House of Lords
Tuesday 7 July 2020
The House met in a Hybrid Sitting.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Carlisle.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, the Hybrid Sitting of the House will now begin. A limited number of Members are here in the Chamber, respecting social distancing; other Members will participate remotely, but all Members will be treated equally, wherever they are. For Members participating remotely, microphones must unmute shortly before they are to speak—please accept any on-screen prompt to unmute. Microphones will be muted after each speech. I ask noble Lords to be patient if there are any short delays as we switch between physical and remote participants.
Oral Questions will now commence. I ask those asking supplementary questions to keep them short and confined to two points. I ask that Ministers’ replies are also brief.
Covid-19: Local Government Finance
My Lords, councils across the country are supporting communities, protecting the most vulnerable and helping the NHS in its efforts to combat Covid-19. We have made £3.7 billion in un-ring-fenced funding available to local authorities and have introduced a targeted income support package so that they can address pressures in response to the pandemic. In total, the Government have committed nearly £28 billion to local areas to support councils and their communities, alongside more than £5 billion of cash-flow support.
My Lords, I refer the House to my relevant registered interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. Using his experience as a former leader of a large London borough council, what words of advice is the Minister giving his right honourable friend Robert Jenrick to help the Secretary of State stand up for local government in his discussions with the Chancellor of the Exchequer?
My advice to the Secretary of State would be to focus on the three pillars of support that we need to give councils. We are covering demand pressures through the Covid-19 pandemic and we have announced an income support package. Councils are also facing irrecoverable tax losses, and the principle of sharing that between national and local government has been agreed, but not the precise proportions. I would therefore encourage my right honourable friend the Secretary of State to agree that with the Treasury as part of the spending review.
My Lords, further to the Question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, on financial stability, local authorities borrow substantial sums of money from the market. While some local authorities have recently had their credit rating reduced, most have so far maintained high ratings, enabling them to borrow cheaply. Will my noble friend do all he can to take the necessary steps to ensure that this remains the case to avoid further pressures on local authority budgets?
My noble friend is right to say that the credit ratings of local authorities remain strong, and where there have been some downgrades, that happened before the pandemic. I have made an undertaking to see that local authorities continue to get access to funding. However, we should recognise that the main lender to them is the Public Works Loan Board, which is an agency of HM Treasury.
Adult social care is a considerable part of local authority financing—approximately one-third for most councils. It is worth noting that around 40% of the funding provided so far to meet demand pressures has gone to adult social care, and as we have made the commitment to support those demand pressures through the pandemic, that continues to be a feature of the money that is being provided to local authorities. Whether further funding is required is being kept under review.
Is the Minister aware of the effect that local authority funding problems have had on the voluntary and charitable organisations which provide many services to individuals and communities? They have lost both grant funding from and contracts with local authorities and many are now under threat of closure. How do the Government intend to ensure that these vital services are safeguarded? I declare an interest as president of the NCVO.
The commitment to the local voluntary sector has been covered by the large grant that has been made available by the DCMS. We recognise the important part that local government plays in providing funding to the third sector. That will continue to be made possible because of the support that we are providing both in income support and to meet demand pressures. The third pillar, which is the loss in tax revenue, has been covered in part as well.
First, I thank the Minister personally for the support that has been given to Greater Manchester during the pandemic. The 10,000 laptops and devices that have been distributed across the region will make a real difference to disadvantaged children who need this help in these difficult times. However, the broader issue of local government funding needs to be addressed. Will the Minister commit today to do all he can to ensure that the Greater Manchester deficit, which is running at £378 million and growing, will be clawed back?
We are aware of the specific problems with regard to Greater Manchester. These are being exacerbated by the loss of the dividends that it normally gets from the airport, which is clearly having an effect on local authority incomes. I can commit that the department will continue to work closely with Greater Manchester councils to ensure that if a bespoke package is needed, that will provided for them.
My Lords, I declare my position as a vice-president of the LGA. I welcome the £1.57 billion rescue package for the arts that the Government announced for theatres, galleries and museums, but can the Minister tell me how much of it will be distributed by local councils? In a normal year, they put more than £1 billion into the arts around the country. Can the Minister reassure me that this money will not go to just a few large institutions, particularly in London, but will be spread around the country through local councils, so that we can hope to rescue and protect wonderful institutions, such as the theatres in Southampton and Sheffield—where I am speaking from now—and little rural arts centres up and down the country?
