that he had drawn his definition of land from an EU definition.
In Amendment 64 the noble Earl envisages limiting the land eligible for assistance by the type of activity it supports, but those of your Lordships who have been involved in existing support schemes will be familiar with the difficulties that were dreamed up when the rules were made in Brussels to start to try to make clear what was agricultural land, starting off with a mapping exercise. Very many in my part of the world had to spend a great deal of time identifying what were rocky outcrops, patches of impenetrable scrub, bracken or bog on a field-by-field basis. I seem to remember that Northern Ireland faced a huge fine for claiming on areas with these conditions. I am glad to see that in Amendment 91 in the previous group, the noble Earl added a role for managing wetlands as part of cultural or natural heritage.
Following on from my noble friend Lord Randall’s concern, many noble Lords have drawn attention to what the EU now describes as “areas of natural constraint”. There would be a problem if we went solely down the line of production. There is a difficulty in dealing with the more awkward parts of what, in the Countryside and Rights of Way Act, was described as
“mountain, moor, heath or down”.
Some of these areas support agricultural production but, since the advent of the current basic payment scheme, some areas have no livestock on them at all. They are perhaps given over to conservation or peatland restoration. Are these to be excluded from any development assistance as we go forward?
As I said, many amendments are trying to direct more defined targets for funding. As we go forward, it will be interesting to see whether any wording will be found that will be acceptable to my noble friend the Minister.
My Lords, I will first say that I strongly support Amendment 118 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter. If we are talking about public funds for public goods, it makes absolute sense that there must be regulations to oversee the system. I cannot understand why we would want to leave that as optional. Her amendment does not specify the regulations or get into detail on what might be in place in future, but she quite correctly highlights the need for this to be a priority. A substantial amount of public funds will be distributed following the passing of this Bill, and clearly there should be regulations to check on the way in which these funds are being spent.
I also want to comment on Amendment 10, in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Devon, which highlights an interesting point on the definition used. I, too, thought that “enjoyment of” was slightly strange and loose wording, and liked the suggestion that “health and well-being” could replace it. It would be a much more proactive and much stronger phraseology. The limitations on the lives of so many of our fellow citizens have been highlighted by a lockdown which has seen them living in sometimes very small flats and apartments with no access to open spaces or countryside. Yet again, this has highlighted the impact on health and well-being of fresh air, access to the countryside, exercise and so on.
However, my reservation about Amendment 10 concerns replacing “countryside, farmland or woodland” with the more specific “agricultural land”. I am not sure why both changes have been made in that amendment rather than just one. If the Minister is minded, perhaps at a later stage, to change “enjoyment of” to “health and wellbeing”, he could come back to your Lordships’ House with an amendment on that basis that did not change the definition of “countryside, farmland or woodland” alongside it.
My Lords, after the noble Lord, Lord Judd, speaks, I will call the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, again.
My Lords, with the first group of amendments, we did the easy bit: we discussed the generalities. Now, as we move towards specifics, it becomes harder. I will not speak to a specific amendment, for the simple reason that I agree with them and I disagree with them. It is all a muddle. My starting point is very much the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, and my noble friend Lord Marlesford. After all, at the end of the war, it was clear that agriculture was coterminous with the rural economy. That is no longer the case. The remarks of my noble friend Lord Marlesford about the Rural Business Unit, merit very serious consideration and have an important part to play in the evolution of policy in this area.
As far as the immediate matters we are discussing are concerned, the crucial thing is to think about the provision of public goods. This is not a form of outdoor relief, but an arrangement for the acquisition, in the public interest, of things it is desirable for the public to have. Their acquisition divides into two separate things. First, it is an ongoing product which is essentially a function of maintaining land, but to do that, in certain circumstances it is necessary to invest capital. If you start looking at the economics of it in that way, it becomes more understandable.
The other thing that I have learned from farming is that just about all you can be certain of is that things go wrong. In this country, as we know, an awful lot of agriculture is conducted under the landlord and tenant system, but this disguises a whole range of arrangements between landlords and tenants. In those arrangements, the various parties contribute very differently and the risk is carried differently. In any event, if you are thinking about these subjects, how do you deal with the landlord and tenant system separately from that of owner-occupiers? How, in financial terms, is an owner-occupier with large borrowings different from a tenant who is borrowing “money” from a landlord? That makes it very difficult.
In addition, there is not only one form of land tenure. In the north, where I come from, there is a great deal of common land, as we have heard this afternoon. The problems with common land have caused considerable injustice in the way in which they have locked, or failed to lock properly, into environmental payments. The noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, spoke about conacre in Ireland, which I have heard about but never come across personally.
Furthermore, in looking at public money for public goods, we have to be clear that what is suitable in place A is not suitable in place B. Different bits of Britain are completely different from one another. I live in Cumbria, on the edge of the Lake District, but I spent a number of years in East Anglia on the edge of the Fens. They are as different as the automotive industry and the aerospace industry. We have to be very specific and careful and start by thinking about what advantage the public can gain from any particular place.
In terms of money, it seems axiomatic that there should be proper audit. This must be accounted for properly because, in any commercial transaction and wherever public money is involved, you have to be able to see what is going on and trace it properly. However, confidentiality is also important, a point which I think has been made. I am a dairy farmer; we have had our supplier on to us about security in the face of animal welfare activists.
At the end of the day, it is for the Government to work out what they want to buy under the principle of public money for public goods. As I and others have said, they are pretty vague in their own mind about what they want to do. In dealing with the consequences for the people on the ground, as much as possible—this has been touched on by a number of speakers—if it is appropriate to find an agreement between the various interests involved in the use of land, that must be a very good starting point to take it further forward.
My Lords, I return to the basic amendment for this group from the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market. It makes sense. It spells out more fully the range of activity which I am sure the Government intend to cover and specifies some of these areas more clearly. At this point in our economic history, which is not very cheerful, horticulture may become very much more important than it is even today. It may become an important part of our way of life and an important way of generating income for a cross-section of people. This will not be altogether a bad thing. It will lead to a better quality of life for them, frankly, than what they may have been involved in before. For all these reasons, we should be grateful for this amendment. I certainly support it.
I regret that we have been unable to reconnect with the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, so I call the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville.
My Lords, this group of amendments moves us to the question of what type of land will qualify for financial assistance. My noble friends Lord Addington and Lord Burnett are arguing for a widening of this to include agriculture, horticulture, forestry and land management. Along with the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, and the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, I have added my name to Amendment 65, which would ensure that the Secretary of State focuses his financial assistance on the issues we believe should be covered in the Bill: agriculture, horticulture and forestry.
I look forward to clarification from the Minister on this matter, especially around the rights of tenant farmers, so well set out by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, and my noble friend Lord Burnett. As I am nearly the last speaker on this group of amendments, all the relevant arguments have been successfully made by others, but I wish the Minister to be aware of the depth of feeling over this issue and of just how important it is to be absolutely clear what functions and services are to be eligible for financial assistance.
I support Amendments 118 and 121, in the name of my noble friend Lady Parminter. I believe that consultation and what is to be consulted on are vital.
I turn to Amendment 103, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, to which I have added my name. Others have already spoken on this amendment, so the Committee will be pleased to hear that I will not speak to all its proposed paragraphs. I would like to draw attention to paragraphs (a), (b), (e), (f), (h) and (j) in subsection (2)—but do not worry, I will not be that long. This is not to say that the other paragraphs are not important; I just do not want us to be here at 10 pm this evening.
Mitigating the risk of flooding is very important, not only on the uplands. Rural communities are rarely flat and the way in which a farmer ploughs his sloping land has an impact on how the water drains away during heavy storms. Although I have seen leaflets encouraging farmers to consider run-off from their land, some seem unable to grasp this. Beautifully neat rows of soil look good, especially when planted with maize, except during heavy rainfall. Then, the water streams down the furrows, through the gate and out into the roads—where, carrying topsoil and silt as it goes, it cascades down them and into the drains, blocking them completely within a short space of time. This ensures that the water continues on its way down into the village, causing distress and mess to those living there. Financial incentives seem to be the only way to alter the behaviour of some farmers.
The Minister will be expecting me to mention peat bogs. In Somerset, the extraction of peat on the Levels has been a local industry for a very long time. However, we now see a move away from peat extraction and towards improving and enhancing what is left behind. In many Somerset villages, the peat workings have been enhanced so that there are now wildlife and wild-flower sanctuaries, with public access along and between the lakes which have been created. The county council, along with the peat producer organisations, has been key in assisting this to happen. Financial assistance should not be given where peatbogs are exploited and not restored. Peat moors and bogs are essential in carbon sequestration, and this should form part of the financial equation.
Paragraphs (e), (f), (h) and (j) are interlinked. Environmental enhancement and protecting the environment improve air quality and contribute to addressing climate change. The noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, has long been a champion of rural proofing and productivity; I have heard him speak eloquently on the subject on many occasions. But still we find that the government policies handed down have a detrimental effect on those of us living in rural towns and villages. Under the Bill, we have the opportunity to ensure that the financial assistance to be linked to the various measures in it is fully rural proofed, ensuring the protection and sustainability of the environment and contributing to addressing climate change.
Finally, I will state what we all know: during April and May and the early part of June, the roads were quiet. The skies were not full of aircraft and even the railway lines were much quieter. Those of us lucky enough to have gardens heard the birds singing and watched them collecting materials for their nests. The air we were breathing was clean. Those of us with asthma found that we did not need our medication as often as previously. We all want this to continue. For one thing, our physical and mental well-being is dependent on it. We do not want to return to wholesale pollution. Air quality and climate change must move to the top of the agenda. I look forward to the Minister’s response to this important group of amendments.
I thank all Peers who have tabled their amendments in this group. At the start of each day in Committee when I am speaking, I shall declare my interests as at present receiving payments in relation to my interests, as declared in the register.
I will speak to one amendment in this group, Amendment 121, to which my noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch has added her name. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, for proposing this amendment, which would require the Secretary of State to conduct a consultation on the strong regulatory framework for those in receipt of financial assistance under her Amendment 118. This must be a wide-ranging consultation with participants on the impact of the overarching approach of reward for public goods in relation to environmental impacts. It is important that the Government commit at this stage to consult on the overall framework and impact, not merely on the various regulations that will come as secondary legislation.
This has been another well-populated group, with 22 amendments. It is important to bring out the main issues early in our Committee deliberations, and this group is important in defining the target recipients of financial assistance schemes and how wide these should be. How far will the payments for sustainable food production and environmental enhancements go? As was discussed in the first group, the limited funding must be targeted to provide good value for environmental enhancements to risk-takers in the production cycle. These payments may prove harder to forecast for budgetary purposes than allocation across defined land areas in a direct payment system.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Addington, the noble Earl, Lord Devon, and the noble Baronesses, Lady McIntosh and Lady Scott of Needham Market, for their amendments to determine that financial assistance under Part 1 can be given to agricultural land and farmers actively involved in agricultural production only. The noble Lord, Lord Randall, and my noble friend Lady Young spoke against this. My noble friend Lord Rooker, whom I welcome back, said that risk-takers must be a feature in receiving payments.
Clause 1(4), on page 2, states that:
“the Secretary of State must have regard to the need to encourage the production of food by producers … in an environmentally sustainable way.”
