House of Lords
Thursday 9 July 2020
The House met in a Hybrid Sitting.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of St Albans.
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 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.
Oral Questions will now commence. Please could those asking supplementary questions keep them sensibly short and confined to two points? Obviously, I ask Ministers to do the exact same.
Banks: Internet Transfers of Cash
My Lords, the UK is recognised as having a world-leading system for combating economic crime, creating a secure and transparent business environment. In response to the disruption caused by Covid-19, the Government have taken unprecedented steps to support business cash flow, including the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme and the bounce-back loan scheme. These are helping to support small businesses suffering temporary cash-flow issues by providing the finance they need to get through this challenging period.
My Lords, we all support security checks by banks to prevent fraud and scams. However, there seems to be evidence emerging that some banks are routinely delaying transfers by holding up payments in the name of security. It is apparent that transfers are being frozen by banks without any adequate reason being given. Complaining is then made difficult by inadequate staffing or working from home, with long queueing on the phone. False promises of jam tomorrow are made. In some cases, the delay is blamed on HMRC, which blocks the payment with some kind of flagging mechanism on the account. Even when cleared, removing the flag is woefully slow—over two or three weeks, in one example, allegedly because HMRC is inundated with work. This is not good enough. The Minister knows that cash flow is the lifeblood of business, and these blockages in companies’ financial arteries are haemorrhaging British jobs. I ask the Minister: should there not be a duty on the banks to notify card-holders immediately when transfers are delayed and put on hold like this? Could the Minister advise the House on whether the banks profit by returning possession of these funds, which must amount to significant sums at any one time?
My Lords, there are circumstances where a firm may not be able to process a transaction immediately—in particular, where there are suspicions of criminal activity such as fraud or money laundering. The regulations in this area require checks to be proportionate to the assessment of risk. I reassure the noble Lord that, in such cases, banks should not be profiting from the holding of payments. On the question of disclosure, as this is potentially about fraud or other criminal activity, disclosing the holding of funds for these purposes may prejudice the investigation that is taking place.
My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register, and add to the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie. Can the Minister look at a mightily odd situation whereby Barclays Bank, on behalf of the sector, would welcome clarity and the need for urgent regulatory reform in a certain regard? Is the Minister aware of the term “politically exposed persons”—PEP, in the jargon? What is meant by it, and why does it exist such that it affects the ability of that bank being able to open a bank account and, additionally, MoneyGram not effecting a transfer of €300 to Sierra Leone for a well-developed SME fintech start-up that would have brought tax revenues and employment for the UK and driven opportunity globally to UK SMEs but which has, regrettably, driven the platform offshore?
My Lords, I am aware of “politically exposed persons”. Under the money laundering regulations 2017, firms must assess the risks posed by those customers on a case-by-case basis and tailor their enhanced due diligence measures accordingly. The FCA has published guidance explaining what these obligations look like in practice. Furthermore, the guidance is that UK politically exposed persons should be treated as low risk, unless other factors apply.
My Lords, I declare my interests as chair of the independent reference group of the National Crime Agency. Suspicious activity reports are an essential tool in combating financial crime, fraud and the funding of terrorism, but is the Minister satisfied that the NCA has sufficient resources to deal with the volume of such reports? Given that banks are assiduous submitters of SARs, with nearly 400,000 last year, is she satisfied that building societies, with only 22,000 submissions, and solicitors, with fewer than 3,000, are pulling their weight?
Money laundering is a very serious issue, but according to the FSB it comes on top of a worsening late payment problem during the Covid crisis. Can the Minister reassure the House that she will look into this issue, and redouble the Government’s efforts to tackle late payments for SMEs, which have stalled during Covid?
The Government are committed to clamping down on late payments. We made a manifesto commitment that we will deliver on to strengthen the powers of the Small Business Commissioner in this regard. Regarding Covid, there is mixed evidence on late payments. We are seeing evidence of good and bad practice from businesses; the Small Business Commissioner is monitoring this very closely.
My Lords, when a bank freezes a customer’s account without asking the National Crime Agency for consent, there currently is no statutory timetable specifying when they must unfreeze those funds. Does the Minister believe that there should be a maximum time for which accounts can be frozen?
The regulations are not prescriptive in setting out how firms should carry out their due diligence. Instead, they require firms to take a proportionate approach that is commensurate with their assessment of the risk. I think that is the right approach for the Government to take.
My Lords, research this week has shown that billions of bank account details and passwords, for individuals and small and medium-sized businesses, are for sale on the dark web. What discussions have the Minister and her department had with the banks and the banking authorities to improve security for their customers?
In 2018, push payment scams meant that 84,000 victims lost £354 million in lost funds. The European revised payment services directive is due to come into force in the EU on 31 December 2020 to combat this, but for the UK this has been delayed again, until September next year. Why do the Government think that UK customers should be more vulnerable to online fraud and scams than those within the European Union?
My Lords, the UK takes all fraud, including APP fraud, extremely seriously. In the UK, we have set up the contingent reimbursement model code for APP scams, which ensures that, where victims are of no blame, they are refunded the payments that they lost out on.
My Lords, I recognise that banks with automated checking systems will have been flagging up the new types of payments that they have never seen before as potentially suspicious, but has the department had conversations with the banks to focus on using new technology which can push the suspected transactions through faster for issues such as CBILS loans?
My Lords, in respect of CBILS loans and other payments, we are not aware of any delays in the payment systems causing problems for businesses. More broadly, we are looking at the rapid technology developments in this area and we are working with the Financial Policy Committee on a payment landscape review to look at the infrastructure and regulation, to ensure that this is keeping pace with the development of technology. We will be publishing a call for evidence on that matter shortly.
Barclays Bank now has adverts urging people to use card payments rather than internet transfers, presumably to avoid fraud, but does it not also mean that they profit from an interchange fee at the expense of retailers? Is there any way that the system is not biased against SMEs?
Intelligence and Security Committee: Russia Report
My Lords, the Government acknowledge the continued interest in the publication of the Intelligence and Security Committee’s Russia report. This report is the independent ISC’s property and it is not for the Government to publish. We have received nominations from all relevant parties and are in the process of constituting the committee.
My Lords, despite that Panglossian reply, is it not abundantly clear that the Government deliberately and improperly suppressed the publication of the report to avoid embarrassment in last year’s general election? Why, six months after that election, have the Government irresponsibly failed to appoint a new intelligence committee which could publish the report? This is a shabby episode, increasingly typical of No. 10 Downing Street.
My Lords, the noble Lord’s statement was certainly not Panglossian, but it was very wide of the mark. An announcement on membership will be made very shortly, and a Motion will be tabled for agreement by both Houses next week. The noble Lord’s wild charges against the Prime Minister are wholly unfounded.
My Lords, it is widely known that Russia interfered in the Brexit campaign, with targeted influence operations and disinformation campaigns, and it continues to interfere, presently around Covid-19. The continued obstruction of the publication of the Russia report reinforces the reasons for an already catastrophic decline of trust in this Government, enables the continued undermining of democratic debate and damages the credibility of the ISC and the integrity of our democracy. How can this be justified?
My Lords, again, I reject the charge of delay or conspiracy of any kind, but I do agree most strongly with what the noble Lord, with his great experience, has said. We know that disinformation is a common tactic used by the Kremlin, and we always take proactive action to defend our democracy. The Government are engaging with international partners, industry and civil society to tackle this threat.
I would have thought that it would be in the Conservative Party’s interest to have the report published, simply because there are so many rumours swirling around about Russian interference in planning projects, for example—and it is true that the Conservative Party has taken £3.5 million from Russian donors over the past 10 years. To quash those rumours, would it not be better to publish the report and then if there is any fault anywhere, the donors could be given their money back?
My Lords, another series of wild charges, which I reject, has been read into the record. I repeat that an announcement on the membership of the committee will be made shortly and a Motion will be tabled for agreement by both Houses next week. The report is the property of the committee, not the Government.
My Lords, from Litvinenko to the Salisbury poisonings, we seen the blatant actions of the Putin regime on British soil as well as those in Ukraine and elsewhere. I am banned from going to Russia for saying something somewhat disobliging about Putin. I understand what my noble friend says about the committee, but it is very important that we publish this report because it will be more disobliging than anything I have said and it will let the British people and, indeed, the British Parliament see the malignant behaviour of the Putin regime in this country and elsewhere. Please can my noble friend facilitate, so far as he is able, the publication of this report?
My Lords, I will not repeat what I said about the view that we take of the Putin Government’s disinformation activities. I note what my noble friend said. I hope I have told the House that a Motion will be tabled for the establishment of the committee next week, and I am sure the committee will take note of what my noble friend and others have said about the importance of publishing the report.
My Lords, I am sorry that the Minister has used the term “wild charges” to describe the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones. I have read in a number of serious British newspapers comments on major financial contributions to the Conservative Party in recent years by Russian oligarchs resident in London and their families. If those are wild charges, I am surprised the Conservative Party did not sue. In these circumstances, can the Minister guarantee to this House that the report will be published before we rise for the Summer Recess?
My Lords, I can only repeat what I have told the House. Motions will be laid for the constitution of the committee next week. It is then the responsibility of the committee to decide how and when it publishes its report. I am sure it will take note of what the noble Lord and others have said. But again, I wholly reject the charge that the Prime Minister in any way is responsible for delaying the report.
My Lords, I welcome my noble friend’s assurance that the new committee will soon be established and that the Motions will be laid for its constitution. In October 2019, the then chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee stated that there was a long-standing agreement that the Prime Minister will endeavour to respond to ISC reports within 10 days. Does my noble friend agree that that agreement should be reinstated? Given that the Government have had the Russia report since October and approved it in December, will they issue their response at the same time as the report is published?
My Lords, the Government must see the formal publication of the report before considering action. Under the Justice and Security Act 2013, the ISC has responsibility to exclude material that any Prime Minister considers prejudicial to the continual discharge of the committee’s functions. Therefore, the role any Prime Minister undertakes in examining the report must be carefully done and is an important statutory process.
My Lords, the Minister has been quite clever with words. Of course the Government are not responsible for publishing the report, but they are responsible for setting up the Intelligence and Security Committee. It is hard to avoid the question of why the Government have dragged their feet on this. However, we welcome the announcement that we will see a Motion in Parliament next week. Can the Minister confirm, first, that the committee will be set up this week and, secondly, that there will be debates in both Houses, before Parliament rises, on the content of the report? The point that the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, made was very important. The Prime Minister has already seen this report and has been told that there is nothing in it that cannot be published. Why can he not publish the Government’s response immediately upon publication?
My Lords, I repeat: let us see when the report is published and take course from there. The noble Baroness knows that not every aspect of moving towards agreeing the Select Committee’s composition is in the hands of the Prime Minister. He is statutorily required to consult, for example, the leader of the Opposition. I think we should all come together now, agree and welcome the fact that the committee is being constituted. It took at least five months the past two times the committee was constituted. It is a delicate matter and takes some time.
My Lords, Christopher Steele was the head of MI6’s Russia desk and spent his life tracking Russian influence operations. He told senior British intelligence about Russian interference in the EU referendum. That was later confirmed by Parliament’s DCMS Committee. What, if anything, did the then Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson do about Steele’s alarming warning about the serious attack by a hostile foreign power on the integrity of British democracy?
My Lords, when working in Moscow as an adviser within a Russian government ministry for three years, I developed a tremendous regard for the Russian people. However, subsequently I was given clear evidence of Russian interference in our democratic processes by a private investigator and referred that information to the Electoral Commission. I do not actually expect the Government to publish the report, but can the Minister give any assurance to the House that our security services now have procedures in place to prevent future elections in this country being turned upside down by Russia or, indeed, any other country?
My Lords, I certainly endorse what the noble Baroness said: we have no quarrel whatever with the Russian people, their great culture and their achievements. I have said that we are fully aware of the activities of the current regime. The Government are fully engaged at all times in trying to protect the integrity of democratic processes within this country.
Covid-19: Churches and Places of Worship
As of 4 July, places of worship were allowed to reopen with social distancing in place. We are engaging with faith groups to understand the pressures they are facing during Covid-19, and we continue to listen to and understand the ongoing impact of the loss of income. Faith organisations can apply for a range of government-backed financial packages to support charities and businesses at this time.
My Lords, churches and places of worship are not simply where we go to pray. They bring the joy of music, support tourism, offer significant community provision and, importantly, are custodians of our heritage. All are essentially self- funding and require a sustainable income, which has simply evaporated as a result of lockdown, leaving many in extreme difficulty. Does my noble friend the Minister agree that ensuring the long-term financial sustainability of our churches should be a strategic priority of the Government? Does he also agree that it is folly to extend the congestion charge in London to Sundays and evenings, placing an intolerable price tag on worship for many who want to attend church services in London on a Sunday, or a concert in the evening, and making a desperate financial situation even worse?
My noble friend is right that churches and all places of worship play a crucial role in the cultural, as well as spiritual and moral, life of our country. Where possible, we should therefore seek to support as a priority the long-term sustainability of places of worship. As to the decision to extend the C-charge to a Sunday, I am wholly opposed to it. That decision was made by the Mayor of London.
My Lords, legislation has not kept up with the practice of public giving or developments in technology, especially now, when, as a result of the pandemic, cash carries the risk of infection. Charities, including churches, can currently claim only on cash and contactless gifts—not on online gifts and donations. Will the Government consider allowing online donations to qualify for gift aid, as part of the gift aid small donations scheme?
We have given guidance to churches on the safe handling of cash, which can continue, and we encourage contactless where possible. We will certainly look to see whether we should extend this to small gift aid donations online. In the meantime, we encourage churches to get people to register, so that the whole amount of their donation can be claimed.
My Lords, I declare an interest as listed in the register, as chairman of the trustees of the Royal College of Organists. Does my noble friend the Minister agree that, at least in our cathedrals and larger parish churches, the financial stability of churches includes the financial stability of their musicians? Organists are at last now able to play their instruments, but recitals cannot be given, thus denying funds for the churches and fees for the organists —and singing in church is not allowed. Can my noble friend tell the House what progress is being made on research into viral transmission through singing? If this is not swiftly resolved, Britain’s great choral tradition is in considerable peril.
My noble friend is right that organ recitals are a key part of our cultural and religious life. The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is about to publish guidance for the performing arts to return safely to training, rehearsal and performance during Covid-19; I refer my noble friend to that guidance. In addition, Public Health England is looking into and researching how we can minimise transmission through singing and chanting, as this is such an important part of faith practice.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of the Council of Reference of Westminster Abbey. Is the Minister aware of how close to home—that is, to Parliament—the financial worries of churches are? The abbey will have a shortfall of about £12 million this year, and £9 million next year, and has decided to shut down the Sunday services at our church, St Margaret’s. However, the dean is now under pressure from the House of Commons to keep those services open, without the money to do so. I wonder whether the Government can support the abbey.
My Lords, apart from cathedrals and larger parish churches, what about the ordinary street-corner churches? These offer community services, and in the case of the one I attend, concerts and cultural events, visits to care homes, accommodation for rough sleepers during the winter months, and art classes, with some 10% of the income it raises given away to charities. Will the Government recognise that if, as the Minister says, there are indeed avenues of help available, they must be well enough known for those in need to take advantage of them?
My Lords, my department, MHCLG, is making that information available to all faith communities and places of worship. It should be noted that the Prime Minister has asked Danny Kruger to look into how we can support those that provide many of the community services referred to by the noble Lord, and the social action that has been so helpful during the recovery phase of Covid-19.
My Lords, churches and places of worship have suffered during the pandemic because of the lack of giving on the plate or in the collection bag, and from the lack of fundraising events. Since 1922, the state has had an involvement with places of worship through the deed of covenant scheme, replaced in 1990 by gift aid. Would it not be a wonderful thing if the Government were to double gift aid in the tax year 2020-21? Will the Minister speak to the Chancellor accordingly?
My Lords, that is obviously something that would have to be considered as part of the comprehensive spending review that will take place this autumn. We recognise the importance of gift aid in supporting the financial sustainability of our places of worship.
My Lords, this morning, I attended morning prayers at Marble Arch synagogue. It was good to be back, although the new regulations will take some getting used to. At my synagogue in Borehamwood, Rabbi Alex Chapper explained some of the challenges going forward as synagogues reopen—especially financial ones, as synagogues generally raise funds by voluntary contributions from members, many of whom are facing financial uncertainty. I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister that he has reached out to many communities, including the Jewish community. Is he able to update the House on those discussions?
I thank my noble friend for his kind words. I have had discussions as recently as last week with representatives of all Jewish communities, including the Orthodox community that he refers to. I am pleased to see that many synagogues are reopening, and that people are taking the appropriate decisions to keep their staff, volunteers and congregations safe, in line with public health advice.
My Lords, cathedrals and churches are part of the great architectural heritage of England. Will the Government consider relaxing VAT on the repair and reinstatement of our churches and cathedrals? Will they ensure that any support goes to all faiths? For example, the Islamic religion is increasing at a rate at which it may become the main religion in England, and the evangelical and reformed churches have already replaced the Roman Catholic Church as the second largest in this country.
I refer noble Lords to the fact that there is in place a listed places of worship scheme, which supports the refund of VAT on repairs and maintenance. This will be in place until March 2021; whether it will be extended is a matter for the spending review. I note the noble Lord’s points.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a Church of England priest. Like my noble friend, I have seen churches and places of worship working flat out in the pandemic, supporting the sick and bereaved, feeding the hungry, and caring for the homeless and the lonely. Our communities need them to survive the pandemic. Have the Government considered the request that has been made specifically for an equivalent to the small business grant fund for charities and places of worship? These are often the heart of our communities; we need them to be there on the other side of Covid.
I looked at the suggestion of a small business grant fund with my colleague and noble friend Lady Barran, and we have already had a bilateral on this to see how we can move forward. It should be noted that the charity support fund provided by the National Lottery fund is open to places of worship that are registered charities, and that is some £200 million.
Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime
My Lords, as required by Sections 30 and 32 of the sanctions Act, we will report annually to Parliament on all sanctions regulations. This year’s Section 32 report, which focuses on sanctions for human rights purposes, will be laid shortly. We will also publish a list of names of those subject to UK-autonomous sanctions. This has been updated with the names of those designated on 6 July under the global human rights sanctions regime.
I thank the Minister for his Answer and, like other noble Lords yesterday, I warmly congratulate the Government on this hugely significant step, which is a flare of light in the continuing darkness of human rights abuses. It was good to hear that the Government are to report annually to Parliament. Given the Minister’s well-known and serious commitment to this area, and the fact that in the House of Lords, in particular, there is widespread concern about this issue, can he give any kind of indication as to when the earliest opportunity might present itself for us to engage with him on this issue?
My Lords, within the sanctions Act there are provisions stating that after the laying of these final designations, which was on 6 July, there is a period of 28 sitting days during which the debate would take place in Parliament. I think that we will seek, through the usual channels, to have an early debate when we return in September.
My Lords, when such scenarios arise, each case will have its specific circumstances to be looked on. Various tools are available to us, including the cancellation of a visa if someone is in the UK. But without going into the details of any particular case, it would be looked upon on its merits and circumstances.
I welcome the new sanctions proposals, although they need to be extended to cover corruption. Does the Minister agree that the new regime must be overseen and run by an independent body so that is not driven or impeded by political considerations?
My Lords, there are measures in place. If someone has been designated and they feel that needs to be reviewed it would go to a Minister, but the court systems exist to allow for that review. In all of this there is a parliamentary overview and, as I have said, there will be opportunities to debate designations. They will be looked at. On corruption, as I said yesterday, we are looking at other frameworks, including the UN frameworks. We will follow those in bringing new proposals forward in time.
Your Lordships’ International Relations and Defence Committee is ready, willing and able to engage in regular constructive scrutiny. Will my noble friend the Minister consider writing to us when new statutory instruments are laid, setting out the background to the measures?
My Lords, I have spoken to my noble friend specifically on the scheme. We have received her letter of 2 July and I know that my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary will respond to her. However, I take note of this, since I subscribe strongly to the scrutiny function of the House of Lords. I will certainly feed that into discussions and the response.
My Lords, while I welcome the action the Government have taken on this matter, can I press the Minister a little further on his reply to the noble Baroness who chairs our Select Committee, on which I also sit? Would he be able to come and talk to members of that committee about how best they can assist the House in scrutinising these important decisions, many of which will no doubt come forward, and play a useful role in that way?
My Lords, I welcome what the Minister said about scrutiny. He reminded us yesterday about Section 30, and the debates that we had on the sanctions Bill and the consequent Act. What is lacking is a clear idea about how that scrutiny will take place. I certainly welcome the fact that we are possibly going to get the Intelligence and Security Committee looking at that. Can he offer us more transparency by offering a proper debate on these regulations, so that we can not just debate those designations the Government have decided upon, but discuss new designations?
My Lords, may I say first that I am missing the noble Lord from across the Chamber? It is good to see him virtually. Nevertheless, I had thought that the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, would pose the questions from Her Majesty’s Opposition. On the point he raises, he will be aware that I mentioned yesterday that I believe there will be a debate in the other place on 16 July. We will be speaking through the usual channels to see how we can constitute an early debate after the return of the House in the autumn.
My Lords, in his initial response the Minister stressed UK-autonomous sanctions. I note from the Explanatory Memorandum on the regulations that, in the past, the UK’s implementation of UN and other sanctions has been through the European Communities Act, now rescinded. To what extent do the Government plan to work with the European Union in putting forward sanctions? Clearly, multilateral co-operation would make sanctions even more effective.
My Lords, on the wider European sanctions, we continue to work with our European partners. Indeed, during the transition period whatever has been agreed with them continues to apply. There is also a rollover of many of the sanctions that have been applied through the European scheme. But as the noble Baroness knows, the European Union does not have a specific human rights sanctions regime. We will work constructively as it seeks to develop that. As I said yesterday and have said before, sanctions work effectively only when we work with like-minded partners and, after our departure from the European Union, we should reflect that important partnership.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his initial statement and welcome it because it is always nice to be told “Well done”, wherever it comes from. On his second point, I am sure he will appreciate that there is a lot of sensitivity around designations, so I do not want to speculate on numbers of future designations at this time.
While I strongly support the need to hold individual perpetrators to account, does the Minister agree that a new global human rights regime should supersede existing UK economic sanctions? As the UN’s special rapporteur emphasises, it is now undisputed that existing economic sanctions
“contribute to a worsening of the humanitarian situation”
in places such as Syria. Will the Minister therefore accept advice from UN experts, who emphasise that
“it is now a matter of humanitarian and practical urgency to lift … economic sanctions immediately”?
My Lords, in certain areas and with certain regimes around the world, it is appropriate that we look at sanctions overall. However, the primary purpose of these sanctions is not to punish a population or a country, but to target sanctions specifically on those who abuse global human rights. Those who usurp the rights of others should be held to account.
My Lords, may I press the Minister a bit more about applying sanctions on a wider basis than by one country? Does he agree that if sanctions are agreed across a range of countries, they are many times more effective than simply a unilateral step taken by Britain in the hope that other countries will follow suit? Secondly, whereas we could all suggest the names of people who should be on the list, I am a little surprised that the Salisbury poisoners were not on it, given that we know who they are and exactly what they did.
My Lords, I totally agree with the noble Lord’s first point and we will continue to work with key partners. On his second point, I am sure he noted that we included certain people, including those responsible for the human rights abuse and ultimate death of Sergei Magnitsky. That is what has driven this agenda and I pay tribute to him. The noble Lord raised other issues and other countries. They are all very much part and parcel of our consideration. As I said, without speculating, I am sure that we will look at future designations across the piece.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, proceedings will now commence. Some Members are here in the Chamber, 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 and I ask that questions and answers are brief.
Independent Medicines and Medical Devices Safety Review
Private Notice Question
While the NHS is a beacon of brilliant care and safety in the majority of cases, we must do better, as this report demonstrates. I apologise in full on behalf of the healthcare system to all the families affected in this report for the time it has taken to listen and respond to their concerns. I salute their courage and persistence in coming forward to make these concerns known. Much has already changed. We are introducing major advances in legislation, but we will respond further. In the meantime, I pay tribute to patients who bravely shared their experiences to inform this important report.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his fulsome apology on behalf of the Government to all the victims—all the women and all the families. The first duty of any healthcare system is to do no harm, and the damning report from the noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege—whom I congratulate—into the use of these medical devices and medicines, including pelvic mesh, reveals shocking failures in this duty of care. What further urgent action will the Minister, along with his colleagues in the department of health, now take to implement the review’s nine recommendations, including a task force and an exhortation to the devolved nations to implement and act on those recommendations?
My Lords, much has already happened, and I point to the appointment of a national patient safety agency, run by Dr Aidan Fowler, whom I know and to whose fine work I bear testimony. Much is due to happen shortly: I emphasise the introduction of a registry amendment to the Medicines and Medical Devices Bill, which is due to be debated in this House shortly. But there is more to be done. The Government must consider the report’s recommendations, on which we will return shortly.
Does the Minister agree that this scandal is about something much deeper than damaging medicines and inadequate healthcare products? Just as the law for generations dismissed the experience of women who were abused and raped and gave little credibility to their testimonies, the medical profession too has to examine its own culture, which as this report shows—
Yes. The next speaker is the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton.
My Lords, the country owes an enormous debt of gratitude to the many campaigners who have fought tirelessly over decades to get their issues raised and to ensure that this never happens again. It is good that the Government have apologised on behalf of many Governments, and it is reassuring to hear that there will be some amendments to the Medicines and Medical Devices Bill, but the people who are affected need redress urgently. Can the Minister give us an indication of when this will happen?
I share with the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, my personal respect and admiration for the campaigners, who are described in the report as having lived through the most awful experiences and who, through personal commitment and determination, have brought attention to these huge failures and have pursued their cause with enormous patience. We owe them a huge debt of gratitude. In terms of commitments on the individual recommendations, I have mentioned what we have done so far and what we have on the near horizon. However, it will take some time for the Government to study these recommendations—to understand from my noble friend Lady Cumberlege herself her detailed recommendations—and to come back on the timetable that the noble Baroness requested.
I will be brief; I could talk about this report for a very long time but I will not, as I am very conscious of other people who want to ask questions. I start by thanking Members of both Houses who have supported us throughout this review and indeed the report. I particularly thank the patient groups, of course. We met them on Tuesday and they were fulsome in their support for this report, which means a great deal to us. We called our report First Do No Harm because that is the principle that should start good-quality care—it is about not only doctors but the whole of the healthcare system—but too often we found that it has not.
First do no harm, but then do some good, because the report also looks to the future. Our report is comprehensive and is built on what patients and patient groups have told us. We listened to them—over 700 women and their families face to face, and many others through telephone calls and emails—we heard them, and we believed. Their stories were harrowing and heart-wrenching: the relationships that were broken, the careers lost, the financial ruin that resulted. Terrible harm has been done to them. It showed us that the healthcare system, as a system, has been failing. I am very pleased that the fulsome apologies made today by our Minister and the Secretary of State have acknowledged that.
Our first recommendation has already been fulfilled and I am sure that the patient groups will be warmed by that. I ask my noble friend the Minister: will the Government seriously study our nine recommendations? Some are about the current situation, some the future. They are all really important. The patient safety commissioner is a new idea and Jeremy Hunt, who commissioned our report, has described it as a very bright and good idea to have someone who will fill the gaps that we have found in the whole of the healthcare system. Will the Minister please ensure that our recommendations are implemented? Implementation is key. We do not want this report to sit on a shelf and gather dust, though I am sure that the patient groups will not allow that to happen. It is really up to the Government to grip this issue and make a real difference in the lives of so many people, suffering not only now but in the future. Will he ensure that the patients, who are the experts, will be closely involved in the implementation group—the task force? Will he recognise the knowledge and experience of the task force? Can he also ensure that the experience of the review team, which has worked so hard, is included?
My noble friend Lady Cumberlege has put it incredibly well and I endorse her testimony about the courage and expertise of the patient groups who informed this report. I am only sad that they cannot be here to share this important moment. I pay tribute to the work of my noble friend and her team working on this. Patient safety is uppermost now in the mind of health carers. She is absolutely cutting with the groove. The words of Jeremy Hunt are very well made, and we are utterly committed to looking seriously at these recommendations.
My Lords, I add my apologies to the patients and their families and acknowledge the superb work done by the noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege, and her team. The report makes very salutary reading. Are we going to make sure that we keep central records relating to any type of implant in future, including mesh used in hernias, so that we can follow up individual cases as appropriate? Will the Government consider returning to the Health Service Safety Investigations Bill, which was delayed and abandoned as a result of the recent general election?
I think we can see that we need a longer discussion on this report. It is quite clear that some of its excellent recommendations will require primary legislation and I hope the Minister may have identified them already. We on these Benches are keen to co-operate with the Government and across the House to bring forward the necessary amendments to the Medicines and Medical Devices Bill.
My Lords, as a former Health Minister I add my apologies to these women on behalf of the Government I served. They were let down over many years and I pay tribute to their courage in coming forward for this review. I also pay tribute to my noble friend Lady Cumberlege and her review team for a superb, landmark piece of work. I want to press my noble friend the Minister on one issue: he mentioned that Aidan Fowler is the national director of patient safety in NHS England. That is quite right and very welcome, but the report recommends that somebody from outside the system—someone whose first loyalty is to patients themselves, not to the NHS—should be the gateway, the representative on behalf of patients. I know my noble friend wants to consider these recommendations carefully, but will he not rule out the idea of a new, patient-focused commissioner simply because there is someone leading on patient safety in NHS England already?
I thank my noble friend for his comments and for his role in commissioning this important report. His point on the safety commissioner is extremely well made. I am not ruling out anything whatever, but we need time to study the report before we can make any commitments.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege, and her team for what is a hard-hitting report, and rightly so. Reading it, I felt anger and shame—anger that so many women patients were treated with such disdain and felt that they were not listened to; and ashamed that members of a profession I belong to showed such ignorance, arrogance, duplicity and callousness towards the very people who put trust in them. As a member of that profession, I apologise wholeheartedly to women who suffered and I hope that the profession takes heed of them. Much of the report draws on narratives from women, and I was struck by one who called herself
“an unsuspecting, unwilling participant in a cruel experiment”.
No patient should ever feel that. I hope this report is a wake-up call for the professional organisations too, to take charge and become more patient-focused, rather than professional-focused, and to deliver the care that patients deserve. I am a long-time supporter of the charity Epilepsy Action. It has welcomed the report and hopes that action will be taken soon, particularly for women and mothers in relation to sodium valproate. I support the questions asked of Ministers and I hope we will soon see action.
My Lords, I ask this question on behalf of some of the women campaigners. The report states:
“The removal of transobturator tape is technical and complex surgery and there are very few surgeons in the UK capable of undertaking this”.
While this remains the case, will the Minister consider banning these mesh tapes until women can be sure that any post-operative problems can be fully and safely treated?
My Lords, one cannot read the descriptions of the consequences of some of the surgery around mesh, and the pain and suffering that some of the women endured, without feeling huge anger and shame and instinctively wishing to ban such a thing. However, mesh offers a solution to some women whose prolapse is profound and who have run out of options. There are women for whom mesh has been a great saving and where there has been a successful procedure. Procedures around mesh have improved dramatically. We are reluctant to apply a blanket ban, but we take the recommendations of the report very seriously and will be looking at this procedure extremely closely.
Committee (2nd 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 the normal courtesies in debate very much still 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 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.
In 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 they are speaking in the group.
Clause 1: Secretary of State’s powers to give financial assistance
12: Clause 1, page 2, line 11, leave out “and better understanding of the environment” and insert—
“(ba) increasing understanding, knowledge and skills relating to the environment, farming, food production, and the impact of climate change on agriculture;”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment allows the Secretary of State to provide specific financial assistance for the work of furthering understanding, knowledge and skills. It differentiates the ‘public good’ resulting from educating and engaging people from that which arises from supporting public access and enjoyment.
My Lords, my interests are as listed in the register. This group covers quite a wide range of topics; I will focus on Amendment 12. The subject of this amendment was referred to in the debate on Tuesday, particularly by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and in the winding-up speech by the Minister, which I found very encouraging. In fact, this amendment feels as if we are picking up where we left off on Tuesday evening.
We are, quite correctly, spending a lot of time debating the definition of public goods and what activities should be included within the ELM scheme. There can be absolutely no doubt that the education of our children and helping them to understand the importance of the management of the countryside, the value of farming, the value of the environment and the importance of food and their diet, particularly in the light of the obesity crisis, is a public good and, I suggest, one of the most critically important we will discuss in debating the Bill.
I must declare an interest, in that we created a classroom on our farm and hosted lots of school visits, many from socially deprived areas of Newcastle, supported by the Country Trust and Farm and Countryside Education. This has long been a passion of mine. Some children who visited our farm had never set foot in the countryside. They had never seen an animal, never mind touched one, other than domestic pets. They had no idea how food was produced. The experience is transforming, provided the visit is linked to curriculum-based subjects and is seen as part of an integrated programme. However, this is not just about contributing to academic achievement; it is also about character development and providing an enriching, life-changing experience. More than 19,000 children currently visit farms as classroom visits every year, and many more visit with their parents through events such as Open Farm Sunday.
There is a serious disconnect between the 66 million people who live in Britain and what takes place in the countryside. This is of fundamental concern and of the highest priority, in my view. If we are to change attitudes and bridge this chasm, we need to invest in our children, and the Bill is an opportunity to help.
I will not duplicate what was said on Tuesday evening, because the debate was very detailed, but a
“better understanding of the environment”,
as it is worded in the Bill, is too narrow. Understanding the environment is essential, but so is an understanding of farming and food production, diet and health, and climate change. Therefore, “educational access” should be included in the wording. Public access is far broader than just keeping footpaths open and being able to ramble and enjoy our beautiful countryside, as was mentioned on Tuesday. The countryside is also a place for therapy and rehabilitation. Its potential contribution to the nation’s health needs to be given far more prominence and recognised much more by the Department of Health and Social Care. Social prescribing, as mentioned in the debate by the noble Earl, Lord Devon, and others, is important. I declare an interest as president of Social Farms & Gardens. Care farming has a huge role to play in this regard. The omission of educational access as defined in the amendment leaves it as discretionary—an ad hoc and passive attitude to this issue, rather than a commitment.
I urge the Government to ensure that public support for public goods includes stand-alone educational access payments for high-quality farm education, rather than just being tied to the higher-tier settlement within the ELM scheme, as I understand is the current plan. That could exclude large numbers of farms which provide an excellent experience for thousands of schoolchildren. We should be even more ambitious and commit to all schoolchildren having the opportunity of at least one meaningful countryside experience. That will require significantly greater farm capacity for school visits than we have at present, not less, which could be the case if support is limited to the higher tier. Perhaps the Minister could reassure us on this point. I beg to move.
Amendment 13 (to Amendment 12)
13: Leave out from “production” to end and insert “, forestry, and the impact of climate change on agriculture and forestry;”
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 13, which is a very simple amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkharle, has made a simple and correct speech about his amendment, but his amendment does not include a reference to “forestry”. However, forestry is included in the Bill, in Clause 1(1)(b), which refers to “countryside, farmland or woodland”. I believe that it is just as important for people to be educated in forestry as it is for them to be educated about farming, the environment and climate change, and that is why I propose to add these words.
