Committee (3rd Day)
Relevant document: 13th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee
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Clause 1: Secretary of State’s powers to give financial assistance
Debate on Amendment 29 resumed.
My Lords, for all amendments on which I may speak today, I declare my interest as on the register.
When we concluded last Thursday, we had heard some excellent speeches on nature-friendly farming and agroecology, and I will comment on the amendments in this group that speak about those subjects. They are not the same thing, as I recall my noble friend Lord Caithness saying in his speech. As an aside, he also mentioned an anecdotal indicator that highlights the severe decline in our biodiversity. Like him, I cannot recall when I last saw bugs or moths squashed on my car windscreen—at least 20 years ago. Where there are no bugs and beasties, birds will be in decline also.
I was interested that the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, kept referring to “nature-friendly farming” in her excellent speech. I have had the benefit of looking at examples of farms in the agroecology network and the Nature Friendly Farming Network and, while both do excellent work, it is important that we get it right if we build either of these terms into legislation.
I am grateful to my friend Professor Michael Winter of Exeter University, the UK-renowned expert on this subject, who is also on the board of Natural England. He has briefed me as follows: “There is a significant difference between the Nature Friendly Farming Network and Agro-Ecology. The Nature Friendly Farming Network is a broad grouping that includes organic and the Linking the Environment And Farming the LEAF/integrated approaches. Agro-ecology dates back to the 1980s and the term was coined by a Chilean scientist (now a professor at Berkeley) called Miguel A. Altieri. It is resolutely organic and anti-GM, and closely linked to the food sovereignty movement. In the UK, agroecology has been adopted by the Landworkers’ Alliance. There are many things to commend agro-ecology but it is not easily compatible with mainstream broadacre UK agriculture, and I am sceptical about the hegemony of organics and the wholesale opposition to mainstream food retailers.”
Professor Winter goes on to say: “I advocate three things in this space: 1) more policy attention and encouragement to agro-ecology as just one part of the tapestry of ensuring faming becomes more nature-friendly; 2) a pragmatic acceptance that most UK agriculture for the foreseeable future is not likely to radically divorce itself from the conventional food chain (as advocated by the Landworkers’ Alliance), and therefore that LEAF/integrated and nature-friendly approaches are needed within the mainstream food system; and 3) the need to encourage research that bridges the gap between the agro-ecology-based approach and the conventional Research Council/Sustainable Intensification approach.” In light of that, I am content that any amendments that mention nature-friendly farming are opposed to those that advocate agroecology, unless they are part of a nature-friendly farming system, which I passionately support.
Finally, I will comment on the speech on pesticides from the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, which has tempted me to say something. On Thursday, we heard the excellent speech from the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington. He described how new robotic technology now makes it possible for machines to travel down a field and place a tiny drop of pesticide on a single weed leaf and kill it. No pesticide touches the food crop or soil. I do not want Roundup sprayed by aerosol over everything—weeds, food, trees, humans and animals—but we must look again at some of these banned pesticides, if they can be applied in the future in the way described by the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington. We must not demonise all pesticides and herbicides. If someone invented a herbicide that killed Japanese knotweed or the fungus that destroys ash trees, would we not grab it with open arms, provided it did not harm humans or wildlife? So let us keep an open mind on pesticides and be prepared to change our mind if the technology changes.
My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register. I shall speak to Amendment 38, in the names of my noble friend Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, and the noble Lord, Lord Randall. This amendment adds implementation of comprehensive integrated pest and weed management measures, based on an agroecological approach, as an additional criterion for financial assistance.
Before I speak to Amendment 38, I shall say how grateful I am to the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, to whom the previous speaker referred. She made a compelling and valuable contribution last Thursday evening in support of her Amendment 259. She was powerfully supported by the noble Lord, Lord Patel, a co-signatory to the amendment. I have considerable sympathy for the principle of a periodic review of the safety of herbicides and pesticides.
Reverting to Amendment 38, I start by declaring that of course I understand that competition is valuable when it is fair and based on common rules and standards. I think that all noble Lords will agree that British agriculture has high standards of animal welfare, and that farmers and growers strive to protect the environment and our landscape. They rightly strive to produce healthy and safe food, not only for human consumption but also for animal consumption. I remind noble Lords that much of the grain produced in the UK goes toward animal feed, and that some of those animals are slaughtered for human consumption.
The experiences of foot and mouth and, prior to that, BSE vividly illustrate the consequences for individuals and this country when standards are allowed to slip. Our growers produce much-needed high-quality vegetables and fruit for human consumption and, to grow the crops, there has to be a system of pest, weed and disease control. This process should be
“based on an agroecological approach”,
in the words of Amendment 38. Unfortunately, when the transition period ends on 31 December this year, many of our likely new trading partners will not be inhibited from using methods and chemicals that are toxic and potentially damaging to human physical and mental health. These products are also potentially damaging to animal health. Some of them have carcinogenic side-effects. Even exercising rights of way by walking or running near crops sprayed with toxic sprays would be a danger to health from inhalation.
There are reports that British consumers face being exposed to toxic chemicals linked to serious health problems if they buy food imported from, for example, America, under the terms of a new trade agreement being negotiated with the USA. Experts say that supermarkets and restaurants will be flooded with cheap produce that has been sprayed with toxic pesticides which are currently banned in Britain and the European Union. I have seen a list published in a respected national newspaper of 70 pesticides that are widely used in the USA but banned in Britain and the EU.
A Toxic Trade study also shows how US farmers use vast quantities of pesticides compared to producers in Britain. If we allow these products to be imported into this country, the price will include a significantly increased risk to human health, which will be borne by the British consumer. It is my hope that Members from all parts of your Lordships’ House will come together to enact legislation in the Bill to ensure that the British consumer is protected from this threat. With the financial assistance provided for in this amendment and with other statutory provisions, we should go some way to keep our standards high and our food safe.
Finally, the Government have manoeuvred us out of the European Union on terms yet to be agreed. This leaves all businesses scandalously and perilously short of time to plan and prepare. The Government themselves have rightly been manoeuvred away from a reliance on the People’s Republic of China. We are not in a strong bargaining position. It is up to Parliament to ensure that the Government comply with the commitments they have repeatedly made to farmers, growers and the public to keep our food safe.
My Lords, I am so pleased that the question of good soils found its way into this edition of the Bill. We have Rebecca Pow MP to thank for that improvement to the earlier editions. As the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, said last Thursday, in a mere teaspoonful of good soil there should be over 1 billion bacteria and probably, among those, over 1 million different species of bacteria, of which we can identify clearly only about 10%. Nevertheless, it is the bacteria that, with the help of water and sunshine, produce our crops and food. We ignore their health at our peril, so I support all the amendments on maintaining healthy soils and the continuous monitoring of the soils of our nation.
I support the principle of Amendment 117, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, and others, on the protection of meadows and other semi-natural grasslands. Meadows and semi-natural grasslands are very important habitats, first because of the amazing variety of flowers that exist there, especially rare orchids and other wildflowers, some of which have wonderful names—such as chalk milkwort, lady’s bedstraw, cuckoo flower, common toadflax, et cetera. These meadows and ancient grasslands also hold a wide diversity of fauna—rare moths, butterflies, beetles, crickets and grasshoppers—which in turn attract a large variety of birds trying to eat them. All this biodiversity specialness is not to underplay the important historical significance of these meadows and semi-natural grasslands.
I have already declared my interest as chair of the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology. Some noble Lords may have noticed, last week, that our satellite survey indicated that 8,000 square kilometres of meadows and other grasslands have been lost from Britain’s farms and public land over the last 25 years. That is about the size of Cornwall. When you consider that the previous statistic available was that we had lost over 90% of our ancient meadows and grasslands since World War II, it is really important to keep the ones we still have.
My only comment on the amendment is that, while I am sure the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, knows a semi-natural grassland when she sees one, I am not sure that all farmers and landowners necessarily do, particularly if they have just bought the land in question and it is midwinter, when it might not be so obvious what a jewel they have. It would be best if local councils and/or Natural England designated all such meadows and semi-natural grasslands where they have not already done so—a lot of them are, of course, already registered—to make it clear to all and sundry what incredibly valuable heirlooms these places really are.
My Lords, having had the opportunity to read last Thursday’s part debate, I cast my short remarks in general terms. When I read what was said on that occasion, I was reminded of what my father said to me many years ago: real farming—that is, responsible farming—is farming with the grain of nature, because farming, agriculture and forestry are about cropping, not quarrying. This is why soil fertility matters, whether impoverishing the soil or treating it in such a hard way that the topsoil might blow away, as I understand has happened in parts of the Fens.
It is not as though some help, of an appropriate sort, cannot be applied. After all, there is a difference between a sensible and responsible application of fertilisers and certain pesticides to unlock the soil’s potential and simply using the earth as a kind of binding agent—a chemical mixture from which crops are derived. The same general approach applies to animals. I have considerable sympathy with proponents of organic farming, but if you have animals there are occasions when you simply have to use antibiotics, as we do on my farm.
All this shows that there is an interconnectedness in good farming practice, which brings us to questions of agroecology and agroforestry. Again, it is all a matter of integrating land uses and techniques, which is why agroecology is so important. Different uses on the farm need to complement each other in an ecologically and economically sustainable balance. I cannot see that there is any alternative but to have a degree of bureaucracy, because every farm is different.
In particular, I will touch on the espousal of agroforestry by the noble Baroness, Lady Young. It is important that we are clear, in this wider context, about the difference between trees, woods and forests. In particular, trees, copses and belts are important parts of farms, while forestry and large woods are something slightly different. Of course, the noble Baroness is an enthusiast for wood pasture. That is a very tricky one, because once you introduce stock, unless it is at a very low density, the trees get destroyed. In the north of England, where I come from, wood pasture has been very badly damaged by the introduction of livestock. It will cost a considerable amount of money to reinstate it, which is not to say that that is not the right thing to do.
All this is about human intervention in the workings of nature. If we do not run with nature’s grain, we shall destroy our countryside and degrade its products, which, as a number of noble Lords have said, are what we eat. That is why we must treat these things with such care. I suspect that the golden rule is that we must not be greedy. Of course, that includes the state, which must recognise that all of a farm’s outputs, as the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, commented last week, are important in whatever form they come.
My Lords, I draw attention to my registered interests in agricultural matters and my membership of the Farmers’ Union of Wales. I give enthusiastic support to Amendment 259 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, to which I have added my name. I pay tribute to the excellent work that she has undertaken on these matters, as indeed has the noble Lord, Lord Patel, who spoke with similar professional authority earlier in this debate last week.
My support for the amendment arises for three reasons. The first relates to the very real dangers of disabilities being triggered by exposure to chemicals among children, including babies in the womb. As an MP, I served for 11 years as vice-chair of the All-Party Group for Disability, working closely with the redoubtable Jack Ashley on these issues, not least regarding thalidomide. That experience taught me that we must always be guided by the precautionary principle. If there is any doubt whatever about possible ill effects of herbicides and pesticides, they should be banned unless and until it is proven beyond doubt that they are safe, not only for human beings, but for animals.
In this context, I respectfully disagree fundamentally with the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, the last speaker in this debate on Thursday evening. The break has allowed me to study his precise words. He said that leaving the European Union gives us the opportunity to develop our own food standards, avoiding the
“unnecessary and costly burdens on farmers”
because of EU regulations,
“which rely too much on the precautionary principle”.—[Official Report, 9/7/20; cols. 1324.]
I fundamentally disagree with this approach and invite the Minister to indicate whether the Government will distance themselves from the noble Viscount’s remarks.
My views are coloured not just by my involvement with disabled children. I have previously referred in the House to my late cousin, Owen Wigley, a Minnesota farmer who died from a condition that his family are convinced was triggered by exposure to the weedkiller Roundup, which is the subject of a raft of court cases in the United States. I have seen the devastating impact on the natural environment in my home area, where use of such chemicals in too strong a mix, which had not been adequately dose controlled, as the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, mentioned, had the effect of wiping out all plant life in a field for a whole season, leaving it unusable for agricultural purposes. My wife also had a relative, a farmer in Wales, whose close family was convinced that his health suffered enormously from the effect of such chemicals in sheep dips. When I was an MP, I had a constituent whose family were convinced was severely disabled from exposure to such sheep-dipping chemicals.
Thirdly, I add my voice in support of the need to safeguard the process of pollination. The vital contribution of bees and other pollinators to our wildlife is fundamental to the survival of our natural environment and, in turn, humanity itself. This amendment provides an opportunity to place a responsibility on all engaged in the production of food to have a proactive awareness of these dangers at the forefront of their minds, and for the living world to be protected from such dire consequences.
If we are, rightly, to place such responsibilities on our food producers in these islands, they must also, most assuredly, be criteria against which the standards of all imported food should be measured. Products that fail to meet the required standard should be denied access to UK markets. I was so glad to hear the noble Lord, Lord Burnett, highlight this. I urge the Government to accept Amendment 259.
My Lords, a number of amendments before the Committee refer to nature-friendly farming in general. Others refer to specific activities within nature-friendly farming. While each of us may know what we mean by that, and the kind of schemes that we would favour, a comprehensive definition of what it means is more challenging. Amendment 96 certainly makes a good attempt to define “nature-friendly”; I support it, and the remarks made by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness. However, there are clearly different views, with some favouring low-input farming, some talking about agroecology and some about organic farming. Others favour conventional, or intensive, farming, sometimes combined with a precision approach and with generous field margins and set-aside schemes. These would create habitats for particular animal, bird or plant species and could, therefore, also qualify as nature friendly.
Like other noble Lords, I was struck by the figures quoted by the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, showing that the UK seems to be moving away from organic farming, in the opposite direction to many of our European neighbours. What is the Government’s view of this trend? Do they want our organic sector to expand and, if so, by how much? Perhaps, as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, pointed out, soil quality is one of the key aspects to take into account in deciding what nature-friendly farming is. Do the Government agree that monitoring soil quality, then acting on those findings, needs to be done? Do the Government have their own definition of nature-friendly farming, or will they limit themselves to funding schemes judged to be nature friendly or, as has just been said, working with the grain of nature.
I turn, finally, to the main point on which I would like assurance. Will the Government commit to taking a regionally sensitive approach in England to supporting eligible projects and schemes under the Bill? The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, spoke about the distinctiveness of the natural environment in his part of the north of England. He mentioned the curlew, a bird which is the symbol of Northumberland National Park. I declare a non-financial interest as president of the Northumberland National Park Foundation. I am glad to tell the noble Lord that, during lockdown, I have seen many curlews in the river estuary in my locality. I hope that the Government will agree that working with regional and local wildlife trusts and other environmental organisations, as well as with farmers in the different regions and localities, will be important in evaluating schemes and identifying which species of animal, bird and plant life are under threat in particular areas.
To conclude, I ask the Government to ensure that regional diversity is built in to their overall policy of ensuring that agricultural and environmental policies work hand in hand.