I can give a commitment that funding will extend beyond a few well-known names to the important local theatres and museums that are often supported by local authorities. I cannot give the noble Baroness the precise extent to be distributed via local authorities and will have to write to her with further information on that.
I was formerly the leader of a local authority in London, as was the Minister. We both appreciate how important local authorities are to the public. Yesterday, we had the Second Reading of the very important Business and Planning Bill. It will have implications for local authority expenditure, and some charges, I imagine. Is the Minister in a position to confirm that the Government will make sure that all those costs are covered? Finally, on care homes and social care, the Government have to recognise that procedures were not adequate for the transfer of patients from hospitals to care homes, in the early stages of the pandemic. There were huge costs incurred and the Government must pick up the bill. Can the Minister confirm that that will be looked at?
I confirm to my noble friend that the guidance on care homes was not as clear as it could have been. He is right to raise the lessons we have to learn from that. On the pressures from the Business and Planning Bill that is going through the House, I guarantee that any additional burdens on local authorities will be covered by the new burdens doctrine, as soon as they are identified.
My Lords, this has been a particularly tough period in the history of local governance, with the LGA playing an instrumental role. Do the Government recognise that a funding gap will remain, even after the injection confirmed by the Minister just now? To address this, do the Government have plans to give greater autonomy to local authorities, as part of any new financial settlement to enable councils to get on the front foot, possibly achieved by spreading tax deficits over three years rather than the usual one?
It has been announced that tax deficits will be deferred over three years, rather than one. That was directly in response to the Local Government Association. It is clear that the financial stability of local councils is being kept under review, with monthly updates to the department. I am sure that more announcements will be forthcoming.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that, because of Covid, referrals to children’s social care have fallen by more than half in some areas? Children’s services are braced for a huge influx of cases of children at risk when schools return. Will the Government make sure that those services have the extra funds they need to protect those vulnerable children? The £500 million allocated so far is simply not enough.
Immigration: Detainee Support
My Lords, if a detainee leaving detention has an outstanding asylum claim and would otherwise be destitute, they can apply for support. They will be provided with free furnished accommodation if granted. We cover utility costs and provide a cash allowance. When the person is at immediate risk of homelessness, we provide emergency accommodation while the application is assessed. Those who do not qualify for asylum support may be eligible under immigration bail provisions.
My Lords, first, the Minister will be aware of the report by the Chief Inspector of Prisons about the situation in immigration and detention centres during the pandemic, and the report that nine detainees from Harmondsworth were released into the streets without any support whatever. Secondly, the stabbing and shooting at the Park Inn Hotel in Glasgow cause deep concern. I am sure the Minister has heard many times before that, when somebody goes into provided accommodation, they lose their £35-a-week allowance. Can something be done about that? Does the Minister agree that it is high time we had a thorough overhaul of both detention and immigration procedures?
My Lords, this country is probably one of the most generous in the world when it comes to our treatment of asylum seekers. The noble Lord refers to the accommodation in Glasgow. It is three-star accommodation in a Radisson hotel, which I think is very generous by all measures. People would not be getting the £35 a week because everything is provided for them—bed, board, food and any other needs they have.
We all know that the noble Baroness is very compassionate and decent. But whatever her intentions, that is not the present reality in too many instances. If people are left destitute and desperate, this appears to them and those around them, and to the world, to be highly cynical and simply not compatible with civilised values. Can she redouble efforts to ensure that there is proper support and guidance for people who are being released into the community, given all the risks that will confront them?
My Lords, nobody should be left destitute in the current situation. Anyone who has applied for asylum, and even those who have been refused asylum, is being housed either in hotels or initial accommodation. If anyone is destitute, it is perhaps because they have breached the conditions which they are obliged to follow. In the main, we are a very humane country, with a humane Government who want to help these people. During the pandemic, everybody who has claimed asylum, and even those whose asylum claims have failed, is being looked after.
My Lords, immigration detention is an inhumane system, where people, most of whom will not ultimately be removed, can be locked up indefinitely without trial. Does the Minister agree that Covid-19 has put into the spotlight the arbitrary nature of the Home Office’s approach to detention and shown it to be both cruel and unnecessary? If she does not agree, can she say why immigration detainees have had a 95% success rate in bail applications since lockdown started?
I do not agree with the noble Baroness that detention is inhumane. Detention, in the main, is for the purposes of removal. Clearly, at this time, removal is far more difficult than it would usually be, and we are trying to grant bail where it is safe to do so.