I totally support what the noble Lord, Lord Curry, has just said. When I was a trustee of the Queen Elizabeth Castle of Mey Trust, we had a small area that was set aside for children’s visits in order to educate them. The noble Lord was absolutely right to mention the huge disconnect between rural communities and the urban people of this country. However, there is also a disconnect in rural communities, because there were people in Caithness who were living very close to farmland but did not know how the farms worked or about the management of sheep and cattle and why it was so important in terms of the effect that had on the environment. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am pleased to support Amendment 12, moved by the noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkharle, and of course the amendments in the group tabled by my noble friend Lady Bennett of Manor Castle. I also should probably have signed Amendment 13, moved by my colleague the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, but I am afraid that sometimes these amendments just get away from me.
A direct experience of land, farming and wilderness is hugely important to understanding our place as human beings in the world and the impact that we are having on the environment and on our climate. As we begin to make the transition to a more sustainable, ecologically sound society with net-zero carbon emissions, public education is more important than ever. Education is a public good, and Amendment 12 reflects that fact, opening the door to enterprises that combine land management with education and training. I hope that the Minister will take these amendments away and ensure that environmental education and training is not left out of the Bill.
My Lords, I support Amendment 12 and I shall speak to Amendment 13, in the names of my noble friends Lord Caithness and Lord Colgrain. I ought to declare my interest as a member of the National Farmers’ Union.
Education is key to producing future generations of efficient farmers and land managers. While there are excellent world-class agricultural education facilities in this country—such as Harper Adams University in Shropshire and the Royal Agricultural College in Cirencester, to name but two—over the past few years a number of them have closed, such as Wye College, while a number of other establishments have downsized their activities considerably. In my opinion, it is vitally important that we have a world-class agricultural education system for this multifaceted agricultural industry.
I am pleased to have added my name to Amendment 13. I do not believe that “forestry” widens this Bill in the context of agriculture; I believe that forestry is a part and parcel of agriculture and the countryside, and therefore it should be included in the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Curry. I support the amendment.
My Lords, I thoroughly support Amendments 12 and 13. It has been very evident to me, since I moved out from a long career in London to live on the south coast, that even here, where we are surrounded by the most magnificent countryside, there are many people who are not connected to it. It is not enough just to provide opportunities; we have to invite people into the countryside by providing them with really good educational opportunities, particularly aimed at schoolchildren but for adults too. To my mind, that is a vital part of the strategy that underlies this Bill, so I am thoroughly in favour of Amendments 12 and 13.
I have tabled Amendments 32 and 33 in this group, which tackle rather different subjects. Over the next 25 years, we will face huge challenges in agriculture. Agricultural yields have been stagnating for a while, as the results of the last agricultural revolution reach their limits. We need to make some serious progress on increasing yield to have better productivity and to put less pressure on the demand for land. We need to make a lot of progress on biocides, so that we can start to reduce the side-effects that they have on wildlife and on the quality of our environment generally.
There are huge opportunities in these areas. The science of genetics is getting to the point where we can start to look at a whole new generation of crop varieties and indeed different crops, which should enable us to tackle both yield and disease resistance. The advances that we are anticipating in robotics will allow us to use much lower doses of biocides. Indeed, one British company is looking at killing weeds in mechanical ways rather than chemical ways.
There is a substantial R&D effort on farming systems in this country, which is very important. As the Minister recently mentioned in addressing the House on the question of Xylella, it is clearly important to have fundamental research active in this country. It is all very well spraying crops, but when you have a disease like Xylella that infects all sorts of things, we have to look at things like bacteriophages and introducing weakened varieties of the pest. We will be able to do both those things once we leave the EU and its rather odd restrictive regime. We need that fundamental research to be a part of what we do here.
However, if we are to build an international industry and take a part in what will be an international industry, it is important that we have strong engagement with real farmers. It is not enough to have these things driven through the R&D system. We want the wisdom, inventiveness, resourcefulness and accumulated experience of British farmers to play a part here. It ought to be that we equip farmers not just to be the customers of international R&D but to take part in and commission and be part of the push for change. I would like to see a good part of the flow, particularly for development beyond research, to come through farmers and for their choices to be what determine who gets the funding. I would like to see the Bill opened up to make that possible.
It is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Curry, and I congratulate him on his school for kids to come to; I am sure they had a splendid time. I thoroughly endorse his amendment about education.
I add my support to Amendments 43 and 54 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle. They are mostly about localisation, which also has a great part in education and the connection between citizens and food. While most of us understand that local food is a good thing, most of us have very little sense of how local food is produced. I am in Somerset; we have lots of supermarkets around and are just as divorced as you can be in a city. It can be very difficult. There are many reasons for this, but a key one is that local authorities have insufficient cash to provide the essential infrastructure to allow local food economies to flourish.
Here I divert briefly to my own experience of once running a smallholding in Somerset. We went into pig breeding and were lucky enough to have a local abattoir that dealt with our animals in a quick, precise and compassionate way. I remember being completely shocked on my first, nerve-racking trip to the abattoir, with two of my favourite pigs rattling around in the back of the trailer. We were early and had to wait, and I was amazed that outside the door to the slaughter room were four pigs happily snoozing in a companionable heap. This was as stress-free as it could be, the food miles were minimal and I was able to sell the meat in complete confidence that the animals had had a good life and a good death.
There has been a long-term decline in the number of abattoirs in this country. According to the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare, there were 30,000 in 1930; that dropped to 249 in 2017, a 99% decrease. Of those, 25 are in danger of being shut. The alternative is huge abattoirs where animal welfare is low on the list and the distances need to be extensive and thus increase the stress and cost. I believe you cannot have a local food economy if you do not have a means of taking your animals to market.
I urgently recommend that the Government look at funding to restore local abattoirs within reach of most people, to ensure that we have a thriving economy. There are interesting examples globally that we could follow, such as the mobile abattoirs now introduced in France, New Zealand and Australia. We have one based in Nottinghamshire that believes its service can aid animal welfare and meat quality. It is something worth looking at.
The second thing I will talk about in support of the amendments from the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, is county farms. Recent investigations have shown that the number of county farms in England has halved over the last 40 years. Why does this matter? The county farm is a farm owned by the local authority and let out to young and first-time farmers, often at below the market rate. They are a vital first rung on the ladder for farmers in a sector that on the whole has incredibly high up-front capital costs—unless, of course, you are lucky enough to inherit. Through their provision of land and farm buildings, young people can become farmers. With the average age of farmers in this country at 60 and the price of land quite prohibitive, this is something we should really investigate and try to support.
Specifically, the acreage of county farms across England has plummeted from 420,000 in 1977 to just 215,000 now. For instance, Dorset Council just sold six of its county farms, 14% of its entire estate. When Michael Gove was Secretary of State for the Environment, he talked lavishly about equipping a new generation of farmers, but the facts all point in a different direction. You cannot be a farmer if you have nowhere to farm. If we value our farmers, local food and rural economies, community and county farms must not be allowed to slither into obscurity.
Finally, I will speak briefly about Amendment 47. I am a meat eater, but I want to eat meat that has been reared on pastures or in humane ways. Specifically, I do not want to eat chickens or any animals that have been grown in inhumane environments. The UK has come a long way in protecting and preserving standards of animal welfare, but there is one area in which we are not doing well, and that is local chicken production.
In the county of Herefordshire in particular, there is a rapid growth in the intensive chicken industry, which is generating a wave of vast industrial complexes across the landscape. The visual impact is not the only concern. Many environmental organisations are increasingly concerned by the growth and proliferation of these ILUs, particularly the impacts of ammonia, nitrogen deposition and phosphate on biodiversity and human health. These concerns include, but are not limited to, the pollution of water—streams, rivers and ponds. There has been news in the last few weeks of massive algae blooms in the River Wye, which are killing fish.
These chicken farms—which are owned not by British people but by global internationals—affect our health and environment. The companies, such as Cargill, contract with local farmers to put up the factories yet pay only farming rents and rates. These birds lead miserable lives and have miserable deaths, and this is something we should stop. Without a doubt, this leads to less good local practice and lower animal welfare standards. If we want to move towards a sustainable, holistic farming system in which local people can play their part, we have to work against these giant conglomerates.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, and to agree with pretty much everything she has just said. I support Amendments 43 and 54 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle.
It is at times such as this that I realise that—although in the difficult circumstances it is highly commendable that we are operating this Committee in any sensible way at all—nevertheless, the sooner we can back to proper Committees, the better. Normally I would wait for the noble Baroness to move her amendments, then if I wanted to say something about them I would rise after her and comment. Given the hybrid Committee, I understand that the way in which we are now operating, with a speakers’ list, is essential, but it is nevertheless restrictive. I hope that when we come back in September, people will try to get back to normal Committees as quickly as possible, even if it means that a few people who are particularly restricted by Covid still have to come over the air, as it were. The basic Committee ought to be here. We also ought to be able to intervene and have a proper conversation. Committees in this House are traditionally and properly about conversations and discussions, not a series of speeches.
I got a bit diverted by that. I thank the noble Lord for his intervention from a sedentary position, which under our present rules is not allowed.
In order to comment on the amendments from the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, I need to mention what they say. The first seeks include the words:
“supporting the development of strategies to assist in the distribution of agri-food products which are locally produced and sold by microenterprises and community enterprises”
“developing a supply chain infrastructure for the purpose of assisting in the supply, processing and sale of”
such things. The second amendment consists of definitions. This is something that the Government really ought to take seriously. We live at a time of big supermarkets that are highly centralised and operate on the basis of just-in-time deliveries. If a shelf becomes empty one evening, it will be filled again by the morning; certainly where I live, a truck will have hauled the goods up the M1 and the M6 overnight.
I understand that system. I understand why it operates and why it helps to produce cheap food. For many people, it is very convenient to be able to go to the supermarket and buy food. That is not going to go away, but we ought to move away from it a bit and get a bit more balance; there was a lot of talk about balance on Tuesday in this Committee. There needs to be a lot more involvement of, for example, people in Lancashire, where I live, growing produce of the right kind for sale in Lancashire to people in Lancashire. I very much support these amendments.
There has been a lot of talk recently about parts of the country being left behind, and the way in which left-behind places, particularly small and medium-sized towns such as former mining communities and industrial areas in the north of England, have even changed their politics as a result, and that something has to be done about it. The role of those towns will be crucial to the recovery of this country following the present coronavirus crisis. The Government’s approach to that, which I do not disagree with per se, is to put a lot of money into what they call infrastructure. However, building lots of new fast railway lines and roads going through places—or, and this is a key point, past places—will not do very much at all for the places concerned. Even providing more education and training is not going to do a lot.
What is essential for those areas is the rejuvenation of towns, from small towns to medium-sized towns, and even those that pretend to be cities. I am not talking about Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle and Liverpool and the like; the big regional centres are going to do okay anyway, and by and large they are. It is the areas in between: the places on the edge, the places that used to depend upon one or two basic industries that have disappeared, and the places that are increasingly rootless and increasingly lacking a future. I believe that developing local agriculture and local farming, and local markets for that local farming, can contribute to the future of those areas. That is why I think that this idea, among others, is so important.
The other amendment that I support, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, has not yet been moved. It hints at discussions that we will have later in Committee about the potential conflicts between productivity in agriculture and all the environmental and social improvements—the public goods—that we want to see on the other side. There is a conflict and we really need to discuss it, but this is probably not the time.
My Lords, I declare my interest as recorded in the register. I shall speak to Amendment 57 in this group. What I will say follows on very much from the last few words of the previous speaker, the noble Lord, Lord Greaves. In the past 60 years, there has been a trade-off between producing more food from agriculture and protecting the environment. In the UK, we have increased productivity, but at a cost: destroyed habitats, lost species, polluted and over-abstracted water, and an increased carbon footprint. This has been highlighted in many reports, including the one published on Monday by the Food, Poverty, Health and Environment Select Committee, which I have the privilege of chairing.
It is also spelled out in the 2019 State of Nature report, which monitors trends in thousands of species in Britain. The report concludes, for instance, that the total number of breeding birds in Britain went down by 44 million between 1967 and 2009. It also concludes that the Government’s own assessment is that they will not meet most of the global 2020 targets that they are committed to through the convention on biodiversity. The report further concludes that agriculture is one of the most significant causes of these losses in biodiversity.
The Bill is our opportunity to change the way in which we farm, and Amendment 57 seeks to plug a gap in the Bill. As it stands, Clause 1(2) could be a get-out-of-jail clause. The Government could subsidise productivity gains at the expense of the public goods listed in Clause 1(1). Can the Minister reassure us that public goods will not be sacrificed on the altar of productivity?
As the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, has so clearly articulated, new technologies provide the possibility of enhancing productivity with less damage to the environment. This is particularly important when you consider that agricultural productivity is usually measured as a ratio of output over input, which in itself has some very odd features. It means, for example, that if farm A produced 9 tonnes of wheat with 1 tonne of agrichemical from a certain piece of land, while farm B produced 90 tonnes of wheat with 10 tonnes of agrichemical from a piece of land the same size, both would have identical productivity—but the two would have very different implications for both food supply and environmental pollution. Farm B produces 10 times as much food as A, but with the potential for 10 times as much impact on the environment.
More importantly for Amendment 57, productivity does not include any reference to protecting the environment. If the Government are serious about rethinking the relationship between agriculture and the environment, is it also time to rethink how we measure agricultural productivity? For instance, should it be measured as kilogrammes of potatoes per skylark, or tonnes of wheat per pyramidal orchid? I look forward to the Minister’s reply on the Government’s plans for how they will measure productivity in future and how they intend to balance the increasing productivity that is referred to with protecting the environment.
Lastly, I add a footnote on Amendments 12 and 13, on education. We know that in this country there is a plan afoot to plant many trees. The climate change committee’s target is to plant 1.5 billion trees as soon as possible if we are to meet our 2050 net-zero target. How many forestry graduates are produced each year in this country, and are there enough to provide the expertise to manage this huge change in tree planting?
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Krebs. I very much endorse his committee’s report and urge noble Lords who have not read it yet to catch up with it. I also endorse his comments about Amendment 57, which is vital. We have seen so much focus on productivity measured purely as calories or tonnes per acre, which I will come back to in later groups.
I will speak primarily to Amendments 43 and 54, which are interlinked. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, already introduced them so I will not repeat that, but I thank him, the noble Lord, Lord Judd, and the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, for supporting them. I also thank the noble Baroness for setting out so clearly the huge importance of county farms in allowing opportunities for new farmers and young farmers to get into the industry. It is crucial that this network is protected and, indeed, significantly enhanced.
I also reflect what the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, said about local food and its importance in all communities, particularly those often labelled as “left behind”. Strong local food networks and strong local food-growing systems up and down the country mean that the economic benefits are distributed round the country. What we have in our economy in so many different ways is far too much concentration of economic benefits in London and the south-east. However, I have a word of warning about what the noble Lord said about cheap food. I always want to put scare quotes around “cheap food” in supermarkets. We always have to remember that cheap food is costing us the earth and our health.
I come to Amendments 43 and 54 and pay tribute to work of the Landworkers’ Alliance, Sustain and the Campaign to Protect Rural England, which all had input into them. They highlight how local food systems deliver benefits on a scale from the local to the global, but have suffered from decades of underinvestment. Many of the people involved in them—the producers, processors, retailers and caterers—are small and have limited management and financial capabilities for collaboration and sector development, although I note that other elements of the Bill seek to encourage that. It is something we want to see the Government support across the board.
The benefits of local food strategies and infrastructure are that they reduce our reliance on imported food. That means reducing exposure to volatile global markets and to the uncertainties of a world that now looks increasingly uncertain indeed. Local food systems have the capacity to meet up to 80% of the UK’s food demands through UK-based production, over 50% of which can be produced within 100 miles of where it is consumed. Think what a different system it would be if the majority of the food on your plate was local, with all the economic benefits circulating in the local economy.
This would also have the global impact of reducing “ghost acres”—the land in other countries which should be available to feed their own populations their own local food, but which is currently used for growing export crops. It would allow producers to gain a higher share of the retail pound through short supply chains, make farming enterprises more profitable and make a valuable contribution to those local economies. It should never be forgotten that farmers now get a lot less than 10% of the benefit of every pound spent on food.
On the broader economic benefits, there is evidence from Nourish Scotland that for every pound invested in local food, £6 to £8 is returned to local society and over 50% is retained in the local economy, while with non-local enterprises, such as supermarkets, only 15% to 30% of the money is returned. Local food means that public health priorities are catered to and local communities have fresher, more nutritious, more affordable food. There is also increased interaction with local vendors and the satisfaction, perhaps, of volunteering at local farms and of community-supported agriculture. It also means that we can have more diverse, sustainable, mixed farms that produce multiple products. That would enable more on-farm recycling, lower inputs, reduction of food waste and other environmental benefits.
A five-year mapping study from 2012, Mapping Local Food Webs, estimated that 103,000 jobs across England could already be attributed to the local food economy, with 61,000 flowing from local food sales. Spending in local food outlets supports an average of one job for every £46,000 of annual turnover, while in the three major national chains it is one job per £138,000 to £144,000. We are talking about a system that works for people and for the environment, so I commend Amendments 43 and 54 to your Lordships’ House.
I will also refer to Amendment 61 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Holmes of Richmond, to which I attached my name. It refers to growing under glass. I not sure that “glass” is quite the right word, but I am sure everyone knows what we are talking about. It talks about using renewable energy and there are real possibilities, such as using waste heat, reducing carbon emissions and using energy and resources well. This is an area in which the UK has very much been left behind compared with countries such as the Netherlands. I express my concern here. I have already tabled a Written Question to the Government about the low-carbon heat consultation, which currently excludes the potential of large-scale heat pumps, which could be fed into this area.
I will also briefly refer to Amendments 12 and 13. My noble friend Lady Jones attached her name to Amendment 12 and has already referred to both of them. It is vital to understand where our food comes from. I refer noble Lords to a fascinating study from the British Nutrition Foundation that found that one-third of primary school pupils thought that cheese came from plants. We have a long way to go to ensure that we have a full understanding of where our food comes from, the importance of food security and how our entire economy is a subset of the natural world.