My Lords, I speak in favour of Amendment 29 and the other pro-nature, pro-ecology amendments in this group, in support of diversity and of some of our lost agricultural traditions. I will illustrate this with a story about cheese. On the Welbeck estate in north Nottinghamshire, Stilton is being made in the traditional way, with unpasteurised milk. It is a marvellous product and that is the only place in the country that does it. Yet Defra’s rules do not allow the traditional, real Stilton to be called “Stilton”. It has to be marketed under the name Stichelton. It is a wonderful cheese, and a high-quality product made using the traditional way of doing things, but it is not able to use a name because of our own rules. I hope that this example is not an illustration of where things might go, having left the European Union. The freedom to some of the pro-ecology, pro-nature traditions is one way we can have a diverse agriculture.
One of the great weaknesses of the common agricultural policy was the way it pressured for every tomato to look like every other one; for every carrot to be perfectly shaped; for every strawberry to be the same size and taste, rather than a diversity and variety of products. That is the opportunity in front of us, and that is why these amendments, and the spirit behind them, are so important. We should be using the new technologies of robotics and artificial intelligence in our agriculture, but we should be doing so in a way that cultivates that nature and ecology, not the way that China is going, with GM foods and everything looking and tasting the same. It is a big choice that faces us over the next five years. These amendments would assist in pushing the Government towards making our country’s agriculture properly self-reliant for food.
My Lords, the Committee is resuming last Thursday’s debate after a lapse of four days, so it is difficult to remember exactly what noble Lords said without referring to Hansard. We are still on Clause 1 of the Bill, but are debating the main and important theme of environmental sustainability. If we do not get this right, the country will be paying the price, in a variety of ways, for decades to come. There are amendments about agroecology, agroforestry systems, organic and ecologically sustainable systems, pesticides, fertilisers and nature-friendly farming. This is a wide range of topics, but they are ones which Peers in this virtual and physical Chamber quite rightly feel strongly about.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, and the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, for adding their names to my Amendments 38 and 120. The noble Baronesses, Lady Finlay of Llandaff and Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, have also put down amendments about pest control. The new approach of public money for public goods is a huge opportunity to support farmers who adopt and maintain non-chemical alternatives to pesticides. It is crucial that this approach is not undermined by a catch-all clause providing payments for productivity. Defra’s Secretary of State believes that the development and uptake of integrated pest management—IPM—is a crucial mechanism for ensuring that the objectives outlined in the Agriculture Bill and the 25-year environment plan are delivered.
Amendments 38, 120 and 259 ensure that farmers are rewarded for adopting proper IPM techniques, based on the agroecology approach to farming, coupled with a review of the national food strategy.
At Second Reading, I referred to the importance of properly regulated pesticides. Over the years, we have seen the removal from the market of various herbicides and pesticides because of their side-effects on humans. However, it often takes a very long campaign before action is taken. The banning of organophosphate sheep dips springs to mind. Many years ago, a colleague said to me that we should pay more attention to the effects of pesticides on humans than herbicides, as human physiology is much closer to that of insects than of plants. My noble friend Lord Burnett has spoken of the dangers of pesticides, and of using common rules and standards. Agroecology must be the standard. He also warned about the import from America of foods sprayed with pesticides.
The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, supported by the noble Lord, Lord Patel, listed an enormous number of side-effects that exposure to pesticides can cause. It is safer for all if we approach pesticides with caution, rather than rushing headlong into their use in order to increase the productivity of a crop. I am grateful for the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Wigley. I support the precautionary principle and acknowledge the impact of pesticides on disabilities.
Productivity is, of course, important. Farmers need to make a decent living from the land, but not at the expense of those who suffer health problems as a result of pesticide spraying. However, the might of the chemical producers often overrides the concerns of the ordinary man and woman displaying health problems. When will the Government produce a target for the uptake of the IPM, which is supported by the Secretary of State?
I fully support all the amendments in this group. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, my noble friend Lord Teverson and the noble Baronesses, Lady Young of Old Scone and Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, have stressed the importance of agroecology. So often, the way the land is farmed leads to degeneration of the quality of the soil, and thus the quality of the crops grown. The noble Lord, Lord Cameron, spoke knowledgeably of the importance of the upkeep of grassland and the species that inhabit it, and the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, also supported agroecology and running with nature’s grain. The noble Earls, Lord Caithness and Lord Dundee, the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, and others have pressed the case for the inclusion of afforestation and organic farming. The noble Duke gave stark statistics on how far behind the UK is lagging on its organic farming programme. I know the Minister, as a farmer, has a close interest in these matters and I look forward to hearing a positive response.
My Lords, I declare an interest through my involvement with the Rothamsted agricultural research institute. We have covered a wide range of issues in this group and I thank all noble Lords who contributed to the debate last week and again today. The amendments explore in more detail what we will need to deliver environmentally sustainable agriculture. We have had reference to nature-friendly farming, to agroecological systems, to agroforestry, to organically and ecologically sustainable systems, to the improved nutrient content of crops, to integrated pest management and to the importance of soil health. I agree with all those concepts, but also with my noble friend Lady Quin that we need to be clear about the definitions of these phrases when we use them.
All these systems have detailed research behind them, which reinforces the evidence that harnessing nature can improve farm outcomes, as well as enhancing the environment. Many noble Lords will have seen at first hand the positive impact on farmland productivity that can occur when these techniques are embraced. At the same time, we know that nature-based measures to reduce emissions can make a substantial contribution to tackling climate change while preserving or restoring habitats. We agree that natural ecological processes and agroforestry techniques should lie at the heart of the Bill. When adopted on a whole-farm approach, they will reduce the use of agrochemicals, encourage biodiversity, improve soil health, recycle nutrients, energy and waste and generally create more diverse, resilient and productive agroecosystems.
Last year, the RSA Food, Farming and Countryside Commission report set out the case for bringing agroecology systems out of the shadows and into the mainstream of farming practice. It argued that farmers need to be helped to make that transition and recommended a 10-year programme to provide more research, training and capital grants to make this a reality. This would be an excellent use of the financial assistance in the Bill.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, who talked about the need for a long-term programme of soil monitoring. We face a fundamental eradication of soil fertility that will be difficult to reverse. Our APPG on science in agriculture had an excellent evidence session last year on the numerous research projects taking place on this issue, but what we really need is to bring the evidence together in one place. While I am on the subject, will the Minister update us on the work of the Sustainable Soils Alliance, launched by Michael Gove, that was meant to do just that?
The noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, specifically mentioned the transition to organic farming. I agree that this also has an important role to play. Organic farms have 50% more wildlife than conventionally farmed land and healthier soils, with a 44% higher capacity to store long-term soil carbon. Clearly, if the soil is more fertile, it increases productivity, so organic farming can make a real difference to biodiversity while sustaining food production.
The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and others talked about agroforestry. We agree that this system of planting has huge benefits over traditional forestry techniques. We know that the pressure is on to plant more trees. The Committee on Climate Change has set a target of between 30,000 and 50,000 hectares of new planting a year, but so far the Government have fallen well short of that target. It is important that trees are planted in a way that is sympathetic to the countryside and to the environment, rather than the monoculture plantations we have seen in the past. Agroforestry supplies the answer to this. Mixed plantings of trees and shrubs grown around crops can reduce erosion, increase biodiversity and create complex habitats, so we very much hope that financial assistance will be available to help farmers to create this mixed planting economy.
Finally, the amendments in the name of noble Baronesses, Lady Bennett and Lady Finlay, highlight the need to reduce the use of herbicides and pesticides. The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, in particular, highlighted the potentially damaging impacts of pesticides on health, and recommended looking at the evidence and producing an annual report. These views were echoed powerfully by the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, and the very moving examples he gave. The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, also rightly raised the need to avoid contaminated products being imported into this country. We agree with these objectives and have our own amendments, Amendment 226 on pesticides and Amendment 173 calling for a national food plan that addresses the problem of pesticide residues. I hope that the debates on these amendments will enable us to set out our position in more detail.
This has been a good discussion and I hope the Minister has heard the collective call for a funding priority for nature-based ecological farming. I am sure we will start to narrow down our priorities in this regard as we continue to consider the Bill, but in the meantime I look forward to her response.
I thank my noble friend Lord Lucas for his Amendments 29 and 217, with which I will also discuss Amendment 224 in the name of my noble friend Lord Caithness. Soil is indeed one of our greatest natural assets and the Government are committed to having sustainably managed soils by 2030, as set out in the 25-year environment plan. Providing financial incentives for protecting and improving the quality of soil will help to protect and improve all the properties that contribute to healthy soil. The 25-year environment plan sets out the Government’s ambition to have sustainably managed soils by 2030. A healthy soils indicator is being developed as part of a framework of indicators under the plan.
My noble friend Lord Caithness asked about spending commitments in the plan. This spend has been allocated to developing a robust and informative soil health indicator and monitoring scheme, and the Government are currently in the process of confirming actions for their work programme to protect and improve soil quality. The Government will develop a definition of soil health with stakeholders. To ensure that it captures the complete picture of soil health, this definition will be a balance of biological, chemical and physical characteristics, and could therefore include characteristics that help define the biodiverse nature of the soil, such as earthworms and fungi, as mentioned by my noble friend Lord Lucas.
To help achieve this target, the Government are considering the development of a soil monitoring scheme informed by natural capital approaches. As such, this scheme will recognise the relationships between soil properties and the ecosystem services that soil provides, such as clean water and carbon storage. A new soil monitoring scheme would provide a baseline national-scale picture of the state of our soils. This will enable the Government to quantify targets for improvements and then monitor progress towards these targets. These metrics could directly feed into ELM to incentivise better management approaches. Maintaining the metrics of measure across national and localised schemes will enable shared data collection, storage and analysis to further inform impacts of management actions.
There are a number of key vehicles through which the Government are working to address soil quality. These include: this Bill, which will provide financial assistance for the protection and improvement of soils; the Environment Bill, which will allow a future soils target to be set; the 25-year environment plan, through which a soil indicator is being developed; and the new ELM scheme, which could act as a lever for incentivising sustainable soil practices. Protecting and improving our soils will involve a wide variety of actions, reflecting the wide diversity in soil quality, soil types and land uses in England. This would include actions to protect our best grade 1 and 2 lands as well as actions to improve the poorer-quality grade land—in the words of the father of the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, farming within the grain of nature, cropping not quarrying.
I turn to Amendments 39 and 96 from my noble friend Lord Caithness, Amendments 40, 42, 84 and 97 from the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, Amendment 41 from my noble friend Lord Dundee and Amendment 48 from the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington.
My noble friend Lord Caithness asked about ponds. Farmers have a range of long-standing permitted development rights for agricultural purposes. Where works are not for agricultural purposes, an application for planning permission may be required and applicants may wish to speak to their local planning authority.
The Government are proud of their intention to support sustainable farming as part of their new agricultural policy. Tier 1 of ELM in particular will focus on encouraging sustainable farming, as set out in the ELM discussion document published in February. Actions under this tier could include actions around: nutrient, pest, soil, or livestock management; field margins or cover; and water storage and/or use. Clause 1(1) has been drafted in such a way that it already allows the Government to support “nature-friendly farming” and farming in a way that will protect and benefit the environment. Under it, the Government can support afforestation, agroforestry and other agroecological farming methods.
A number of noble Lords mentioned definitions, including the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, and my noble friend Lord Blencathra. I have these definitions somewhere in my notes; I will come back to that point in a moment.
Land managers who afforest parts of their land or adopt environmentally sustainable farming techniques such as agroforestry and agroecology, will be in a good position to benefit from ELM. The Government recognise that meeting their commitment to net-zero emissions by 2050 requires a step change in woodland creation. That is why they have committed to increase tree planting across the UK to 30,000 hectares per year by 2025, in line with the annual rate recommended by the Committee on Climate Change in 2019 to help meet the net-zero target.
I turn now to Amendments 38 and 120 from the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville. Applying agroecological approaches to farming, including integrated pest and weed management measures, can help to deliver important environmental benefits. This is recognised in the Government’s National Action Plan for the Sustainable use of Pesticides, which is currently being reviewed. In answer to the question from the noble Baroness, this is the next step in the integrated pest management plan. We will consult on the draft plan later this year. I hope that this may also allay some of the fears and concerns expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Burnett.
As part of this, the Government are considering the extent to which targets may have a role to play in supporting the delivery of integrated pest management. Clause 1(1)(a) could include support for integrated pest and weed management. Given its environmental credentials, those who apply integrated pest and weed management and other agroecological farming techniques will be very well placed to benefit from ELM.
Turning to Amendment 259, I reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, that the assessment and monitoring of pesticides proposed by the amendment are already carried out and the results are published. A number of other noble Lords spoke powerfully on this subject, including the noble Lords, Lord Patel and Lord Burnett, my noble friend Lord Blencathra, and none more powerfully and with greater authority than the noble Lord, Lord Wigley.
The Government’s 25-year environment plan emphasises integrated pest management. This means that sustainable biological, physical and other non-chemical methods are preferred to pesticides. Any pesticides applied should have the least effects on human health and the environment. This will help to protect people and reduce the impacts of pesticides. It will also help farmers combat pest resistance and support agricultural productivity.
Pesticides are already strictly regulated on the basis of their effects on human health and the environment. Advice on significant scientific issues is sought from the UK Expert Committee on Pesticides. A programme to monitor pesticide residues in food is overseen by the Expert Committee on Pesticide Residues in Food. Both expert committees already publish an annual report and other information.
Turning to Amendment 49 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, Clause 31 will enable the Government to regulate a wider range of materials as fertilisers, particularly new and innovative types of material such as soil conditioners, bio-stimulants and organic fertilisers. This will enable the marketing of a range of alternatives to traditional mineral-based fertilisers. Defra continues to work with the industry to ensure that nutrient management recommendations do not result in losses to the environment, while providing balanced nutrition for plants.
Defra provides incentives to farmers through the Countryside Stewardship scheme to reduce nutrient inputs in specific cases. Where IPM or reduced-nutrient inputs can deliver public goods, farmers may be eligible for financial assistance through the environmental land management scheme. The agricultural research and development innovation scheme, to be introduced from 2022, will enable research into areas such as improving the nutritional output of crops and reducing pesticide use. The Government can already fund agricultural research through existing powers such as those in the Science and Technology Act 1965.
Amendment 117 from the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, raises similar issues in relation to meadows and was spoken to most powerfully by the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington. In addition to the points I have already covered, I note that there is already in place a regulatory protection regime for areas of land that are two hectares or over through the Environmental Impact Assessment (Agriculture) (England) (No. 2) Regulations 2006, the Environmental Impact Assessment (Agriculture) (England) (No. 2) (Amendment) Regulations 2017 and the Environmental Impact Assessment (Forestry) (England and Wales) Regulations 1999. These provide protection for unimproved and semi-natural grassland and other wildlife-rich habitats. Semi-natural land includes priority habitats, heritage or archaeological features, or protected landscapes. It is usually land that has not been intensively farmed, such as unimproved grassland or lowland heath.
The Government’s intentions are very much in accordance with those of my noble friend Lord Lucas. I hope that he will withdraw his amendment.
I have received a request to speak after the Minister from the noble Lord, Lord Teverson.