My Lords, my question follows that of the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan. What has clearly been shown during the Covid period is that the number of immigration detainees has reduced significantly, by some 900 individuals since December of last year. Indeed, it is now one of the lowest numbers we have had since the previous decade. What lessons have been learned from this reduction in the number of immigration detainees? Can my noble friend assure the House that this positive move will continue as lockdown eases?
The noble Baroness points to our wish to avoid immigration detention at all costs. It is for the purposes of removal when the right of appeal has been exhausted and there is no other prospect of removing people. One lesson we have learned is how humane this country is. We have taken in people from Greece, which, I think, no other European country has been able to. I am very proud of that position.
My Lords, the near-prison environment of detention centres can lead to mental trauma and frequent self-harm. Does the Minister agree that we have an obligation to ensure that, on release, these vulnerable people are properly settled in society?
I want to come back to a question raised by the noble Baronesses, Lady Sheehan and Lady Warsi. They made the point that there has been a big reduction in the number of people in removal centres because of the risks due to the pandemic. My question is a follow-up to those previous questions: do the Government now expect that, in the light of being able to remove so many people from immigration removal centres, there will in future be a significant reduction in the use of such detention? Presumably, we have shown that we can manage these cases in the community. Will there be a reduction in future?
My Lords, the Government do not want to put anyone in detention centres for the purposes of removal. Obviously, there are conditions around people being put on bail, including being asked to live at a specified address in the community. In the future, all these things will be based on a risk-management system.
My Lords, many non-UK detainees released from immigration removal centres are victims of trafficking. Despite this, they have been allowed simply to walk out of the centre without any basic resources and protection being put in place. According to every charity that works in this area, this is happening regularly—can the Minister explain why? Does she agree that this puts detainees at the mercy of their original traffickers?
I agree with the noble Baroness that human trafficking is an issue that often comes to light in the detention estate. As I said, a risk-based assessment is done when people leave detention, and people have access to support should they need it, if they are victims of trafficking. However, she is right: this is a real concern at the moment.
My Lords, the Minister said in reply to an earlier question that detention was for the purposes of removal. Could she then explain why in 2018—the latest year for which I have figures—56% of those detained were released back into the community? Is that not a sign that we are using detention far too much when we do not need to?
People are released from detention for a number of reasons, including appeals that succeed because late information is provided. However, the noble Lord makes a valid point that we should look back on this period of the pandemic to see whether some of the things that we are doing now could be used in future to manage people in the community.
Food: Chicken and Beef
My Lords, the Government do not offer advice on this specific matter to British travellers. The Foreign Office keeps our travel advice under constant review and ensures that it reflects the most relevant risks to British nationals travelling overseas. All travel advice pages signpost to expert travel health advice from UK health bodies.
Is not the real reason for not issuing a health warning that American chicken and beef pose no health risks? Indeed, there are fewer salmonella and campylobacter cases in America than in Europe. Has this scare not been concocted by anti-Americans who want to sabotage a potential UK-US trade deal? They will not succeed because 90% of US chicken is not washed with chlorine, which anyway poses no health risks, and American animal welfare standards are no lower than in eastern Europe, Thailand and Brazil, from which we currently import chicken and beef. Should we not focus on the opportunities a US deal could offer British farmers, manufacturers and financial services?
Each country must make its own decision on a range of issues based on its own individual circumstances and attitude to risk. As my noble friend will know, we have legislated by the withdrawal Act 2018 against the use of artificial growth hormones in domestic production and imported meat products. Our legislation also prohibits the use of anything other than potable water to decontaminate poultry carcasses. Any changes would require new legislation. It is important to note that the approach we follow in this country, which I believe consumers want, is one where animals are reared in a way that does not necessitate chlorine treatment to be made safe.
My Lords, I am grateful for what the Minister just said. Can he tell us whether Her Majesty’s Government have conducted any assessment of antibiotic use among beef farmers in the United States? If so, what might be the potential implications for public health of beef imports following any future trade deal?
That is an enormously important point. I will have to get back to the right reverend Prelate with the precise data, but there is no doubt that we will need a big reduction in the use of antibiotics in farming globally. The UK is pushing hard for that, particularly on prophylactic or preventative use, where there are emerging links between overuse of antibiotics and antibiotic resistance, which can pass and spread to humans. There is a potential for overuse of antibiotics to represent the greatest threat to human health of almost anything else on the horizon. This is a priority area for the Government. We have been working extremely hard to reduce antibiotic use in this country and have succeeded in doing so, although there is more to do. We need to ensure that the same happens elsewhere.