My Lords, I declare my farming interests as set out in the register. I too add my support to Amendment 12 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkharle. I will speak to my Amendment 62, which would give the Secretary of State additional powers to enable the support of diversification activities on farms where the purpose of that activity is to support or maintain the agricultural, horticultural or forestry activity undertaken on that holding.
This is an agricultural Bill and, as such, it should be about ensuring the resilience of the agricultural sector and supporting public benefits from the farmed environment. There is a real danger that vital support could be lost to our farmers. Therefore, it is important to ensure that we support those individuals bearing the business risk and carrying out the day-to-day management tasks. The key for making the case for financial assistance for diversification projects under this Bill is to look at farm business income. Many farmers make a loss from core farming activities, so diversification becomes an important tool for sustaining a farmer’s income. Some 65% of farmers already have some diversified element on farm. In 2018-19 the total income from diversified activities was £740 million. Diversification is about creating income opportunities for a whole farming family and offers the chance for other family members to use other skills to support and maintain a family unit on farm or by staying in the local area. I think in particular about encouraging young people in rural areas, which can only benefit the local economy.
Given the current reliance on BPS, many farms will need to look for additional sources of income once direct payments are phased out. Enabling the Government to provide financial assistance for diversification activities could help to fill this gap and allow farming businesses to build their resilience and sustainability.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to take part in this group of amendments and to follow my noble friend Lady Rock, who I had the good fortune to serve alongside on the House of Lords Artificial Intelligence Committee. My noble friend, as much as anyone, understands how the combination of human-led technology makes a difference in so many areas—agriculture and horticultural chief among them. I also add my support to the amendments concerning education and to the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, about trees.
As much as anything in nature, trees are such wondrous elements of our planet—oaks that have stood for half a millennium, yew trees that have been in existence and have watched over us for thousands of years. If we conducted some opinion polling today, I wonder whether people might think that “yew trees” is a social media platform where pictures of trees are shared.
Trees, as much as any element of nature, enable us to see our rightful place in this cosmos: as stewards rather than dominators, caring for and being part of nature, not separate to it. We are absolutely another element, but with clear responsibilities to coexist with all the other wondrous elements of this country and our shared planet.
I rise to speak to Amendment 61 in this group, which is in my name, and I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, for her comments and for putting her name to it. I would first like to say something about the backdrop to the Bill, which is probably the most important agriculture Bill in half a century.
One of the starkest elements to consider is that, in the next four decades, we will have to produce more food than has been produced in the preceding 8,000 years. On the basis of that statistic, things clearly cannot carry on as they are without us not only desperately negatively impacting the planet but leaving many sectors—not least those in the global south—suffering poverty and natural resource shortages.
What does Amendment 61 do? In simple terms, it seeks to subsidise sources of sustainable energy to be used for the production of
“cut flowers; fruits; vegetables, and other produce as designated by the Secretary of State”
under glass. As the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, pointed out, “under glass” is in very heavy inverted commas to illustrate the sector that we are looking at here.
I believe we have a once in a generation opportunity to potentially combine sustainable energy with food production in this manner, an opportunity we have had in the past and squandered. There is no doubt that, over two decades, the Dutch have shown us a clean pair of clogs in their approach to this, using their natural energy resource—natural gas—for under-glass production. It has enabled them to become the second largest exporter of food, not in Europe but in the world. When one considers their landmass, population and natural resources, that is no mean feat.
It is an incredibly impressive achievement and, in noting that, perhaps we bow our heads to salute them. As we bow, we may take the opportunity to stare at our own shoes and wonder at the opportunity we had decades ago with our natural energy resources. There is certainly no shame involved for our fabulous producers, but for those who were in power at the time. When we had power flowing in from the North Sea, did we put it into subsidised production under glass? Did we create a sovereign wealth fund? Did we put it into any national resource that we can see as a result? To quote a phrase: “no, no, no”.
As I said, there is in no sense shame involved for those fabulous producers in this sector, not least our own noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach. He may be of Holbeach, but in so many ways he is “Taylor of Roses”, and Chelsea gold medal-winning, legendary roses they are. It is probably worth taking a moment to consider just the name Taylor in this country to show what fabulous agricultural, vinicultural and horticultural opportunities we have: Taylor’s roses; Taylors tea and coffee, which enable me to function in the morning; and Taylor’s Port—a fine way to end the day.
As is rarely the case in life, we have the chance to return to this through our sustainable energy sector, and not just offshore wind, tidal power, geothermal power and photovoltaics. All those elements can be brought to bear, and it could be a win-win: a win for our energy sector and a win for our under-glass production.
We certainly have the talent within the sector to do this. It is worth noting a particular favourite of mine, the great plantswoman Carol Klein—what a legend. She demonstrates that there is no lack of talent in this country to take the industry forward, Spark funding would enable both the energy sector and under-glass production to blast ahead. I believe this amendment would give the opportunity for these businesses to grow at speed. It would enable industry to thrive, areas across East Anglia to level up and carbon dioxide emissions to be brought down, and it would provide clarity in the supply chain and a fabulous opportunity across the whole of East Anglia. I look forward to the Minister’s comments on this suggestion.
My Lords, Amendment 101 seeks to improve the Bill’s current definition of a producer. It broadens that definition, so that instead it reads
“starting, or improving the productivity of, an agricultural, horticultural or forestry activity”.
This would make clearer which relevant parties stand to benefit from financial assistance.
I now call the noble Lord, Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale. There is a problem with connecting to the noble Lord. We move on to the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra.
My Lords, I think we have all been slightly caught out there. For all the amendments on which I may speak today, I declare my interest as in the register.
I am sorry to disagree with my noble friend Lord Lucas. While I am in complete agreement about the need to improve agricultural technology, robotics and genetics, I just do not think his amendment is necessary, since my reading of subsection (2) is that it does just that. It says that the Secretary of State may give financial assistance to
“starting, or improving the productivity of, an agricultural, horticultural or forestry activity”.
To me, that seems to cover what my noble friend has suggested in his amendment.
I agree entirely with him that we need a huge leap forward in technology, especially in the horticultural sector. I have read that one side-effect of President Trump’s curtailment of cheap Mexican and Latin American labour has been a big increase in robotics and technology in the United States to plant and harvest crops. We need to do exactly the same here. Exciting robotic machines are now being developed in the UK. In swotting up for this amendment, I looked at a recent video showing a machine operating in a vegetable-growing area; it had what I would call very fine fingers or tines knocking out the weeds between the plants but leaving the lettuces completely intact. Technology is the solution, not cheap eastern European temporary workers.
I also look forward to changes in the rules when we leave the EU so that we can do gene editing—not genetic modification, just gene editing. It is terribly important that we move to do that as quickly as we can when we leave the EU. We do not need anything in this Bill to give us the powers to do so.
I cannot support Amendments 43 and 54. These small local community farms do a good job, and they may currently qualify for support under ELMS, but they cannot feed the nation. I do not accept that they can supply up to 80% of the food this country needs. Huge changes are coming to mainstream farm production. I want all Defra’s efforts to be concentrated on the big picture of delivering ELMS and not diverted on to something nice but at the moment irrelevant to feeding the nation. It is quite possible that many of these local enterprises may qualify under the ELM schemes when they are fully developed. We should leave it at that.
My Lords, I support Amendment 12, so ably moved by the noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkharle, and Amendment 13, which improves on the original amendment. We confirmed last time that forestry was included in the Bill. Amendment 13 spells this out, making the link between forestry and climate change. We all appreciate that trees have a massive beneficial effect in capturing carbon and climate change. We all want to try to take that forward.
I spoke in the first day of debate on this Bill about trying to open up forest areas for public access. I explained how the Forestry Commission had decided that all its freehold land should give access on foot under the right to roam legislation. Since then, issues have been raised. Could the Minister take these on board and give them some thought, not necessarily today but moving forward? We in the Forestry Commission, as a government department, took the decision to dedicate that land for open access in perpetuity. It has been suggested that, if the land is sold, that right falls. That is not what we thought was the case at the time. What is the case?
This has a bigger implication for how we work and give farmers greater freedom to farm in upland areas, where there is a lot of opportunity for increased tree- planting, which helps the economy of the area and the farm, and helps with climate change. If a piece of land on a hillside, currently subject to the right to roam under the freedom to roam access legislation, is converted to forestry, does that right of access fall? These two examples are quite important, because it might affect how this piece of legislation will help build the future sustainability of upland areas—or not.
My Lords, I have a few swift comments on Amendments 12, 13, 32 and 43, noting my interests as stated on Tuesday.
The focus on education in Amendment 12 is key. One issue that has been made transparent by this debate, which was raised on Tuesday by the noble Lord, Lord Randall, is the lack of diversity among those involved in farming and food production. I may not be the appropriate person to discuss this, as the noble Lord, Lord Mann, identified on Tuesday; my family has farmed the same plot of Devon soil for over 700 years. We are not a great example of diversity. However, I note that over three days of debate in your Lordships’ House, the Members debating have had a considerably monochrome appearance; it is surprising that our food and farming debate itself lacks diversity.
I draw notice to the work of Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones, known as “the black farmer”, who is very keen to encourage more urban interest in farming, and Michael Morpurgo and his wonderful charity Farms for City Children, which does very much the same. I also echo the support for county farms and the way they bring atypical farmers on to the land, because that is an important task.
On Amendment 32, on agritech, I note my interests as an IP lawyer for a law firm representing a number of exciting agritech start-up businesses. We are seeing all sorts of businesses in the fields of insect protein, urban and vertical farming, and robotics. This is an area in which our country could lead the world. However, I question whether these are public goods. There is a huge amount of investment in these areas and they are increasing our productivity dramatically, but all that has a commercial imperative. While I have read Professor Dieter Helm’s book on public goods, I struggle with the economic concept and the exact definition of what a public good is; as I understand it, IP technology is not necessarily a public good. Could the Minister comment on that and the role of technology in agriculture? Do the Government really think that it is a public good?
I am keen to support the food procurement amendments. We should recognise the work of the Great South West LEP and the launch, just this week, of the South West Food Hub, which is focusing on the provision of local food to local consumers. What is distinctive about the programme is that it is working hand in hand with the Crown Commercial Service, which provides food to all the public bodies—schools, hospitals, prisons and the military. I do not know whether we need to focus on this under ELMS because the Government, through the Crown Commercial Service, already have the power to commission and procure food from local sources. We should encourage the Government to do that more, because local food is traceable and identifiable. If people know where their food is grown, they can be educated about the source and nature of it.
My Lords, I repeat the declaration of interests that I made on Tuesday. Many things have been said on this wide-ranging collection of amendments; I will focus briefly on just a few of them.
I echo what the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, said, about the intrinsically unsatisfactory nature of discussing a Bill in Committee in this form. I know it cannot be avoided, but it falls far short of the great advantages of proper extempore interventions in the Chamber.
I very much support my noble friend Lady Rock on the subject of diversification, which is crucial to the future of the rural economy. I referred to this on Tuesday and I will refer to it later on, under a more suitable amendment.
Today, I will talk only about the question of an extension of education: getting people to understand where food comes from and the need for people to visit the countryside as much as possible when they do not live there. I want to talk about local food from local areas, locally supplied.
I live in East Anglia, which is, in effect, one of the larders of England; a lot of food is produced and consumed there. We have had a great advocate over the years in Lady Caroline Cranbrook, who has continuously promoted the cause of local food and local farm shops. One interesting thing is that Covid has proved to us the life-saving nature of local shops. When other sources of food were difficult, and there were great big queues and shortages in the supermarkets, local shops and pubs stepped in and provided local food. That was hugely important. We should emphasise the need to encourage local shops and local food outlets, which is of course a way in which farmers themselves can add value to their product.
I will also say a word about food fairs. They have the great advantage of bringing the producer and the consumer face to face, which again helps in the education of where food comes from, what it ought to taste like and how it is produced, and it encourages people’s desire to have local food from this country.
My Lords, I will make a small contribution, focusing on Amendments 12 and 13. Education, training and skills development in the whole area of farming, agriculture and the environment are vital. When young people are educated about farming, agricultural and food production, and the food system, they can begin to fully appreciate the rural environment, its value and its importance to our overall economy. That form of education, training and skills development is important.
I also agree with the amendment in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, which seeks to insert
“forestry, and the impact of climate change”.
As the noble Lord, Lord Clark of Windermere, said, one adds value to the other. I can see that there could be some compromise between the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkharle, and that in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Caithness. If we believe in the principle of public money for public goods, we should ensure—I urge the Minister to pay particular attention to this—the provision of funding for education, skills and training in our local environment, agricultural industry, the food system and forestry, closely aligned with the impact of climate change. Our environmental system and our food system are directly linked, and people—particularly the young—need to be educated about that. I do not see how the amendments conflict; one adds to the other, and I would like to think that they could both be accepted by the Minister in some form of compromise.
Can the Minister advise whether any discussions have taken place with the devolved Administrations as part of the ongoing conversations about the Bill and how it will impact on various regions? Perhaps he could specify whether there has been any particular discussion about the environment, education and training. We must make sure that environmental and agricultural education and training are not diminished or missed out in the Bill, or in any part of the UK.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendments 43 and 61. Although in the form they are tabled, these amendments appear at first glimpse to be making two different propositions, when combined, they produce a very new approach to developing microenterprise. Amendment 43, with its proposal for the local production of agri-foods, and Amendment 61, with its call for subsidised energy costs in selected areas of the agricultural economy, combine to offer a strategy that could greatly aid in the post-Brexit world of import substitution, which we must all want.
The advantage of that approach is that it reinforces an argument that I used to employ in the Commons, years ago, when representing a constituency with high peripheral regional unemployment: you can use energy costs as a tool in regional policy. Cheap energy will always attract footloose, energy intensive enterprise—paper, board and chemicals are good examples of this. If you combine cheap energy availability and labour-intensive micro-agricultural production in the areas outlined in these two amendments, you will create the conditions in which you can influence the movement of investment capital.
I argue that that incentive is as good as any regional development assistance as provided under former assisted area programmes. Indeed, it has an advantage, in that it is not a one-off allocation of grant aid. On the contrary, it can be profiled in such a way as to provide sustainable assistance over the longer term, tapering away as enterprise becomes more established. This form of assistance can be of real value in the development of labour-intensive microenterprise in food and in other areas of the agricultural economy.
I strongly support these two amendments, as they cause us to think out of the box on the use of energy as a regional incentive. I hope that both movers will combine to bring forward a new amendment on Report. Furthermore, I hope that the Government take a new look at the potential for subsidised energy to be of real assistance in the new economy that must now be built post Brexit.
My Lords, I declare my interests as a farmer as set out in the register. I support Amendment 12, set out by the noble Lord, Lord Curry. As it says,
“increasing understanding, knowledge and skills relating to the environment, farming, food production, and the impact of climate change on agriculture”
should be in the powers to give financial assistance.
Among the many purposes of the Bill is the aim of revitalising the industry through facilitating retirements, new technology and, most importantly, encouraging new entrants to the industry. As the current generation of farmers retires, we need to replace its valuable skills, and the amendment recognises that. The Agricultural Productivity Working Group, chaired by Sir Peter Kendall, highlighted that issue and called for action to address the low uptake of agricultural skills and training.
Consider, for a moment, the skill set required for a modern mixed farmer, leaving aside those associated with the new ELM schemes. He needs to be a weatherman, to judge timeliness; he needs to be an engineer, to service and repair machinery; he needs to be a computer programmer, to set up milk parlours and tractors; he needs to be a chemist, to identify weeds and treat diseases; he needs to be a midwife, to bring animals into this world; he needs to be a hairdresser, to shear sheep; he needs to be a chiropodist, to attend to their feet; he needs to be a carpenter, for fencing and farm maintenance; he needs to be a topiarist, to maintain hedges; he needs to be an accountant, to manage farm finances; and finally, he needs to be a salesman, to sell stock, grain and other produce. This is to name just a few. That is why this amendment is so important. I support it.
My Lords, I am delighted to take part in this debate, and I begin by saying how much I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Greaves. The sooner we can get back to proper debating, with interventions—not too many, but pointed and at the right time—the better. At the moment, we are in a one-dimensional Parliament, which is not able to adequately hold the Government to account or fully debate these subjects—a point rather brilliantly illustrated, perhaps not intentionally, by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, a moment ago, when he talked of all the attributes of the ideal farmer.
I want to address a few remarks to Amendment 12, but I want to look not at the accomplished man or woman who is a farmer, but at our children, and young children in particular. We all pay lip service to education, and there are parts of the country where a number of farms have regular farm visits; there are many in my native county of Lincolnshire, where I live, and many in Staffordshire, which I had the honour of representing for some 40 years in the other place. But we need to co-ordinate more. We need to try to ensure that there is a place on every syllabus, in every school, for some acquaintance with farming—perhaps by visiting, perhaps by welcoming speakers from the NFU and elsewhere into the schools. But we need to make sure our young people understand their food and where it comes from, as the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, said earlier in this debate. We want them to value, cherish and—as we said in the debate on Tuesday—share the enjoyment and protection of wonderful countryside. Countryside and farming are indivisible.
The other point I would like to make in this brief intervention is to say how much I agreed with the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, when she talked of the grotesque, indecent factory production of chickens and the devastation it causes in one of the most beautiful areas of our country—the Wye Valley. There have been photographs in the papers in the last week or two that shame us all. As she said, many of these are industrial units producing—entirely for profit—food I would not give to a dog.
We need to have regard for the standards with which food is produced. We are quite rightly making much of this in the negotiations with our European friends and neighbours. In the talk we are having of doing deals with other countries, our standards are, on the whole, good, but they can be better, and it is very important that we have an intelligent, well-educated electorate, who will not accept the indifferent or the downright bad. I will return to some of these points in the debate later this afternoon, but I hope my noble friend will acknowledge that these are important points.