This does not suggest exclusivity. The Government have suggested that the present requirement to be a registered producer to receive the BPS may not continue and that payments for public goods may not be made to farmers exclusively. At this stage, it behoves the Government to be clear and emphatic in their intentions before bringing forward regulations on this. To what extent would the recipient of payments need to be involved in an agricultural, horticultural or forestry business and for what percentage of total payments? Is it sufficient to be a land manager outside of production? It would be a fair assumption that, as at present, the rationale for receiving payments in an agricultural Bill is that you help those engaged in food production to produce food sustainably. The Government are also bringing forward an Environment Bill, and I am sure the Minister wants to be clear about the relationship between the two Bills.
As I said at Second Reading, the Bill must encourage wholesome food production alongside environmental enhancements. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, for her remarks on public access for wheelchairs, under Amendment 111, on public rights of way under the Highways Act, also endorsed by my noble friend Lord Rooker. The Minister may respond that this and other amendments are unnecessary and already included in other legislation or the various clauses and requirements of the Bill on payment schemes, administration and good agricultural practice. It is important that a good picture of the framework of the Bill is made explicit. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for what again has been an interesting debate which has taken us into a range of issues. I shall begin with Amendment 2 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Addington, Amendments 3, 10, 15, 20, 23, 30, 64 and 85 from the noble Earl, Lord Devon, Amendment 65 from my noble friend Lady McIntosh and Amendment 94 from the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, all of which deal with eligibility for financial assistance.
This is of course the Agriculture Bill, and the powers it contains have been designed with agriculture in mind. Schemes are overwhelmingly designed to work for farmers and land managers, and we intend that they will reap the benefits of providing public goods across agriculture, forestry and horticulture. Farmers will, and indeed must, be at the very heart of future schemes, as I have said before.
I say to the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, that, yes, we want to avoid bureaucracy, but one of the reasons to have these tests and trials across the nation is so that almost all the ranges of what is in Clause 1 are tested, so that we can come forward with a national rollout which we think will be dynamic and work for farmers.
The ELM scheme will pay farmers, foresters and other land managers to deliver environmental public goods identified in the Government’s 25-year environment plan. About 70% of land in England is farmed so, as stewards of our land, farmers will play an essential role in this. That is why tier 1 of the ELM scheme will focus on supporting farmers to farm their land in an environmentally sustainable way. Other schemes, such as those aiming to improve animal health and welfare, will focus on supporting livestock farmers. The noble Lord, Lord Empey, used a word which is important in all of what we have to do: “balance”.
One of the areas where a number of noble Lords have taken contrary views is on assigning this just for, say, agricultural land. My noble friend the Duke of Montrose was right to highlight some of the issues and complexities, as did my noble friends Lord Randall of Uxbridge and Lord Trenchard and the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone. Woodland, rivers and wetlands, among many others, may well be able to deliver important public goods. This is an issue that we need to think through. When we try to be so precise, we might end up missing out if we were to accept some of these amendments. I am very glad that the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, mentioned the restoration of peatland. Many of these features will be managed by farmers on their land, but if we define it as just agricultural land, are we in difficulties about woodland, rivers and wetlands, all of which make a major contribution on one’s farm to how one can enhance the environment? Restricting eligibility to those managing land for agriculture, horticulture or forestry would mean that we risk missing out the important benefits that can be gained when land managers work together. For example, we would not wish for all those managing land in a particular river catchment to lose out on the possibility of joining a scheme just because one parcel of land in the catchment was not agricultural.
I am very mindful of what the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, and my noble friend Lord De Mauley said about native breeds. The Government are currently developing the details of the ELM scheme with stakeholders, including eligibility criteria. The ELM discussion document was reopened on 24 June. The Government’s view is that the Bill as drafted strikes the right balance between affirming the Government’s support to fund farmers, foresters and land managers under future schemes and providing a helpful degree of flexibility in designing future schemes.
There was a very interesting discussion about well-being. We had important contributions. Clause 1 could be used to contribute to the delivery of societal benefits, including engagement with the environment. The ELM could fund the creation of new paths, such as footpaths and bridleways, and could support access to water and waterways, such as lakes and rivers, which allow for—yes—enjoyment of the countryside. I have a bit to do with this very important area, particularly in relation to loneliness: I represent Defra on the ministerial task force on that. The noble Lord, Lord Empey, also mentioned social prescribing, health and well-being. Defra and the DHSC, working jointly, are bidding, through the shared outcomes fund, to develop a mental health project to support scaling up nature-based preventive and therapeutic interventions, working with PHE, NHS England, the MHCLG and Natural England. I am genuinely interested in how we craft the Bill. We think that “enjoyment” covers all that would be required. If a farmer was going to engage with something like social prescribing or health and well-being, then that is part of environmental enhancement. I am not promising anything, but I am interested in a conversation on how we encompass all this. With what the nation is going through with this crisis, the Government place great importance on this area for health, well-being, mental health and social prescribing.
I turn to Amendment 106, in the name of my noble friend Lady McIntosh. It was great to see the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, even if it was only on the screen. The Government recognise that schemes should, of course, be available to tenant farmers. It is the Government’s intention that the ELM scheme will provide funding to those carrying out the management of the land or water to deliver the environmental public goods. My noble friend Lord Inglewood, an experienced land manager, spoke wise words when he referred to the range of issues. The Government are engaging with a wide range of different types of farmer and land manager, including tenant farmers, to inform the development of ELM and to understand and address any particular issues, including in relation to tenant farmers, to which my noble friend Lady McIntosh’s amendment refers.
In response to the noble Earl, Lord Devon, I say that the Government are designing future financial schemes to be accessible to as many farmers and land managers as possible, including those who work on common land.
I turn to amendments which deal with conditions placed on recipients of financial assistance. I reassure my noble friend Lady McIntosh that the Government recognise the importance of the issues listed in her Amendment 103 and are committed to supporting their delivery, both through schemes that will be delivered under Clause 1—I will not go through the list of what they are—and wider government initiatives. On the issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, I say that we already have robust domestic regulatory protections in place that require all farmers and land managers, irrespective of whether they receive financial assistance or not, to meet stringent standards. I was interested in what the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, said. These rules include the farming rules for water, which protect against water pollution, and the welfare of farmed animals regulations, which protect farm livestock, a point that the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, referred to. These protections will continue.
The Government are reviewing, in partnership with industry, where we can make improvements to our regulatory regime. There will be some areas where the Government will raise standards. As announced in the clean air strategy, the Government will require and support farmers to take more action to reduce ammonia emissions, for example. Where appropriate, we will look to provide greater scope to remedy underperformance before sanctions are applied. The Government agree with Dame Glenys Stacey that advice has an important role in an effective regulatory system.
As Minister for Rural Affairs, rural-proofing is an issue I place the utmost importance on. My noble friends Lord Marlesford and Lady McIntosh, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, raised it. The Government are committed to rural-proofing all policies, which involves looking at how best to achieve policy outcomes while taking account of the particular needs and challenges of rural communities. There is a network of rural-proofing leads from all main departments.
I am particularly mindful of the experiences of my noble friend Lord Inglewood and the point my noble friend Lord Marlesford raised. The Government are taking steps to ensure that rural communities can continue to thrive. For example, through the “outside in” approach as part of the future telecoms infrastructure review, we are supporting the deployment of gigabit-capable broadband to the least commercially viable UK premises. That means that those in the hardest-to-reach rural areas will not be left behind. Through the Rural Connected Communities competition the Government are funding up to 10 5G research and development projects to run over two years. At a different scale, the funds that have been made available to village halls are also a tremendously important part of the direction of travel we wish to take.
I emphasise once again that the Government have a clear ambition to leave the environment in a better state than we found it. We will work closely in partnership with land managers to achieve these outcomes by encouraging them to adopt holistic approaches to the delivery of multiple public goods across their land.
On Amendments 108 to 110 in the name of my noble friend Lord Lucas, I will first discuss the role of evidence and risk in the development of our financial assistance schemes and conditions. The Government are taking a science-led approach to many of the ELM scheme conditions. The scientific evidence on the extent to which different land management activities deliver environmental benefits will inform what the scheme will pay for. For the purpose of improving productivity, conditions may be attached to the provision of financial assistance for a number of different reasons. Conditions might, for example, be used to derive additional public or private benefits from the funding.
On the amendment on local and individual variation, this is also being considered in the ELM scheme conditions. For example, tier 1 of ELMS aims to support environmentally sustainable farming across the country. This tier aims to support actions that the majority of farmers will be able to take, but the Government are also considering how these actions may differ across different regions and different farm types. Tiers 2 and 3 are intended to deliver environmental outcomes that are targeted to their location so the land management activities paid for under these tiers will take into account local variations, which could include the environmental improvements a local area may need, the actions that can have the most success in a particular area, and the natural capital assets that already exist in that area.
On the amendment on soil management practices, Clause 1 allows financial assistance to be given for protecting and improving the quality of soil, which we will discuss in more detail in a later group.
The Government recognise the importance of the issues raised in these amendments and have sought to address them in their schemes and in the Bill itself. However, if additional conditions are placed on the receipt of financial assistance, we run the risk of those wishing to apply being put off by the added bureaucracy. Clear guidance to farmers and land managers is of the highest importance and the Government would not want take-up to be reduced due to schemes being overly complex.
I will reply to Amendment 113 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, and Amendment 114 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, because it would be a decent thing to do. Clause 2 enables the Secretary of State to delegate discretionary aspects of a scheme; for example, the assessment of how well applicants meet funding criteria, where specialist knowledge is a required condition. The Government wish to ensure that there is flexibility in the system to encourage innovative and collaborative approaches to delivering public goods in a way that works for participants and to achieve the Government’s objectives. As drafted, Clause 2 allows the Government to look beyond the current scope of bodies such as Natural England and the Rural Payments Agency and to draw on the expertise that exists in other organisations. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and my noble friend Lord Trenchard that any organisation would of course be accountable for public funding they received using well-established practices for the spending of public money.
Amendment 116, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and Amendment 115, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Addington, have somewhat conflicting intentions. The Government are determining what information about recipients of funding should be published under regulations made under Clause 2; for example, whether to include the amount of funding received and the purpose for which funding has been given. There may be some areas where the publication of conditions applicable to individual recipients would not be appropriate.
I reassure noble Lords that the Government intend to provide ample protection to individuals who would receive public funds under this chapter. Clause 46 ensures that Clause 2 powers to publish information cannot be exercised in a way that contravenes data protection legislation, including the general data protection regulation—GDPR—as defined by the Data Protection Act 2018. The GDPR requires that information published under this chapter must be adequate, relevant and limited to what is necessary in relation to the purposes for which it is processed.
I can tell the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, that Defra intends to undertake a consultation exercise with stakeholders later this month, giving them an opportunity to share their views on what information should be published. Defra will then take these views into account when drafting the regulations under Clause 2, which will be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure.
On Amendments 118 and 121, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, I start by saying that, in all that we are doing, it is absolutely essential that we ensure that taxpayers’ money is properly spent. In relation to the noble Baroness’s first amendment, I have already noted in reference to Clause 1 that the use of “may” is consistent with other legislation. To use “must” here could lead to unintended consequences, such as the drafting of unnecessary regulations.
In relation to the noble Baroness’s second amendment, and on a point that she and the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, raised, the Government are engaging with stakeholders on these regulations. Defra is undertaking a consultation exercise with key external stakeholders to ensure that their thoughts and concerns are taken into account when deciding the policy to be adopted.