Could my noble friend clear my muddled mind? Is it true that there is not a shred of evidence that washing chicken in chlorine is harming US consumers? Is it not true that here in the UK we wash fruit and vegetables in chlorine, as well as our kids in swimming pools? Is it not true that we put chlorine in our drinking water to keep us healthy? Surely Sherlock Holmes would conclude that this commotion is being pushed largely by those who have a political rather than scientific objective. They want consumers and taxpayers to pay for it. Am I anywhere near the target?
With respect, I disagree with my noble friend. There are many reasons to be concerned about the use of chlorine to wash chicken carcasses. One concern that has been raised and which I hinted at earlier is the process that necessitates the use of chlorine. In this country, our legislative approach requires the rearing of animals in such a way that they do not at the time of slaughter need to be washed down with chlorine to make them safe. The process matters as much as the outcome. That is the approach used in this country and across the European Union. Where produce in the United States meets a standard that is vaguely comparable with our own, we would be very keen to encourage and facilitate trade between our two countries for all the obvious reasons.
Does the Minister agree that we need to push back against EU propaganda designed to frustrate our deal with the USA? The global food security index 2020, which is based on quality, affordability and availability, places the USA at number three in the world, with the UK at number 17 and many European states much lower down. It is Europe that saw the scandals of horsemeat, cooking oil, and tainted Perrier, Coca-Cola, eggs and baby milk because it is all regulation and no enforcement. Will he agree that US food standards are at least as good, if not superior, to our own?
On some areas I agree very strongly with the noble Baroness. As a champion of free trade, the Government absolutely believe that an ambitious free trade agreement is in both the UK’s and the US’s interests. It will help our economies bounce back following the economic challenges imposed on us by coronavirus. A UK-US free trade agreement will strengthen the economic relationship with what is, let us remember, our largest bilateral trading partner and create opportunities throughout the economy. For example, an agreement with the US could remove tariffs on British beef of up to 26%, which would be worth an enormous amount to our farmers. A free trade agreement could remove the 17% tariff on Cheddar cheese, for example. If a free trade agreement enabled just a 10% increase in exports to the US, that would result in an estimated £90,000 for the average cheese producer. The benefits are very obvious and we are passionately in favour of free trade. However, on standards, it is important that the imports that come into this country do not undercut unfairly our own producers, who are required to produce their food to very high standards in terms of the environment, health and animal welfare.
My Lords, does the Minister recall mad cow disease and when Edwina Currie resigned over the salmonella outbreak? That was in the days when Ministers resigned when they made a mistake. Will he confirm to the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, and the whole House that chlorine washing chicken hides the bacteria? If the US trade deal goes ahead, what measures will be introduced to ensure the British public are kept safe from any of these threats from the United States?
As has been pointed out many times, we have already legislated by the withdrawal Act against artificial growth hormones and decontaminating poultry carcasses with chlorine. If we were to change that it would require legislation to be brought before Parliament. I have no doubt at all that Parliament would choose not to relax those regulations, and in my view rightly so. The Government have committed, as we did in our manifesto before the election, to ensuring that our high animal welfare and environmental standards are not undermined through the pursuit of free trade agreements.
My Lords, as the Minister said, antimicrobial resistance is an exceptionally dangerous global risk. Given the size of the US economy compared with ours, and without the power of being an EU member, how does he think we can tackle this global challenge while seeking a trade deal with the United States?
There is without a doubt growing concern globally about overuse of antibiotics. I believe that more than half of all antibiotics in the United States are used on farms, in many cases to keep animals alive that would otherwise not survive the conditions in which they are reared. The same has been true for many years across the European Union, including in the United Kingdom, where we have also been guilty of massive overuse of antibiotics in agriculture. We have taken great strides, working with the industry, to reduce the amount of antibiotics used in agriculture. The same is true across some countries in the European Union, but not all. Global awareness is growing. I believe that coronavirus has lowered our collective tolerance for risk. The noble Baroness is absolutely right that this should be top of the health agenda.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his replies and for acknowledging that it is not only human health which concerns people, but the welfare aspects of the methods of keeping chickens and other animals and rearing beef. Can he again confirm that it will be a red line for the whole of the Government in any free trade negotiations with the United States that we do not change our standards? When we have completed those negotiations, will he also take on board that we need a robust statement on labelling so that customers know the methods of rearing and slaughter and can choose whether to buy?