I support Amendment 57 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, so ably laid out by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs. This amendment is vital to ensure that, in making payments for productivity improvements under subsection (2)(a), they do not counteract the purposes—the public goods—listed in subsection (1). There is no point in payments being made for public goods, such as environmental improvement, if public money is given for productivity improvements that could result in environmental down sides. I am not saying payments for productivity improvements should not be made; I am simply saying that we must make sure that these are not, in themselves, environmentally damaging. The amendment would ensure that productivity improvements were environmentally sound.
It is a slippery slope: we more fundamentally do not want to see polarisation, where some farming is effective and productive, and other farming is environmentally sound, where some land is sweated intensively for production, and some set aside for biodiversity in the environment, like zoos.
There was a time in the not-too-distant past when a previous Secretary of State for the Environment—for the avoidance of speculation, let us call her Secretary of State Truss—had a vision for the future of agriculture and the environment which had highly intensive agriculture in the lowlands and biodiversity and the environment shuffled off into the uplands. We have come a long way in sophistication since then. We all want all agricultural land to efficiently deliver food and for the environment. Amendment 57 would be important for this, but if the amendment cannot be agreed to by the Government, can the Minister tell us how he plans to ensure that productivity support does not result in environmental down sides?
My Lords, as this is the first time I have spoken in Committee, and for the purposes of all the Committee stage, I declare my interests as a retired farmer and landowner, as chair of the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology and chair of the steering group of the Government’s Global Food Security programme.
This is a strange grouping, and I wish to speak to three completely different aspects of the group. Starting with Amendment 12, I join most of my colleagues in emphasising the importance of helping farmers to welcome schools, families and other citizens to their farms. It is vital that people from all backgrounds, especially inner cities and the BAME communities, are helped to make that all-important personal connection to our wonderful countryside in a way that is more meaningful than sitting and watching it on telly. It is vital that both the joys and hardships of rural life are understood by as many people as possible.
We are a very crowded nation. I believe England is the fifth most densely populated country in the world. Yet we still have some of the most fantastic countryside. I would like to hope that that countryside, and the farmers who created it and now manage it throughout all seasons—hot and cold, wet and dry—will continue to be an inspiration to our children and grandchildren, and that it will always be part of that unique heritage which we pass on with pride to those who come after us.
I turn to Amendment 32 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, on the advancement of technology. As you might expect, I am very keen on agriculture and environmental technology and the advancement of robotics. I have an amendment later on genetics, so I will keep my powder dry on that, but robotics has huge potential as well, using small or mini tractors in each and every field. I hope that these tractors will eventually be not be much bigger than, say, a large suitcase with arms on wheels or tracks, even, which would be great for avoiding soil compaction. Let us hope that they will also be cheap enough for African smallholders to own.
They will come out of their small electric charging sheds, probably in the middle of the night, check that it is not raining and that the soil is dry enough to work, then using minimum tillage techniques, plant the crop. In Africa, of course, they will emerge only if the automatic connection to the local weather station says that it is going to rain in the next few days, because the timing of planting crops in Africa, in relation to the coming of the rains, is crucial.
After this small robotic machine has planted the seeds, it will wander around the growing crops looking for signs of pests and diseases and then either warn the farmer, hoe the weed or squirt each leaf with whatever treatment it needs to make it healthy. Note that it will squirt only the individual leaf, not the whole plant, let alone the whole field as is done at present, so the use of pesticides and herbicides will be reduced to an absolute minimum, partly because only the individual leaf is being treated and partly because the treatment will be carried out the moment the problem has appeared, thus, one hopes, preventing it spreading throughout the rest of the crop. Such robotics will revolutionise the growing of crops in our country and, more importantly, in the developing world. What is more, we in this country are at the forefront of these developments and with the right funding we would be the leader in the field, so I support Amendment 32.
And now for something completely different, I turn to Amendment 43 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, and others. I welcome the tenor of this amendment, although I also recognise the Government’s desire to limit the ambitions of ELM schemes to what is already in Clause 1. There is no doubt that ELMS cannot be all things to all men, although we in this House might like to hope so. However, it is always good to have a debate and to get the Minister’s response on the Floor of the House, and I hope that in this case other bodies, such as local authorities, local town councils, national park authorities and even public-spirited companies, will pick up on this issue and take it forward in the spirit of the new rural environment we hope to create with the Bill.
When I chaired the Countryside Agency, a long time ago—at the turn of this century—we looked carefully at local food chains and what we could do to help. We realised that “Buy British”, for instance, was a forlorn gambit that had never and would never work with the buying public, but all our research indicated that customers really liked the idea of supporting local growers and local businesses—ie, Farmer Bob and his daughter down the road. Incidentally, under Covid, new supermarket research has shown that the “buy local” trend is now really taking off. So at the Countryside Agency, we sponsored and helped to promote farmers’ markets. In many towns local shopkeepers loudly objected to this “undercutting competition” as they called it, but they soon discovered that on market days the town was rammed with punters, which of course made their turnovers boom as well. Every town should have a farmers’ market or a local market, but they need kick-starting, usually with some form of public money to begin with, even if it is only rent holidays for stall-holders.
At the Countryside Agency we also had our “Eat the View” campaign, which tried to persuade customers who loved their local countryside that the best way to support it was to eat its products. The phrase “eat the view” came from curmudgeonly farmers of the 1980s who complained about the emphasis on the environment over food, and used to say, “It’s all very well but you can’t eat the view”, and we said, and I still say today, “You most certainly can.”
Another relevant scheme we had was our market town initiative. We had some good rural supporting projects at the Countryside Agency. If a market town was going to act as a hub for tourism and its surrounding villages, it needed to promote itself with a local theme, usually involving local products from either a local business or a farm. A very good example of this was Bridport in Dorset, which was brought low by the demise of its rope-making industry, but has now reinvented and revived itself as a thriving must-be-at destination, largely based on local food. It has a brilliant local market on Wednesday and Saturday every week of the year, and it hums—or at least it did before Covid-19.
What I am saying is that given a small amount of pump-priming and organisational help, such projects can make a big difference to local farmers and businesses and would be totally in line with the Chancellor’s desired economic boost. The difference would be particularly apparent where the farms were small and the land did not lend itself to large agricultural enterprises. We should remember that it is just that sort of land that is probably the most highly prized by the British public, because it tends to be the most beautiful, and it is just those farmers and land managers whom the public would expect their taxes to support.
So, we must have local ELM schemes, locally envisaged and run by locals for locals. Perhaps I can end with a good example from the Blackdown Hills AONB in Somerset. Two or more decades ago, with lottery and local authority funding, the Blackdown Hills Business Association, including many farmers and small businesses, was started. It has training sessions for its members in everything from IT to marketing and takes a large tent at the local show to market its wares. With now more than 100 members paying membership fees, it funds itself, but it needed funding for its first 10 years. It is the encouragement and flexibility of that sort of funding that we are asking for here, so that, for example, farms and businesses who are not lucky enough to be in a really good AONB can also hope to get that kind of support.
My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register and in particular that I sit on the rural affairs group of the Church of England. I apologise if I failed to mention that on Tuesday. I support Amendments 12, 13 and 62. My comments are more in the form of questions.
We have before us the policy statement. What is its status in relation to the Bill? In responding to this group, will my noble friend the Minister bring us up to date?
On Amendments 12 and 13 regarding educating children, from which budget should that come? I am a great supporter not just of farm visits but of visits of schoolchildren to country shows. When I was at school in Harrogate I had the great good fortune to visit the Great Yorkshire Show. We had a day off for the purpose. Will my noble friend use his good offices to liaise with his counterpart in the Department for Education to ensure that such visits continue? I am a member of the Yorkshire Agricultural Society and know that it is very keen to receive those visits. For the first time the show will be online, like a number of rural shows across North Yorkshire. It is a wonderful opportunity to engage children without them having to leave school or their home. However, I think it should more properly come out of the education budget.
My noble friend Lord Holmes referred to crops under glass, on which our noble friend Lord Taylor of Holbeach is obviously a great expert. Will my noble friend the Minister liaise with BEIS to ensure that, if we are to benefit from energy from waste, we educate the public about its benefits, even though it means using incinerators? In Denmark, Germany and Holland this is not a problem for the public, and we should not hold our farmers and horticulturalists back by a lack of understanding in this regard.
I pay tribute to the work of Fera at Sand Hutton and the Rothamsted institute. Will that type of research fall under the new financial assistance proposed in Clause 1 or should it more properly come from R&D budgets elsewhere? That clarification would be most helpful.
I support Amendment 62 in the name of my noble friend Lady Rock. Diversification lies at the heart of our future farm policy. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will take this opportunity to identify those who can advise our farmers, particularly smallholders and tenants, about the best thing to use.
In supporting Amendment 101, which relates to new entrants, I refer to the policy statement, which points out most helpfully on page 39 that regrettably those farmers
“after the reference period are unlikely to be eligible for delinked payments.”
Will my noble friend do what is set out here by making it easier for farmers who wish to retire to do so and who, by delinking, will free land for new entrants? We have to support new entrants as far as possible. This, together with the expected reductions in rent prices we are told about, should help them to get a foothold in the industry. That links to the amendments I will move later relating to tenancy holdings. This could be very useful. We need a bit of flesh on the bones in the policy statement.
My Lords, I speak in support of Amendments 12 and 13, and I endorse what was said by the noble Earl, Lord Devon, and other noble Lords, on the importance of robotics in agriculture. I well remember being involved in this in the 1980s. We were the world leaders in new robotic developments, but of course, constrained by the state subsidy rules of the European Union, we lost out to Japan and the United States, where, in particular, the use of contract compliance with state orders for the military gave them the competitive advantage to protect their fledgling industry.
My appeal to the Government as we leave the European Union is this. In this country, state aid is generally seen as protecting old, dying industries, but, at its essence, it is to protect fledgling industries that need link-ups with universities and the ability to experiment to get products that work to market. In robotics and artificial intelligence, not least in the area of agriculture, our potential is huge. If we were to win that battle, we would be more self-reliant and more competitively advantaged internationally. We should grab those opportunities before it is too late, not least because China is doing the same thing; it is leading the market and getting that market advantage.
At the same time, we should not copy the Chinese model for GM food. One thing that most surprises me about the debate on agriculture in this country is how we have allowed a form of quasi-communism to run it. Look at the role of the supermarkets: every strawberry and carrot must be identical in size and taste. This is specified by supermarket contracts, which farmers struggle to meet and make a profit under. The answer is not to move towards GM food—the ultimate communist dream of every product looking the same and tasting the same—but to go in the opposite direction. Something far more radical than farmers’ markets is needed, although they are a good starting point, conceptually. The whole basis of the tax incentive system for local food needs radically overhauling in his country. The incentives should be for real production, as the farmer sees it taken to the local market, to take out the food miles and to challenge directly this communism of the supermarkets in making everything the same. Again, in leaving the European Union, we have the opportunity to give that incentive to those local markets, and we should be doing so in a very big way.
Finally, I have a comment on trees and forestry. Pit timber used to grow alongside the collieries of this country in a very big way. We failed to learn the lessons of that in our forestry planting. Forestry planting has been seen as the preserve of the rural economy, yet on former coalfield sites we have huge swathes of reclaimed land, once brownfield and often still laid to waste. It would be ideal for reforestation as an industry, exactly as was done for those pit timbers 100 and 150 years ago—the remnants of which still exist. That would also give an amenity to local communities over the next 50 years. We should rethink precisely where our forests are being planted.
My Lords, I speak in support of Amendment 43 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, and other noble Lords, which provides for
“financial powers to develop local food strategies and infrastructure and to support small farms and/or community agricultural businesses with the purpose of improving public access to fresh and nutritious food, improving farm viability, reducing transport associated with agricultural products and securing our domestic food supply.”
I welcome this amendment, as in many ways it goes to the heart of my community’s concerns for preserving, protecting and enhancing our countryside, our farms and our food supply. Earlier in Committee, I described our concerns over the pollution suffered in the catchment areas of the chalk streams in Hampshire, which feed into the rivers Arle, Itchen, Test and others, and which, by extraction, provide a third of the domestic water supply in the area. In his response, the Minister reminded us that farmers were now constrained from allowing nitrates to wash into our watercourses. This is very welcome, though I am reminded that scientists believe that it can take 60 years for water to percolate through chalk aquifer and reach the watercourses. I recall that, in about 1992, through the good offices of the late Lord Ross, I was able to put a Question down in your Lordships’ House on the effects of pesticides on the chalk aquifers and our future water supply. If I remember my engineering geology, it is not unusual for chalk to reach 40% saturation in its natural state.
There are others in the food supply chain besides farmers. In my Alresford locality, close by the river Arle, we have an agriculture processing factory, operated by the Bakkavör Group, which has plants around the UK, in Europe, the USA and China. It imports salad products by road to the plant in Alresford, from as far afield as Spain, in 40-tonne lorries, squeezing through the narrow streets of our ancient towns to get to the processing plant. That is totally at odds with the aims of this amendment and, I would hope, of this Bill. I understand that at the plant they use water from the chalk streams and lakes under licence to wash the salad free of chemicals and fertilisers, and possibly nitrates, which end up in the watercourses and lakes. Can the Minister confirm that these agroindustrial operations are subject to the same regulations as farmers? Who is responsible for their enforcement and where are enforcement levels monitored?
The noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, nicely and clearly described the situation in Bridport. In Alresford, like in many ancient market towns, while under pressure from urbanisation to meet housing demands, the opportunities to support small farms and community agricultural businesses to secure our domestic food supply are at risk of being overlooked. I support my noble friend Lord Greaves in his comments on this amendment, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle. I enjoy the benefits of a community market, selling homemade products, and a series of farm shops ranging from simple rustic sheds to sophisticated top-end establishments with extraordinary ranges of goods and produce, all two or three miles from my doorstep.
My Lords, I declare an interest. My wife and I own 40 acres of woodland which is registered in a 10-year plan with the Forestry Commission, whose work I pay tribute to.
Before I get on to Amendments 13 and 61, I must say that I share the views of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, and my noble friends Lord Marlesford and Lord Cormack. It is not productive to a good debate on long and difficult Bills such as this one to sit in front of a screen for six or seven hours, and frankly, nor is it healthy. Purely by luck, I stumbled across the code of conduct for Cambridge University, which says that you should not be in front of a screen for more than one and a half to two hours. I suggest to the House authorities that we have a duty of care to all Members. I hope that they will reflect on that.
Now to the real meat of these amendments. Amendment 13, following on as it does from Amendment 12, is very important. Back in the earlier days of my life, I happened to be the leader of the London Borough of Islington. I was thrilled to discover in those days that the City of London had a scheme for taking children from inner London boroughs, such as Islington, to the woods that it owned on the fringes of London. I do not know whether that educational programme still exists, but it was really good for children who knew little about the woodland environment. Amendment 12 does not go far enough, which is why I support Amendment 13. Although one or two colleagues have mentioned it this afternoon, people forget that it is not just about the delight of walking through a woodland seeing nature at work in itself but the role of woodlands in climate change in today’s world. They are there to carbon capture and to provide far more variety to our woods than we have seen hereto. I hope very much that this amendment will be accepted.
I turn to Amendment 61. I live in Sandy, Bedfordshire, the centre at one point of English horticulture. Purely because of its location, when the railways came—without being too crude—the shit of London was shipped every night to Bedfordshire. That shit produced wonderful manure in the early days of the railways and in my judgment Bedfordshire, as a net result, still produces the finest Brussel sprouts in the United Kingdom. There was a huge explosion of glass-houses. However, as my noble friend Lord Holmes of Richmond was saying earlier on, what happened was that the Dutch twigged on to renewable energy along with North Sea oil and gas, but we did nothing to ensure that our similar resources —although not quite of the same nature—were used to help horticulture. There is a huge opportunity to get back into the horticultural league.
I belong to the Sandy horticultural society, which has been going for more than 100 years. Production around here in Sandy is primarily agricultural although, as I said earlier, Brussel sprouts feature extensively. The land here is not really ideal cereal land. We ought to go back to having glass-houses of various sizes and shapes to produce competitive horticulture products. I believe that my noble friend on the Front Bench is sympathetic to the whole idea, but we need the whole of government—this is not party-political but a general, obvious thing—in this so that we can get back to having competitive horticulture in this country. I do not know whether there will be any Divisions, but I will certainly support Amendments 12, 13 and 61.
We are going to try to return to the noble Lord, Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale. His connection, however, may not be good enough to sustain the call.
My Lords, this is a suite of amendments relating to financial assistance for additional purposes. Amendment 12 would amend Clause 1(1)(b), which currently reads:
“supporting public access to and enjoyment of the countryside, farmland or woodland and better understanding of the environment”.
This is vague and woolly. It gives no indication of the nature of the public access to be provided; nor does it give any indication or recognition of what the public want or expect from the access they are expected to pay for. Do people go into the countryside just to enjoy it? There are highly beneficial elements to the public through green travel, education, leisure, recreation and sporting opportunities. There are highly beneficial elements to landowners in the public having an improved relationship with food and farming. The noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkharle, set out the case for education extremely clearly. Amendment 13, to which the noble Earl, Lord Shrewsbury, spoke, seeks to insert “forestry” and stressed the importance of education to that.
The CAP farm support favoured intensive units and the big estates but considerable damage was done to the environment in the production of milk and wine lakes, along with grain, butter and cheese mountains, until measures were introduced to protect the environment. Areas that had never been cultivated were ploughed up; I well remember the grants to clear hedges and trees, and to drain areas never drained before. Then the mood changed and grants were given to replant those trees and hedges—too late to save vital habitats for wildlife. At the same time, this introduced the devastating tree diseases into the country which the Minister has debated with us on many occasions. I welcome the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, on the various skills which a farmer will need to survive in today’s climate.