To the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, and the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, I say that the Government already have a robust regulatory regime and are committed to maintaining and improving environmental standards.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Aberavon, asked about eligibility for financial assistance. I can give him a policy answer and a legal answer. Anyone who provides any of the Clause 1 purposes will be eligible. Beneficiaries include, but are not limited to, farmers, foresters, horticulturalists and those managing the land. From a policy point of view, I emphasise that the schemes are overwhelmingly designed to support farmers and land managers. As I have said, farmers must be, and will be, at the heart of the schemes.
The noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, again made the important point about work with the devolved Administrations and considerations on eligibility. Defra Ministers and Ministers in the devolved Administrations have regular discussions; for example, at an almost monthly inter-ministerial group meeting. Ministers discuss a range of agricultural issues, but it is worth remembering that agriculture is a devolved matter and, outside of the EU, each UK Administration will have flexibility to develop agricultural policies suited to their unique circumstances. I am very pleased to be able to tell the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, that Defra and Welsh Government officials are having early discussions on, for instance, scheme design. It is about a balance between propriety—this is a devolved matter—and the importance of working collaboratively.
I also wanted to speak about the overarching principles for inspecting and enforcing financial scheme conditions. The key principles of design for compliance monitoring and enforcement will be proportionality, simplicity and transparency, ensuring correct use of public money while improving the delivery of outcomes. I absolutely accept—and this is why transparency is so important—that, for activities funded by the public purse, it clearly protects public money and ensures that recipients of public money are subject to a degree of accountability.
There has been a range of very interesting issues, and I will again look at Hansard and want to continue to have discussions about any residual points, which I very much welcome hearing. I hope I have addressed the larger issues, particularly the point that, yes, this overwhelmingly concerns farmers, land managers and those involved in that area, but—bearing in mind the points that other noble Lords have made, whether about water or woodland—it goes beyond that. This is particularly the case when you get to tiers 2 and 3, but also tier 1, where you have an individual farm that may have wetlands, watercourses and ditches. The whole farm, I think, should be looked at in that way.
However, when you get to tiers 2 and 3 and you are looking at a much broader landscape area, it is important to say that these points about balance and flexibility are to make sure that we actually ensure, in the end, that the farmer and the land manager play their part in what we are all seeking to do, which is to achieve the 25-year environment plan.
With all of that, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Addington, will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I have received one request to speak after the Minister. I call the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester.
I rise merely to press the Minister on his statements around the different levels of tiers and how payments may differ as the higher tiers are approached. I wondered whether this was going to become clear in the regulations or whether there is a bit of experience of how many people will be applying under the different tiers. Will it be defined in regulations?
Clearly, we know that there are 80,000-plus claimants under the BPS at the moment. Obviously, the range of opportunities, with regard to numbers, will depend on clusters and how many farmers will want to group together—as we have had with farm clusters in other schemes—and those that wish to have individual, predominantly tier 1 consideration. Again, clearly this is why the trials are going on; they will show how that is going to work with the varying tiers and indeed how they all interrelate.
I do not think I would feel comfortable taking it any further than that at this stage, only because this is work in progress. I should think it will go on beyond enactment, but what I will do is make sure that—obviously, there will be continuing work on this and regulations will be coming forward—when we get to further stages of how ELM is coming forward, noble Lords are kept informed.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his usual courteous and informed reply. However, the point that I was trying to raise seems to have got slightly lost: namely, where do we find out who is going to be eligible? If the answer is “We do not know”, I think we might have to come back and dig again to find out exactly where that is placed, but at the moment I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 2 withdrawn.
Amendments 3 to 5 not moved.
My Lords, we now come to the group beginning with Amendment 6. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate. Anyone wishing to press this, or any other amendments in this group, to a Division should make that clear in the debate.
6: Clause 1, page 2, line 9, at end insert “and people’s access to it;”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment seeks to ensure that where financial assistance is provided for the protection or improvement of the environment, public access enhancements are, where appropriate, incorporated so that people can experience and benefit from the actions taken.
My Lords, we come to a rather more honed group of amendments. We are talking about access, inspired by
“supporting … access to and enjoyment of the countryside”
in Clause 1(1)(b). It is a pretty fundamental change here that you are getting finance for that purpose, and I believe we should take quite a long and hard look at this. It is changing everything that goes on inside the countryside, but it cannot sit by itself in agriculture. If you are talking about access, you are talking about getting access to activity going out there. We are going through a crisis caused by a disease which does not affect people with decent cardiovascular systems as badly. There is a public health element. There is a sports and recreation policy element here—it affects everything else. There is a tourism element here. If you have good footpaths, you can sell that weekend in a cottage. You can go on and on here, but I will not insult the intelligence of this Chamber by doing so at any great length. The fact is that access matters, both as a principle, as being of practical value to the rural economy and, I hope, to farmers directly now as well. If they are providing this access—the point I was trying to make earlier on—they deserve to get some payment, but we deserve something back for that activity. It is a two-way street. I hope that these amendments will open up a discussion that goes through.
I should also mention that these amendments were created in conjunction with the ramblers and the canoeists. There is a huge amount of activity on waterways which hits all those targets we are talking about: public health, access, enjoyment—it is all connected with the waterways. There are the canoeists—the paddlers—and the wild swimmers can be included here as well. That group’s activity probably becomes more attractive for most of us during the summer months, but it happens. We could have gone to other groups. I have some sympathy with the Minister, because these groups have a reputation for squabbling with each other. Anglers and canoeists are not traditionally the best of friends but they should get on together, and the defence of reasonableness that runs through British law should be applied to all of them. Those on scrambler bikes and those who might occasionally use a byway or a bridle path rather annoy those on horses. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, and my noble friend Lord Greaves on Amendment 100, as somebody who has, shall we say, a strong equestrian influence in my household—it was rather remiss of me not to bring them in. All these groups slightly compete for access, but they all have to get in there. However, to draw the Minister’s attention to some of the other amendments here, the idea of enhancing access runs through many of these amendments.
If you start talking about footpaths, you get the vision that a footpath is a path that runs across some countryside, often following a historical road. That does not fulfil many of the criteria I have been talking about. If you simply have a muddy path, it can become not easily used by many people incredibly quickly. Some of the amendments here are designed to reward farmers to make sure that these remain useful. There is the buggy and self-propelled wheelchair test—the buggy test is probably the most applicable one here. If there is a muddy path on a winter’s day, especially if it is on a route that people can get to, it will have a habit of getting holes and then puddles in it, which expand. That damages any land around it, either as regards its environmental or agricultural purposes. If you reward farmers for making sure that that has a toughened surface, it will take much more use and will cause less damage to the things around it.
Other people then sometimes contradict this. I remember we did it during the passage of the CROW Bill—my noble friend Lord Greaves, I think, has the scars from that—and we have not yet got anywhere near the number of amendments we had on that; I like to clang the death knell every now and again. There was a great deal of discussion then. People in motorised wheelchairs gained a great deal of traction, which was fair enough—they like access to the countryside—but their issues are not the same as those of a person with a slightly bad knee who needs that surface.
Where is it appropriate to use a gate as opposed to a stile? How do you maintain it? I have heard many a farmer say, “Yes, great, we could put a gate in there. Do you have any idea what they cost and how difficult they are to maintain, and about replacements?” The answer, of course, was that I did not at that time. We must make sure there is a structure here that rewards that sort of help, which will help everybody else here, too: if you need to get to a waterway, for example, you will have a path that is useful and allows access through. These amendments are not so draconian that they would say exactly what the enhancement must be. There will be somebody who lives on the Wiltshire-Berkshire border and somebody, like my noble friend Lord Greaves, who lives in the Pennines, where the hills are steeper and more formidable—he says they are not; he is being kind—but I come from East Anglia and the change was pretty substantial: there, a hill is an event. The point is that different bits of the countryside will need different practices going forward.
Part of the answer here plays into other areas. The Agriculture Bill may be predominantly about agriculture, but it must be aware of what else is going on. I hope the Minister will at the very least be able to give us an idea of how this important aspect of the Bill will be tied into other policy and enhanced. If we do not do this, we are missing a trick. I beg to move.
My Lords, like some other noble Lords, I fell victim to the Second Reading cull. Had I been able to speak at Second Reading, I would have focused entirely on the question of public access, so I am very pleased to have the opportunity this evening of supporting my noble friend Lord Addington’s amendments and saying a few words.
We are all agreed that the principle of reward for public good is the right one, and it feels to me as if public access is one of the most important public goods that we can put in the Bill. We know that open-air activity in the countryside—not just walking but all sorts of activity—has a huge contribution to make to individual health and well-being. I think it should sit alongside access to good-quality food as an important outcome of the Bill. I was very heartened to hear the Minister’s response to the last group amendments, when he talked about the importance of projects for well-being and partnership working with other departments.
But it goes much further. There is, of course, an economic development argument, with people coming to visit farm shops, cafés and pubs, but it is even more fundamental than that. One thing that has troubled many of us is the real disconnect between people, the food they eat and the way that it is produced. Noble Lords have tabled a number of amendments later in the Bill to deal with that. Regular access to the countryside is one important way of helping to stimulate this interest in and understanding of the way that our food is produced. It is also a way of exciting young people into thinking, potentially, about careers in agriculture, land management or forestry—individuals who come from towns, not necessarily just country dwellers. The same can be said about biodiversity, landscape, animal welfare—the more access people have to the countryside, the more committed they will be to those things.
For a decade, I chaired a rights of way committee in Suffolk. I know that some landowners are more accommodating than others and that some users do not behave in ways that we might like them to, but this stand-off really does need to end, because going forward, the link between individual taxpayers and farmers will be much clearer than it was in the days of the CAP. If people have a perception that they are somehow not welcome in the countryside, they will ask, “Why should my tax money support you?” I think that it would be in everyone’s interests to begin to think much more carefully about public access.
In the interests of time, I will not go through the amendments, but there are two categories. There are the ones that seek to make sure that nothing in the Bill makes the situation any worse. An example is the important question of cross-compliance: making sure that we do not pay for farmers and landowners who do not even comply with their duties under the Highways Act. Nor should we be using taxpayers’ money to help them to do what they should be doing anyway. So we have one set of amendments that are negative in focus, but then the much more positive ones which talk about enhancement and all the things we do to improve public access—not just public footpaths and rights of way, but access more generally, and particularly how we should think about getting people from towns and cities out into the countryside that we all enjoy. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
Many of the amendments to which I have added my name cover issues around water. I welcome the comments of the Minister when he summed up on the earlier group and the discussion about how we could be more creative. I was also delighted to hear many noble Lords raise the issue of social prescribing.
I would like to declare an interest in that my daughter is a kayaker and has previously been on a British Canoeing junior development programme. Because of that, as an individual I have spent countless hours trying to get better access to the countryside and to water which, as a wheelchair user, is not easy. Indeed, it is often not easy for disabled people to access anything much beyond a car park—if they are lucky enough to find somewhere to park. So I welcome all the amendments that seek to offer financial assistance to help increase and improve access for everyone.
Although I have not specifically raised the issue of disability access in any amendments, it needs far more consideration. I have said previously that too many barriers have been put in place which stop wheelchair users getting around. I have been discussing this with the all-party group on cycling and I would also like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Addington, for widening the issue out to discuss scooters and families with buggies. I should also like to thank British Canoeing and the Ramblers for helping to clarify some of the points that I wish to raise.