The Government are looking very closely at labelling. It is a complex issue, but we are making progress and will be coming forward with something shortly. On standards, it is not so much that standards should not change but that we should always seek to improve the outcomes from an environmental health and animal welfare perspective. That could mean improving, changing or even streamlining regulations. We know that agriculture will be a tricky area, as it always is in free trade agreements, but we uphold very high food safety and animal welfare standards and we will not allow imports to undermine those standards. Our manifesto is clear that in all our trade negotiations, we will maintain our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards and we will hold firm in trade negotiations. That position has been reiterated time and again by the Government, not just by the department on whose behalf I am speaking today.
Covid-19: Public Transport
My Lords, as sectors gradually reopen, we are seeking to maximise available capacity, while social distancing measures remain in place, to meet demand. We have issued guidance to ensure that people stay safe while using public transport; this guidance is being kept under review. We are fully supportive of encouraging people back on to public transport, but it must be done when safe to do so.
The Government have succeeded in dissuading us from using public transport but as we get back to work, we must get back on the buses and trains to avoid traffic congestion choking our cities and our lungs. When do the Government intend to launch the new message that public transport is safe to use, and how much funding do they intend to allocate to that campaign and to bus operators to support the changes they are having to make?
The noble Baroness will be well aware that the Government’s communication strategy is evolving over time as we respond to coronavirus. She raises some very important points, and we must also consider what will happen in the future, particularly as people return to work in greater numbers in the autumn and children return to school in September. We are cognisant of all these things and our messaging is appropriate.
Does the Minister accept that Transport Ministers’ consistently doom-laden warnings about the risks involved in travelling on public transport have destroyed public confidence in the safety of our transport systems? Does she accept that any failure to extend taxpayer support beyond the proposed cut-off date of 20 September is likely to mean that buses and trains will be few and far between after that date, outside of Britain’s major conurbations? What comfort can she offer to bus and train operators and their passengers that the future of public transport in this country is secure?
The travelling public have listened to the Government and decided to heed our warnings about travelling on public transport because capacity is so limited, not because it is unsafe. The Government are working extremely closely with transport operators across all modes to establish a medium-term funding mechanism, because we want high-quality public transport in the future and our public transport system to rebound, when it is safe to do so.
My Lords, understandably, people are loath to travel on buses if not all passengers are wearing face coverings. Transport police have the power to fine offenders, but they are by no means omnipresent. How might bus drivers be given more power to implement the regulations and insist that passengers wear face coverings?
In our conversations with transport operators, it has become clear that bus drivers do not want to be the enforcement mechanism for using face coverings, particularly if they have to issue penalty notices. However, they can guide passengers to do the right thing. I can reassure the noble Baroness that the recent ONS survey showed that 86% of passengers are wearing face coverings, and we are increasing the amount of enforcement by British Transport Police and TfL authorised persons over the coming weeks.
My noble friend raises an important point about the different mitigations that can be put in place. As he will know, the recent guidance was updated from two-metre social distancing to one metre plus, and the later guidance includes not only enhanced cleaning and ventilation and wearing face coverings, but no shouting or singing. We are considering all these elements to minimise the spread of coronavirus on public transport.
My Lords, the demand for public transport increases by about five times during peak periods. Research by McKinsey has shown that the majority of those using public transport at peak times are office workers, students and recreational users, most of whom can vary their arrival and departure times. Will the Government consider requiring that only those who need to travel at a specific time—key workers—be allowed to do so, and that all organisations review their hours of activity to reflect this guidance?
The noble Lord raises an important point. We have had a number of conversations about staggered start times with not only businesses but schools. However, this must be put in the context of changing travel demand patterns. Peak periods are not where they used to be, and we must keep an eye on how they change as people start using the public transport system in greater numbers in the autumn and as schools go back in September, as I said earlier to the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson.
My Lords, the Government find themselves in a cleft stick because they have been so successful, together with the Mayor of London and an over-panicked media, at scaring people from travelling on public transport. But if we take the precautions the Minister has mentioned, the risk can be borne, especially by younger people. Will the Government now express the view that it can be safe to travel on public transport if you take sensible precautions, and hammer that home so the fear that many people have is diminished?
I agree with my noble friend that we must diminish any perception of fear. It has never been the Government’s intention to scare people off public transport. We have encouraged them to avoid it and to use other methods because of the capacity limits that are in place with social distancing. I reassure my noble friend that people are returning to public transport. Demand is varying significantly by mode and location, which, as I am sure noble Lords will understand, presents its own challenges, because a one-size-fits-all solution cannot help in those circumstances.