Amendments 32 and 33 would add financial assistance for agricultural technology, including robotics and genetics, and the research and development of improved farming systems. The noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, spoke on this theme and I was fascinated by the description by the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, of how robotics can assist farming and production. The Nature Friendly Farming Network believes:
“Society should support farmers to create a better system by encouraging them to use the best technology and providing more information to allow them to make targeted improvements to their land management plans.”
The Government need to lead or support research that brings clarity to these issues, such as how to maximize the carbon sequestration of pasture.
Amendments 43 and 54 seek to develop food strategies and infrastructures. Greener UK believes that:
“Small farms are just as well placed as larger farms to provide the public goods that the bill lists in clause 1. Large farms are, however, more likely to have access to business planning resources and expert advice; the bill must therefore include the provision of advice to help smaller farms adapt to the new system.”
I regret that the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, thinks that larger farms are better than smaller ones. We need more innovation and local food production to help smaller farms. The noble Baronesses, Lady Bennett and Lady Boycott, have supported these two amendments and the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, spoke passionately about the environment and animal welfare, as did my noble friend Lord Chidgey. I too support them and know that encouraging the public to eat more fresh and nutritious food—while encouraging its production on our local farms—would save the NHS millions of pounds as the population became healthier and less prone to life-threatening diseases, such as diabetes. The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, reminded us that the production of cheap food is quite literally costing the earth. The noble Lord, Lord Cameron, explained the virtue of farmers’ markets. I agree totally with him and with the noble Lord, Lord Mann, about the uniform way in which supermarkets produce fruit and vegetables, which is not necessary.
There are some conflicts between these amendments. Amendments 43, 54, 61 and 62 look to encourage a wider interpretation of financial assistance for additional purposes. The noble Baroness, Lady Rock, and the noble Lord, Lord Holmes of Richard, pressed the case for this, along with others, whereas in Amendment 57 the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch—when we hear from her—and the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, seek to ensure that the productivity improvements which may arise from the additional measures do not undermine the provision of public good.
The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, gave examples of falling numbers of birds and decreasing biodiversity. I fully support this amendment, but we must ensure that there is no conflict in financial support between environmental protection and productivity. It is essential that, in the final Bill and its interpretation, we have the widest possible scope for financial assistance that protects the public good at the same time. The noble Lord, Lord Clark of Windermere, raised the very real worry that the right to roam on Forestry Commission land will be lost when some of it is possibly sold off. There will obviously be questions on the interpretation of public good as we further dissect the Bill. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s own interpretation of what public good might look like.
Before I sit down, as they say, I want to say that I am afraid I do not agree with my noble friend Lord Greaves or the noble Lords, Lord Cormack and Lord Naseby, about this current way of working. It suits me perfectly. My office is in Millbank. I do not have to rush down to Marsham Street to have a briefing with the Minister; I can have it in my office with others. I do not have to rush over to Portcullis House to take part in an APPG; I can do it from my house —I have all my notes in front of me and can participate fully. If we are trying to encourage farmers to adopt innovative ways of working and use new technologies, here in the House, we should practise what we preach.
My Lords, I declare my interest as being in receipt of funds as well as my other experiences in the rural economy, as recorded in the register. I thank all noble Lords for their amendments in this group, which probe the financial assistance arrangements and how far and for what purpose this finance could be applied. Whereas it should perhaps be stressed that care must be taken that the effects of financial benefits are not cast so wide as to diminish their impacts, it is nevertheless also important to enable as many as possible to contribute to the worthwhile merits in the new system, in ways that best suit their land and their perspectives. I welcome these amendments, which enable the Minister to clarify the Government’s position.
I speak on behalf of these Benches to Amendment 57, tabled by my noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch. I thank the noble Lords, Lord Krebs and Lord Greaves, for their remarks and for adding their names in support. This is an important amendment, as it seeks to clarify and emphasise that financial assistance is to be provided for public goods defined as providing environmental benefits in relation to agricultural, horticultural or forestry activities. We support the opportunity given in this Bill to link financial support to environmental outcomes, in contrast to the present system, whereby payments are made merely in relation to the amount of land each participant occupies, albeit that there are cross-compliance requirements to fulfil.
Where it is understood that productivity improvements would be included for assistance under Clause 1(2), these improvements must be consistent and not undermine payments made for public goods under subsection (1). In this regard, I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Young for her remarks about the conflicts that might arise and how these may be reconciled. Improvements must be mutually enhancing in promoting sustainable agriculture. Of course, the work of the agricultural colleges has been and will continue to be vital here, as will their role in providing an understanding of the countryside.
I pay tribute to the work of the noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkharle, in furthering the understanding of rural matters by hosting and encouraging visits to the countryside. I thank him for Amendment 12, the lead amendment in his group. I am also grateful for the other amendments, which make more explicit the various interpretations of furthering the “understanding of the environment” through the various ways financial assistance can be provided.
I draw particular attention to Amendment 43, proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, and supported by my noble friend Lord Judd and others. This probes the Government’s commitment to support local food strategies and small and community agricultural businesses that will widen the application of support into less conventional operations. We would agree that one size does not fit all across the natural environment and business, and that these alternatives can be instrumental in developing new and more sustainable production methods. This could also lead to the opportunities proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Rock, in her Amendment 62 to encourage diversification on farms.
I also support the intentions behind Amendment 61, in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, which would support the sustainable energy forms such as solar, onshore wind, geothermal ground-source heat and other technological developments that are so necessary to encourage renewable power and green job opportunities. I also thank the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, for his Amendment 101, and for all the amendments underlining the importance of financial assistance for alternative purposes connected to sustainable production.
It has been an interesting debate. I echo the calls to the Minister to confirm that these pursuits are possible within the Bill and that the Secretary of State has powers to encourage them. Before I give away to the Minister, I wonder whether he will answer the inquiry today from my noble friend Lord Clark, who asked a similar question yesterday concerning the status of the right of access to land where forestry may increase and change the character of that land. He is right to draw attention to the suitability of forestry as a way to increase access. Has the Minister’s department undertaken any assessment in this respect? I also commend the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, and the good work he undertook at the Countryside Agency. I remember implementing rural market towns regeneration and other initiatives under the northwest regional development agency after the devastation of foot and mouth; his experiences are very instructive in continuing these activities.
My Lords, this has been another very interesting and, indeed, thought-provoking debate. I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to it. I declare my farming interests as set out in the register.
I have to say that, in opening the debate, the noble Lord, Lord Curry, and my noble friend Lord Caithness demonstrated textbook brevity: they got absolutely to the point of their amendment, and I should remember that brevity myself. Clause 1(1)(b) allows us to pay for educational infrastructure to ensure our farmers have the right facilities to host farm visits and increase wider awareness among the public, and especially school pupils, about the crucial role our farmers play in maintaining our countryside and producing the food we eat.
On the word “forestry”, I agree with my noble friend Lord Caithness; as I said on Tuesday, I see “forestry” and “woodland” as coterminous. I expect that for many farmers who have woodland, part of the educational visit offered is to go from the wheat field to the barley field, to the sugar beet and to the woods—a complete package, showing what happens on so many farms. As outlined on Tuesday, Defra has a significant programme of public engagement, which incorporates the voices of young people in particular. Defra has used this input to make environmental policy more accessible to young people; as I said before, the year of green action is extremely important.
I have noted a number of points which I may not be able to answer, partly because of time but also because of the detail involved. I say to my noble friend Lady McIntosh that I very much agree with the point she made. I will speak to the DfE about the importance, as part of looking after the interests of young people, of making clear that connection with the natural world and the environment.
I am very conscious of the work that goes on in forestry. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and my noble friend Lord Caithness that Clause 1(1)(b) allows the Government to provide funding for
“supporting public access to and enjoyment of the countryside, farmland”
and “woodland”. Just as educational visits on farms are covered, so would be visits that take place partly or fully on forestry land. The noble Lord, Lord Mann, spoke of many parts of the country where woodland would be a very important feature—I agree. The National Forest is a prime example of where land that went through industrialisation has been restored and become a great educational resource and source of much broader enjoyment. Government can do only so much, but an important aspect of what happens in the countryside is the way agricultural associations, the NFU and all the farming organisations, the CLA, the agricultural colleges, Kew, the national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty, the Forestry Commission and all such bodies, private and public, are engaged in public awareness and providing educational resource, as I know from personal experience.
I will get back to the noble Lord, Lord Clark, particularly on commercial transactions of Forestry Commission parcels of land. My understanding, from way back in my memory, is that very little Forestry Commission land is sold and any proceeds of sale go back into further forestry. As to any commercial arrangements that involve access issues, I do not think that it would be reasonable for me to reply to him or the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, without a full legal analysis of the arrangements. I hope that will be acceptable to the two noble Lords.
On forestry graduates, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Krebs—I know it is also of particular interest to my noble friend Lord Caithness—that Forestry Commission England supports the industry-led Forestry Skills Forum, which is dedicated to promoting education, skills, learning and development across the forestry sector in England and Wales. Nearly 30 forestry employers, associations and educational providers have pledged to work together to attract the very best of young and new talent into the sector. As for the number of forestry graduates, the detail I have is, I am afraid, for 2016-17, when there were about 150 graduate students in forestry. However, the headline number disguises the fact that forestry employers recruit from other disciplines that offer supplementary training.
I was very pleased that my noble friend Lord Shrewsbury highlighted that an important element of the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Curry, is the importance of an appropriately skilled workforce. Agricultural and forestry technologies are transforming farming and creating new types of jobs and requirements for new kinds of skills. It is important that the industry is supported in its ability to respond to these changes.
Clause 1 has been purposely broadly drafted to allow the Government to account for existing or emerging skills gaps. Activities “connected to” any of the purposes listed in Clause 1 can already be funded, which already covers protecting the environment, mitigating against climate change, conservation, forestry and measures to improve the productivity of agricultural and forestry activities, among many others.
From my personal experience of this, I remember going with a school from Lambeth with Kate Hoey to an agricultural college. We arrived and the children were asked to run through strips of oats, wheat and barley. I was horrified, but it was a very good idea. They were asked to pick the ears and, when they came back, the question was: “What food comes from those crops?” I have to say, quite a number of children were on to it and knew. We then went into the dairy, where there were shorthorns—we used to have shorthorns in the family; they are a very good breed to manage and look after—and the children held their brushes. They were not sure, as they did not like the smell, but afterwards they really got involved in it all. So, if anyone wants to ask me, “Do you know how inspirational these visits can be to children of all backgrounds, and particularly from inner city areas?”, I am absolutely with it.
The connections we can have from encouraging the countryside and urban areas to work together are profoundly important. That relates not only to the Bill, but to what so many charities and bodies are already doing. The noble Earl, Lord Devon, the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and my noble friends Lord Marlesford and Lord Cormack all made those points. My noble friend Lord Cormack said that this is an important point. I absolutely get the point that it is not only important, but imperative that the next generation know more than perhaps this generation about the interconnection between farming, the environment, the production of food and everyone’s well-being.
I noted down that the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, referred to “multitasking” but, in fact, with all the tasks that the noble Lord mentioned, I then put “magician”. There is no doubt in my mind, coming as I do from a farming background, about how versatile farmers have to be. They are versatile in the first place in dealing with every weather condition, but I also have some sympathy with the paperwork that is no doubt put before farmers. That is why the whole emphasis of what we want to do is to concentrate on making this practical by working with farmers to ensure that it works for them and that it is their project, so that they do not think what on earth have this Government done to them.
I acknowledge the instrumental work of the noble Lord, Lord Curry, in the Skills Leadership Group and I express my gratitude to him. Defra officials are engaging with the Skills Leadership Group as leaders in the industry to develop plans for a proposed new professional body, which is intended to be an independent and self-funded organisation, precisely to bring forward skills in all the sectors that I have mentioned. The Government believe that this kind of industry-led initiative can be instrumental in creating clear career development pathways and promoting the sector as a progressive, professional and attractive career choice. If we are looking at the recovery from what this country is going through—a green recovery as well—these are clearly areas where we must encourage the next generation to feel that there are worthwhile careers; it is very important for the national interest.
I turn to some of the other points. I agree that Amendments 32 and 33 raise some essential topics. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Lucas for raising them, but they were also echoed by the noble Lords, Lord Krebs, Lord Campbell-Savours, Lord Cameron of Dillington and Lord Mann. I echo the points that my noble friend Lady McIntosh and the noble Earl, Lord Devon, raised. This Bill will not be a way in which, suddenly, all the research demands of the natural world and agriculture will be found. I say that rather softly, in so far as we would look for other sources of funding across Whitehall for some of these really significant research projects. But it is important—indeed, essential—that robotics and genetics offer great potential for agriculture. Innovation and technology are key to boosting productivity while, I emphasise, enhancing the environment and feeding a growing world. I leave it to scientists such as the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and others to ensure that the science is directed in a way that clearly enhances production of food in an environmentally important way. Existing legislation, such as the Science and Technology Act, already enables the Government to support research to enable the development of new technology and practices in food production.
The Government are planning to use these powers to launch an ambitious agricultural innovation research package, which will enable more farmers and agri-food businesses to become involved in agricultural research. Having been to the laboratory at Harper Adams University, it is extraordinary what is in prospect in terms of an agricultural revolution, so that we can improve the productivity, sustainability and resilience of farming. For example, people are developing remote sensors which use artificial intelligence for the early identification of pests and diseases, so that with integrated pest management we can be much more cautious with the use of those materials.
Additionally, Clause 1(2) allows for financial assistance to be given for the purpose of improving the productivity of agricultural, horticultural and forestry activities. This includes the provision of grants to support farmers, foresters and growers to invest in equipment and technology that improves their productivity and enhances the environment. Again, the distinction is that this is about how we can help farmers, foresters and growers use this new technology on farm, and the many ways in which that will make a big difference for the environment.
Turning to Amendments 43 and 54, the Bill provides powers which I believe address the concerns of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett. For example, Clause 1(2) allows the Secretary of State to give financial assistance for the purpose of
“supporting ancillary activities carried on, or to be carried on, by or for a producer.”
“Ancillary activities” are defined in Clause 1(5) as
“selling, marketing, preparing, packaging, processing or distributing products deriving from an agricultural, horticultural or forestry activity.”
The Government will make productivity grants available from 2021, as described in the February 2020 policy update. These grants could help farmers invest in equipment or infrastructure, so that they can add value to existing products, create new products or make products available directly to customers. This will open up new business opportunities for farmers, as well as the chance to reduce food miles and make more food available closer to where it is produced.
On the second purpose in the noble Baroness’s amendment, concerning supply chain infrastructure, it is the Government’s position that supporting food production and ancillary activities, as the Bill already allows and the Government have done through previous RDPE schemes, will help farm businesses develop improved products and find new markets. I have seen for myself many projects where this has enabled very vibrant businesses to perform. I say in response to the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, with his very considerable experience, that one of the many pleasures of going around so many national parks is seeing the local food provenance and that that there is, in effect, great kudos to production within the national park. This is true both in national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty and, indeed, in areas that do not have that designation but are identified with the production of food.
Again, I emphasise that locally grown food is always desirable, and I and the Government will always support it. From my experience of recent months, however, having been in telephone calls, sometimes twice daily, with the big retailers, I can assure noble Lords of the responsibility of the retailers in wishing to ensure that there is food for the nation and in the work they are undertaking and the local relationships that many supermarket branches have with their local producers. We should be cautious, when feeding the nation, of thinking that this can be sourced only from farmers’ markets, important as these are, or from locally produced food always. It will be very difficult to feed the nation in conurbations if we provide only food markets. We need a balance to have the food security that we shall go on to discuss.
I want to nip in the bud, if that is the right phrase, the concerns of the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Whitchurch and Lady Young of Old Scone, and the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, by saying that it is absolutely not the Government’s intention to use productivity powers to undermine environmental objectives. It is for this reason that the duty in Clause 1(4), was included in the Bill. In framing any financial assistance scheme, the Secretary of State must have regard to the need to encourage food production by producers in England in an environmentally sustainable way. This places that duty on the Secretary of State. Improving productivity is not the same as increasing production. The Government’s policies will improve productivity and support a strong food production sector, but they will also reduce farming’s environmental footprint and help with the achievement of net zero.
Turning to Amendment 61, my noble friend Lord Holmes of Richmond raised some very important and interesting points, as did the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours. I am always interested in hearing further points on this. I gently say that my noble friend Lord Taylor of Holbeach is infamous for bulbs. Anyone who goes to Chelsea will see the many years—I think it is more than 25—of consistent gold medals for his narcissi and daffodils. The Bill allows financial assistance to be provided for the purposes of starting or improving the productivity of a horticultural activity. The use of innovative methods of production, including the use of sustainable energy, such as waste energy from other sources, is key to making this happen. Government officials are currently considering the best way to support the horticulture sector and will be working with the industry to design a replacement fruit and vegetable aid scheme which will help them increase production in a sustainable way.
I say at this point that I am very taken with one of the issues in the work of WRAP on reducing food waste: the requirement for perfect food when it is delicious to eat is an area we all need to think about much more. I think there is now better understanding from the consumer and the retailer—after all, retailers will tend to provide what they think the consumer wants. Much better education about waste and its reduction is hugely important.
Turning to Amendment 62, I agree with my noble friends Lady Rock and Lord Marlesford about diversification. Those of us who farm have all been diversifying over these last decades in certain ways. Clause 1(2)(b) allows the Government to support many diversification activities on farms. Separately from that, I shall also explain, because it is in farming, horticultural and forestry interests, the other sources from which quite a lot of work and resource from other departments will come. The Government intend to introduce the UK shared prosperity fund to replace EU structural funds. I said on Tuesday that its design will take into account the dynamics of rural economies and the particular challenges faced by rural communities. Defra and MHCLG are engaging with rural stakeholders to support development of the evidence base around which the needs of rural communities can be properly catered for. This is another very important way in which the rural economy will be supported.