I believe that it would advantageous to define the term “waters” within the Bill so as to be clear about what is or is not included. There is a lack of clarity in the scope that may lead to inconsistencies in how the text is interpreted. There could be an assumption that public access and enjoyment should be supported only on land. The definition should be broad enough to ensure that financial support can be given to the widest range of farmers and landowners who are seeking to improve the use and maintenance of or access to the water that falls within their land.
The annual waterways survey estimates that around 2.1 million people go paddling every year, 35,000 of whom have direct contact with British Canoeing. However, a similar number of people swim outdoors and the 2018 survey showed that 50% of them had experienced conflict around access and 84% of that was on rivers. Of the 42,700 miles of inland waterways, only 1,400 miles are uncontested. So less than 4% of all rivers have a statutory right of access. This can be a huge barrier to participation, so I believe that there is scope for the Bill to support farmers in making more space for nature and for people.
I also believe that wider contact with an environment that is rich in wildlife will help to increase understanding of the need to protect it and it will increase people’s ability to be physically active, but it is necessary to support farmers and landowners to do that. I am afraid that I disagree with the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, who talked about access in the previous group. England may be more densely populated than Scotland, but we have to educate walkers, paddlers and anyone who is accessing the countryside to not damage or disturb wildlife.
With regard to water, I would argue that it is more damaging to restrict people to using just a tiny amount of water. If we could spread that use out, the burden on existing pressure points would surely be eased. It goes without saying, however, that those who use these spaces need to be respectful. I know from my daughter’s experience that people are taught about the environment and flooding, as well as how to look after an area, clean up litter and report things that they see along the way. They would want to protect certain areas, for example where fish are spawning, and not cause damage.
With improved access to and along waterways, we need to be looking at places to launch and land, and access around dangerous obstacles, such as weirs. We should not forget that through our communities, our towns and cities, we are perhaps more disconnected from water than we have ever been. Including these amendments will be a crucial stepping stone for the Government to meet their objectives in the Defra 25-year plan and be part of a green recovery. I believe the Government can help farmers and landowners to make this happen.
My Lords, I have added my name to Amendments 6 and 18 and I am very happy to support the noble Lord, Lord Addington, on those. I am very keen on getting more public access, but it is not just about creating new footpaths and so forth; it is about improving what we have as well, as he said. If footpaths are very muddy, that will put people off. I have examples locally where we used to have a bridleway. That got very muddy, the hooves churned it up and it is now very good for horses, very good for cyclists and very good for walkers, so this can be done and is, I think, very important. I have taken a great interest in getting more access to the countryside. It is not just about wheelchair users, although that is very important.
I got a great deal of assistance from an organisation called Birding for All and a gentleman called Bo Beolens, whose blog goes under the title “Grumpy Old Birder”—I was rather sorry that he got there first. He pointed out to me the problems you can have. For example, he can be given a key so that he can drive his car to a car park—somewhere walkers cannot go but he can get to a hide or something—but he has to get out of his car, assemble his wheelchair, go to the gate, unlock it, get back to the car, take his wheelchair down, go to the other side of the gate, get out again and repeat the process. It takes a long time and a lot of effort, so there have to be some innovative ideas. However, as I said, it is not just that. Something he pointed out that I think might have some resonance for many Members of your Lordships’ House is that, as you get older, sometimes you want to sit down on your walk, calling for provision of some resting place. It does not have to be a fancy seat; it could be an old log appropriately placed, or something like that. So, there are lots of things that can be done.
The other thing that has not been mentioned is getting access for those people who are very nervous of going out into the countryside, or even into nature. It does not have to be into the countryside; as I said earlier, we have lots of suburban areas. They are normally referred to as BAME, but there is another expression, which is the “visible minority ethnic” population, who feel very nervous about going out into areas where they do not see many other people who look like them. If we want to encourage more people to get into and understand the countryside, including farming, this is something we have to look at.
The Minister echoed the word “balance”, which was used previously, and balance is all-important here. The noble Lord, Lord Addington, mentioned the fact that there are competing desires. As somebody who goes out to enjoy nature, I am not always entirely chuffed to find myself in an area where there are lots of cyclists hurtling around when I am trying to spot a butterfly or something else, so there has to be balance.
I also well understand that landowners and farmers are nervous because, as we have seen in recent weeks and months, where people have been going out there seems to be an increase in irresponsible littering and fly-tipping, although that is a slightly different thing. I can understand why they do not want to have open access too much. We must also not forget irresponsible dog owners. Although it is probably a minority, you need only one person or a couple people to leave things around to put people off allowing access. Even on those areas that have public access, about a month ago a very important heathland in Surrey was set on fire. almost certainly by people using portable barbecues. I think that has also happened elsewhere. I can understand why, if I were a farmer, I would want there to be a balance in letting people in. We have to persuade and educate people on how to treat wild open spaces with respect.
That said, this is an important area that we should look at. For those people getting payment for public goods, public goods could well be encouraging people to use the countryside.
My Lords, yes, there have been fires on Pennine moors during the hot weather and lockdown, almost certainly caused by barbecues. I am one of the people pressing the Government to ban the use of mobile barbecues on open spaces. The sooner it happens the better.
I have been musing on the fact that I cut my teeth in the House of Lords on the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill almost exactly 20 years ago. At least three of us here in this debate are survivors of the all-night sitting we had in Committee—one of 11 Committee sessions. The Opposition at that time, the Conservatives, wanted 23 if I remember rightly. It was negotiated down to 11. If Members here think that they are hard done by, you ain’t seen nothing yet.
At that time there was also a pretty strong anti-access lobby in the House of Lords that was vociferous and quite angry. It is interesting that that has almost entirely disappeared and even those who raise questions are now reasonable and polite about it, which was not always the case at that time. That is a result of the success of the legislation that the then Labour Government brought in 20 years ago, which I was very proud to have been associated with in a very minor way.
I got together a speech to make today about how important access and recreation in the countryside are, but it is not necessary any more because it is generally accepted that that is the case. The value of recreation in the countryside for mental as well as physical health is generally accepted and that argument has been won.
As my noble friend Lady Scott said, we are talking about trying to make sure that things do not get worse and that they get better. Better small-scale facilities such as signposts and stiles that you can get over without demolishing dry stone walls in the process—I have done that twice in my life, simply because the facilities had deteriorated and it was a little-used footpath—help proper use and help land managers and farmers to cope with people walking across their land. It is win-win.
I am particularly supportive of Amendment 59, which is about enhancing access infrastructure. I am very fortunate to live in Pendle, on the edge of the town, with access to wonderful Pennine countryside, up on the Yorkshire border with Lancashire. Over the years, a huge amount of work had been done there on providing this kind of access. It is now beginning to fall apart a little, partly because the county council does not have the funding for it and partly because the schemes under which the work was done are not there anymore. It is very important indeed that the replacement and maintenance of facilities is part of what we are talking about.
I want to say something about the work that is going on in the Mendips by the Trails Trust, which the Minister will know about, as part of one of the trials looking at the provision of better and improved access. Will the Minister comment on that and tell us whether that kind of thing is going on in other areas? The trust is finding a lot of new bridleways, and those will be highly valuable. Indeed, I signed my name to the amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, about better bridleways.
One thing that is forgotten about is cycleways. Cycleways are not just urban things—they can be rural. They can be combined with horse riding and walking on local byways; indeed, you can cycle on a bridleway, but very often the surface is not all that good for cycling. They are not part of the rights of way legislation, because, at the time when that was based, cycles did not exist—they had not been invented. This is something that should be looked at now.
I ask the Government to look specifically at the problems raised by my noble friend Lady Scott concerning the ending of cross-compliance. Rights of way authorities have found cross-compliance requiring landowners to adhere to the Highways Act 1980 valuable, basically because they could threaten them for not doing it if they were getting grants. If that is removed, will a cross-compliance-type ruling be automatic, particularly in tier 1 grants and schemes, insisting that cross-compliance on rights of way on the land continues to exist—it would not be called “cross-compliance” but it would be the same thing—as a condition for getting the grant? Even if the grant does not cover rights of way at all, will landowners still be required to adhere to cross-compliance?
Finally, I come back to rights of way improvement plans, which I mentioned at Second Reading, and which the access authorities are supposed to have in place. Very often, the enthusiasm that went into these plans has gone, because rights of way departments have shrunk under the cuts to local authority budgets. The Environmental Land Management Policy Discussion Document, published in February, says that tier 2 outcomes are
“locally targeted environmental outcomes”
“some form of spatial targeting and local planning”.
This seems to be ideally suited to rights of way improvement plans across an area. Is that the kind of thing that the Government will look at and consider favourably? Will they encourage rights of way improvement authorities to put forward plans and try to integrate them into the new environmental land management system?
My Lords, the amendments in this group are crucial to the success of this Bill—or at least, the spirit behind them is. When I was young, a family t-shirt read: “Farmer Palmer says ‘Get orf moy laaand!’”. Things have changed, and I am delighted by that, but it is not just offering access that is important but labelling access: making it practically possible for the people paying for these payments to farmers to enjoy the outcome. As my noble friend Lord Randall said, it includes things such as a resting place, information, enabling enjoyment when you get there and even some provision for the dog poo fairy—a range of things to make the visit worth while, a positive experience and something that people really engage with and appreciate.
Part of that is an understanding of not just the wildlife but the farming that is going on. I know from the limited facilities available within range of us that this is something people enjoy, but it is not as easy to provide as one would wish. It takes money, particularly given the safety aspects of allowing people near livestock and the time involved in explaining what is going on. To my mind, this is part of access to the countryside and should be eligible for support.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 100 in my name. I welcome the opportunity to take part in scrutinising this legislation. It was a great disappointment that the Government did not allow more time for Second Reading and prevented me and other Members of this House from taking part. I declare my interest as a director of a company that owns some farming land. Also, I recently served on the Rural Economy Select Committee and, some time ago, on the Farm Animal Welfare Committee and the FSA animal feedingstuffs committee. I am a member of the BHA.
Amendment 100 is a probing amendment. First, there is no definition in the Bill of “public access”. I also raise the issue of allowing walkers and riders access to agricultural land. While there is a good number of footpaths, in some parts of the country bridle paths are in short supply. Horse riders have access to only 22% of the public rights network, which is the only real way they have of accessing countryside.
Certain responsibilities and liabilities go with creating bridle paths, which means many landowners are reluctant to create more. With the number of cars and bicycles now on the roads—cyclists can be a real danger to horse riders too, as they seem so silent and frightening to horses—there are far fewer safe place for horse riders to go. Access to agricultural land would give the benefit of opening up more safe places to walk and, especially, to ride.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Addington, is to be congratulated on this group of amendments. They are vital, and I am very glad to be associated with Amendment 111. I would have been associated with more if there had been spaces when I came to put my name down.
In our modern society—urbanised, digitalised, impersonal—it is serious for the whole future of humanity that so many people have totally lost contact with the countryside. Whether it be about the inspiration, an uplifting experience, or the spiritual or physical enhancement of being there, enjoying it and being active within the countryside, it is just not a reality for many people. We have a major challenge to put this right. It seems that all of us who have engagement with the countryside have a big responsibility for it—whether the land be in private ownership, public ownership, national parks or whatever—to make sure that people are re-engaging with what is, of course, in the end, fundamental to the well-being of society and to people’s own well-being in terms of food and the rest.