As people who completely depend on public transport emerge from shielding themselves or others, their risk of infection increases as distancing lessens in public areas even with masks. Do the Government recognise the urgent need for a clear UK-wide symbol, such as the one NHS Wales endorsed, to prompt distancing? Will she meet me to take this forward, as this costs next to nothing and can save lives?
I would be very happy to receive further information about the scheme to which the noble Baroness is referring. I am not aware of it, but we are looking at all sorts of schemes to make it easier for people to travel on public transport. For example, those exempt from face coverings can get themselves an exemption card which can be very helpful to show people who might otherwise try to enforce their use.
From yesterday, rail services were to be close to 85% of pre-Covid levels and more bus services are now running. As has been said, the problem is the severe shortage of passengers. Passenger numbers are well below even those allowed under current social distancing requirements. There may be very good reasons for it, but why is it that some airlines —with government acceptance—can apparently operate planes safely with potentially all seats occupied by passengers, but for trains and buses this is not only still not possible to do safely but apparently not anywhere near possible?
The Government are working very closely with transport operators in all modes to encourage them to do their own risk assessments, work out a safe configuration of passengers and make other interventions, such as cleaning and ventilation, so that passengers are carried as safely as possible.
My Lords, organisations concerned for pedestrians are very worried about e-scooters. The RNIB has called them
“a real and genuine threat to the ability of blind and partially sighted people to move around independently and safely.”
This is even more true if they use pavements, as they will; they already have done while they have been illegal. Unlike now, will there be robust enforcement? What arrangements are in place with police and local authorities to that end?
The Government have given handouts which have been very welcome in stabilising the economy, but do they accept that the most important contribution to the economy is getting people back to work, that the biggest gap in our economy is people who work in offices in our town centres, and that many of these people travel by public transport? Will the Government give priority to the use of public transport as quickly as possible?
My Lords, the Government have been asked by a number of different groups to give priority to public transport over the past few months, but to operationalise that is incredibly hard. While we are not looking to put in those sorts of mechanisms at this time, we are looking to maximise the capacity and make sure that demand comes on to the system at the appropriate time, which is why, as I said earlier, staggered starting of offices and schools is so important.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, proceedings will now commence. Some Members are here in the Chamber and others are participating virtually, but all Members are treated equally. For Members participating remotely, microphones will unmute shortly before they are to speak. Please accept any on-screen prompt to unmute. Microphones will be muted after each speech. If the capacity of the Chamber is exceeded, I will immediately adjourn the House. I ask noble Lords to be patient if there are any short delays as we switch between physical and remote participants. The usual rules and courtesies in debate apply.
Independent Residential Care
Private Notice Question
To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the remarks made by the Chief Executive of NHS England on 5 July, what measures they plan to put in place to assist independent residential care providers should any such provider face (1) financial, or (2) operational, difficulties.
My Lords, this disease has targeted the vulnerable, and those working and living in social care have faced daunting threats. The Government have intervened with £3.7 billion for local authorities, including specific funds such as the £600 million infection control fund and the £500 million announced on 2 July. Delivery is being supported by our social care Covid-19 task force.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply, but he will know that, nowadays, residential care homes are provided not by local authorities but by thousands of independent organisations. It is now thought that some of these organisations may be in financial difficulties. Can the Minister tell the House what plans are in place to protect the residents of a home which ceases to operate, especially as these residents are not only very vulnerable but, frankly, have nowhere else to go?
My Lords, the noble Lord is entirely right. The protection of residents is our number one priority and our responsibilities under the Care Act 2014 remain in place. The care home economy is mixed. We are looking very carefully at the financial resilience of all the providers involved. We are providing the funds necessary to see them through this epidemic and we will do whatever it takes to protect residents.
My Lords, given the unfortunate words of the Prime Minister last night, where he seemingly blamed care homes for high rates of Covid-19, when will the Government actually produce the long-promised proposals for the future of social care, which will guarantee quality through acknowledging the need for a skilled, stable and trained workforce, properly valued?
My Lords, we are enormously grateful to all those working in the care home sector, who have protected residents through this awful epidemic, and we continue to support them. We have increased recruitment in the area, and are in the midst of an enormous recruitment marketing campaign to bring new, qualified people into the care home sector. The Secretary of State wrote to relevant stakeholders on 14 May, inviting them to cross-party talks on the care home sector. We are continuing those conversations and hope to bring them to a head at the earliest opportunity.