Amendment 101 was given another exemplary and speedy introduction by my noble friend Lord Dundee. Clause 1(2) already allows for financial assistance to be given for the purposes and activities included in this amendment. In the Farming for the Future policy update in February, the Government set out our plans for offering funding to councils, landowners and other organisations to help them invest in creating new opportunities for new-entrant farmers. Such funding could be used for activities including making holdings available for new entrants or to support the provision of business or mentoring guidance.
The noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, referred to the chalk stream rivers. I am very conscious of this, because they are iconic rivers for those who like to walk along them and fish in them. This is the responsibility of the Environment Agency, which I met not so long ago with my noble friend Lord Ribeiro and some fishing interests. It does monitor, and it is important that work continues to ensure that we enhance the quality of water. The noble Lord is right, of course. When I looked into this, I am afraid I found that the consequences of nitrates take many decades to emerge and then to disperse. This is a long-term issue that we will have to tackle.
The noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, asked about devolution. I am obviously very pleased that Wales and Northern Ireland asked for a schedule to this legislation, which my noble friend Lady Bloomfield and I are delighted to take forward. It is devolved, but it is always important that Defra and the devolved Ministers meet regularly to discuss issues such as education and work closely to establish common UK frameworks. Collaboration on all policy matters would lead to greater fulfilment.
My noble friend Lady McIntosh asked about the policy statement and budgets. As I have said, the February 2020 policy update set out further detail on our intended reforms. As mentioned on Tuesday, the Government intend to publish in autumn further detail on the early years of the transition, including on future schemes. Farmers may enter into agreements under ELM to be paid for delivering public goods, including engagement with the natural environment. We will determine what ELM will pay for as we further develop the scheme, and are engaging with stakeholders to inform this.
As I have said, I understand that there is often a desire to put flesh on a framework, but the whole construct is for us to work with the very people who are going to make this happen. That is why the tests and trials will be absolutely vital and why I wish to resist placing narrowings and definitions when the broad drafting will enable us to come forward to your Lordships with many of the regulations in a way that is developed with the claimants in mind.
I hope the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, will not mind, but she mentioned food, abattoirs and county farms, which will all be the subject of discussion on later groups. I hope she will not think it discourteous, but it would be more helpful to everyone if we were to raise those then. I think her name is on the speaking list for some of those debates. We will pick up the points she raised in the ministerial reply on those groups.
I am aware that there will be some questions that I have not attended to, either because of time or because a note might not have reached me quite in time to make sure I got the fullest explanation or help. These have been very important discussions on education, skills, local food and innovation and more besides. I will rest on what the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, said about the extraordinary range of requirements. We look to the farmer in providing all that he or she does. It is therefore important to work on these schemes and on the education; we started with education on this group. Perhaps everyone in this country ought to receive a copy of the noble Lord’s extract on what we expect of the farmer.
With that in mind and with this debate, the reassurances and the further letter I will follow up with for any outstanding points, I very much hope that my noble friend Lord Caithness and in turn the noble Lord, Lord Curry, will feel able to withdraw their amendments.
My Lords, the Minister has just given an excellent and really passionate account of agricultural education, and we are indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Curry, for raising this at the beginning. It has become clear in the debate that there are two distinct issues. The first is agricultural, forestry and related skills, and I thought the Minister gave an excellent response on that. The other, wider issue—particularly important as we set in place a framework for the future of agriculture in what is predominantly an urban and metropolitan society—is awareness of rural and agricultural issues. When I was Schools Minister, there were three distinct way in which we sought to promote that awareness: the rural studies GCSE, school farms, and city farms. In the letter that the Minister has just said he will write to us, can he give us an account of what the trends are in all three of those respects over recent years? This might inform what further steps we think it could be sensible to take on Report. My impression is that we have moved backwards on all three over recent years—that fewer are taking the rural studies GCSE and that city and school farms have been closing—but it would be good to have some facts. I would be grateful if he could write to us on that.
My Lords, I first thank my noble friends Lord Colgrain and Lord Shrewsbury for signing my amendment; that was very kind of them. I also thank all noble Lords who have spoken in favour. I think half the noble Lords who spoke specifically mentioned and approved of my amendment and nobody spoke against it, so that was good to hear.
I spoke only on my Amendment 13, but that does not mean I do not support a number of the other amendments; I do. I have one specific point on another amendment, that of my noble friend Lord Holmes of Richmond. I ask my noble friend Lord Gardiner whether Defra will be able to support vertical farming, because that could be a great and very environmentally friendly source of vegetable production.
I very much like what my noble friend said in reply to my amendment. I was particularly pleased to hear his comment that he would like to see the educational groups that would go to farms go to the wheat, the barley and the sugar beet, and then into the woods. Does this indicate that Defra is now taking much more of a whole-farm approach? Will we see this in ELMS? One of the great drawbacks of the current system is that farming and forestry have been split. Does he now envisage a whole-farm approach in everything Defra will do? That would be a useful answer to get.
My noble friend did not explain particularly clearly to me why he thought the rather vague wording in the Bill was better than the more specific wording of the amendments from the noble Lord, Lord Curry, and me. I think he said that there might be other issues the Government would like to fund that are not covered by a more specific wording. Do I take it that more specific wording will come in regulations that we will debate in the House? Before I decide what to do, I would be grateful if he could give me an answer to that.
I am getting conflicting advice as to when there should be further questioning of a Minister, but I am happy to answer as best I can.
The tier 1 ELMS will be to the farmer across their farm. My understanding of most people’s farms is that they involve agricultural land and may involve copses, covers and other parts that would be involved in a whole-farm project. Tiers 2 and 3 are on a wider landscape level and may involve a range of either farms or other landowners. We discussed the different tiers before, so I am a little confused as to whether my noble friend thought that a farmer was going to apply for tier 1 for the arable land and work for environmental enhancement and Clause 1 objectives, and then have a separate application for what they might do with their woods and covers. No, this will be a farmer undertaking work on their farm.
My noble friend is right that, as I said—I thought I said this on Tuesday as well—the Government distinctly want to have a broad definition, not to curtail it, because we want to work with the farmers, foresters and growers to ensure that when we devise the scheme we do not find ourselves ring-fenced because noble Lords have decided that they have an important point that they must have in the Bill. That would start to make it more difficult. That is precisely why I have said that our definitions are deliberately broad in order to enable us to work with the farmers, the foresters and the growers to ensure that we get the right schemes for them.
I am not sure whether I was permitted to reply to my noble friend in this way, but I intervene now because it is important that he realises that a lot of what we are going to be discussing is best discussed with regard to the regulations, many of which will be made by the affirmative procedure. Then we will we have more flesh on the bone, having had the result of our work with the important people who are going to make all this happen for us.
I am grateful to my noble friend for what he has said, which has clarified the position. I think that I am perfectly entitled to ask such questions in Committee for elucidation of what he has said—as he will appreciate, I cannot ask him a question about what he has said until he has said it—and that is the great value of Committee stage. With that, I am happy not to move my amendment.
My Lords, I welcome the support that all noble Lords who have participated in this wide grouping have given. I thought that many of their comments were extremely interesting and helpful on the need for local food, sustainability, productivity, ensuring that our environmental objectives are being met and, of course, diversification. I am particularly encouraged by the support for Amendments 12 and 13.
I thank the Minister for his usual excellent, comprehensive, fulsome and detailed response, a lot of which was extremely valuable. I am grateful for the endorsement of the importance of education and of the educational experience of schoolchildren. I absolutely agree with what he said of his experience of that: it is life-changing for schoolchildren, as he described, to experience running through crops and to experience how milk is produced. I stress to him that this support is provided at all levels within the ELM scheme. It is essential that we maximise the benefits available through farms that are willing to host school visits.
In the interests of brevity in my introduction, I resisted the temptation to mention the senior leadership group on skills and the intention to establish a professional body. I thank the Minister and welcome his comments on that and support for it. As he said, it is a critical and essential development. Through him, I thank his department and officials for the invaluable support, advice and guidance that they have given on this issue. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 12 withdrawn.
Amendment 13 not moved.
My Lords, we come to Amendment 14. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate. Anyone wishing to press this amendment to a Division should make that clear in debate.
14: Clause 1, page 2, line 11, at end insert “, and financial assistance to pay compensation for damage and additional costs caused by such access;”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is to highlight the extra costs that farmers and foresters can face and discuss the effectiveness of the Countryside Code.
My Lords, I fear that I might not be quite as brief as I was when I spoke to my last amendment. My concern is that at present the Government give access to farmland without compensation or appreciating the impact on the farm. The coastal footpath is one example of farmers having access rights forced on them and this even goes as far as public access to private beaches free of charge. My amendment simply seeks to rectify that by allowing the Government to pay compensation where there is damage and for public access. I believe that the Bill only makes matters worse and I fear that, if we are not careful, the Government will, sadly, start to alienate the farming community as the consequences of this legislation become more apparent.
On Tuesday we talked about rights and the provision of access. Today I want to discuss the consequences of those rights and the other “R” word—responsibility. It is a word that does not seem to crop up much now in the way that we work and it is often ignored. When we talk about responsibility and the countryside, it is the mess that people leave behind that I want to focus on, although there are other issues that I will mention. We have all seen the dreadful amount of detritus that has been left on recent visits to the countryside and parks: the glass, the laughing gas canisters, the soiled nappies, the plastic bags, the fast food containers and every other sort of rubbish. The 25-year environment plan has a lovely picture of Durdle Door in Dorset. Three tonnes of rubbish were collected in one day off that beach alone. In Morecambe Bay, 25 black plastic bags of rubbish were picked up and 12 tonnes of rubbish was taken off Bournemouth beach.
Litter is a hazard to animals and wildlife as well; it is not just an ugly sight for us human beings. In Port Meadow in Oxfordshire, five horses and 10 cows needed treatment and a cow died from eating plastic. We are talking about people’s livelihoods. Sadly, what is not being left on the land is now being washed out to the ocean. We saw yesterday comments about the number of face masks that are being washed out into the seas as people chuck them away after use to try to combat the virus. It was rather dismaying to read that one face mask alone could kill a whale. It is we human beings who are making all this mess and putting such a hazard in wildlife’s way. The RSPCA receives over 7,000 calls a year over litter-related incidents.
The removal of litter costs a lot of money. In the last month it has cost Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens nearly 20% more than at the equivalent time last year to pick up the amount of litter that has been thrown down.
This is not a recent aberration and it is incorrect to blame it on the excitement of being able to get out after lockdown. A survey last year showed that one in five visitors to the Royal Parks left litter behind after their visit. The LitterAction group tells us that the problem in rural areas is more than it can contend with. Worst of all, the Hygiene Council has proclaimed us the dirtiest developed country in the world. That is a bad record to have.
Fly-tipping is a cause of litter, and the Defra figures published last November show that local authorities dealt with over 1 million fly-tipping incidents in the 12 months to the end of March 2019. That was another annual increase, this time of 8%. What should be done about this? I was delighted that my noble friend the Minister said on Tuesday that
“dropping litter should be an anti-social behaviour.”—[Official Report, 7/7/20; col. 1104.]
I hope my noble friend who replies will not use the facile comment that there is going to be another anti-litter campaign. We tried that in 1987, when I was Minister for the countryside. The Secretary of State, Nick Ridley, persuaded the Prime Minister to get involved and there was a great photoshoot in St James’s Park. It helped for a bit, but we seem to have an ingrained ability to forget about these things and to continue in our bad, old ways. Will my noble friend the Minister consider on-the-spot fines or an alteration of the law to increase fines—and to not only increase them, but to enforce them?
Does my noble friend agree that litter begets litter? I am a believer in the broken window theory, which holds that when an environment is run-down, people are more likely to add to the damage because it looks ghastly. Herein lies a problem for farmers that will come as a result of this Bill. We all want more biodiversity and we all want more land set aside for nature, but sadly that land often looks unkempt. If one is a believer of the broken window theory and sees land that does not look as though it has been farmed—unlike a crop of wheat that has been sprayed to the nth degree, without a weed in sight—people are more likely to leave litter there as a result. That is going to cause a huge problem, both to farmers and to wildlife.
Litter is not the only problem. I am sure my noble friend was awake and listening to “Farming Today” when we heard about the Welsh farmer who had to spend three hours sorting out two flocks of sheep that had been allowed to get together because a rambler had left a gate open. That is time and money for the farmer, and it affects his livelihood. Indeed, I have been told by the NFU that some farmers in upland areas have given up having cattle because of the problems caused by public access. This is contrary to everything that we were discussing on Tuesday about getting more pasture-fed beef, improving our uplands and keeping the uplands going. The Bill is going in one direction but, sadly, public access seems to be taking it in another.
We also have the problem of dogs and dog fouling. Some people will put dog mess into a plastic bag, but too often I have seen them just drop the bag and leave it for somebody else to pick up. I was walking in Richmond Park the other day and there was a dog running through some rough grass, totally out of control. The owner was not interested. I stopped the owner and said to him, “Is that your dog?”. Having got the usual amount of verbal abuse for interfering, he said “Yes”, so I said, “Could you please bring it under control?”. He said, “Why? It is having fun. It is running through the long grass.” I said, “Have you read the sign behind you that says that this area is set aside for skylarks nesting?”. The ground-nesting birds were being pushed up by this dog, with the complete indifference of the owner to the responsibility of owning a pet and protecting wildlife.
Then there is the question of fires. We all saw the problem of the Saddleworth fire. That cost the owner thousands of pounds in having to provide bowsers and slurry tanks of water to help to tackle the fire, and helicopters to help to spray. There was a huge amount of damage to wildlife as well. What is the latest news on the fire severity index? This was an initiative of the last-but-one Secretary of State, Michael Gove. I gather that the report was completed last year, but we do not seem to have heard anything from him. Can the Minister also tell me how many local authorities are using public space protection orders to stop barbecues on farms?
Then there is the question of rescue. A friend of mine in Scotland suddenly saw an ambulance and a police car coming up his drive. He asked them why they were there, and they replied that they needed his help to rescue someone who had broken their leg on the hill. They expected the farmer to drop everything, stop the work that he was doing, and produce tractors and quad bikes to rescue somebody who was walking on the hill—perfectly legitimately. The farmer did all that but never got a word of thanks from anyone. That puts a huge onus on farmers.
Then there is the question of security. The more people tramping over one’s land, the more damage to the biosecurity, but there is also going to be a threat to one’s own security. I have talked to a number of farmers who have been verbally abused when they have approached people trespassing, or for not having dogs under control. It is not a pleasant experience.
The word “balance” was used a lot on Tuesday, but at the moment the scales weigh heavily in favour of the public, with no compensation to help the farmer and the landowner. Unless that problem is addressed, many of the hopes and objectives of this Bill will not be met. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support my noble friend’s amendment. I believe it to be an extremely important one and I congratulate him on the way in which he moved it. It is a very wide-ranging subject. I have no problem at all with public access to land, so long as no damage is caused to property or to livestock. I believe firmly that if such damage is caused—not everyone who benefits from access to the countryside acts in a responsible manner—it is only fair that the owner or tenant of the property in question is compensated for the cost of that damage and its reparation.
To give an example, during the recent very hot spell, and with lockdown and social distancing in force, a field on the River Dove, very close to where I live in an idyllic part of the world called Dovedale—an area of outstanding natural beauty—was invaded by a large group of people, who picnicked there and swam in the river. The litter they left, both in Dovedale and by the river down in Mapleton, was like a carpet of detritus. It was atrocious—bottles, plastic bags, human waste and all sorts. It was cleared up and disposed of by the landowner at his own expense. Under the terms of my noble friend’s amendment, that landowner would have been reimbursed for his trouble. That seems to me to be only fair and right.
The other day, at Questions in your Lordships’ House, I asked my noble friend Lord Goldsmith whether it was the case that the landowner or the tenant should not be responsible for paying for the clearing of fly-tipping on their land. The answer that I got was less than satisfactory. My noble friend told me—to paraphrase—that the landowner or the tenant should pay for this because it was part of his responsibility of farming the land. That could not be further from the truth, and I think that is a pretty rough statement to make.
I support my noble friend’s amendment and I look forward to listening to what my noble friend the Minister has to say in this regard.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend on this amendment. I shall be brief, because it covers many of the points that I made on the third group. I also thank the Minister for adding Clause 1(1)(b), but I have questions for him. What form might the compensation take? Is one of the problems perhaps that rural crime is not taken as seriously as it might be?
I believe that such prosecutions come under the Environment Agency rather than the police. Should there be a wider use of cameras in rural areas believed to be prone to this? Where there is shared access between, for example, a county council as well as a different user of the land, should there be some arrangement to negotiate between them about who is responsible for policing this? How does my noble friend intend to police the current provision under Clause 1?
My Lords, I am glad to take part in this brief debate, and it is nice to have a debate on one specific amendment, dealing with a particular problem or series of problems.
I do not suppose there is a single one of your Lordships who was not totally disturbed and revolted by the photograph of that wonderful, 500 year-old oak tree burnt down last weekend in Herefordshire as a result of irresponsible barbecuing. That is a totemic picture and shows—alongside the graphic descriptions by my noble friend Lord Caithness, who moved this amendment splendidly—what we are up against.
I have a specific suggestion to make to my noble friend the Minister. I was taken by the explanatory statement of the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, on the Marshalled List:
“This amendment is to highlight the extra costs that farmers and foresters can face”—
he has done that graphically and splendidly—
“and discuss the effectiveness of the Countryside Code.”
I understand that the code is in the process of being revised, which is good. However, I do not suppose that very many of those people who created squalor in Dorset or who burnt down that beautiful old oak in Herefordshire have a clue what the Countryside Code is.