There has been too much surreptitious—sometimes quite sinister—cutting off of access to the countryside. We should take this very seriously indeed. It is wrong and it is very dangerous in terms of what I have just been saying. For these reasons and many others, these amendments are crucially important and I am very glad to be able to support them.
My Lords, I am amazed to hear that there were 11 days in Committee for the then CROW Bill and we have four for this much larger and more extensive Bill. It is amazing how things have changed.
I have been steward of the family farm for only a few years. During that time, I have experienced a number of issues with public access. We have had IRA bombs hidden in the woods; we have had oysters stolen; I have seen lambs mauled by dogs; I have seen sheep bludgeoned to death with baseball bats. We have chestnut blight throughout our woods spread by spores, which are carried on feet, and asbestos fly-tipped in ancient forests. I have just restored the belvedere tower that was burnt down by vandals more than 50 years ago. Public access to the countryside is quite sobering and your Lordships might be surprised that I am very supportive of it. It really needs to be managed, because it has incredibly dangerous and negative implications if it is not handled well.
It requires more than 45 minutes of this debate to really do justice to the issues but, as I see it, access is principally about education in what the countryside is about, how it works and how it is managed. I am encouraged that some of these amendments really focus on that. They focus on education on the countryside and what farming is about. Farming is about life and death, uncomfortable decisions and balancing the well-being of animals with the well-being of humans. The more that ELMS can be used to encourage responsible, sustainable and resilient access to the countryside for the benefit of people’s health and well-being, the better for all of us and, particularly, the better for land managers, whose management of the land suddenly becomes relevant to a much wider swathe of the population.
I am pleased with the positive reaction to the suggestion that health and well-being benefits are the purpose of access. Can the Minister comment and think about how we are funding this access, and whether it is just ELMS or whether we could perhaps look to the national health budget to provide additional financial support if we are doing so much good for people’s health and well-being, particularly their mental well-being? Perhaps some of the health budget can be directed towards land management for the benefit of public access.
We really need to think very firmly about biosecurity. I mentioned the chestnut blight, but there are so many diseases that are rampant in our countryside. Farmers do not exclude people from the countryside just because they do not want them there: they often exclude them because it is very damaging to have people all over the countryside, particularly in sensitive areas where one is dealing with disease and pestilence that is really ravaging so much of our native flora and fauna.
There is also physical security. Many in rural areas live in isolated houses; free access to the countryside can cause all sorts of issues with rural crime, fly-tipping and health and safety. Who pays when someone trips and falls? How does insurance cover that? All these things need to be worked through if we are to encourage more access to the countryside, as I hope we will be able to do.
My Lords, I support the general aim of Clause 1 to move to a system of public payments for public good, and putting in the Bill a list of purposes for which assistance could be provided. Amendments 6 and 9 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Addington, add to this clause that measures which would ensure enhanced public access to the countryside can qualify for financial assistance. This is welcome and necessary as, despite improvements to our beautiful countryside in recent years, in many places access is not guaranteed. This can be because the routes are inaccessible or do not exist. By introducing these amendments, landowners and others will be encouraged to support greater access to the countryside by improving rights of way, stiles, gates and signage and developing new paths along field margins. If the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner of Kimble, is not minded to accept these amendments, can he set out clearly how the Government intend to achieve the intent behind them and encourage greater access to the countryside?
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Addington, the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, and others on their focus on access to and enjoyment of the countryside, and the sport and recreation policy element, which I know the Minister shares.
These amendments seek to establish a clear commitment from the Government that, under these new arrangements, public funds will be directed towards delivering improvements in public access to the countryside in a balanced way for all users, as the noble Earl, Lord Devon, rightly emphasised, particularly for those engaged in sport and recreational activities which have over the years established a good, close and effective working relationship with farmers and landowners, particularly where rights of way exist, not least to and on water. I am pleased that point was emphasised by the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson. It is also important to recognise in this context the strength of argument put forward by my noble friend Lady Hodgson on the important equestrian issues at stake. The Bill provides an excellent opportunity to bring improved public benefits. I hope farmers and landowners will be encouraged not to restrict access for any person on any inland waterway or lake which forms part of that land for the purpose of open-air recreation.
I hope the Minister will find ways to ensure fair and equitable access to our countryside for all sustainable recreational pursuits on land and water at a time when fitness and activity levels are in crisis. I hope he will also agree that we should strive to deliver a new and improved regulatory regime that drives and enhances improvement and access to the maintenance of existing public rights of way for all users of the countryside. Enhanced access to the countryside and improved protection of the existing path network have been called for today in your Lordships’ House. I hope the Minister will signal his support for these objectives, to which I add my strong support. I believe he can, because I hope he will emphasise that in Clause 1(1)(b) it is possible to deliver these aims. In future, I hope that we in this House will hold this and future Governments to the important effect that that clause should deliver in the interests of a wider sport and recreational policy and an enhanced enjoyment of the countryside.
My Lords, I declare my interests, as on the register. I too regret that I was unable to participate in the Second Reading, but I will be mercifully brief with my comments on this group of amendments.
My worry with this group is the same as that which I had with the first two groups, on which I desperately wanted to speak but, through my incompetence, I notified the Whips incorrectly. My worry is that these amendments, like the others, are too prescriptive and not necessary to achieve the objectives on which all noble Lords agree. I counted and, if all the amendments in the first two groups are agreed, Clause 1 of the Bill will have 42 new and additional purposes added to it. I think that is unnecessary.
I am very keen on access to the countryside and to all green space, and I share the views of my noble friend Lord Randall that we need to increase the number of people from minority groups who visit the countryside. Studies show that the problem is that some youngsters will not go to a park 500 yards from their home. In such circumstances, it is difficult to get them into the wider countryside. This is a huge educational problem.
I do not support the amendments of my noble friend Lord Randall and the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, on a small but important technicality. I believe that the word “supporting” can include “enhancing”; therefore, changing it is not necessary and could be damaging. If the definition is simply enhancing, it may freeze out farmers who have done a lot of access work, above the minimum, but can do no more to enhance it and would not qualify. It would therefore be a bit unfair if those farmers, having already reached a high access standard, got no payment, but those who had done little got payment for enhancing by just a small amount. I submit that the word “supporting” is adequate and can do all the enhancing work that colleagues suggested.
I say to the noble Earl, Lord Devon, that the NHS and Public Health England are working with lots of organisations, including Natural England, on something called social prescribing. I believe that, until a few months ago, about 2,000 NHS staff were being trained in GPs’ surgeries to get people to do various things other than queue up for pills. That put it rather crudely; I do not mean that to be unfair on people who need pills. But social prescribing could save the NHS billions. Once this Covid-19 crisis is over or under control, I hope we get back to social prescribing.
On Amendment 34, I agree it would be good if the wider or urban public understood what agriculture does or where their food comes from, but this is not a job for government. Farmers themselves and their organisations—the NFU, CLA and Tenant Farmers Association—through farm open days and schoolchildren visits, must promote public understanding and engagement with agriculture. That is their business. No one knows it better. They are the best people to educate the public, rather than the Government.
My Lords, the Government deserve congratulations for bringing forward this Agriculture Bill. It offers the same potential as the Attlee Government’s efforts in 1947 and the common agricultural policy that has dominated us for so long. I am particularly pleased that the Government have realised that farming is changing and changing quite dramatically. I sometimes feel that those at the centre do not quite understand the subtlety of those changes.
I have an advantage: I live in the area where I started work, on the land, 50 or 60 years ago. I can determine the changes in agriculture. I will come back to that in a moment on these clauses. This has been a particularly interesting eight hours of debate. There were issues in the previous two groups of amendments related to those we are discussing now, but I held back because I wanted to speak on rights of access, which I think are critical.
Before I develop that, it seems as if this has been a Second Reading debate, made even more confusing by the considerate and detailed response of the Minister, who has gone out of his way to sum up, on two occasions, which has been an advantage. One point has kept coming up about forestry and woodland. There is confusion on what the Government have in mind; perhaps they have not got their sights completely set at this stage. I was led to believe that certain parts of woodland, and certain forests—which were a bit different—might receive a public grant. We were certainly looking at huge areas of new woodlands being created up here in Cumbria, just outside the national park. There is a great deal of potential for access in and on forestry land.
I had the honour of being chair of the Forestry Commission for nine years. It will be no surprise to the Minister that I was very keen to promote the right to roam in forests. We were not covered by the legislation—that was mountains, moorlands and heath above a certain height. But, when I was chair, we decided that there would be a legal right of access in all our freehold Forestry Commission land. This has not caused any fundamental difficulties in running our forests. I press the Minister to look at the possibility of permitting access to forestry land as well.
I also want to make the point that, amazingly enough, quite a lot of forestry land is near the centres of big towns, cities and urban areas. There is great potential for access in those areas. You can often get there much easier, but there are difficulties. I remember trying to negotiate access to a large forest within two miles of the centre of Newcastle. The Forestry Commission—we the people—owned the freehold, but I could not grant access, because when the land was bought it was agreed that the shooting rights in the forest would remain with the original vendors. To this day, people in a concentrated, built-up area are not allowed to use that forest, because of the shooting rights. I hope it might even be possible that some of the money available under the new government proposals could be used to buy out those rights. I know that there are difficulties, but I cite this because it is the way we ought to be moving forward. The holistic approach which the Government are taking to agricultural support in the future is the right one.
I mentioned earlier the subtle changes. Just outside the Lake District National Park in the lower levels of the valleys there were a lot of small mixed farms. Those farms provided employment and were viable, but I can tell the House that in the Bowness-on-Windermere area in which I live, I cannot think of a farm that has a single cow. There is the odd steer about, but all the land is grazed by sheep. That means that most of the small farmsteads have been sold off to be converted into country cottages. We are now finding the cost of that. Field upon field which used to be pristine hayfields are now covered in reeds. Stone walls which were maintained and rebuilt if they fell over—you had to do that to keep the cows in—are now left unbuilt. It is a real problem when you are trying to have countryside that deals with so many people. The Lake District National Park—I tell the House this repeatedly, and I do not apologise—has 19 million visitors a year, a vast number.
We have pressures on our time, so will the noble Lord draw his comments to a close?
I was going to do that. We have 19 million visitors. In order to accommodate them, there need to be facilities. If we are going to have public access, we need small car parks and public transport to get people to the attractive areas.
My Lords, I shall be brief as I do not have amendments in this little group. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Addington. Overall, access has been a phenomenal success although we heard from the noble Earl, Lord Devon, that that is not always the case. My concern is that the flip side of access should be responsibility on the part of those using the access. Over the lockdown period we saw regrettable behaviour by a few irresponsible people which unfortunately tarnished it for many.
I remember that when I was growing up there was something—I think there may be a later amendment on this—called the countryside code. It was on television. There were adverts saying simple things like, if you walk on the Pennine Way, which is near where I grew up, you close the gate if there is livestock in the field and that it is dangerous to enter a field where there is a calf, as the cow will defend it to the death. We have even seen a vet, who was walking their dog through a field, killed in the past two years. Like the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, I cut my parliamentary teeth next door on the CROW Bill, so I bear the scars. We ran one or two very unsuccessful exercises as an opposition, I recall. How can the Government ensure that the flip side of access will be responsibility and that the costs will not be disproportionate to the enjoyment? I hope those using the access will behave in a responsible manner. We saw some malicious fires—It was not just fly-tipping; the materials were burned to get rid of them so they could not be traced—and the irresponsible use of barbeques. When there are crops growing in a field, you cannot have access until the crops have been taken out. We need responsible behaviour so that the cost will be proportionate to the enjoyment.