I thank the Minister very much for her positive reaction to agroecology and agroforestry. However, one of the main themes of both those practices is whole-farm management. I am concerned that, under tier 1 of ELMS, there is the possibility of a number of environmentally friendly actions taking place but that this not being reflected in a whole-farm environment. Will Defra and the Government, particularly when they award tier 1 ELM schemes, look for a whole-farm approach rather than a bits-and-pieces application of environmentally friendly measures? That is my key concern. Whole-farm management has been a major theme all around the House. Would the ELM scheme mean that it would be applied across all the measures taken?
I thank the noble Lord for his question about whole-farm management. The ELM schemes are very much in trial stage; nothing has been ruled out or in. That will become clearer over the coming months.
I shall also take this opportunity to give the definition of agroecology that I was looking for earlier and floundering. Agroecology means different things to different people, but in this Bill it is based on applying ecological concepts and principles to optimise interactions between plants, animals, humans and the environment, while taking into consideration the social aspects that need to be addressed for a sustainable and fair food system.
I now call the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, who I understand also has a question.
My Lords, I am extremely grateful to my noble friend for her answer, which was very encouraging. However, on my specific amendments, will she confirm so that it is clearly on the record that the Government consider soil, for the purposes of this Bill, to include all that lives within it? If not now, can my noble friend write to me to say how the soil survey is intended to be set up and funded?
I would be delighted to write to the noble Lord on the latter matter. On his former point, I believe that my speech actually gave the reassurance that it includes all matters within the soil.
I am immensely grateful for the response given by my noble friends and I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 29 withdrawn.
Amendments 30 to 34 not moved.
35: Clause 1, page 2, line 25, at end insert—
“( ) protecting or improving the food security of citizens and access to food that promotes good health and wellbeing.”
My Lords, I will also speak to Amendment 70. I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb and Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, and the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, for their support for Amendment 35. I also thank the two noble Baronesses, as well as my noble friend Lord Caithness, for their support of Amendment 70.
Amendment 35 seeks to add a further subsection to Clause 1(1) to ensure that
“protecting or improving the food security of citizens and access to food that promotes good health and wellbeing”
will qualify for financial assistance. The purpose of the amendment is to put public interest in food security front and centre in the Bill. While I accept that other parts of the Bill provide a requirement on the Government to report on food security and to have regard to food production in the use of their powers under Clause 1 on financial assistance, there is nothing in the Bill that specifically addresses the need to focus attention on matters relating to food security.
This is an issue of great importance to all citizens. At a time when we have seen our food system come under huge pressure as a result of the impact of Covid-19 and the government response to its spread, it is remarkable that the Government do not see the need for greater focus on this most important concern of the British public. It is not simply about driving self-sufficiency, which has fallen to about 60%; it is also about the fact that production of food from our own resources is an important part of food security. Indeed, the Government’s own food policy tsar, Henry Dimbleby, has highlighted the need for greater attention to be given to this important policy area. It is a matter of regret that we have not, and will not, have sight of his much-anticipated report at the time that the Bill is adopted in this place. With more than 1 million people having signed a petition seeking greater support for food standards, we in this place must be in step with the British people, ensuring that we share their concerns on what is given proper pre-eminence in the important legislation before the Committee today.
The implications of Covid-19 have been severe, and I pay tribute once again to our farmers and food producers for ensuring food production and a constant food supply. I call on the Government to consider how we can facilitate a more resilient, robust and flexible food system and put it into our agricultural policy in the future. Specific financial assistance might be required to achieve that through the way in which primary food producers are supported. Although the Minister might argue, in summing up this little debate, that this does not fit in with the general ethos of public payment for public good, and that food is an item subject to trade and a marketplace—therefore arguably commercial —issues around food security can be considered within the ambit of public goods, particularly as it contributes to the health and well-being of the nation’s citizens.
Food security is rightly something that the Government should address in any agricultural policy and any enabling Bill, such as the one before us today. There are at least three levels of food security. The first is household security, ensuring a regular and safe supply of good-quality food. That was clearly disrupted during the lockdown period, when we saw empty shelves and queueing at stores. I would also link this to reducing food poverty and having less reliance on food banks.
Secondly, over the last 30 years, we have seen three incidences of animal disease or animal fraud: BSE, foot and mouth disease and “horsegate”, which could have been so much worse and, indeed, could have been a food scare. Now we have Covid-19. Then there is geopolitics, which looks at the internal and external shocks—internal such as Covid-19, and external such as the flooding that we saw last winter and earlier this year. We have never faced a time of greater instability than at the moment: leaving our traditional partners in the EU trading bloc and looking to trade on World Trade Organization terms, with the current instability in the World Trade Organization, its dispute mechanism in disarray, and the United States having blocked judicial appointments. Then there is the potential closure of borders, owing to any hostility or crises that might arise in other parts of the world. I commend Amendment 35 and hope that it might attract the support of the House and the Minister.
I also lend my support to Amendment 36, which goes to the heart of the Bill, supporting healthy food farmed in an environmentally sustainable way.
Amendment 70 seeks to remove the words
“have regard to the need to”
and reinforces the idea that Clause 1(4) must encourage the production of food by producers in England rather than simply having “regard to”. With these few remarks, I beg to move.
My Lords, it is a pleasure finally to get to this group after so many hours of waiting. I commend the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering. Again, I say what a pleasure it is to follow her; her contributions are always extremely valuable. Having signed a lot of her amendments, I am afraid that I shall keep saying that. I also commend my noble friend Lady Bennett of Manor Castle and her Amendment 47. In fact, I support too many of the amendments in this group to list them all. It is a fantastic group, which strikes at the heart of what the Government should be aiming for with their food policy: supporting high-quality, healthy, nutritious food, grown as close to the consumer as possible.
When I chaired London Food, an initiative of the then mayor Ken Livingstone, I put together a report on how to make food sustainable for a huge conglomeration of cities and large towns. The single most important factor was that food should be local. I love organic food, but local food is the way forward if you want to be truly sustainable, so that food does not move around too much and stays nutritious. We can eat it very quickly after cooking. These amendments recognise the fundamental link between the food we put into our bodies and our resulting health. Too much of our food system remains tied to the World War era mindset of processing as much high-calorie food as possible to meet the most basic nutritional needs of the population. The outcome has been obesity, diabetes and food-related ill health. Good food policy should have health and nutrition as its core principle.
Sadly, I have not signed Amendment 53 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, or Amendment 63, in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Dundee. I did not spot them in time, but they are wonderful amendments. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response on what the Government plan to do to support urban and community food-growing, which the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, has already mentioned in previous amendments.
Finally, I turn to my Amendment 46, which would tie public procurement into the Bill. The enormous buying power of the public sector is often overlooked, but it is essential for the transition to a sustainable and ecologically friendly world. Too much procurement goes to the lowest-cost bidder without consideration of social and environmental impacts. My amendment hopes to prompt the Minister to address public procurement and its role in supporting a better food system for the UK.
My Lords, I thank the previous speaker for her support of my Amendment 53. I do not want to say much about it, but I wonder whether the Government can comment on the way in which new technologies are producing food, such as protein in laboratories and the concept of vertical gardens and vertical market gardens in urban areas. How do they fit into their general food strategy?
I want to support pretty much everything that the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, said in introducing this group. It is extremely important. I have one minor quibble: she said we need less reliance on food banks. I always have to pinch myself when I come across a food bank, and I come across them fairly frequently nowadays. Why do we have to have food banks? Food banks are an indication that there is something very sadly wrongly with the society and the economy in which we live. Although at one level they are an excellent example of community endeavour and of people coming together to meet a need, we ought not to be looking for less reliance on food banks; we ought to be looking to abolish them because nobody needs any longer to go and get free food because they and their families cannot afford to eat.
I added my name to Amendment 63, tabled by the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, about “urban and peri-urban areas”. I have mentioned urban areas; I had not really come across the phrase “peri-urban areas” before, until I realised that I probably live in a peri-urban area. There are urban buildings on the very edge of the fields. We are talking about the areas surrounding towns, cities and urban agglomerations—earlier in this Committee, I spoke briefly about this on Amendment 79, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher.
What I want to do briefly now is to mention the importance of the range of small-scale enterprises that go under the name of allotments. A lot of allotments are hobby allotments, but they are still very important as part of a food strategy because people are growing their own food which, by definition, is what they want and it is usually organic and nutritious. Some allotments are community enterprises and some are semi-commercial enterprises—small market gardens and that kind of thing. It seems to me that there is huge scope for the expansion and extension of this kind of thing in peri-urban areas, as the noble Earl describes them.
I should perhaps declare an interest as a councillor in the Waterside ward of Colne because I want to mention something that happened there. Much of Waterside ward is an areas of closely packed terraced streets which are nevertheless on the edge of the countryside. They are on the edge of the peri-urban area because we have old mill towns that never expanded —particularly between the wars because the towns were shrinking not expanding. In that area, we have several community-based allotments, including a community land trust, an allotment used by a group catering for people with special needs and one I am particularly proud of as, as a councillor, I was fairly responsible for the council acquiring land in the 2000s and laying them out for new allotments using money from what eventually became the ill-fated housing market renewal scheme, but which nevertheless provided us with very useful funding that we could use for that purpose.
We need a lot more. In most areas the provision of allotments is a responsibility of town and parish councils. The problem they have in expanding is getting the money to acquire land and lay out the infrastructure of an allotment, such as dividing it up, providing the fencing and perhaps a water supply and so on. By the structure of the way they work, parish and town councils do not get direct funding from the Government in a general sort of way. They do not get local council support grants. However, there is a huge need for an expansion of mini market garden community allotment and traditional allotment provision, particularly in the areas around towns where not only can they provide very useful growing facilities for people but they can solve some of the problems of what is quite often a tatty zone around some urban areas.
I do not think it is his department, but I ask the Minister to go back and see whether in what the Government are doing under their proposals to regenerate towns, in particular left-behind areas such as the old industrial areas, specific funding for allotments could be given a great deal more priority.
My Lords, I was very pleased to hear about the success of the excellent allotment scheme mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves. I shall speak to Amendments 56, 60 and 69, which are tabled in my name. I was one of the 20 or so noble Lords who were excluded from Second Reading, and while my Whip courteously gave me an explanation of the causes—the combination of Covid-19 and technology factors—I had hoped for some sort of apology from someone on the Front Bench to the 20 or so of us, but as far as I am aware none has been made. Such exclusion from Second Reading is a not a good precedent.
I declare my interests as a landowner and arable farmer. These amendments support domestic agriculture to ensure that food security and the stability of food supply are included in the purposes to which financial assistance can be directed under Clause 1. It is an important requirement for any Government to serve the interests of their people by investing in domestic food production to ensure stability and security in the provision of a safe and affordable domestic supply of food, as the quantity and quality of imports cannot always be guaranteed. Today’s FT points out that the UK is only a little over 50% self-sufficient in food and that, of the balance, four-fifths comes from the EU. Should there be any disruption by way of port delays, it will be serious.
The coronavirus crisis has shown how important it is to have a domestic supply of food. The view of farmers as food producers has never resonated more with the public than at this time, with the need to keep our shelves stocked the highest of priorities. I welcome the fact that the Government recognised that food production role by granting farmers key worker status during the countrywide lockdown, although the future of domestic fruit and vegetable supply may not be guaranteed if there are not enough workers to pick them. Given the increased significance of food security in the UK, the first amendment in particular would enable the Government to give financial assistance for the explicit purpose of supporting the domestic production of food.
In developing new forms of financial assistance, the Bill obliges the Government to,
“have regard to the need to encourage the production of food by producers in England and its production by them in an environmentally sustainable way.”
This is a welcome advance from the first Agriculture Bill, which, extraordinarily, did not mention food at all. While in the Bill “have regard to” provides a robust starting point and an ongoing reference point during the development of schemes such as the environmental land management scheme, the Government should be clearer about how exactly they see this provision influencing government policy in practice. It would be strengthened by an explicit requirement that any financial assistance scheme is designed to encourage the sustainable production of food by producers in England. I do not know whether the ELM scheme will do that.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Northbrook. I second his comments about the importance of food security and its absence from the Bill at present. It is also a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering. I commend Amendment 35 in her name for its focus on food security. One of the major roles of the Government must be to ensure that people can eat. I also commend Amendments 46 and 70, which are supported by my noble friend Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb.
I shall speak chiefly to Amendment 47, in my name, which my noble friend Lady Jones, the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, and the noble Lord, Lord Judd, have kindly backed. I am also grateful that in our discussions last week, the noble Baronesses, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville and Lady Jones of Whitchurch, commenting on the linked Amendment 77, expressed support for the principle of this amendment and for the Bill to cover this explicitly.
To some degree, this amendment is a rebuttal of the statements made last week by the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, suggesting that outdoor livestock production is not giving us enough food and, implicitly, that factory farming is essential. That suggests that production of meat is one of our problems, which is clearly not the case. In fact, we have meat production which is largely food waste. I am talking about factory farming, of course—feeding large quantities of perfectly edible grains, oils and proteins to produce far smaller quantities of meat. This is something we can no longer afford.
Land is a scarce resource, as the Government acknowledged last week. We cannot afford to waste it growing food that is immediately fed to animals, as we currently do with about 20% of farmland. There is an argument for small quantities of winter feed for predominately pastured animals, but that is very different from the vast chicken sheds, piggeries and factory dairies that we have seen expanding in the UK in recent years. The problem with them is not simply food waste, or the failure to produce healthy food. I often come under attack from people who wave a finger at me and say, “The Green Party wants people to eat less meat, isn’t that terrible?” Usually I point to those well-known radical environmentalists of the British Medical Association, which also says that we need far less meat in the British diet and meat of a far higher quality. As the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, said last week, this is a very strong medical recommendation.
The noble Baroness also alluded to the crucial issue of antimicrobial resistance, something we hear concern about from all sides of politics, including the former Prime Minister David Cameron, who some years ago made it the subject of a major speech. In the past week, we have seen the chief executive of GlaxoSmithKline identify antimicrobial resistance as a predictable threat to global health on the same scale as Covid-19.
Sadly, Covid-19 has made all too clear the need to think about the welfare of workers, not only on factory farms but in the giant, fast-moving, mass-production abattoirs. There is also the health of our environment, including dead zones in our oceans and rivers from nitrogen pollution, and the air pollution problems on which my noble friend Lady Jones has tabled amendments.
The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, was right that we need protein. That is where the positive side of this amendment comes in, as it seeks to promote a shift to plant-based food production, particularly—one of the things that we have seen some progress on, but it must be much faster—the production of protein crops. It is interesting that this also means the potential for farmers to diversify into different crops, reducing risk. Of course, growing nitrogen-fixing crops often reduces or ends the need to rely on artificial fertilisers, with all the other benefits that have been rehearsed in this debate.
This amendment says, “We want to see the Agriculture Bill positively promote crops that are good for the environment, good for people’s health and good for farmers’ incomes and farm security.” I need to point to the possibilities of a pretty small-scale operation. A wonderful company called Hodmedod’s, which is very much focused on promoting different crops and restoring historical ones, recently grew lentils in the UK for the first time in quite some time. I also learned that it has been promoting carlin peas, which, as I learned in an internet discussion, are apparently a traditional cultural bar snack in Lancashire. Rather than peanuts, we could have local carlin, or parched, peas. This reminds us that we can have cultural restoration as well as the restoration of our health, well-being, soils and food. I commend Amendment 47 to the House.