Yesterday, our Prime Minister said that
“too many care homes didn’t really follow the procedures”.
In March, the care sector asked for testing for patients discharged from hospital. The Government’s reply—not necessary. The sector could not get the promised PPE as government supplies failed to appear. All our amazing 1.6 million care home workers needed testing from March—it took the Government three months. Complex government guidance changed frequently, sometimes even daily. Our care homes have had to cope with 30,000 excess deaths in three months and massively increased costs. Does the Minister agree with our Prime Minister, or with the National Care Forum, which said that Boris Johnson’s remarks were, “frankly, hugely insulting”?
I thank all those who work in the care home sector for the enormous amount of sacrifice and commitment that they have shown to protecting residents. The noble Baroness, I think, portrays the situation unfairly. Guidelines have changed quickly because the situation changed quickly. PPE demand could never have been expected at the levels it reached; the Government responded incredibly quickly to move PPE into both NHS and social care. On testing, we started from a very low base; testing has now been introduced in care homes for both patients and staff. The Government will continue to be committed to protecting both staff and residents in the care sector.
My Lords, the money that my noble friend refers to is not currently ring-fenced. Local authorities have been written to, to explain that the money should be prioritised for Covid—but, at the request of the local authorities themselves, the money was not ring-fenced.
My Lords, the Vivaldi project found that, in care homes where staff received sick pay, there were lower levels of infection in residents. During the next pandemic, will our priority to be to save the NCS—the new national care service—as well as the NHS, or will we have an integrated NHCS national health and care service, or, what other urgent measures are Her Majesty’s Government considering to protect care?
The noble Baroness puts her question extremely well, but I am afraid it is beyond my ability to predict as she asks exactly what the shape of the national care provisions will be. What I can say is that the role of agency staff was always, from the very earliest stage, one of the gravest concerns we had. The CMO flagged it very early, and we moved as quickly as we could to tackle the difficult issue of itinerant staff, and to put in place both the funding and the procedures to anticipate problems of infection around staff who move from one home to the next.
My Lords, I return to the question raised by my noble friend Lady Armstrong and the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, because, while it is obviously welcome for the Minister to thank those who work in care homes for the sacrifices that they have made, he needs to acknowledge the hurt that the Prime Minister has caused with his words. Will the Minister clarify which procedures care homes are accused of disregarding? Are they procedures related to the Government’s policy of allowing hospital patients to be discharged without testing, to the failure to provide the required PPE or, perhaps, to setting up the testing programme so late?
My Lords, it is not the role of a junior Minister to speak on behalf of the Prime Minister, but I can say that the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State and I are all enormously grateful for the huge amount of work that social care staff have put into this epidemic. I have seen with own eyes the commitment and expertise that they have provided during these very difficult days. We are, as a nation, enormously grateful for their hard work and skill.
My Lords, the pandemic has placed a very harsh spotlight on the resilience of the care system, with 30,000 excess deaths in care homes in England and Wales in a three-month period. At the weekend Sir Simon Stevens made it crystal clear that we just do not have a fair or properly resourced social care system with proper workforce support. With some homes already running close to bankruptcy due to the additional costs and occupancy rates slipping below 87% when many smaller homes become financially unviable, what immediate steps are the Government taking to protect these smaller homes?
The noble Baroness is entirely right that the issue of excess beds is an unfortunate and unwelcome added pressure on an already pressured system. Sir Simon Stevens was echoing the sentiments of the Government and the Secretary of State when he said that we need to move towards a long-term settlement for social care. That was very much the commitment of the Prime Minister during the election and in the manifesto. Steps have been taken towards working on that but we have been interrupted by Covid-19. It remains a number one priority for the Government. In the meantime, we will be putting in the financial resources necessary to provide the resilience for those smaller homes of which the noble Baroness speaks.
My Lords, does my noble friend think it reasonable that, 12 months after the Economic Affairs Committee produced the report Social Care Funding: Time to End a National Scandal, we have not had a debate on the report or a response from the Government? He talks about providing resources for social care. That report identified an £8 billion gap just to get back to the standards we had in 2010. Does he not think that instead of the occupants of Nos. 10 and 11 Downing Street standing on their doorsteps and putting their hands together to clap the achievements of social care workers, their hands should be put in the Treasury’s pocket to find the money now urgently needed to prevent the collapse of nursing homes and to prevent us continuing to rely on the good will and hard work of people who are being pressed beyond endurance? This delay cannot go on longer and longer, which has been the pattern for the last decade.