My Lords, I rise to support the amendment and to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Addington. As somebody who over the years has supported access to the countryside, I fully understand and appreciate that. However, I come back to the principle, raised by the noble Lord, Lord Empey, and the Minister, of the balance of competing rights: the right of people to enjoy the countryside, and their right to have access to it while at the same time respecting it. Like the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, I am well aware that during lockdown there was a certain despoliation of the countryside—a considerable level of littering and probably interference with farm animals. It comes back to the issue of getting the balance right. After all, access to the countryside can be a pretty disputatious issue if it is not managed properly.
The amendment refers to “people’s access to it”. Subsection (1)(b) refers to
“supporting public access to and enjoyment of the countryside”.
Given that, I wonder whether the Minister would be happy to accept, as an addendum to paragraph (a),
“and people’s access to it”.
The amendment would provide that greater clarification but of course, with all these issues, there is a measure of risk. There is a need to protect farm animals but as long as the farmer is getting benefits, under the principle of public money for public goods, he can see value in it.
On the other hand, the people who are getting access must ensure, given that risk, that they do not interfere with the pathway of the animals or with areas where there are crops. We have to ensure that balance, so that farm activity and husbandry can continue, while at the same time allowing public access. I am happy to support this amendment, subject to those provisos and to the Minister stating that in his view, “people’s access to it” would enhance subsection (1)(b).
My Lords, first, how nice it is to see the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, back with us and participating. We have missed him; I wish him very well and good health for the future. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Clark of Windermere, for picking up the question I have asked the Minister twice, so far, about forestry and woodland. I hope that, third time lucky, we might get a reply from him.
I want to address the provision of public access; we will come to the consequences of public access in two amendments’ time, so I am not going to mention those. I am a great supporter of public access. It was absolutely crucial to me when I came out of hospital, and was being pushed around in a wheelchair, to be able to get out into the countryside on footpaths that could accommodate a wheelchair. They were quite difficult to find but we found them. It did my health and whole well-being a power of good. Having got out of the wheelchair, I have been using the footpaths to get as fit as I can. Some footpaths have certainly been good, but the bridleways are an absolute nightmare for anybody with bad knees or bad feet, and who has to use sticks.
What does the Minister mean by “public access”? There is no definition in the Bill. I believe that this is the beginning of the right to roam in England; I am sure that will come as a logical consequence of the Bill. Many farmers fear that public access will turn parts of England into a recreational theme park, rather than places with farming communities. The problem with public access is that it is a legal minefield. What public access is to be granted? Is it to be a permissive path or a bridleway? Will it be a BOAT—a byway open to all traffic—or a restrictive byway? We do not know. As my noble friend Lord Gardiner said, we want farmers to participate in this scheme, but they will not do so until they know what the consequences of these amendments are and what they actually mean.
Balance was mentioned by the noble Baronesses, Lady Scott of Needham Market and Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, the noble Earl, Lord Devon, and my noble friend Lord Moynihan. We all would like a sensible balance in this, but there has been a huge amount of warfare between farmers and public access groups. There is a big history here. Let us take the example of two schools that have had huge problems just trying to divert footpaths: Helmshore Primary School in Lancashire and Wardour Catholic Primary School in Wiltshire. The ramblers have refused and have contested every opportunity to deviate the path along the edge of the field rather than through the playing fields, meaning that a school has lost a large chunk of its playing fields and, because of coronavirus, has had to fence that path off. That path must be monitored by staff when the children are out and cleared of dog mess regularly. It has caused the school a whole lot of problems. That has not helped in getting towards a balanced system.
Similarly, as the Minister will know, there is a huge backlog of applications to create rights of way where there may not be any at the moment. He will be aware that the South Somerset Bridleways Association has 261 applications to create new routes under the existing legislation. If we cannot get the existing system right, people will be very fearful of the future system. The British Horse Society trying to open a bridleway in Derbyshire contributed to the suicide of one of the owners; a suicide in Somerset was also linked to the aggressive attitude of Somerset County Council when trying to open a right of way that did not exist. There is a big history here. We must get this right, and that will take a lot of resolve by the Government.
One must also look at what the Open Spaces Society says on its website. If we are talking about balance, where is the balance in saying that your position is to oppose path changes? That is a complete no-no. It does not want any path changes. It goes on to say:
“Diversions out of farmyards should normally be opposed”
and that if spreading disease is given as a reason, it is invalid. How can it be invalid with coronavirus rampant?
We have a massive problem with the existing legislation. It is a legal minefield, it is costing owners thousands of pounds to prove a negative in many cases, and we are now faced with a Bill in which public access is to be opened up. I approve of that, but there will have to be a huge effort by the Government to get the present situation under control to reassure farmers about the future situation.
What will happen after 2026? If a landowner agrees a scheme over a public right of access before 2026, will it retrospectively become a bridleway or a public footpath? Will they be able to claim that when it was on a temporary basis or part of some project? These are the legal questions that farmers must face, and the Government must face up to, because at the moment it is a mess. We debated this in the Moses Room, and afterwards, a number of people who had come in to listen were very heated about the lack of progress.
I know that there have been problems and staff have been seconded to look after the Covid-19 situation, but can the Minister tell us where we have got to in trying to correct the present situation regarding footpaths?
My Lords, to begin, I take my reference point from the Book of Genesis, where Adam and Eve were told that they had to be stewards of all creation. That was further defined in the Book of Leviticus, which makes clear that the use of land is to provide abundant crops but also that it is to be a place of sanctuary. Of course, Leviticus goes further, for those who wish a literal interpretation and application of the holy book, because it says that all land must be owned for only 50 years and then passed back by the owner. So landowners who have had land for many centuries need to bear in mind that their tenancy over that land also incorporates long-standing rights of access.
I was a little surprised to hear the noble Earl, Lord Devon, suggesting not just that the NHS budget be diverted to landowners but that access was a major problem. It has certainly not been a major problem at Powderham Castle for the hundreds of thousands of revellers who have visited to watch Noel Gallagher, Coldplay or the range of other concerts that have taken place there. We need the facts to be accurate in these debates.
Health, sanctuary and well-being are fundamental to humanity. Society cannot function without them. Access to the sanctuary of quietness away from the towns and cities is fundamental to the physical and mental well-being of the citizens of this country. There is therefore a balance to be struck between the subsidies demanded and received by the farming community year on year—be it through the new government policy or, previously, the excessive common agricultural policy—and the right of citizens to access rights of way without hindrance, to go out into the fresh air into the sanctuary, as Leviticus defined, in order for our well-being to be preserved. At this time, with the horrors of coronavirus, those rights of access are fundamental. In my view, these amendments are apposite in getting the balance right.
I want to begin by saying, “There endeth the lesson”. Having sat here now for well over seven hours and heard virtually every speech, I am glad to have the brief opportunity to say a few words.
The Government must learn the lesson of the Second Reading. Time and again we have heard today from people who were excluded; I myself was one of the 22, or whatever the number was. If we had had a two-day debate on the Bill, I think we would have moved a little more expeditiously through Committee because a lot of Second Reading points have been made.
I urge my noble friend, for whom I have enormous regard, to discuss with his colleagues the inevitable extension of the Committee stage of the Bill. It will not get through in four sessions and, frankly, it should not.
We are talking about access, but I prefer my definition. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and my noble friend Lady Hodgson of Abinger, who talked sensibly about a definition. My definition is sharing and enjoying. Two things have happened during the Covid-19 crisis. Time and again, we heard people on the radio and television saying how marvellous it has been to hear the birds, rather than the planes; to have time to look at the blossom and to enjoy the peace and tranquillity of the countryside. Then, every night after turning on the local television news in Lincolnshire, “Look North”, we would constantly see our screens defaced by the appalling litter that has been left by those who have been selfish in their possession, rather than grateful in their enjoyment.
My friend, the noble Earl, Lord Devon, gave a salutary speech about some of the problems he has faced. He is not alone. I was for 40 years the Member of a rural constituency and, particularly in the last decade of those 40 years, our local papers and television were constantly full of stories of fly-tipping and defacing the countryside. There has to be a pact between those who enjoy and those who provide the enjoyment.
It is important to recognise that the countryside that we all love has been made by centuries of farming. There have been villains from time to time—those who ripped out hedges in the 1960s and early 1970s to create prairies, and so on—but, on the whole, British farmers have behaved with a wonderful devotion to the land that they have tilled and farmed. We want that to be shared.
I was glad when—I call him my noble friend because we entered the House on the same day, in June 1970—the noble Lord, Lord Clark of Windermere, talked about forestry. Incidentally, I commend to your Lordships a book he has just written, A Lakeland Boyhood. I had the great pleasure of reading it and will have the great delight of reviewing it in due course. He knows about that wonderful part of the countryside and that 19 million visitors make it extremely difficult to preserve areas of peace and quiet, where it is possible to get away from the honeypots and truly enjoy the beauty and majesty of that marvellous part of our country. We have to bear that word “honeypots” in mind, because we do not want to emerge from this Bill the creation of certain areas that are so pressed upon that they lose their beauty, where the people who go destroy the very thing they have gone to see.
The word “balance” has been used a lot in this debate and it is question of balance—balancing the rights of farmers, and they are rights. We are making it possible for those farmers who are particularly conscious of their environment to receive payment. That is right. Therefore, there is a public right of access, but it has to be controlled in a way that does not destroy the very thing that has brought us to this debate tonight. My noble friend Lord Gardiner is a judicious man. I hope he takes due note of what has been said, and the points made by my noble friend Lord Blencathra, who said, in effect, that legislative diktat is not always the way forward.
My Lords, I will speak in support of Amendments 6, 9, 98 and 111 in this group. For many people, Covid-19 has provided an opportunity —or perhaps a necessity—to go on and discover local walks in their own immediate neighbourhood, to get exercise and fresh air and not spend the whole day in their own home. A crucial feature of the Bill, as we know, is the introduction of a new system of financial assistance for farmers to replace subsidies paid as part of the EU’s common agricultural policy. In future funding will be in exchange for the delivery of public goods, which includes better public access.
Clause 1(1) states:
“The Secretary of State may give financial assistance for or in connection with any one or more of the following purposes”,
with paragraph (a) reading
“managing land or water in a way that protects or improves the environment”.
Although this is helpful, it does not acknowledge the value added of enabling people to experience some benefit from improvements in environmental quality. Amendment 6 adds
“and people’s access to it”
and seeks to ensure that where financial assistance is provided for the protection or improvement of the environment, public access enhancements are incorporated, where appropriate, so that people can experience some benefit from the actions taken. This is particularly important near centres of population, where the recreational value of new woodlands or better access to paths across open land is far higher than in more remote locations.
Clause 1(1)(b) refers to
“supporting public access to and enjoyment of the countryside, farmland or woodland and better understanding of the environment”.