I was also pleased to attach my name to Amendment 71, tabled by the noble Earl, Lord Devon, and supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville. It would introduce a requirement to support healthy and nutritious food and, implicitly, avoid supporting unhealthy food. It is clear that our global food system, of which the UK is a closely enmeshed part, is entirely broken. Last year, before Covid, 690 million malnourished people were unable to get the basic calories they needed; a similar number are obese, unable to get the healthy food they need, and billions more are on that route. Yet we have just seen a truly tragic figure in the UK: the number of cases of children admitted to hospital suffering from malnutrition has doubled in the past six months to 2,500—and that was with only two-thirds of NHS trusts reporting. I hope that, in responding, the Government will say that it is their business to ensure that the UK meets the second sustainable development goal: zero hunger. Part of that is having a healthy diet, not simply an adequate number of calories. We not on track to meet that goal by 2030. In his response, I hope that the Minister will tell us how the Government hope to achieve that goal if they are not intending to use the Agriculture Bill to do so.
Amendment 75—tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, and backed by the noble Baronesses, Lady Meacher and Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville—seeks to improve public health by increasing the availability, affordability, diversity, quality and marketing of fruit, vegetables and pulses. I want to focus on marketing in particular. The World Cancer Research Fund has said that countries, including the UK, are failing to protect children from the effects of “harmful” junk food marketing. Children are having unhealthy food promoted to them but are not seeing the promotion of healthy food; the World Cancer Research Fund says that this is a human rights issue.
Finally, Amendment 75 refers to reducing the use of antibiotics and related veterinary products. I have been contacted by members of the public and industry asking what “related veterinary product” refers to; I would point to anthelmintics, in particular their impact on dung fauna and on insects on land and in watercourses. I do not consider this amendment as covering vaccines. I also note the similarity between this amendment and my Amendment 49, which would put a similar provision in Clause 1. If the EU target is for a 50% reduction in pesticide use in a decade and if the UK is to be world-leading in that regard, how will we get to that standard if not through the Agriculture Bill?
My Lords, I declare my own business interest in farming as already detailed in the register. In this group, I support Amendments 35, 36, 60, 69 and 71. All of them emphasise growing healthy and nutritious food. That also means growing and offering a rather better selection of food than we now do. Therefore, I am also in favour of Amendment 47 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, which advocates a shift in direction to achieve improved diets—still containing, but much less dominated by, animal products. I also support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, which urges more food production in urban areas.
Amendment 63 in my name would encourage urban and peri-urban growing enterprises to provide fresh local produce close to the market where it is required. I hope that my noble friend the Minister agrees that the Secretary of State might provide incentives accordingly. During the coronavirus pandemic, we have witnessed the importance of food security and local supply chains delivering food to where it is needed. Farming endeavours within conurbations can have an immediate and beneficial impact on supply chains, responding accurately to local demands. This contrasts with large supermarket chains sourcing goods from overseas and adding to the carbon footprint of such produce through transport costs.
Small-scale intensive food production uses little space yet reveals a high yield per acre as well-evidenced in the Netherlands. Those examples are particularly suited to towns and cities where ground is in short supply. Green-belt areas could also be freed up for such endeavours. They would also offer quality outdoor employment for people in urban environments.
Some of these projects might fulfil a social purpose too: for instance, city farms to educate children about animals and agriculture; and allotments, to which the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, has already referred, which can teach people about food production at the same time as allowing and encouraging them to grow their own food. Not least, they also enable more green areas in cities for the benefit of those living there.
My Lords, I will endeavour to be brief: we have an awful lot to get through. I am grateful to see Clause 1(4) in the Bill. It was remarkable that, in its early iterations, a Bill about agriculture had no specific reference to the provision of food. My Amendment 71 would merely improve upon that provision of food by the specification that it should be both “healthy and nutritious”.
I am grateful for the support of the noble Baronesses, Lady Bakewell and Lady Bennett, on this amendment. I understand that all the amendments in this group are directed to a very similar goal. There is clearly strong support across the Committee for making sure that the food whose production we are encouraging is healthy and nutritious, and not the sort of food that causes ill-health, obesity and so many other issues that are being brought into full focus with the onslaught of coronavirus. At this time, of all times, it has become clear that the health and well-being of our nation are a result of the healthiness and nutrition of the food that we eat. This is therefore not just about agriculture; it goes to a much wider issue.
Some may say that the health and nutrition of the food could be secured by the fact that the clause provides that it must be environmentally sustainable. Of course, the two things are vastly different. It is perfectly possible to produce food in an environmentally sustainable way and it not be healthy and nutritious. There has been much talk over recent days of insect farming and novel agritech. You could certainly see insect farming as a very environmentally sustainable means of farming. It is the feeding of waste product, typically to insect larvae, which are then mashed up for their protein. That is the production of food in a very environmentally sustainable way, but I am not sure that it is either healthy or nutritious food, albeit it has an important role to play in the feeding of fish, for example, and other larger animals.
I want also to speak briefly to Amendment 47. As a farmer from Devon, I will obviously resist any suggestion that the farming of livestock be discouraged. The west of England has some of the finest pasture in the world and our livestock farming stands competition with that of anywhere in the world for its carbon footprint, and the health and vitality of the meat produced thereby. Rather than discourage the production of food by livestock farming, we should encourage it, because in the global marketplace we have a product that very few are able to match.
On Amendment 53, I am obviously interested in and am a keen proponent of urban, vertical and such farming types, but I wonder whether those are necessarily public goods. As I said in debate last week, many exciting agritech areas are getting lots of investment and support, all of which contribute positively to the options available to us, but I am conscious of the definition of “public goods”. I would appreciate it if the Minister could address whether such agritech products are necessarily public goods.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to be in this debate and to follow the noble Earl, Lord Devon. I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, Lady Meacher and Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, for supporting my amendment. I agree with pretty much all the amendments proposed, and agree entirely with the provision and principle of ELMS, but I want to make a few points.
Of course, we must support the environmental goods that our farming can do, but if we do that without including the need to grow healthy food, we have in a sense lost the primary reason why we farm and have given it back to the market. By that, I mean the overwhelming power of the big retail producers, which has meant that so much land has been given over to grow grains which feed animals, or grains which are highly refined and end up in un-nutritious products such as cheap white bread and that so little of our land ends up producing the nutritious fruit and vegetables that we need.
I shall give a few facts and figures. The volume of home production decreased by 1.8% in 2019 to the lowest level that we have had for 20 years, despite its value having gone up. Imports have increased as well. Home production of vegetables contributes only about 54% of the total UK food supply. I know that the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, and others have talked about our food security but it is bigger than that: it is about trying to support farmers to do the right thing to support our health. Some 31,000 premature deaths in the UK could be averted every year if we ate enough fruit and veg, yet according to the Food Foundation, of which I am a trustee, UK adults currently eat an average of just 2.5 portions of veg a day.
When the previous Agriculture Bill went through its Second Reading in the Commons, Michael Gove, then Secretary of State for Defra, said:
“Every measure in the Bill is designed to ensure that our farmers receive the support that they deserve to give us … healthy food.”
When challenged on why this was not in its Clause 1, he said that
“food production in this country is critical to the improvement of public health … we put the importance of improving public health at the heart of everything that we do”.—[Official Report, Commons, 10/10/18; cols. 150-51.]
In answer to another question about whether that Bill would support the production of fruit and veg, he said that it was a critical issue. I therefore consider this Bill worryingly silent when it comes to healthy food production. It has to be a matter of strategic national interest and social justice that we ensure that our country is better able to feed itself with healthy, nutritious food and to protect itself from volatility.
Sustainable production must be central to this Bill—it cannot be seen as something to be left to the market—and that, I am afraid, takes money. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, spoke about the need for allotments and more growing spaces. When I ran the London Food Board, we had a project called Capital Growth and created 2,500 new community projects. It is tremendously successful and we are trying to roll it out across the country. However, at the end of the day, it accounts for a tiny amount of vegetables. The point is that, if we are to grow more, farmers need money. At the moment, a very small amount of our land is devoted to this. We have to understand that financial help is needed, first, to make the transition and, secondly, to get this produce to the market. All the other things that I have talked about in our debates on amendments—local food networks, local abattoirs and so on—are part of the same thing.
We know that we have terrible problems with obesity, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. These are the results of a food system which is not working for us and our citizens. We have had a policy based on food corporations. We now have a unique opportunity to take this system back into public ownership and public concern.
Healthy food is a public good just as much as our NHS, and if we had better diets we would save that amazing institution about £2 billion a year. If we ate more local and seasonal fruit and vegetables, and if we bought from local producers, we could also reduce our carbon footprint, at the same time as improving our health, our land, our mental health and the mental health of our communities, which, as every noble Lord will have seen in the last few weeks, is an issue of such importance to our country.
As the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, has indicated that he will not speak on this group, I call the next speaker on the list, the noble Earl, Lord Caithness.
My Lords, first, I thank those responsible for the speakers’ lists for heeding my words and those of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves. The present speakers’ list is in a much better shape and leads to better debate than was the case previously.
I have put my name to Amendment 70. I think that the words “have regard to” in Clause 1(4) weaken the importance of producing good, healthy food. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will agree that they should be deleted, and I congratulate my noble friend Lady McIntosh on sponsoring this amendment. I was happy to sign up to it.
All noble Lords have been speaking about food security. I hope that every single one of your Lordships participating in today’s debate has read the recently published report of the Food, Poverty, Health and the Environment Committee entitled Hungry for Change: Fixing the Failures in Food. The report goes into the subject in some depth, covering many of the points raised in this evening’s debate.
I would like to make one point about growing healthy food. It sounds as though our farmers do not grow healthy food at the moment. I think that, in the present circumstances of the CAP, our farmers grow very healthy food but it is the food industry that turns it into ultra-processed food, and that is the poison that contaminates our diets. Rather than just concentrating on farmers, the food industry has to be looked at as a whole.
We make a number of recommendations in our report Hungry for Change, and I hope that the Minister will respond positively to them in due course. Food security covers a vast number of departments. We talked to three different ministries during our deliberations, which were somewhat hampered by the Covid pandemic, but it is clear that this is a whole-government rather than just a Defra problem.
Given what everybody else has said, I can now terminate my remarks, but I hope that my noble friend will agree to Amendment 70.
My Lords, I added my name to Amendment 35, which was so comprehensively moved by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, and I did so for one simple reason: it explicitly recognises that a key part of the output of farming must be its effect on human health. It is somewhat strange that Clause 1, which lists all the ways in which public money can be spent to support the output of farming—the improvement of land, water, woodlands, the environment, natural heritage, the countering of environmental threats, the welfare of livestock, the health of plants, plant and livestock conservation and so on—contains no mention of human beings.
The biggest impact of farming, both in its production methods and in what it produces, is on human beings. I was provoked, to some extent, to add my name to the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, because I received advice on pesticides when I was tabling a different amendment that comes much later on in this Bill. Some of the issues relating to this have already been referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, in the earlier debate today. However, I asked that this amendment be headed “human health”, and I was told that this was beyond the scope of the Bill. It must not be. I have amended that amendment to conform, obviously, but human health is central to this Bill.
It is not just the potentially negative effects of some farming processes; it is much more positively the effect of the produce of farming on the balance of our diets and nutrition, and the way it gets to the public. Like the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, and others, I was a member of the Select Committee under the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, which produced its report very recently. That report spells out that farming has to be seen as part of the totality of the food chain, and one of its principal impacts is its being directly or indirectly responsible for the health and nutrition of our population.
As the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, has just said, much of the responsibility here lies with the big processors, the wholesalers and the retailers, which both specify and advertise food that is quite often not so healthy. However, the responsibility also lies on farmers and government policy towards farming. The Krebs report makes quite a wide range of recommendations that relate to this, and the Bill does not fully reflect that priority because the availability, quality, pricing, convenience and affordability of nutritious food is vital to turning around the declining quality of our diets, which is causing such things as our obesity being the worst in Europe and examples of malnutrition and so forth in our population—mostly, but by no means exclusively, among the least well-off families.
Good food is a public good. This Bill needs to reflect that. A more plant-based diet is a health benefit. More domestic production of fresh fruit and veg is a key part of any strategy for healthier food. Hence I—and I think the whole of the Krebs committee—would wish to see, in Clause 1, a reference to health and diet as a public good derived from the output and methods of farming, and therefore worthy of our support. Therefore, I support Amendment 35, to which I have added my name, and Amendment 36 in the name of my noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch, which refers explicitly to healthy food.
The noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, has withdrawn from the list, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Judd.
My Lords, I want to speak to the whole group of amendments as I find the interrelationship between the various amendments on this occasion particularly interesting. My noble friend Lord Whitty has been talking about food security. This group focuses on food security not only in the context in which he mentioned it—although that is vital—but in the context of the most unstable period in world affairs that we can remember. It is very important to think of food security in that context as well.
Covid-19 has reminded us starkly of the relationship between people’s well-being and basic health and their vulnerability to diseases of this kind. It is no accident that the concentrations of some of the worst instances of Covid-19 are in areas of poverty—and poverty is, of course, related to diet. What we are seeing is that diet and the quality of food are essential to a healthy, vigorous nation that is able to resist onslaughts of this kind.
Another interesting aspect of this group of amendments is that it looks at how we reconnect people with the whole process of agriculture; it is not the only group to do so. In our urbanised society, countless people do not begin to understand or think about the production of food. I declare an interest as one of my daughters is very much involved in this kind of activity; the emphasis on reconnecting people in communities with the process of agriculture and encouraging them to see the relationship between what happens on farms in their area and what they consume, which is vital.
The other point that comes out of these amendments is that we must always think about the best possible sustainable use of land, not just what we can produce from it. We need to consider sustainability and the effect on the environment of the way we use land. We talk about the effect of the environment on agriculture, but agriculture has an impact on the environment; we therefore have to think very hard about getting the balance right between arable and animal farming—and about what happens when we rely too much on animal farming. I say this as a non-vegetarian but as somebody who takes this point very seriously indeed.
Having got to know the Minister quite well over the years, I am sure that he is the sort of man who will take this group particularly seriously, because he has this kind of outlook on human affairs—an awareness of the interrelationship between all these dimensions. The point I want to make above all is that we should stop thinking about agriculture simply as a segment of our society to be managed; we must think of it as centrally related to the whole of social policy and the issues that confront us.
My Lords, I refer to my interests, which I set out on day one of Committee last Tuesday. I refer back to the concerns of those supporting native ponies about the wording of Amendment 69. Naturally, none of them, nor I, have any objection to the support of food management, but the wording of Amendment 69 has the potential to confine financial support to food production and might therefore exclude native ponies from financial assistance.
My Lords, ever since the age of the hunter-gatherers, earth has been supplying humankind’s food needs. That is why I am pleased to support the amendment proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, and the thrust of many of the other amendments which have been grouped with it.