My noble friend asks the question extremely well. The Lords Economic Affairs Committee report is an extremely thoughtful and respected piece of work. Under normal circumstances we would certainly have had that debate and moved forward on this incredibly important issue, which was flagged both in the election and in the manifesto as a major government priority. However, I cannot hide from my noble friend that the Covid epidemic has disrupted progress, particularly on this delicate issue, which requires a huge amount of management time by senior healthcare officials, who are utterly consumed by Covid at the moment. Please be under no illusion that this is a major priority for the Government. Once the preparations for winter are in place, it will be at the top of the list.
The Covid crisis has revealed the crucial role that care homes and care workers play in our national life. Does the Minister agree that it is high time to take a radical look at the role of care homes and of social care more generally, especially the status and the pay of care workers, who have revealed their worth so wonderfully over these last few months?
The noble and right reverend Lord is entirely right: the value and contribution of care home workers to society and to the communities that they work in go way beyond the actual monetary value of their salary. We completely respect and pay tribute to the contribution that they have made, particularly during this epidemic. We have sought during the epidemic to run recruitment campaigns to bring in new workers and to help plug any skills gaps, but this is the kind of issue that needs to be addressed in a long-term plan. We have already started work on that plan and look forward to bringing it to Parliament when the kind of cross-party support that is needed is in place.
My Lords, I welcome the initiation of cross-party talks. The Minister will know now that more than two-thirds of the public want to fund health and social care through higher taxation. Will he now accept that as a principle if that is the result of the cross-party talks, instead of his Government ruling out tax increases?
The noble Baroness makes her case well. There are a large number of considerations in this matter—my noble friend Lord Forsyth has already made a strong case for the recommendations of the Economic Affairs Committee—and we need to look at all of them. It is an extremely complicated area. We need to get buy-in from cross-party support and from a wide number of stakeholders and the businesses involved. Once we are in that position, we will be able to make a plan that delivers a long-term solution to this knotty problem.
My Lords, we must welcome Sir Simon Stevens’ promise to help independent care providers, but will we make sure that when the money goes to those providers they pay their staff properly, give them protective equipment and do not let them go on working in an unsafe and underpaid profession?
My Lords, the role of the staff is essential. We have put in place an infection fund of £500 million to help to provide a safe working environment for staff, and we are looking at mobilising a huge PPE effort, led by my noble friend Lord Deighton. The protection and payment of staff are essential. However, a long-term solution for staff will depend on a long-term deal. We are working on that but I cannot give any assurances until the important work of building cross-party support has been fulfilled.
Committee (1st Day)
Relevant document: 13th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee
My Lords, a limited number of Members are here in the Chamber, respecting social distancing. If the capacity of the Chamber is exceeded, I will immediately adjourn the House. Other Members will participate remotely, but all Members will be treated equally wherever they are. For Members participating remotely, microphones will unmute shortly before they are to speak—please accept any on-screen prompt to unmute. Microphones will be muted after each speech. I ask noble Lords to be patient if there are any short delays as we switch between physical and remote participants. I should remind the House that our normal courtesies in debate still very much apply in this new hybrid way of working.
A participants’ list for today’s proceedings has been published and is in my brief, which Members should have received. I also have lists of Members who have put their names to the amendments, or expressed an interest in speaking, on each group. I will call Members to speak in the order listed. Members’ microphones will be muted by the broadcasters except when I call a Member to speak. Interventions during speeches or before the noble Lord sits down are not permitted and uncalled speakers will not be heard.
During the debate on each group, I will invite Members, including Members in the Chamber, to email the clerk if they wish to speak after the Minister. I will call Members to speak in order of request and will call the Minister to reply each time. The groupings are binding, and it will not be possible to degroup an amendment for separate debate. A Member intending to press an amendment already debated to a Division should have given notice in the debate. Leave should be given to withdraw amendments. When putting the Question, I will collect voices in the Chamber only. If a Member taking part remotely intends to trigger a Division, they should make this clear when speaking on the group.
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I draw to the attention of noble Lords that there is a very large number of participants wishing to speak in this debate, particularly on the first group. If noble Lords could be concise and non-repetitive in their contributions, it would greatly aid the smooth and swift passage of the Bill.
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.]
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.