However, as landowners or occupants, farmers are already required by law to keep clear public access to their land, so “supporting public access” could appear to be providing funding for doing something for which there is already a legal requirement. There is thus no certainty that funding will be provided for new public access or for making existing paths more accessible, yet this is important in enabling more people to get outdoors. Natural England estimates that 20% of people cannot use rights of way because they cannot use stiles or gates or they are with someone who cannot.
Amendment 9 replaces “supporting” with “enhancing” to express more clearly that financial assistance will be provided to enhance public access to the countryside by improving accessibility beyond the legal minimum of existing rights of way. It also helps ensure that funding can be provided for the creation of new access opportunities through, for example, the provision of paths along field margins as alternatives to unsafe country roads and at the rural-urban fringe to increase the connection of communities to nature and the rural world.
Clause 1(1)(b), which enables the Secretary of State to provide financial assistance for
“supporting public access to and enjoyment of the countryside”
is welcome, but more clarity is needed on the outcomes in terms of public access to and enjoyment of the countryside that will be supported through further financial assistance to farmers. Amendment 98 seeks to do this by adding to Clause 1(5)
“‘supporting public access to and enjoyment of the countryside’ includes the provision of new public access or improving the accessibility of existing public rights of way”.
Thus the amendment provides certainty that financial assistance may be provided for new public access or steps to make existing rights of way more accessible, and also that the new financial assistance scheme will provide direct benefits for the public through better access to the countryside.
Clause 2(2) states:
“Financial assistance may be given subject to such conditions as the Secretary of State considers appropriate.”
Landowners and land managers are required under the Highways Act 1980 to keep rights of way on their land clear and accessible to the public. The duty was reinforced by the system of cross-compliance governing payments to farmers under the EU’s common agricultural policy, which required, among other things, the fulfilment of legal duties for rights of way as a condition of receiving funding from the public purse. The Government are committed to ending cross-compliance and have suggested they will establish a new, simplified regulatory regime.
The principle of financial assistance being subject to conditions, as introduced in subsection (2), is welcome. What it does not do is specify what those conditions will be. Amendment 111 provides that:
“The conditions may (among other things) require the recipient to fulfil their duties for public rights of way under the Highways Act 1980.”
It will thus help ensure that landowners’ and occupiers’ duties for public rights of way are among the conditions that the Secretary of State may attach to the provision of financial assistance. This is important because existing rights of way are the primary means by which people can get outdoors. It is, therefore, vital to have in place a regulatory framework that encourages farmers to keep paths clear as a condition of receiving payments from the public purse.
The set of conditions, including those relating to public access, provide clarity for farmers over the baseline standards expected, and it also—as the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, said earlier—helps create a level playing field within the sector. Most farmers fulfil their legal obligations, so those who do not should not be treated equally and without any sanction for not keeping access open.
I hope the Government will give careful consideration to this group of amendments and the objectives they seek to achieve. It would be helpful if the Minister could say, in his response, whether they are also government objectives, either in whole or in part. If they are but the Government do not feel overexcited by these amendments, I hope, like my noble friend Lady Kennedy of Cradley, that the Minister will spell out very clearly in his response why the Government believe that the wording in the Bill—and which wording that is—already provides, without any doubt, the safeguards and assurances that these amendments to which I have referred are intended to provide.
Our farmers must have, and deserve, a fair deal as we leave the EU, and we need to make sure this Bill delivers precisely that. However, our countryside should be accessible to all and, in return, those who visit the countryside must exercise that right responsibly and in a manner that does not adversely affect those who earn their livelihood from the land and who provide us with a basic necessity of life—namely, food.
My Lords, whilst I can support reasonable extension to public access, as I said earlier it is indeed a double-edged sword. In those parts of the country where agricultural land is close to towns or cities, significant opening up of more footpaths, or increasing the numbers of people entering land used for agriculture, forestry or horticulture, may cause disturbance to birds and animals and exacerbate a littering problem that has got worse during the lockdown anyway.
It is likely that farmers, whose financial rewards are going to depend more on the quality and condition in which they maintain their land, are going to be reluctant to encourage more public access unless they are paid to provide it. They need to be paid because they will need to make good, or mitigate the damage to, the land, crops, fences, gates and wildlife habitats that will result from increased public access in those parts of the country near significant population centres.
Perhaps the amounts that farmers should be paid for public access would have to be more than is justified in terms of the numbers of people who would benefit. We should also remember that you do not need to have access to the improved environment in order to benefit from it in terms of better air quality, higher standards of food products and cleaner water in our rivers.
I sympathise with the intention of my noble friend Lord Lucas in Amendment 34, but I believe this is already covered by subsection (1)(b), whether the drafting of that is changed or not.
Amendment 59, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Addington, seeks to enhance public access not only to land but also to water. Would my noble friend the Minister not agree that farmers and riparian owners would have to be compensated for the significant additional costs of this? Would he also concede that compensation should be paid to owners of fisheries whose catch numbers would be damaged by an increase in kayaking and boating on rivers and inland waterways?
Lastly, I slightly fear that too much path surfacing, signage and waymarking may make the countryside more like a cross between a golf course and a public park, which, in extremis, will urbanise the appearance of the countryside and remove its wildness, which is so valuable.
I regret that I cannot support the noble Lord’s Amendment 99. I remind your Lordships that rivers are not located on agricultural land but are very often adjacent to it. Sometimes the riparian ownership is the same as the land ownership and sometimes not. Similarly, I believe that Amendment 72 seeks to put public access and recreational activities on the land on an equal footing with food production. Desirable though public access in a measured, safe and manageable way undoubtedly is, it must remain subordinate to the need to use our agricultural land in an efficient and sustainable manner for agricultural and related purposes.
I have sympathy with the intention of the noble Lord’s Amendment 88 to broaden the meaning of understanding the environment. I rather wish that the draftsman had made use of the phrase “natural capital”. I am not sure about the word “agroecology” and note that there is a slightly shorter accepted word “agricology” —but of course I accept that language changes to meet the needs of the times.
As I said, the extension of the Scottish right to roam to England and Wales would bring unintended negative consequences, although I certainly welcome my noble friend Lady Hodgson’s intention to encourage activities such as walking and horse riding.
My Lords, I start by asking my noble friend the Minister whether, in his mind, the definition in the Bill of the countryside, farmland and woodland excludes water. One would think that water would be included in that, but obviously the noble Lord, Lord Addington, would like to have it added to the Bill.
It is quite useful that the Bill is to support the provision of access. Presumably it allows the land occupier to direct the access where they can cope with it, if necessary with access to water. My noble friend Lord Trenchard just mentioned the Scottish attitude to right to roam. I understand that the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, lives far enough away not to have ready access to the Scottish right to roam. In many ways it conjures up a nightmare for most landowners, in that people can go anywhere they like other than the curtilage of a dwelling house. As my noble friend Lord Trenchard mentioned, the pressures in Scotland are not as great as they are down south, although I happen to live by Loch Lomond and the pressures there are certainly equal to any other area in the country—so much so that the national park has brought in a prohibition on drinking alcohol on one side of the loch, because the public were wont to make a nonsense of that.
One aspect of this power in the Bill is that nowadays farmers are almost necessitated to have an element of diversification in what they do. Very often it is a question of having some feature that the public will come to and offer payment for. The powers that the Government are providing will be taken up with enthusiasm by these people, because it will give them a more attractive way to have people come and visit them and enjoy what they have to offer.
However, like my noble friend Lord Trenchard, I have considerable reservations regarding all that is contained in the descriptive Amendment 99. It seems to conjure up access even to ditches or anything with a bit of water in the bottom of it and then to ask for access even to the banks of those. That makes a bit of a mockery of the remaining legislation in England that access must only be by an approved route so that all the interests in establishing the route can be considered.
My Lords, this group of amendments is primarily about financial assistance being provided for public access to the countryside and waterways. My noble friends Lady Scott of Needham Market, Lord Addington and Lord Greaves have given extremely good reasons why public access is a public good. The noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, supports improving current footpaths rather than creating new ones, and I share that view.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson of Abinger, has defined public access to include horse-riding. Certainly, horse-riding is a very popular pastime, and it is extremely healthy. The enjoyment of the countryside, whether walking, riding or canoeing, should be encouraged wherever possible. However, I share the view of the noble Earl, Lord Devon, that there must be a balance. Not all who use rights of way respect them in the way they should.
There is nothing better than going for an energetic walk along a right of way and ending up at a pub for lunch. However, I stress to all that it is important that the countryside alongside the footpaths, bridleways, watercourses and RUPPs should be respected by those who use them.
There are a number of rights of way across the country open to the disabled and mothers with pushchairs. The Tissington trail in the Peak District and the Tarka trail in Devon are two such. I would like the Government to encourage more landowners and farmers to create more level access for people with disabilities and small children, as set out by my noble friend Lord Addington and the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson.
I have little sympathy for enthusiasts who insist on applying for footpaths through domestic homes and gardens just to prove that there once was a right of way along a route years ago. In these cases, there are often perfectly adequate footpaths on a nearby route that provide an alternative. I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, that the Ramblers do themselves no good at all with their intransigent attitude. That said, it will be incumbent on landowners and farmers who have rights of way running across their grounds to keep them clear and safe for the enjoyment of all who wish to use them. Bridleways should be kept clear, especially of overhanging branches and brambles, as should watercourses which canoeists will be using.
Access to the countryside is extremely important, and I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and the many other noble Lords who spoke on these amendments. It seems that I spoke too soon when I said in the debate on the first group that a level of consensus seemed to be developing. The more we get into the details, the more divides begin to appear. Indeed, I started off with some certainty and now I have more questions than answers. I hope that, as we go through the Bill, some of my questions will be answered or dispelled. It is important that we get these issues out on the table, and some of those difficult issues to do with rights and responsibilities need to be addressed. Obviously, Committee is the right place to do that.
As president of the Friends of the South Downs and a former long-standing member of the Ramblers, I very much support greater public access to the countryside. For example, I am proud of Labour’s record on delivering the right to roam and our network of long-distance footpaths. I also agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, who rightly raised disability access, that clearly a great deal more needs to be done to improve access to our countryside. As the president of the South Downs society, I have to say that many of the issues we have are about elderly people walking the paths who cannot climb the stiles or find it difficult to access some of the more difficult terrains and so on, which could easily be adjusted. It is not just about people with disabilities but about making sure there is public access for all.
We know the public can gain huge benefits from being in the open air and walking in the countryside. As many noble Lords have said, we have learned that very acutely during the recent Covid crisis, when people have been denied that access. The point made on the previous group by the noble Earl, Lord Devon, is important: fundamentally, this is about health and well-being, and we need to bear that in mind.
It is also important that public understanding of farming and nature is enhanced. I have seen some fantastic examples of school visits to farms that have really enthused young people for the first time about the importance of the countryside. We need to encourage those sorts of visits. That will clearly have the effect of persuading young people to respect the countryside more and will go some way to addressing some of the concerns that a number of noble Lords have raised—the noble Earl, Lord Devon, did so rather vividly—about some of the problems when young people do not respect the countryside: littering, fires, vandalism, fly-tipping and so on. At the same time as creating access, we need to create respect.
Supporting public access to the countryside and providing a better understanding of the environment are already in the financial assistance set out in Clause 1, so the issue we have here is what further wording we need in amendments, beyond those rights already spelt out and the existing legal minimum. That is the challenge for us today: to make sure that if we make adjustments and additions, we get them in balance.