Over the centuries, famine has been a regular feature of human history in different parts of the world. It is worth recalling that in western Europe, immediately post the Second World War, in the period that the Germans call Die Stunde Null—that is, within living memory of people alive today—people were starving to death. Of course, it was partly for this reason that the common agricultural policy was set up in the way in which it was. Given that, it is not perhaps as silly as it is sometimes thought to be by certain not very well-informed commentators in this country.
I think it is generally agreed that one of the duties of a state is to ensure with reasonable certainty that its citizens have enough to eat of an appropriate quality and at a reasonable price. It seems that if it is necessary and appropriate to do so, the state should spend money to ensure that this happens. Of course, medieval chroniclers tell us that, on occasion, people in besieged cities lived on cats, rats and dogs, but I do not imagine that many people would consider that a desirable state of affairs.
What is interesting about the first clause of the Bill is that climate change is mentioned, because it affects the earth we live on, and in turn the future of humanity. Equally, however, I believe that food security should be included in this section of the Bill because, in a completely different way, it just as much affects the future of humanity.
Some of your Lordships may remember that it was not all that long ago that there was a very poor wheat harvest, and suddenly the price of bread shot up in the supermarkets. If you were to believe the tabloid press, there was a huge crisis. Equally, there was an interesting article in the House magazine this week written by the managing director of Arla Foods—I declare a specific interest in that I sell my milk to Arla. He said that it is interesting that in this country we still import 35.5% of the yoghurt we consume, just under 40% of the butter and just under 68% of all cheese. Our security of supply is in a number of temperate foodstuffs—obviously, we cannot produce bananas and things like that here—very far from secure. It is rather like pandemics, is it not? “Oh no, it couldn’t happen here”—but then suddenly Covid-19 comes out of left field and we are all caught in a very exposed position.
The Minister may well argue that food security is by inference present around the Bill because it is part of general policy that the state should be guarantor of food security. However, if you look at the way in which the Bill is constructed, and you look at Clause 1, you see that those provisions are there to set out the ground rules for our future agricultural order and the financial support for it. I believe, for the reasons I have just explained, that food security should be included within it so that the ground rules are clear to everybody.
My Lords, I am delighted to followed the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, and to support the amendments in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady McIntosh of Pickering and Lady Jones of Whitchurch. This group of amendments is quite clearly about the need to fight and campaign for, but above all to establish and place in the Bill, food security. While food security might be implicit, it needs to be explicit.
Like the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, and the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, I was a member—albeit not for as long as they were—of the Select Committee under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, that published the report last week entitled, Hungry for Change: Fixing the Failures in Food. I agree with my colleagues that a holistic, systems approach has to be taken to food, from the moment it is produced and grown by the farmer, right through processing and retailers, through to the consumer and food waste. These things are all vital. I urge the Minister to read that report. In advance of the government response, I urge him to indicate in his response today whether he has read our Select Committee report and whether he has any initial thoughts. Will he ensure that these amendments dealing with food security—now heightened as a result of the Covid situation—are placed in the Bill?
We are also still awaiting the report from Henry Dimbleby, who coincidentally gave us evidence. It is important that the national food strategy comes forward as quickly as possible, because we want to encourage people to eat healthily.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, I would like to see the day when people do not have to access food banks because of their inability to purchase food due to lack of resources. It is therefore important that we build a robust, resilient food supply. This is an issue for all of government, not solely Defra.
The amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, talks about food sustainability and farming
“in an environmentally sustainable way”,
which is vital. It is also important that this Bill reflects food security directly related to health and well-being as important components in qualification for financial assistance.
A whole chapter of our report dealt with food security. One of our recommendations is
“built around the central aim of ensuring that everyone, regardless of income, has access to a healthy”,
affordable and sustainable diet. An onus should be placed on farmers to ensure food security as part of the food system.
Equally, like the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, I say an onus has to be placed on the processors and retailers to ensure they are providing food of a healthy, nutritious quality, not subject to reformulation through the addition of fats and salts. We have to create a healthy nation of people who have good health and well-being. If that means more fruit and vegetables are eaten, that is all to the good.
I support this group of amendments, in particular Amendments 35 and 36. I also commend the report from our Select Committee and look forward to the Minister’s response to it, indicating support and that cross-departmental action will be taken across government to ensure that its recommendations are fully implemented.
My Lords, I begin by paying tribute to the wise words we heard last week and today from my noble friend Lord Inglewood, who always brings not only wisdom and farming experience to our debates, but sound common sense, which seems to be a government policy at the moment.
I am afraid that some of the amendments here are misguided in that they talk of farmers producing healthy food. I submit that all food that leaves UK farms is healthy, but it may not be so healthy when it is processed and on the supermarket shelves, exactly as my noble friend Lord Caithness so rightly said.
Many amendments mention the word “food”, but I can see only one with the word “diet” in it. In fact, I think the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, was the only Peer to mention “diet” until the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, mentioned it a couple of minutes ago. There are no bad foods, just very bad diets, yet people keep demonising certain foods which are perfectly okay if eaten as part of a balanced diet or in moderation.
Many years ago, when I and others did winter warfare training in the Cairngorms, we would scoff an enormous fry-up for breakfast, two Mars bars on the top of some mountain and a very big dinner. We would come away half a stone lighter and a lot fitter at the end of a week. We are becoming a nation of inactive, obese blobs, and that is nothing to do with British farmers.
I am perfectly willing to be informed, but I cannot think of anything grown or produced on a UK farm that is intrinsically a bad food of itself. Since we have the tightest controls on pesticides and antibiotics of any country in the world, healthy food leaves the farm gate. Are we to tell farmers to stop growing potatoes because some people eat far too many chips? The chickens and lettuces leaving our farms are healthy, but by the time, say, Pret a Manger has slathered them in mayonnaise—making them taste delicious, I accept—in their giant sub sandwiches, then they are very heavy on the calories.
I do not see any benefit to the environment in trying to stop UK framers producing meat, then flying in avocados from Brazil and almond milk from California. We should concentrate on people’s overall diets and their lack of exercise, and not tell farmers to produce healthy foods, which they already do.
If we want farmers to grow different food, that means getting food manufacturers to create the demand based on what their customers demand. There is no point in farmers growing what noble Lords in this debate have called healthy food if there is no market for it. It is the role of the whole of government—not just Defra, but especially the Department of Health—to attempt to educate the public to change to healthier diets, and I stress “diets”.
Every amendment here concentrates on the production of, rather than the demand for, food. Like it or not, the demand has to come first. Farmers do not need to be encouraged to switch to grains and pulses production. If the supermarkets want more tofu, quinoa or lentils then British farmers will soon find a way to supply it, just as they rapidly moved into growing oilseed rape and linseed as soon as the EU started paying for it. British farmers will rapidly adjust what they produce if the demand is there. I agree with and passionately believe in the need for healthy diets, but that is not the job of British farmers.
My Lords, I declare my interests as a farmer and landowner as set out in the register. I support Amendments 56, 60 and 69 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Northbrook, as it is so important to encourage the production of food by our farmers in an environmentally sustainable way.
I also believe that farming with new technology will be possible and appropriate in the urban environment, so I very much support Amendment 53, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, and Amendment 63, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, and the noble Earl, Lord Dundee. Industrial farming is moving to farm to fork, which looks more sustainable. Localism and resilience are the current watchwords, but some products, whether fruit or vegetables, can be grown only in hot climates. This is where technology comes in and where Amendment 63 is so important. Vertical, indoor farms are emerging, as fruit and vegetables can be grown in confined spaces, with light, heat and water controlled by technology. This can take place in cities, next to consumers, and, of course, uses less land. The Bill needs to provide for the next generation of farms, whether rural or urban. Look at Singapore, which imports 90% of its food and aims to produce 30% locally by 2030. Much of this is urban, using new technologies. I therefore support these amendments, which provide a setting for food security in the United Kingdom.
My Lords, I support Amendments 35, 36 and 60 on food security and access to food that promotes good health and well-being: I would have signed them, but many other people wanted to do so first and I am very glad to support them.
Having represented an agricultural and food-producing constituency for 32 years, I have experienced the destructive effects of BSE, foot and mouth and, incidentally, the truck-drivers’ strike. BSE led to the laying off of 1,000 people in my constituency within a week, and although foot and mouth did not directly affect my constituency, the restrictions on movement had very serious impacts, so I am very aware of food security and how it can very quickly be disrupted.
We have seen an increase recently in food poverty, because although supply chains have adapted to deliver food alternatively, it has in many cases been at more expense, as when suppliers to the catering industry have offered to supply domestic suppliers—healthy, good fruit and vegetables, yes, but at a price that not everybody can afford. Of course, as a country we are heavily dependent on seasonal food imports; and not just seasonal food, but fresh fruit and vegetables from Spain and the Netherlands, in particular.
Our homegrown fruit and vegetable production has been disrupted recently by a shortage of labour: Covid-19 restrictions have perhaps given us a taste of what a post-Brexit labour shortage will do for our supply chain. I can certainly say that, in our area, some producers are struggling to harvest our berry crops, of which Scotland is a major grower—for the whole of the EU, incidentally, not just for the UK. Indications are that the UK could face shortages of fresh fruit and vegetables, either because of tariffs or the diversion of EU exports elsewhere, because of higher transport costs and delays and losses because of necessary border inspections. After all, £700 million is being laid out to create a lorry park in Kent, where, I suspect, it will be difficult to keep food as fresh as it would be with the just-in-time delivery we currently enjoy. Quite simply, I worry that EU suppliers, who are currently happy to send fruit and veg to the UK, might find it less profitable and choose to divert to alternative markets within the EU, where there is less bureaucracy, less cost and less risk of delay and disruption.
Do the Government recognise that we may, for both security and nutrition, need to provide additional support to homegrown production, which will not face this disruption? What plans are in place to do that? Are we prepared for a sudden drop in supply or a dramatic increase in prices from 1 January 2020? The Government had not planned very well for the unexpected pandemic; they cannot suggest that what happens on 1 January is not foreseeable. How well are they planning for it, and how sure are they that disruption will be avoided?
Those who campaigned for us to leave the EU constantly promised an abundant supply of cheap food. The questions in this debate have been whether that cheap food is also nutritious food, and whether it is as good as the food we currently get or could get from our own production and our own sources. How can the Government guarantee that there will be an adequate, affordable supply of nutritious, affordable food if there is a shortfall of supply from our current EU sources? I commend these amendments and I hope that the Government will take them seriously, because if they do not, there will be a price to pay, in cash, in quality and potentially in shortage of good-quality, nutritious food.
My Lords, I am delighted to follow the wise words of the noble Lord, Lord Bruce. He has asked some pertinent questions, which deserve clear answers.
What you never have, you never miss, but you soon miss what you have taken for granted. That has been underlined, time and again, during this very difficult Covid year. It is important that there is a smooth transition at the end of December. I personally greatly regret the fact that Ministers have been so obdurate about that date, but there it is. We have to face up to the fact that it is the prime duty of every Government to defend the realm. As the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, made plain in his splendid speech, part of defending the realm is keeping people properly fed. As one who grew up through the war years, when our affairs were brilliantly managed in the face of often seemingly overwhelming odds, I know that and so do many of your Lordships.
I was glad that my noble friend Lady McIntosh began this debate with such a prudent and sensible speech. There have been many of those in this debate, and there are very few amendments to which I would not have been glad to put my name. However, when we talk, as my noble friend did at the beginning, of public payment for public good, what is a greater public good than ensuring a proper supply of healthy food to maintain the health of the nation? It could be argued that that is the greatest of all public goods. I hope that the Minister will reflect on that when he comes to reply. He is a very well-regarded Member of your Lordships’ House and he knows about farming and agriculture at first hand. He also knows that his is the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. I am glad that “Food” features so prominently, as it did in the old Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.
It is essential that we have a quality supply of good food. We are dependent upon our farmers for that. Some colleagues have, quite justifiably, made disparaging comments about what those who process the food do to extract nutrition from it, but our farmers produce excellent food. They must be encouraged to do so in every possible way while having proper regard, as we debated last week, for the countryside and the environment in which they operate and for which they are responsible.
I refer again to the admirable speech by the noble Lord, Lord Bruce. I very much hope that there is adequate planning to ensure a smooth transition at the end of the year. Above all else, the Government will be judged, not only by how they have handled the pandemic but by how they create a smooth transition, so our people can still take for granted a ready and steady supply of healthy food for the good of the nation and future generations.
My Lords, I wish to comment briefly on proposed new subsection (b) in Amendment 75, which refers to reducing the use of antibiotics in livestock and related veterinary products. I fully agree with the aim of reducing the use of antibiotics on livestock as far as possible while retaining their use to treat sick animals to ensure their good welfare. Indeed, in the UK, we have been incredibly successful in reducing the use of all antibiotics on all livestock by more than 50% since 2014. Currently, in fact, usage is well below the target set in the 2016 report from the commission headed by the noble Lord, Lord O’Neill.
With regard to so-called critically important antibiotics for human use, there is absolutely minimal use on livestock today. This has been achieved by management improvements, husbandry improvements and, of course, the use of vaccines, which are a major tool in controlling and preventing infectious disease. They are thus terribly important in reducing drug use for therapeutic purposes, so it is important that their use is not discouraged.
I seek greater clarification on what is meant in this amendment by “related veterinary product use”. I noted that the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, commented on this to some extent in her earlier speech; I think she said words to the effect that she did not envisage the inclusion of vaccines in this amendment. I hope that that is so; it would indeed be counterproductive.
She also commented on anthelmintic use and its effect on dung beetles. As a parasitologist, I want to comment briefly on that. I assure her that that is not an issue in the UK. Some years ago, this was looked at carefully; various anthelmintics, which of course are for worms and which also have powers of activity against insects, were introduced. Poor research students were sat out in the open having to observe the degradation of cowpats in fields, some of which were grazed by cattle with anthelmintics and some of which were grazed by cattle without them. I assure the noble Baroness that there was absolutely no difference as a result of the anthelmintic treatment.
My Lords, I repeat the declaration of my interests that I made last Tuesday.
Amendments 35 and 36 seek to add to the list of purposes for which financial assistance may be given. Amendment 36 is already covered by existing purposes, as is Amendment 35, up to a point. This amendment, moved by my noble friend Lady McIntosh, also seeks to establish food security as a purpose. It is hard to see how these amendments would have much of an effect on the proportion of our food that we import—or, indeed, the proportion of our food produce that we export. British farm produce, including arable, dairy and livestock, is produced to very high international standards and, I believe, can hold its own in both domestic and overseas markets.
I cannot see that Amendment 46 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, has any place in an Agriculture Bill that seeks to reduce farmers’ dependence on the state. It would threaten to increase the cost and reduce the choice of meals provided by public bodies by introducing distortions to the market, reflecting particular views on environmental or animal welfare standards that go further than required by law.
In the same way, I would resist Amendment 47 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, because I do not believe that the Secretary of State should be involved in trying to persuade people to change their diet to a vegetarian one. I very much agree with the remarks of the noble Earl, Lord Devon, with regard to her amendment. I have nothing against vegetarians—indeed, I have a daughter-in-law who does not eat meat—but it should be a matter of personal taste.