My suggestion to the Minister is this: I have spoken in your Lordships’ House before on the subject of citizenship, and I believe that every young person leaving full-time education should go through a citizenship ceremony, having studied the rights and responsibilities of citizenship for a year at least. One of the prime responsibilities of being a good citizen is to help to look after and enhance the environment.
There should be compulsory education on the Countryside Code and looking after the environment, which we have inherited and have a duty to pass on to successive generations. I would very much like to see, as part of the graduation process from school, the issuing of a countryside passport that young people are proud of and can carry with them. If they transgress—of course, it is not a problem of young people only, but one has to start somewhere—there should be exemplary fines and penalties. A cancelled passport should be one of these, because those who have shown that they do not appreciate and care for their environment and for the countryside should not be allowed to trespass and transgress upon it. I do not use “trespass” narrowly.
If we really mean what we say, and if we really want to strengthen the Bill in the way in which the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, has suggested, we must have not only compensation but, at the forefront of our mind, the creation of a culture where compensation will not be needed because people will not despoil and damage their environment. I recommend to my noble friend Lady Bloomfield, and to my noble friend Lord Gardiner, who has been meticulous in his attendance, devising some sort of system along these lines.
My Lords, I have no problem at all in supporting this amendment; I have for a long while campaigned on this issue. In fact, in July 2013 I introduced a Private Member’s Bill on littering from vehicles. It did not get anywhere at the time but, as quite often happens with Private Members’ Bills, the idea was incorporated into subsequent legislation, and it is now possible to fine the owner of a vehicle from which litter is dropped without identifying the person who dropped it. Previously, anonymity or a dispute as to who dropped the litter meant nothing ever happened.
There is a real problem in this, of both littering and, more seriously, fly-tipping. There is a distinction between the two, because littering is one of those anti-social things where people probably do not feel a great moral obligation not to do it; it is often thoughtlessness and they do not feel it is a moral point. Fly-tipping is another matter. It is a criminal activity, often deliberately undertaken by people who, as it were, make a profession of it. They offer to dispose of goods and household waste for people for a fee, and then they ruthlessly and callously fly-tip it.
In answer to both these problems, I am not sure we need new legislation—if the Bill can in some way strengthen existing legislation, so much the better—but we need proper enforcement. If we take the first example, of littering from a vehicle, practically nobody does anything about it. It ought to be possible for wardens to take the number of a vehicle and issue fines on the spot, perfectly happily, rather like a parking offence. It is not a criminal offence, but it is a stiff enough fine that you simply do not do it again—once you have paid £80 or £100 for dropping a pack from your hamburger outside, you will not do it again.
Fly-tipping is much more serious, and I think proper prosecution is needed here. This is basically already the responsibility of local authorities, which in general they do not fulfil for various reasons, one of which is—I am afraid to say—that they sometimes know who is behind it all: criminal elements they fear to upset. Sometimes it is for less obvious reasons.
Where I am from, in Suffolk, we had five examples of fly-tipping one particular moment and we were able, with the help of the local authority, to pick up the litter. The people responsible were foolish enough to identify themselves and exactly where they came from, and there was no doubt about it. When the local authorities approached them, they merely said that they had paid someone, who had paid someone, to do it. When we asked if the authorities would prosecute, we were told it was too sensitive.
That is not good enough. There is a very simple answer to fly-tipping: the size of the fine should be a multiple of the cost of taking litter to an authorised litter dump. At the moment it is less; it is cheaper to pay the fine on the rare occasion that one is issued than to pay for a truck or the cost of going to the dump. The remedy is perfectly simple. It is a community problem; it is for the community to enforce it. It should be enforced primarily through local government, but central government, through Bills such as this, can do something to stiffen up the action taken.
I have talked only about litter. I agree that there are other problems from access, but private littering and criminal littering in the form of fly-tipping are the main problems. They are very serious.
My Lords, I agree very much with what was said early on in the debate, but I must say to both noble Earls, Lord Caithness and Lord Shrewsbury, that making the argument requires a positive approach to access. It came across certainly in the first few minutes of the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, that he would be very happy if there were no access anyway. He then went on to deploy the arguments and consequences of access.
Access is here to stay, whether it is the coastal path or access to the countryside. However, I could not agree more that in a small country it must be managed. Think about this: you go to a countryside car park for a walk. You will probably pay something, but there will also be a sign saying that every month the costs of removing the litter germinated by the car park and its users will be shared by every car parked there, and that by paying to park there you accept that. That might be a salutary warning to those causing the trouble, and to those who see trouble and do nothing about it.
I have been a walker in the Lake District for more than 30 years and I freely admit that I have never seen any seriously bad examples of fly-tipping. On the other hand, I have seen really bad examples elsewhere. I do not accept that it should be the responsibility solely of the landowner. There must be more enforcement, more cameras and more forensic examination of the waste. Given the kind of stuff that is so carelessly piled up in serious fly-tipping, the evidence that people leave can be traced back to where it came from. There is an argument about who actually did it, who was responsible in the end and where the waste came from, but the police should take some responsibility—they do not take rural crime seriously enough, and this is a rural crime. I very much agree with what was said about the broken windows theory, which is fundamental.
I am in favour of a crackdown. We have automatic number plate recognition cameras all over the city and in different areas. We need a bit more of it in the countryside, with some warnings about responsibility. That being the case, I realise that it is very difficult, though not impossible, to provide a proper enforcement system, but to be honest, there is no enforcement system at the moment. We ought to start to generate one.
My Lords, as I said on Tuesday, additional public access, however beneficial to people whose livelihood does not depend on agriculture, is a distraction from farmers’ primary responsibility to manage their land efficiently to produce food for the nation and to assist our balance of trade by producing high-quality food products for export around the world.
I congratulate my noble friends Lord Caithness and Lord Shrewsbury on their eloquent and persuasive introduction to their amendment. They are absolutely correct that the new scheme must properly compensate farmers for the damage and additional costs they will incur as a result of the obligation they will face to provide more public access. Littering has been getting worse in recent years. So has fly-tipping, which has got much worse through lockdown, as my noble friend Lord Caithness observed. I wholeheartedly support the amendment and look forward to the Minister’s reply.
As my noble friend Lord Shrewsbury said, the answer from my noble friend Lord Goldsmith, which I heard as well, was unsatisfactory and rather ambiguous. It seems that the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, also considers fly-tipping to be at least partly the responsibility of the landowner, which I was rather surprised to hear him state. Could the Minister clarify the Government’s policy on responsibility for fly-tipping and what my noble friend Lord Goldsmith actually intended to say?
My Lords, this is one of those occasions where you have rather more sympathy with what was said than what was written, because the amendment can be taken, and probably would be by many, as an attack on greater access to the countryside. On Tuesday I moved a series of amendments tabled in conjunction with the Ramblers and British Canoeing. I can give noble Lords an absolute assurance that both those bodies would agree with those sentiments.
As someone who lives in the Lambourn valley, close to Swindon and the M4, I know about fly-tipping. Usually a pile of rubbish occurs where there is access to a road and somewhere quiet. It will not be enhanced by a footpath, because people do not carry old fridges up footpaths to dump them—or if they do, I would steer well clear of them. Let us not confuse the issues. The incident the noble Earl, Lord Shrewsbury—who has been here even longer than I have and is a friend—talked about was just trespass. It was not to do with access. The two are not that closely related.
The general points about taking these problems more seriously, with criminal enforcement, are a serious matter. A lot of littering comes either from unplanned, uncontrolled gatherings where you do not have bins, et cetera, or close to urban centres. It is not just the young; grey hair does not stop you dropping litter. I have seen it myself. For any noble Lords who have travelled on the Tube, it is a bit like face masks; the young are only as bad as their seniors. It is engrained.
I totally approve of the attitude of the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, on the last amendment and of the Minister’s response. I am afraid it is rather unanswerable —I cannot ask you about what you have said until you have said it. I appreciate how it was taken down and I hope that flexibility will come in during our discussions on this, because it would make it work better.
This amendment raises issues, but it would be totally against the spirit of the rest of the Bill. Greater access would not cause most of the problems here. On being irresponsible in a Royal Park close to an urban area, I am sorry, but people have access to go there anyway. Extra access will not make it worse. On specialist paths for ramblers and other groups, these groups are more likely to report people—a path that ramblers use regularly will discourage fly-tipping. The general public all have a phone with a camera. Telling people that they have a responsibility to use them may be something the Government can do; they can certainly make it easier to report and get the reports back.
I do not think that we will get more of these problems every time we expand access to the countryside. They are there already in uncontrolled access. Having better control and understanding of the problems—integration, the odd use of cameras, not having better reporting infrastructures—is a better way to go about it.
On the final comment about a farmer resenting having to take time off because someone fell and broke their leg: if somebody falls in the street, would you stop and help them? I know I have done it a couple of times. Was it inconvenient? Yes. But come on—there are limits.
The amendment in the names of the noble Earls, Lord Caithness and Lord Shrewsbury, seeks to allow farmers to have compensation for damage caused by some public access. I have a lot of sympathy with this amendment. There have been many times when, walking footpaths, I have seen saplings damaged, litter strewn around and gates left open. The National Trust, during lambing season on its land, warns walkers to shut the gates and keep their dogs on the leash. Most do this, but occasionally some thoughtless person does not.
We heard in our debate on Tuesday from the noble Earl, Lord Devon, and other noble Lords, who gave some examples of damage done by those who treat the countryside carelessly, and the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, gave more details today about the litter left at Durdle Door and Bournemouth. In April 2019, the National Trust issued a plea for the public to follow the Countryside Code after a fire started by a barbecue tore through Marsden Moor, destroying blanket bog and vital habitats for ground-nesting birds. It is estimated that more than £200,000-worth of investment in restoring wildlife habitat in the area has been lost. Curlew and mountain hare populations are believed to have been hardest hit by the blaze, which covered more than 1,500 hectares. People can make all the difference in limiting this risk by just following simple measures included in the Countryside Code.
I envy the noble Earl, Lord Shrewsbury, living as he does so close to Dovedale, which I have visited on several occasions. Fly-tipping is a scourge and should be heavily penalised. Often it is down to sheer laziness on the part of the perpetrators. Clearing up after visitors and fly-tippers can cost landowners and farmers many thousands of pounds.
Some of your Lordships have advocated notices warning walkers to keep gates shut and respect the land they are walking on. However, on Tuesday, the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, felt that the countryside would be spoiled if it was, as he put it, “littered with signage”. Signage is not as intrusive as fire damage. It is much better to have signs inviting people to be more careful and not damage the countryside than to have it ruined by thoughtlessness.
The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, promotes compulsory education of a countryside code or a passport for young people. It is certainly true that the younger people are when we educate them into respecting the countryside, the better that will be. However, I would not make that compulsory. Those living in blocks of flats are unlikely to have been to the countryside; nor, sadly, are they ever likely to go. A much better way would be to promote and regenerate the Duke of Edinburgh’s scheme, which, due to a lack of youth service funding in many areas, no longer takes place. That is an excellent way to encourage young people into the countryside and into respect for it.
If damage, including littering, is done, landowners should be compensated and the perpetrators found, prosecuted and fined to help cover the cost of rectifying the damage they have caused. The legislation is there for this to happen now but it is not enforced, and it should be. ANPR could help with that, as the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, said. I have sympathy with all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate, but I fear that the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, probably did not help his case with some of the examples that he mentioned. Nevertheless, I support this amendment.
This amendment is to examine whether, or indeed how, a better balance can be struck between the interests of landowners and members of the public who wish to access the countryside.
The ability to access so much of Britain’s countryside is one of our great national traditions, and it plays an important role in leisure, education and our wider economy. I am indeed fortunate to live in a country within the wider UK where so much natural beauty is literally on my doorstep. From the Vale of Usk to the Brecon Beacons and the magnificence of the post-industrial south Wales valleys, the beauty and elegance of our countryside is a joy and treasure that must be protected and balanced for the preservation of our future generations. Indeed, as noble Lords have noted in the debate, rights and responsibilities must be evenly balanced. As a former leader of a local authority, when residents’ complaints came in, I was often quoted as saying that the council does not have a littering department; it is in fact people who litter their rural and urban environments and leave it to councils to clear it up afterwards.
The Countryside Code is a readily available and easily accessible document which aims to ensure that guests are respectful of the local community and to continue the preservation of the condition of the countryside. In addition, we welcome the fact that a revised Covid-19 code was published in an attempt to drive home the key messages at a time when more people may have been visiting the countryside. We hope this simpler messaging will be carried forward, even as the public health situation improves.
However, as with any form of ownership, owning land involves a balance of rights and responsibilities; rights of access are established, and the responsibilities and costs associated with them should therefore not come as a surprise to the landowner. As my noble friend Lord Rooker said, access is here to stay but it has to be managed, and serious fly-tipping must be followed up and traced back to where it came from. Indeed, the police should take a greater role in such enforcement. There may be some merit in exploring what more can be done to minimise extra costs on landowners, but that should not necessarily come at the expense of wider support for agriculture and horticulture.
My Lords, I believe that we all share the concerns of my noble friend Lord Caithness about the cost to landowners, local authorities and the National Trust and other bodies of littering and fly-tipping. Indeed, the noble Earl, Lord Devon, spoke powerfully about this issue on Tuesday. He was also very generous in not seeking to prevent others enjoying his land so long as no damage is done—a positive approach also promoted by the noble Lord, Lord Rooker. As we just heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, rights come with responsibilities. However, I point out that the provision of access to private land is still voluntary.
As we discussed on Tuesday, public access to the countryside provides a huge range of benefits, including improving physical and mental health and supporting local communities and economies. I understand that, at times, providing such public access can bring about some extra costs and risks to land managers. We will be working closely with stakeholders to understand the full costs of providing access, to make sure that the system works for land managers.
I thank my noble friend for raising this issue. It is important to make sure that the Countryside Code is as effective as possible in promoting responsible behaviour. As my noble friend the Minister said on Tuesday, and my noble friend Lord Cormack also mentioned, Natural England will soon start work on refreshing the Countryside Code to ensure that these messages are communicated effectively.
It is vital that young people are taught about the environment, and a number of noble Lords mentioned the importance of education. For that reason, related topics on the environment and the countryside are included throughout the geography and science GCSE curriculums. As part of that, the national curriculum programme of study recommends that pupils should use the local environment to support their learning in these areas.
A number of noble Lords mentioned enforcement, and a number of bits of legislation that cover littering are already in place. The main piece, which covers littering and refuse, is Part 4 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990. Crucially, Section 87 of that Act states that it is an offence for a person to drop, throw down, leave or deposit litter in a public place, and it carries a maximum fine of £2,500 and can be tried in a magistrates’ court. Furthermore, current by-law legislation allows local authorities to restrict and enforce the use of disposable barbecues in public parks and spaces. There are existing powers in legislation which can be used by authorities. I should point out that in our manifesto we committed to increasing the penalties for fly-tipping.
The Bill includes powers to provide financial assistance to promote better understanding of the environment. Better understanding of the environment could include, for example, help for land managers to communicate to visitors the types of messages which are in the Countryside Code. All these actions will help to ensure that the impact of public access is as positive as possible and that any risk of damage is kept to a minimum.
A number of noble Lords mentioned fly-tipping and the hazards it has created in the countryside. I, too, have observed hideous instances of fly-tipping in my small village where farm gateways are regularly used to deposit mattresses and fridges which then get burned out, so I share the concerns raised by my noble friends Lord Trenchard and Lord Shrewsbury and the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, but I do not agree that it is just laziness, as suggested by the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell. This is criminal behaviour which is addressed through the criminal courts.
It would be good to think that eventually, with education, we can change the culture of whoever it is, from the dog owner in Richmond Park to the people who at the end of lockdown enjoyed the beaches but left so much litter behind. With that emphasis on education and with proper enforcement, littering will become as anti-social as drink-driving has now become.
My Lords, I have received two requests from noble Lords to speak after the Minister.
My Lords, there is a price for increased access. I totally agree with what my noble friend Lord Rooker said. We cannot turn the clock back, and nor would we want to because we recognise how important it is for all of us physically and mentally to be able to get out and enjoy the countryside. However, that price has been paid up until now largely by farmers and landowners. It is considerable and it is clearly going to grow, which is why I hope that the provisions in the Bill will be used in ways which respect, perhaps more than some of the existing access arrangements have done, the people who own the land. I am told that it is only a tiny minority who cause trouble. Perhaps that is so for genuine walkers, but it also gives a legitimate right of access to other people whose purpose for being there is not legitimate. Near houses or through the farm, it is a perfect way to case the joint. You just have to speak to some of my neighbours down here about the vandalism that they suffered during the badger cull by people using access legitimately for illegitimate purposes.
I heard the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, speak about a litany of problems. Having had a very much-used part of the Chiltern Way going straight through my garden, I can endorse everything he said. I hope we fulfilled our obligations by repairing stiles and putting in kissing-gates and beside them gates that would open for anybody who was disabled and could not use the other two, but over the years we had gates left open, stock straying and dogs chasing and attacking sheep, which is a major problem nationwide. We had poaching. We had theft of fencing and from farm buildings and at one stage, until I learned that I was a philanthropist, I was offering a free take-away service from my farm diesel tank. When I sadly came to sell the smallholding on which I lived, I was told by all the agents that the footpath, which had by then been diverted from the front door through the fields, would still knock a substantial chunk off its value.
Sadly, I do not expect the Government to accept this amendment, but I hope that those who regularly request access give thought to who pays the price, not just in money but in loss of security and peace of mind.
My Lords, I declare my interest as a landowner and an arable farmer. I support my noble friend’s amendment in principle. However, I would like to distinguish direct damage caused to farmers’ livestock by, for instance, out-of-control dogs and leaving farm gates open. That is definitely connected to agriculture, but I note the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Addington, that the problem of dumping refuse and fly-tipping can be considered more as an environmental issue. They may be more suited to the forthcoming Environment Bill. Does the Minister have a view on that?