My noble friend Lord Clark of Windermere made an important point about access to forests. Until he explained it, I had not quite understood what some of those issues were, but it is important, particularly as we look to extend the planting of trees. It would be helpful if the Minister could address that question and explain the Government’s plans for giving us greater public access to forest areas.
The amendments we have been looking at also specify access to waterways. The noble Lord, Lord Addington, and the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, talked about those issues and the importance, for example, of canoeing and wild swimming. I do not doubt that all those activities should be encouraged, but I have a genuine question as to whether this falls within the original intention of the Bill, which was to support agriculture, food production and the environment. This might be something the Minister can shed some light on in his response.
On the other groups, we talked about the Bill’s connection with water, and I am still struggling to understand quite where the boundaries of that lie. For example, I had assumed that the references to “managing land or water” in Clause 1 were meant to address the impact of farming activities on the quality of adjoining water rather than encouraging a wider responsibility for recreation to take place on local rivers. That is an issue that a number of noble Lords raised, so we need to understand the interconnection between what is essential, what is voluntary and what are the real advantages to us of access to that water. That is a genuine question and I do not know the answer to it.
I am slightly anxious that all of us who support greater public access will get our hopes up too high here. Of all the things that we are looking for—better facilities, better road access, better stiles and better gates—I wonder how many will come to fruition through this Bill. It would be interesting if the Minister, when he replies, could clarify whether any of the tests and trials are looking at the issue of public access. It would be useful for us to know whether the Government are taking it seriously at this initial stage. I am just a little worried that it will be a nice add-on at the end, with good words on the issue but that, when push comes to shove, it will not be something for which funding will actually be made available.
I am very much in favour of it, but we have to be realistic. We have to look at where there are other funds that can be accessed, perhaps more quickly than going through the ELMS process, which we know will take some time. Understanding what it means to have public access, understanding the best way to access appropriate funds, and understanding what practical changes we need to make to the Bill will be really important.
As ever, we come back to “balance”. Ultimately, we need to strike a balance between the interests of the farming community and the public and the environment. It will work only if all aspects of our activities can benefit and thrive. I include that in the issue of public access, as I would access to food. They are all important and we need to get the balance right.
As we have all said, there is a limited budget. We will be fighting over that limited budget and we have to be responsible about how we do it. In the meantime, I beg to hear the response from the Minister.
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords. This has been an important debate. When preparing for today, I never realised that we might hear references to Leviticus—but it is an interesting way forward. I will begin by replying to the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and I will also take in Amendment 100, tabled by my noble friend Lady Hodgson.
I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch. Public access to the countryside provides a huge range of benefits, including improving physical and mental health, and supporting local communities and economies. Spending time in the natural environment, as a resident or a visitor, can reduce stress, fatigue, anxiety and depression. It can help boost the immune system and encourage physical activity, and it may reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as asthma. It can combat loneliness and bind communities together.
Here, the word “balance” comes up again. In my experience, the countryside is about balance. It is overwhelmingly not in the interests of any farmer to fall out with their neighbours, because, in the end, we all have to find a way through. My noble friend Lord Cormack, the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, the noble Lord, Lord Judd, the noble Earl, Lord Devon, and the two noble Baronesses from the Front Benches spoke of this.
The noble Earl, Lord Devon, said that these things need to be handled well. Well, we all need to try to handle things well, but this is an area where inflammatory language is extremely unwise. I do not think that we are going to get anywhere unless we work collaboratively. That is why we have this power. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Addington, that we have a power in the Bill to provide financial assistance to support public access to, and enjoyment of, the countryside, farmland and woodland. That is a good basis from which we should be working.
The Government are supporting and enhancing access to the countryside in a number of different ways. I am very pleased that tourism was raised. The completion of the England coastal path—the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, knows I have written to him—was delayed, unfortunately, because of coronavirus, but we are working on this. Not only domestic but overseas visitors thoroughly enjoy walking in this country, so we are supporting our network of national trails and ensuring that rights of way are recorded and protected, as well as developing ways to support access through the environmental land management scheme. One of the most rewarding elements of my responsibility for the England coastal path has been to join many people of a range of abilities and disabilities at openings of some of the England coastal path. For instance, there are platforms that settle well into some of the dunes to enable people in wheelchairs to get out into the dunes while keeping away from tern nests. Again, it is all about balance in how we organise these things.
I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, that there are three ELM tests and trials looking at issues concerning access, and these will help us understand how the scheme could work in a real-life environment. For example, the ELM scheme could fund the creation of new paths, such as footpaths and bridleways, which provide access for cyclists, riders and pedestrians where appropriate. It could support access to water and waterways on someone’s land. In particular, the Mendip Hills trials will work with farmers and land managers in the Mendip Hills to explore a range of issues relating to creating access infrastructure—another point made by the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson. The tests will conclude in 2021 and will be very helpful. I say also to the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, that funding may be given under Clause 1(1)(b) to support access to water bodies and waterways in the countryside, farmland and woodland, which could provide access to those locations. Our ELM scheme will reward land managers for the public goods that they deliver, which could include granting of public access to water.
My noble friend Lord Trenchard asked about trials. We need to have these trials and that is why I do not think the discussion we are having is immensely valuable. We should not try to ring-fence the detail at this stage in this primary legislation; we need to be pragmatic to get the right results, because it is by getting those right results that we will encourage more farmers to feel that this is their scheme and access is not a forbidding element of the financial assistance package. Defra continues to liaise regularly with other key stakeholders, including the NFU, of which I declare my membership, Ramblers, with which I have a lot of good relationships, and the British Horse Society, of which I declare my membership, among others, to discuss access and Covid-19 recovery opportunities.
I say to my noble friend Lord Caithness and the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, that one of the ways we are going to get this right is by getting people around the table. That is why Defra has a stakeholder group advising on rights of way reform that brings together landowners, users and local authorities to develop a consensus on areas for change and the necessary implementation. I am anxious to get this as far forward as possible, and my noble friend Lord Caithness keeps me on my toes. He ought to recognise, and I am sure he does, that we are dealing with a number of issues in terms of legislation and it has not been possible to bring forward the deregulation package on rights of way reform that we all desire, but I cannot engage in a mission impossible when we have many other demands on the Government’s legislative plate and the delays because of coronavirus.
On the conditions land managers must meet in order to take part in the scheme, the current wording enables a range of different conditions to be set and, again, we will work with stakeholders to develop these. Of course, land managers’ legal responsibilities in relation to access over their land will still be applicable.
The noble Lords, Lord Rosser and Lord Greaves, and my noble friend Lord Moynihan raised points about meeting baseline regulatory standards. We expect farmers and managers to meet regulatory standards, regardless of whether they are claiming an ELM payment. This is voluntary; I would resist entirely if noble Lords thought this was an opportunity to start instructing people what they should do on their land, beyond their legal responsibilities and requirements. In the ELM discussion document published on 25 February, the Government explained that they are also exploring whether establishing compliance with relevant regulatory requirements should be an entry requirement for tier 1 of the ELM scheme. The Government are committed to maintaining a strong regulatory baseline, with proportionate and effective enforcement mechanisms. All farmers and land managers must continue to comply with regulatory standards and obligations, including those on public access.
A number of noble Lords, including the noble Earl, Lord Devon, the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, and my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering, raised the Countryside Code. The messages in the Countryside Code are being promoted widely, via Natural England’s local and national partner organisations, as well as landowners and managers. Defra and Natural England have recently released some targeted communications to tackle specific issues such as wildfire and littering. In response to the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, there was a discussion in Defra about this. Local authorities already have the powers to make bylaws to prohibit barbecues in public spaces. That is the way it should be done, because that is the way that local communities and local authorities can work together. There is legal provision for that, so it can be placed in the local context.
Footpaths, bridle paths, byways, and open-access land are all important in making sure that as many people as possible can enjoy our natural environment. However, it is important to ensure that the Bill enables public support for all types of access, including access to water, and access on other legally designated types of path.
I turn to Amendment 88. Clause 1(5) clarifies that
“‘better understanding of the environment’ includes better understanding of agroecology”.
The clause, as drafted, already allows the Secretary of State to give financial assistance to support farmers, foresters and other land managers so that they can improve public understanding of the environment, for example through educational visits.
On Amendment 34, in the name of my noble friend Lord Lucas, Clause 1(1)(b) states that the Secretary of State may give financial assistance for or in connection with
“supporting public access to and enjoyment of the countryside, farmland or woodland and better understanding of the environment”.
This will allow us to pay for matters such as educational infrastructure, to ensure that our farmers have the right facilities to host farm visits, including school visits.
In response to my noble friend Lord Blencathra and the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, last year was the Year of Green Action, a year-long drive to get more people from all backgrounds involved in projects to improve the natural world. Due to the positive reception from all audiences, young people will continue to be able to take up these opportunities and provide a crucial viewpoint on these important matters.
There was mention of young people and littering. My experience, I am afraid, is that people of all generations are culpable on this. We have to engage young people in the quest to improve our environment. Candidly, dropping litter should be an anti-social behaviour. We should all lead on this as best we can.
I am chided by my noble friend Lord Caithness. I might get tetchy with him if he starts saying that I do not answer questions. I endeavour to do so as often as possible. In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Clark, my legal advice is that Clause 1(1)(b) allows support for access to forestry land equalling woodland. I hope that is helpful to my noble friend Lord Caithness.
The noble Earl, Lord Devon, talked about public access, and indeed, other government departments also spend money on initiatives to promote and enable access. Among the things I am responsible for are our national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty. I noticed when I went to the Cotswolds “green prescriptions”, whereby local doctors’ surgeries encourage walking teams and walking in the countryside. That is helping to improve people’s well-being—something we definitely need to work on.
We are working on updating the Countryside Code, a point raised by my noble friends Lord Randall and Lady McIntosh and the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market. Later this year, Natural England will start looking at the options for a refresh of the code. Those who are my age, and even some who are younger, will remember that the Countryside Code was the absolute mantra for how to behave properly. It is about rights and responsibilities and that is why we need to get the balance right. The refresh will provide an opportunity to examine how best to include what has been learned from the Covid-19 pandemic.
I will look at Hansard, but I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Addington, who has tabled amendments that I understand absolutely, will take it from me that much work is going on in the trials. He seeks a power to provide financial assistance to support public access—I believe that the definition of that phrase is the dictionary one, in that it is all about access for the public—but I think it best not to try to add detail to that, because in doing so we may fall into the same traps. A broader ability to provide financial assistance will be the better way forward, particularly as we learn from the trials and the tests, which are going to be dramatically important in showing us the way forward.
Before I ask the noble Lord, Lord Addington, to withdraw his amendment, I say to the noble Baroness that I hope she will accept the bona fides of the three tests and trials. They are all about access, and we want to fulfil the prospect of more people enjoying the countryside, but it has to be done in a way that encourages farmers to think that it is a good idea. I believe that we have it in our grasp to get that right in a balanced way. With that, I hope that the noble Lord feels able to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I have received no requests to speak after the Minister, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Addington.
My Lords, the Minister has done his usual thing of being thorough and charming at the same time—and I have now damned him with praise. However, I cannot help but feel that we should take a look at how we expect these trials to go through and see whether we can clarify that at a later stage. With that caveat, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 6 withdrawn.
Amendments 7 to 11 not moved.