My noble friend Lord Northbrook, who is most knowledgeable in this area, has eloquently spoken in support of his Amendment 60, which seeks to ensure a sufficient level of food security. I do not think my noble friend is suggesting we need go back to a time when foreign food was virtually unknown to most people in this country. Of course we need to maximise our domestic food production, but it is also important that our new trading relationships continue to offer British consumers more choice at reasonable prices.
My noble friend also wishes to require the Secretary of State to support the production of food in England through his Amendment 69. On this, I prefer his drafting and the effect of the change he wishes to make. I also prefer his wording to that of my noble friend Lady McIntosh in Amendment 70, although her amendment is also an improvement on the current somewhat ambiguous wording.
I am afraid that I do not understand the purpose of Amendment 71, in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Devon, as I do not want the Secretary of State to become a sort of food policeman. I do not understand what the noble Earl means by suggesting that his amendment
“avoids the Secretary of State having regard to the production of unhealthy food.”
I am not sure that public health concerns, as mentioned in Amendment 75 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, should be in an agriculture Bill, however desirable the improvement of public health obviously is.
Amendment 92 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, defines “environmentally sustainable way”. I do not think that it needs to be specifically defined and I question whether avoiding the “depletion of natural resources”, desirable though that is, is clearly contained within the meaning of the phrase.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow my long-standing and noble friend Lord Trenchard. I agree with the general thrust of his comments. After a long day on two important Bills, I will confine myself to two points.
First, the changing weather pattern, the risk of another pandemic and, more immediately, the possibility of an exit from the single market without an FTA all point to the need for a sensible, long-term focus on food security. I welcome my noble friend Lord Northbrook’s Amendment 60—an enabling amendment and not a requirement—and the part on food security in the lead amendment, Amendment 35, proposed by my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering. This plays to Clause 17 of the Bill and its proposal for a five-yearly report on food security, which I very much welcome.
Secondly, like the noble Lord, Lord Trees, I will talk about antibiotics. I support the provision on reducing farm antibiotics in Amendment 75 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott. The impact of antibiotic resistance is one of the most serious issues facing the human race. It could make common operations extremely dangerous around the world, endangering people of all ages and in all countries—and with no prospect of a vaccine, so potentially worse than Covid-19.
At Red Tractor—I restate my interests here—we have worked hard with the Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture Alliance to tackle this on farms through proper measurement and collection of data, assured standards and annual veterinary inspections. The former CMO, Dame Sally Davies, has commended us for the substantial decline in antibiotic use. For example, in the pig sector use of antibiotics has fallen by 60% over four years. However, there is more to do, and we are working with farmers, processors and retailers to do just that. The power proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, could help us to intensify the work, with some government support. This should be if and only if the need arises, and after proper costing and risk assessment—to hark back to my amendment to Clause 1.
The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said that he had been advised that the scope of the Bill did not cover health. I would like confirmation that the role of farmers in AMR is within its ambit when the Minister replies to this important group.
My Lords, I support a number of amendments in this group, in particular those that touch on food security, such as Amendments 35 and 60. Food security is crucial, both for our protection and for the flourishing and survival of any nation. History teaches us that food shortages have always occurred. They are often caused by many different factors and occur at an alarming rate. One of the earliest historical examples of this is found in the Hebrew scriptures, in Genesis chapters 41 and 42, where we read of Jacob storing up grain in Egypt ready for the seven years of famine. Not only did his actions save the lives of many, but underlying this narrative is the message that food is also about political power:
“And all the world came to Egypt to buy grain from Joseph, because the famine was severe everywhere.”
We are all aware that food security in the modern world is complex. The many advantages of an international market have meant that for most of the time food prices have been driven down and choice expanded. We know that many types of food would be both difficult and expensive to grow in this country due to our climate, so we will never be totally self-sufficient in food.
We have heard reference to publication of the report Hungry for Change from the Food, Poverty, Health and Environment Committee just eight days ago. I note in that report the evidence given by Defra. It states:
“The ELMS proposes to reward a number of environmental ‘public goods’ with public money. The Government will support and reward farmers for providing improved environmental outcomes such as improved soil health and carbon emissions. The Department told us that the scheme may lead some farmers to move away from ‘traditional agricultural activity’.”
But the basic fundamental point of agriculture is to grow food and it is deeply worrying to consider that in under 30 years it is estimated that the world will need 60% more food than today. It is concerning considering that, at this very moment, we have vast swarms of locusts devastating crops in east Africa, Asia and the Middle East—an event of which we had no foresight a few months ago but which is likely to lead to extensive famines in the coming months. So I am keen to support these amendments, which support food security both for our good and for that of the international community.
Amendments 53 and 63 refer to food produced locally, including urban areas. We are trying to improve the environment, reduce transport and provide locally grown food, so these amendments are worth exploring. Both are supported by Amendment 69, which strengthens the Bill by changing “must have regard to” to “must support”. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response to these ideas and how Her Majesty’s Government might include them in the Bill.
My Lords, here we are on day three and we are still on Clause 1. Just to encourage the Minister, I remind him that he must have been in the House of Commons when the Maastricht Bill was being debated. It had all of four clauses but it took 25 days, so he is doing extremely well at the moment. But in the interests of making progress I am restricting myself to one speech tonight. That concerns Amendment 36. To me that is the heart of the Bill and very much the heart of horticulture. What a privilege it is to follow the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans. He covers most of Bedfordshire, although unfortunately not the part that I live in, but much of the part of Bedfordshire that is keen on horticulture.
In my judgment, horticulture today is the poor cousin of agriculture. However, it offers so many opportunities, particularly for import substitution. It does not matter what you list; vegetables, flowers, salad, fruit and—even in Victorian times—tropical fruit are all grown with great success. Noble Lords may, like me, have a glasshouse and mine has certainly had far more attention this year than it normally gets. The tomatoes and lettuces look great, the leeks are ready for planting out, the cucumbers are falling off the top of the wires et cetera.
The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, mentioned vertical farms, but the key to restarting horticulture in this country is the cost of fuel. As it happens, we have a unique opportunity with the increasing incidence of green energy, but somebody needs to talk to Ofgem, which, as I speak, is restricting the return on capital for all the electricity suppliers, including those supplying green energy. It is the green energy suppliers who are investing the most and are most impacted by Ofgem, whose whole strategy at this point appears to be to save the consumer the odd £50, or maybe £100.
If we do not remove that tourniquet on investment for the green energy industry, we will not revive the horticultural industry, because all it does, at this point in time, is undermine the production of and investment in green energy. I had the privilege of sitting on the Select Committee on Energy in the other place and saw there what was happening. I say to my noble friend on the Front Bench that he needs to have a close look at what Ofgem is doing because, although I will obviously continue to campaign for the area we are talking about—horticulture—I worry about how we will compete with Holland in particular if our green energy suppliers, which are doing so well, are constrained by minor changes to the amount that the consumer pays.
I say to my noble friend that, for once, horticulture needs the involvement of Her Majesty’s Government. We need a strategy across government and industry; it is a small-scale industry, but it has such potential. Therefore, I make this plea to my noble friend—I believe it falls on productive soil—to look at horticulture, see what it needs, recognise its role of import substitution and get cracking to reinvigorate the industry, which was three, four or five times bigger in past decades than it is today.
My Lords, I regret that we have to deal with these proceedings virtually; we would not normally do so, but these are not normal circumstances. It is a hugely ambitious and vital piece of legislation that must, of course, be debated, but also allowed to breathe. I fear—forgive me if I sound impertinent—that far too many of the amendments that we are seeing today and on other days will not improve the Bill but instead tend to smother it.
As my noble friend Lord Naseby just mentioned, this is the third day in Committee and we are still on Clause 1, with another 53 clauses plus all the schedules to go. I hope noble Lords will agree that as a responsible House we have a duty to exercise a little caution and even a little self-restraint.
I hope the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, will forgive me if I offer a few words about her Amendment 47 on
“transitioning from livestock to plant-based food production.”
Last week we were discussing getting livestock out of the sheds and into the fields. This week we are getting the same livestock, which have just been put into the fields, out of the fields again and replacing them with plants. Even the cows are confused, so I have no idea how my noble friend the Minister will deal with that.
I have an even more fundamental objection to this amendment. Transitioning from livestock to plants en masse may be a good thing; it may not. There are very opposed opinions on this. The noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, made some good points about the importance of a balanced diet. Wrapped up in this amendment is a clear political agenda, and the noble Baroness as good as acknowledged that in her extensive remarks. I am not afraid of politics, but taxpayers and consumers should not be asked to pay for a political agenda through the back door, as this amendment does, unless they voted for it—which they have not. This is not the stuff of fundamental legislation but for the political hustings. If it is so good for farmers’ incomes and consumers’ health, as has been suggested, they will get the point without any instruction from us.
In these difficult circumstances we have a responsibility to be brief, so I will finish on Amendment 35 on
“access to food that promotes good health and wellbeing.”
But of course. How can I say this without causing offence? This amendment, in this Bill, is apple pie so sweet it will make your teeth rot. It is totally unnecessary; indeed, it is inappropriate. As the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, has acknowledged, it is beyond the scope of the Bill.
Some want to turn the Bill into a vehicle for fundamental social change, but this is a Bill on agriculture, not the Sermon on the Mount. I hope the Committee will show a good deal of self-restraint in both debating and pursuing these amendments, no matter how worthy some of their objectives may be.
My Lords, I first declare again the interests I declared last week, as in the register.
I am delighted with this set of amendments, because they put right a fundamental flaw in the Bill, which was to make a false distinction between food production, food and agriculture on the one hand and the environment. This is dangerous, because it plays into the hands of those who say that all that matters is the environment, which irritates the people who see their main job as producing food.
This debate has really brought back a unity and a recognition that food production is not simply a private good but very much a public good; I hope this is able to be incorporated in the Bill in some way on Report. We have seen two main reasons given, both very relevant: security and, of course, obesity. Security has come to the front recently because of Covid, and everybody who happily took the instant availability of anything they wanted from anywhere in the world got a rude awakening; we all did. I was taken back to my childhood days in the war. At home in Suffolk we managed to get a fortnightly delivery from Waitrose because we were locked up. My wife had ordered a bunch of bananas, and what actually arrived was two bananas—serves us right. The point is that food security means something: using what we have, not what we do not have.
The next important thing is obesity. It is the biggest epidemic we have, bigger and probably more important than Covid-19. This is absolutely a matter of better eating and eating more natural foods. I am not a vegetarian, but I believe that the simpler the food we eat is, the better. One of the great changes was when people stopped having porridge for breakfast. All sorts of sophisticated cereals were introduced—Corn Flakes, Grape-Nuts, Weetabix and so on—and very delicious they were. However, they soon became adulterated with far too much sugar and salt. Then we copied the Swiss and introduced muesli, which was originally simple grains, mixed, cold and raw, which you ate with your milk in the morning, but which has been adulterated and become a terrible product called Alpen, which is stuffed with sugar and fats and is quite revolting.
We must recognise that healthy eating is very important and the key to it is getting the consumer and the producer close together and making as many consumers as possible into producers. I very much support the remarks that have been made about horticulture. I will very quickly give one story of the first time I went to China, in December 1965, just before the chaos of the cultural revolution descended and swept away the Mao dynasty. I noticed when visiting a commune that the people who were happiest and who paid the most attention to life were those working their private plots in corners, which were very small and intensive, producing a great deal of food which obviously they ate themselves.
Small is beautiful, in farming as well as in modern technology, but we must spread the word of people getting involved in agriculture and getting consumers and producers together. Years ago, when I was on the Countryside Commission, the urban fringe was doing very badly. We had what we called Groundwork to clean it up. It was a great success. It got local people excited, and changed the nature of deprived and grotty, dirty, litter-filled areas, polluted ponds and so on. It is the same principle as the remarks that have been made about urban farming on this set of amendments. I am in favour of all that. The big lesson from this group of amendments is in exposing the false distinction between public and private good, in which food production is relegated to being a private good. Let us get together to improve our food, ensure the security of our food supply and, most of all, encourage the beating of obesity by the sensible eating of natural foods.
My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, and very much go along with the sentiments that he expressed. This is an ambitious Bill, which I find exciting. It deals with agriculture for this moment in time and for the future.
Let me make it clear from the beginning that I am full of admiration for farmers, who work so hard, usually in inclement conditions, to put food on our plates, by which we all live. We should never forget that.
What has come through this series of debates—and it is perhaps the nature of the hybrid system that so much time has been spent on Clause 1—is that Clause 1 sets the tone of the Bill and its moment has come. Words and titles are important. When I became the principal Opposition spokesman on agriculture in 1987, one of the first things I did was to change the title of my job from the Shadow Minister of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries to the Shadow Minister for Food and Agriculture. It has always been important to mention food. Time has shown that that was right, and I am delighted that we now have a Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, because it is very important.
This set of amendments makes it clear that we live in a very urban society. People are well removed from agriculture and the production of food, and we must always try to get the importance of food across. That is why we discussed the importance of the soil earlier and talked about animal health. It is worth reminding noble Lords of what we have been through: salmonella in eggs and bovine spongiform encephalopathy—mad cow disease. We all remember how appalling that was. Then we had foot and mouth; up here in Cumbria, we were very much at the front of that. We could not handle that as politicians in the House of Commons or House of Lords, so we created a separate Food Standards Agency to get that across. I feel we have moved the debate a long way forward, and now is time to take stock, perhaps to redefine some of the things we are doing and to take healthy eating on board.
I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, whom I hold in the highest regard, when he says there is too much politics in this and that we should not try to push good health and well-being. What does he want us to push? Does he believe that public money should be for public goods, and that they should be for ill health and poor-being? Of course he does not. Sometimes we have to grasp the nettle, and this is one of those times.
The series of amendments we are discussing now sets the tone for the Agriculture Bill, which will in turn set the tone, to a certain extent, for the Environment Bill that follows. That is good for all the British people, who will have better food produced and, ultimately, more prosperous farmers. That is what we want.
My Lords, I support this set of amendments. Given the hour, I will speak in support of Amendment 75 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott.
I welcome the Bill’s commitment to public money for public goods. Failing to explicitly incorporate public health as a public good in the Bill would be a missed opportunity. A healthy diet—eating a variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts and pulses—is directly linked to lowering the risk of health problems, such as coronary heart disease, stroke and some types of cancer. As we know, the diets of many in this country are too low in fruits and vegetables, and too high in salt and sugar. Agricultural policy can and should help shape a country’s diet. Incentive for food producers to specialise in specific crops means the supply of greater than normal quantities, leading to lower prices and increased consumption.
According to data on agricultural land classification, 19% of total agricultural land in England is suitable to grow fruit and vegetables. However, only 1.4% is currently used for fruit and vegetable production. A study by the Royal Society for Public Health found that increasing land use for fruit and vegetable production would increase their consumption and in turn save lives. Financial support, therefore, for the increased production of fruit and vegetables, nuts and pulses would mean that those foods could be made cheaper, be of higher quality—as they would be part of a shorter supply chain—be more widely available and be better promoted. This amendment would ensure that our agricultural policy could be used as a lever for public health. It would help develop a truly sustainable agricultural system for the UK that benefited farmers and the public alike. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I have nothing to declare but, I hope, a touch of practicality. It is worth recalling that the food industry, if we take it from one end to the other, is the UK’s largest manufacturing sector. It is also worth remembering that sectors such as horticulture and pigs never received any common agricultural policy subsidies; they were direct to the market.
I want to comment on two or three of the amendments, in particular Amendment 53, on urban production. We have to be careful when we talk about urban production. Allotments and growing food for your own house and family is one thing, but if it is urban production employed for the community at large, we have to be very careful. For example, there are fields around airports where you are not allowed to grow certain foods—I think that the reasons for that will be obvious. That would apply also to fields that were very close to industry where pollutants were present. The only way in which we could really make an effort in urban production, and I agree with it, is if it was under cover or under glass. It might be vertical production, for which I cannot really see why there should be public subsidies, or glass-like production using waste heat. The sugar plant at Downham Market has a glass-house next to it—the last time I was there, it was 25 acres, but I think it has gone to 40 acres—growing tomatoes. They are not allowed even to call them organic. No pesticides or herbicides are used on them, but they are not grown in the soil. That is because of the religious zealots in the organic certifiers, but they are perfectly okay, and we could be productive in tomatoes with the other glass-houses and would not need imports. I am all in favour of that. It is probably factory farming, but it is not animals. It has to be done under cover and be mechanised. That would be an effective use of urban facilities for growing more of our food.
The contrast between obesity and malnutrition is very disturbing—I shudder at that—but we should not blame farmers for obesity. I invite noble Lords to google a BBC2 documentary called “The Men Who Made Us Fat”. It was shown about five or six years ago. The sophistication in encouraging people to eat more, in bigger portions, is incredible and it is very profitable. It should not be, but farmers are not to blame on that point.
The noble Earl, Lord Devon, spoke about livestock supply. People might want to move away from livestock, but what is the problem in exporting it on the hook? We have exported for years. Before the BSE crisis, we had an incredible export performance in beef to Italy. It was cut in a separate way—I shall not mention it because it fitted a particular supermarket’s way of doing it. There was a massive amount of exports. We had the land for doing it, because of the pastureland in the west of England. If we want to cut down in certain respects, that does not mean that we should take the industry out. We should use it for export markets; that is what Brexit is supposed to be all about: we can improve our export markets. I do not really see why we should be too concerned about this.
The noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, made the point that we are not really that secure. I am in favour of using our land to grow as much of our food as possible. In some ways, I resent seeing fields of renewable energy platforms when I nip up and down the motorway when they could be used to grow crops. I do not know what the proportion of it is at present, but it is not a good use of agricultural land.
I very much support the point that the noble Lord, Lord Trees, made. I said last week that there has been a massive reduction in antibiotic use in animals, which has been pushed by the supermarkets and the food retailers. However, I made the point that there is still more to do in the game industry.
In some ways, although this is a very seductive group of amendments and I could support many of them, I am more on the line of the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, than that of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett.
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, who, as I think he promised, always has more than an ounce of common sense in what he has to say. I will talk a little about Amendment 75, which I am quite fascinated by. Although it has been rather dismissed already, if you analyse its possible consequences, they are both effectively public goods.
The amendment intends that financial support should go to farms that grow fruit and vegetables that are available, affordable and of good quality. That is certainly a public good, not least because it would contribute to food security. However, to follow the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, the more fruit and vegetables we grow, the more likely they are to be consumed. That goes right to the point about better health outcomes. Obesity and diabetes have just been mentioned.
There is also no question that too many people live in poverty in this country. Poor people have poor diets, poor health, poor life expectancy and poorer resistance. If, as a consequence of supporting food security, we are in a position to have an influence on that problem, this can reasonably be described as two public goods.
I looked up a statistic just before the debate started. Some 26% of children in this country live in absolute poverty. The consequences for their diet are obvious. If we encourage farmers to produce more fruit, vegetables and pulses, as this amendment suggests, we have a chance to have a much greater influence on the lives of these children. At first blush, it looked as though financial support had been drawn in the amendment simply for better health outcomes, but it could have a very considerable impact on farming and food security.
Finally, I adopt without question the very powerful arguments advanced by my noble friend Lord Bruce of Bennachie. He asked a number of questions that I hope the Minister will be in a position to answer.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to speak to this group of amendments and this is another excellent opportunity to thank our farmers and front-line food producers for everything they do every day, not least during the Covid crisis. We owe them an enduring debt of gratitude. Through the correct deployment of this Bill, we have the means to swiftly repay the debt for the service they have given their local communities and the nation.
I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and all other noble Lords who served on the Select Committee, which produced a report with the excellent title Hungry for Change. Has my noble friend the Minister had a chance to reflect on the report and digest some of the recommendations set out therein?
It is a pleasure to hear the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, back in the Chamber, I grew up just down the road from the constituency that he served for many years. I learned a lot and always enjoyed listening to him when he was regularly on “Midlands Today”. I take his point about the use of agricultural land for non-agricultural purposes. I gently guide him towards Amendment 235, which is in my name and due to be debated on Thursday —for that, read “probably Thursday week”. I would be delighted if he would see his way to supporting that amendment, as it very much speaks to what he covered.
Similarly, I guide my noble friend Lord Naseby, who spoke about using energy as an effective means of spark-priming our under-glass production, to my Amendment 61; it was debated last week but will be brought back on Report for sure.
I support a number of the amendments in this group, not least Amendments 60 and 69 in the name of my noble friend Lord Northbrook and Amendment 70, to which my noble friend Lord Caithness has added him name. We need to give strong consideration to the issue of food security. The Covid crisis has not changed the situation that we are in; it has merely shone the starkest and sharpest of spotlights on the predicament not that we have found ourselves in but that we have allowed ourselves to come to.
I also strongly support the speech of my noble friend Lord Inglewood, who spoke with wisdom, experience and expertise. I support, too, the words of the noble Earl, Lord Devon. We have some of the greatest herds in the world and their carbon hoofprint is perfectly in order. It is another great gem in our agricultural crown and should be celebrated rather than being pushed away in some shameful shed. Food is essential to everything that we do. It is our energy and, without it, we have nothing on which to run. I look forward to the Minister’s comments in response to these amendments.
I turn to the comments of a number of noble Lords about how technology can assist. Technology can enable us to produce food in the quantity, and of the quality, that we need. Has the Minister had the opportunity to look at a report that I produced in 2017: Distributed Ledger Technologies for Public Good? It covered the whole question of how technology can assist and revolutionise things in a positive way. Human-led technology has already brought about excellence in our food production.
Finally, I found the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Trees, fascinating. It perhaps leaves us with many things to think about, not least the perfect title for an autobiography or maybe a late Alan Bennett play: “The Degradation of Cowpats”.
My Lords, perhaps I may repeat the words of the noble Lord, Lord Holmes of Richmond: technology produces excellence in food production.
I support Amendment 35 in particular in this group. I can think of no more important aim for food production than food security. The essential purpose of policy should be to maximise food production in the United Kingdom while at the same time reducing harmful emissions.
Ever since the Centre for Alternative Technology opened in in an old slate quarry near Machynlleth in 1973, Wales has led the way. As the centre pointed out last week, the panic buying and empty supermarket shelves that greeted the opening stages of the Covid-19 pandemic woke a lot of people up to the reality that our global food chains are increasingly vulnerable. In response to the crisis, the centre quickly set up a project called Planna Fwyd!, meaning Plant Food! It has an amazing variety of schemes to help the local area to feed itself in the coming years. For example, it brings together a land army of people who can help to work the land; it supports home-growers with the skills and knowledge that they might need; it provides family seed packs; and it distributes fresh produce and offers seed swaps. It is a great initiative.
I would like to draw attention to a scheme that is proposed on the outskirts of Wrexham by a Brighton-based organisation, Low Carbon Farming. The company has two pioneering projects taking shape at the moment, one in Bury St Edmunds and one elsewhere in East Anglia. Last week, I spoke of the paucity of Class 1 agricultural land in Wales. I told the House that 400 acres at Holt, close to my home in Gresford, comprises the whole of Class 1 land in the entire Principality. The new project near the Wrexham industrial estate is still at the planning stage. It is to construct two 7.6 hectare greenhouses and a packing facility on poor-quality land. On one side there is Berwyn prison, of which I have spoken many times, on another an abattoir, and on the third the Wrexham sewage works belonging to Dŵr Cymru. It answers the call made by my noble friend Lord Greaves in Amendment 53 to produce food in an urban area, and I hope it might even satisfy the noble Lord, Lord Rooker.
The Wrexham plan would capture waste heat and carbon emissions from the Dŵr Cymru facility and use them to grow tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers at the site. Britain imports from other countries 80% of its tomatoes and 90% of its peppers. The promoters think that their current projects in East Anglia can meet 5% of the national consumption of tomatoes. It will use less water than traditional agriculture: treated water emerges from the sewage plant at 25 degrees centigrade and, at the moment, that heat is entirely wasted. The quality of the soil at the site is completely immaterial. The system could be hydroponic or it could use a suitable growing medium.
The Wrexham project proposes the creation of 150 new jobs. The Home Secretary should surely support it, since with 2,000 prisoners doing nothing very much next door there will be no need for the east European agricultural workers who she does not seem to like very much. There are shades of Norman Stanley Fletcher in “Porridge”. Access to such labour would also deal with the concerns that the noble Lord, Lord Northbrook, expressed at the beginning of this debate. The idea behind the project is that waste heat from the sewage works would be used to provide heat to the greenhouses through a heat exchanger; any carbon emissions would be directed into the greenhouses to be absorbed by the growing plants. Plants absorb carbon dioxide and give out oxygen. It is obviously win-win all the way round.
I am addressing your Lordships from a passive house which we built five years ago. It relies upon a heat exchanger air pump, which greatly reduces our heating costs and provides an even flow of warm air throughout the year. It was a novel idea in these parts at the time, but planning permission was granted after some scratching of heads. I hope that schemes similar to the Wrexham Five Fords project relying on heat pumps can be developed throughout the country. That may require some modern thinking in planning departments but they are surely one important way forward. Does the Minister not agree that projects of this nature should be explicitly added to the aims set out in Clause 1, as highlighted by the amendments in this group, and that to promote sustainable food security they deserve full government support and investment?
My Lords, my speech has been made by the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, who made the critical point that the fundamental interest of the state is to be able to intervene to see that people have enough to eat at affordable prices. The issue of food security is, therefore, to the fore. My question to the Minister is the obvious one that comes from this debate: do the Government have the power they need to maintain food security if that is required?
The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, proposes to add food security as an item in Clause 1(1). That is clearly sensible if the Government do not already have those powers. I look to the Minister to give the Committee chapter and verse on whether the state already has powers to intervene to maintain food security by providing subsidies as and when required. It can clearly secure those powers extremely quickly, probably within 24 hours, if needed in the event of a crisis. Before we go off on a long meander through amendments on Report, it would be helpful to know whether this power already exists and, if so, where. If not, why do the Government not think this an appropriate moment to take that power since, where food security is not being maintained, it is clearly a fundamental duty of the state?
My Lords, I have put my name to Amendments 35 and 70, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, Amendment 36, from the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, Amendment 71 from the noble Earl, Lord Devon, and Amendment 75 from the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, all of whom have spoken passionately. Health and sustainability are important to all families. Protecting food security so that citizens have access to good quality food will ensure healthier outcomes. The extremely large number of speakers on this group indicates the strength of feeling and concern about this subject. The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, gave the statistic showing that children being admitted to hospital with malnutrition had risen by 25%. This statistic is scandalous in a country as rich as ours. My noble friend Lord Campbell of Pittenweem referred to children living in poverty.
In recent weeks, there have been a number of Oral Questions about the quality of food eaten in our families and whether it is healthy. Most people want to eat a healthy diet but some do not completely understand what constitutes one. For many it is sufficient that it fills them up. We must move away from this and promote healthy eating at all levels. This is not just an issue for agriculture. As has been said, diabetes is on the increase. In the three years to 2018, 170 limb amputations took place each week on those suffering from the severer effects of diabetes. While we may all know these figures, and understand the horror caused by them, many of those eating unhealthy diets have no idea what may lie in store for them.
Exercise is of course key to remaining healthy but for those on low incomes, there are implications of healthy eating. It is estimated that eating more fruit and vegetables could cost some families as much as £15 extra per week. This is simply not affordable for them. Many families managed before the Covid epidemic but after its outbreak were forced to use food banks to survive. Food banks saw the number of people applying to them rise dramatically during the first stage of the crisis. It is vital that people are fed—but fed with nutritious food. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, made a vital contribution on this issue.
Amendments 35 and 63, in the names of my noble friend Lord Greaves and the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, respectively, promote the growth of food production in urban areas. I note the cautious comments of the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, on this. Growing food in urban areas has somewhat fallen out of fashion. As a child, I was brought up in Bristol when it was not uncommon for homes to have a pigsty in the garden, as well as a plentiful supply of home-grown vegetables. There was also a large section of allotments in the city. The keeping of pigs at home fell out of favour with the first outbreak of foot and mouth, but it is still possible for vegetables and fruit to be grown in and around urban areas. Councils should set aside more land for allotments, especially for those living in blocks of flats. My noble friend Lord Greaves spoke at length on the importance of allotments. The Happold Foundation says that:
“Cities the size of London will never be able to grow enough food to feed the population … However, it still seems desirable to get food production closer to the consumer to make it more sustainable, and to reduce the food miles of what we consume and we release less CO2 into the atmosphere.”
Perhaps the vertical indoor growing method, raised by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, will help with this.
The growing food poverty and food insecurity in this country should not be accepted by society. We must measure and understand the causes of food insecurity and in doing so devise ways in which food supply chains in this country could help to provide a solution. As the British Poultry Council says:
“It is essential that the Agriculture Bill maintains a strong link between food production and the ability of people to eat.”
If we lose control of the food that enters our markets, we run the risk of creating a two-tier food system, where only the well-off can afford to eat British food that meets British standards from farm to fork. We would be wise to bear that in mind.
Sustainable food production is essential. To achieve the systemic shift towards more sustainable farming methods, we need to unlock the barriers to change, since the current business model means that some farmers have no option but to employ agricultural practices that do not serve the public interest as regards their impacts on the environment and public health. The Bill is an opportunity to put that right.
The Nature Friendly Farming Association says:
“Government should demonstrate leadership and make real commitments to support sustainable, nature friendly and climate-friendly UK agriculture. All government departments should ensure that their procurement processes prioritise buying local food direct from UK farmers where possible, giving preference to those with high standards of environmental sustainability and animal welfare.”
My noble friend Lord Bruce of Bennachie spoke passionately about the reasons why food security is disrupted and the possible disruption to the supply of food coming from Europe. I look forward to the Minister’s response. I also welcome the support of the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, for green energy.
It seems that the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, does not understand what the purpose of the Committee stage of a Bill is. It is for noble Lords from all sides of the House to put forward amendments on elements that they feel will improve the Bill. I felt that his attack on the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, was somewhat poor. Of course there will be differences in the viewpoints of members of the Green Party and the Conservatives, but each is valid and deserves to be listened to.
Many noble Lords who have taken part in this group of amendments have made the case extremely eloquently. I hope that the Government are listening and look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, and all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. I hope that your Lordships will forgive me if I do not namecheck everyone who has spoken. I think that, with the exception of a few notable contributions, we were all in agreement that food production linked to human health should be at the centre of the Bill. I have previously cautioned against adding a whole lot of new features to Clause 1, but I make an exception for this issue. This is a fundamental lack in the Bill as it stands, and I will explain why in a moment.
We have tabled Amendments 36 and 92 in this group, and I thank noble Lords who have put their names to them and who have commented favourably on them. Amendment 36 adds an extra purpose to Clause 1. It would make it clear that producing healthy food, including through horticulture, in an environmentally sustainable way should be a key purpose for which financial assistance can be given. Amendment 92 goes on to give a clear definition of “environmentally sustainable way”, in particular emphasising the need to measure the long-term impact on natural resources.
We believe that this approach should be a fundamental objective of our future farming policy, so I want to talk about that overriding principle rather than the individual amendments. As I said, our amendments echo the theme of a number of other amendments this evening that highlight the production of healthy food as a necessity to tackle food insecurity, food poverty and poor nutrition. We believe that the farming community lies at the heart of that.
The Government’s White Paper, Health and Harmony: The Future for Food, Farming and the Environment in a Green Brexit, highlighted the key links between our farming and food supply systems. However, incentives to produce healthy food seem to be missing from this Bill. The Minister the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner, made clear at Second Reading that financial assistance should not be given for producing food, as this was a commercial decision. He said:
“in our view food is a private good; it is bought and sold. This is the key distinction of the philosophy of the legislation, because its value is rewarded in the market. These new financial assistance powers are intended to reward farmers and land managers for those outcomes that the market does not currently recognise.”—[Official Report, 10/6/20; col. 1830.]
This is a profound philosophical distinction and we profoundly disagree. The danger with this philosophy is that maintaining UK food production is no longer a priority: we increasingly rely on imports and have to fight for enough quality food to feed our nation in the global markets. This is a seriously risky strategy, particularly as we leave the EU and no longer have the right of access to a large, stable food supply market. As we have discovered in the Covid-19 pandemic, these international food supply chains can be precarious, so we argue that feeding our nation is a public good.
However, we cannot simply rely on the food production systems of old. The public health consequences are too stark. As noble Lords pointed out, our nation’s dietary habits are fuelling obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers. It is characterised by a low intake of fibre, fruit and vegetables, while we overconsume energy, saturated fats and sugars.
Last year, the Social Market Foundation calculated that more than 1 million people in the UK live in food deserts. These are neighbourhoods where poverty, poor transport and the lack of shops seriously limit access to affordable fresh fruit and vegetables. On the one hand, therefore, we have growing obesity, and on the other hand we have growing food poverty. The recent pandemic illustrated all too shockingly that millions of people relied on food banks and food parcels. The school meal voucher chaos illustrated that tens of thousands of children who relied on schools to provide the one substantial meal of the day were left to skip meals when that provision was taken away.
These are huge public health issues for the Government, but they are also matters where a change in farming practice could fuel better eating habits and lead to a healthier nation. We will not achieve this by intensifying conventional farming methods, which would strip out the natural nutrients in the soil and weaken natural defences to pests and diseases, leading to more artificial crop protection interventions. This is why—and this has been a theme throughout our debate—a whole-farm ecological development has to go hand in hand with generating healthy food. We address the issues of food security and the need for a national food plan in later amendments. In the meantime, I commend these amendments to the House.
I say to the Minister, however, that of all the issues we have debated so far, this is the one where I think the Government have got it badly wrong. I hope that he will reflect on this and come back with a more positive response on report. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, this has been an absorbing debate once again. I thank my noble friend for her Amendment 35. I shall address Amendments 75, 56, 60, 69, 71, 36 and 92, all of which relate to food production. I declare my farming interests as set out in the register.
This debate has thrown up quite a number of questions, and those that I am not in a position to answer—very often because they require some detail—I shall, of course, answer in writing in a letter that I am proposing to compose when we conclude Committee stage. Because a lot of things are coming up that are repeated quite often, it would be best if we try to co-ordinate with a sensible government response. I hope that is acceptable to your Lordships.
Growing healthy, nutritious food is, of course, the primary role of farmers. It is something that farmers in the United Kingdom do exceptionally well. Through the purposes in Clause 1, the Government want to support goods that benefit society but are not currently provided for by the market. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, is absolutely right: I said it at Second Reading and I say it again. The point about food, in contrast, is that it can be bought and traded: it is rewarded in the market and, indeed, those of us who farm receive income from our production. That is why, in the construction of the Bill, new Clause 1(4)—I say “new Clause”, because I think this is a very important addition and one I strongly support—places a duty on the Secretary of State, when framing any financial assistance scheme, to consider the importance of food production and its production in an environmentally sustainable way. This was a point raised by the noble Earl, Lord Devon, and my noble friend Lord Northbrook.
I absolutely agree with the analysis of my noble friends Lord Inglewood and Lord Cormack of what this country and much of the world has gone through in previous times, and why food production is so important. It is important for this country, but also for giving us opportunities to help feed the world through our exports. That is essential too, and it is why I say to my noble friend Lord Marlesford that food production and environmental sustainability not only can but must —I underline “must”—go hand in hand. We should be champions of great British food and drink and I place on record that farmers have, all too often, been maligned. I am reminded of what the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, said on an earlier Committee day about all the things that farmers do on our behalf.
The duty requires the Secretary of State to have “regard to the need” to encourage sustainable production, rather than simply “to encourage” sustainable production, when designing financial assistance schemes. This is because all schemes must be looked at in the round; each scheme will have different aims and will operate in different ways. While the Government’s future farming schemes as a whole will be designed to encourage sustainable food production, it is not necessarily the case that every scheme is directly aiming to do so. I have one example—the tree health pilot which will start next year—but the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, spoke of another aspect of a scheme which clearly does not directly relate to food production.
The duty, as drafted, gives Ministers the flexibility to design individual schemes in a way which best meets their objectives, while ensuring that there is a clear obligation to encourage sustainable food production overall. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, among many others, spoke of health and well-being. I was very struck by his words. Indeed, the important report that the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans raised, Hungry for Change, is very important, because this will involve multiple departments. I am therefore very pleased to say that I will make sure that Defra will play a key part in that multi-departmental response.
The Government believe that the best place to encourage healthy eating is later on in the supply chain, a point that my noble friends Lord Caithness and Lord Blencathra were referring to: after all, fruit and vegetables can still be used in products that are unhealthy if not taken in moderation. I know that it may be unsatisfactory to noble Lords who see this as an opportunity to attach to the Bill something that we think is best placed in other work, but it is the intention that the national food strategy should address these major challenges, including food security and health. The strategy will build on the Bill to help ensure that our food system delivers healthy and affordable food for all, built on a resilient and sustainable agriculture sector.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, raised the UN sustainable development goals. The Government are committed to achieving the principles set out in the goals. It is our intention to report on this under Clause 17(2)(d). I was struck also by other points that have been made. Yes, there is a dilemma. We all wish that there were no food banks because people did not need recourse to them. These are often an important part of volunteering and civic society. The Government spend £95 billion per year on the welfare budget supporting those who face food insecurity. This Bill, the national food strategy and other existing initiatives to encourage the consumption of healthy food will work together to ensure that citizens have a steady supply of healthy, home-grown, sustainable food.
As a farmer, I am obviously keen that we produce food, and more of it. The most recent available statistics indicate that we produce 64% of our entire food supply. That figure rises to 77% for food that we can grow or rear here in the UK for all or part of the year. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, suggested that these figures are not steady, but my understanding is that they have been steady for about the last 20 years. The Government are also making significant investments in schools to promote physical activity and healthy eating, through our Healthy Start, school fruit and vegetable and nursery milk schemes.
The provisions in this Bill are designed to ensure that our farmers and growers receive targeted support to create a farming system that provides food produced to high environmental and animal welfare standards. Clause 1(1)(f) already—I stress “already”—allows the Government to give financial assistance to protect or improve the health or welfare of livestock. We will use this power to develop schemes to tackle endemic diseases; these schemes will support a responsible reduction in antimicrobials and other veterinary medicines. I very much endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Trees, said. My understanding is that there is, overall, a 53% reduction in the use of antibiotics. This point was also made by my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe.
I was privileged to go to Washington with the former Chief Medical Officer and Chief Veterinary Officer to talk about what this country is doing to reduce the use of antibiotics and the concerns around microbial resistance; as I said, it was a great privilege to go with Dame Sally Davies and Christine Middlemiss. It is acknowledged around the world—even if not, perhaps, by some of your Lordships—that this country is leading on this matter.
On the use of farming chemicals and pesticides, we are already committed to protecting people and the environment from the risks that these products can pose. Strict regulation permits the sale and use of pesticides only through scientific assessment that shows that they will not harm people or pose unacceptable risks. We wish to reduce any risks and encourage the uptake of alternatives and new technology.
With regard to Amendment 47, Clause 1(2) enables support for the enhanced productivity of plant-based production. I think there is a balance to this. I agree with my noble friend Lord Blencathra, the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, who speaks with great experience, and the noble Earl, Lord Devon. I think personally that the British livestock sector offers a great contribution both in relation to food and to our landscapes. The iconic landscapes of so many of our national parks and other beautiful places, uplands and lowlands, are due to livestock farming. If anyone needs a clue as to what I think about the importance of benign livestock farming in this country, I have said a great deal. I am also reminded of recent reports about protein and the contribution that meat, as part of a mixed diet, makes to protein intake.
With regard to Amendment 46, I can assure the noble Baroness that we already have stringent methods and guidance in place as part of public procurement policy. The government buying standards for food and catering services—GBSF—applies to all food and catering services provided by central government departments and their executive agencies. This guidance sets out the minimum standards that must be adhered to if something is procured via Crown commercial services, including a requirement that:
“All food served must be produced in a way that meets UK legislative standards for animal welfare, or equivalent standards.”
My noble friend Lord Naseby, the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, and other noble Lords spoke of horticulture and green energy. The Government are currently considering the best way to support the horticulture sector and we will be working with the industry to design a replacement fruit and vegetable aid scheme. This includes looking at the use of innovative methods of production, such as the use of sustainable energy, which is a very important point to bear in mind and work on.
I turn to Amendments 53 and 63. The Government recognise that there are opportunities to produce food in urban areas. They are also committed to encouraging sustainable food production. Clause 1(2) could provide new opportunities for growing food, for instance on marginal land or through new techniques such as vertical farming. I note what the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, said about opportunities in that regard and what my noble friend Lord Holmes of Richmond said—I would be interested to see his technology report. I think that these are some of the great innovation opportunities that we should grasp, and they are where we will get much advice from the research funding that will come from different sources.
I should also say that I have made many visits to allotments and this is a matter where local authorities should have responsibility, but if anyone would like me to use this opportunity to proclaim the importance of allotments, I take that opportunity now. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, and others for raising the importance of community projects, not only for working together but also for producing nutritious food.
On the supply issue raised by the noble Lords, Lord Bruce and Lord Adonis, and my noble friend Lord Cormack, the Government have well-established ways of working with the food industry during situations with the potential to disrupt supply. Indeed, as I think I said at Second Reading, I have direct experience of working within the department in recent weeks with retailers and farmers on ensuring that there is food for the nation. We are doing extensive work with industry to prepare, including the launch of the UK’s New Start: Let’s Get Going campaign this week, which includes border operating models.
I say to the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, that we have done quite of lot and I would like to write to him because the list is pretty extensive. However, the Government will make appropriate regulatory interventions —as we have done during the recent Covid crisis and continue to do—such as the food supply information clause in the Covid-19 Bill. However, I would like to write because we did many things in terms of drivers’ hours and derogations to ensure that food supply came through, which I would like noble Lords to know about.
In connection with the national food strategy, I take all the points made about the importance of food security; it is why Clause 17, which we will debate, is in the Bill and why food security is absolutely acknowledged as a key part and a key feature of this Bill, as indeed is Clause 1(4).
I restate my point about wanting this to be undertaken through the national food strategy, which is not to suggest for one minute that it is not important; it is absolutely key to how this country becomes healthier. It is absolutely essential that we ensure that the young generation and older generations find ways of becoming fitter because one thing that is very clear, I am afraid, is that underlying health issues have been a major issue in this recent crisis. It is an imperative and why I think the national food strategy will be absolutely imperative. I have not seen it; it is an independent report and that is the important part about it.
For all the succeeding elements of the food discussions we will have in Committee and beyond, I will ensure that Henry Dimbleby has sight of the extracts from Hansard on all the groups that involve what I would call the national food strategy work and what we want him to do by way of enhancing health and ensuring healthy eating, which is absolutely fundamental to our improved national life. To pick up the words of the noble Lord, Lord Judd, health and well-being from food are absolutely key to the success of our nation.
With that explanation of how and why we have drafted the Bill in the way we have, I will look at Hansard because I am conscious that there may be some issues of detail I may not have properly addressed. I have always liked to have a tradition of trying to mention everyone’s name, rather like the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch. With the speaking lists we have, I am afraid that in getting this Bill through I will have to breach a tradition I have so cherished; it is not a discourtesy. I hope that on this occasion my noble friend Lady McIntosh will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, I warmly congratulate the Minister and thank him for the sympathetic way in which he is dealing with this Bill. Like all of us, he will have clocked in at 4 pm for a delayed start at 4.40 pm and has sat through all these extensive debates. He deserves not just a medal but a whole chestful of medals for the way he is dealing with it, but he has not dealt with one intervention: the one from the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs. He complained —I think he moaned a little—about the fact that on the third day we were still on Clause 1. He called for caution and self-restraint.
During his speech I was checking up. In fact, in this debate more than twice as many Tories as Labour Members—to take a random example—have contributed. We have enjoyed some of the speeches, including the wartime reminiscences. When we eventually get to the next group, we have 12 Tories and only two Labour Members. If the Minister agrees with the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs—I do not, by the way; I think we should scrutinise the Bill carefully both in Committee and on Report—I suggest to him that the person he needs to talk to is the Tory Chief Whip and no one else.
My Lords, it is very nice to hear the noble Lord; I enjoy having this dialogue. I am advised that your Lordships will have three times the amount of time, with the six days or more, to consider this Bill in Committee. We should use it wisely; we need to get through a lot of groups. The whole point calls for a bit of good old-fashioned common sense.
I thank the Minister for his usual detailed responses, but I would like to probe him a little more on whether food security is a public good. He is quite correct in saying that there is a market for food. If that is the definition, clearly production of food is not a public good. However, many times in the past the market has not adequately rewarded me for the food I have produced as a farmer. If we want a nation fed on healthy, wholesome food and schoolchildren need healthy meals, one could argue that the need to intervene could occur at some stage in the future. We do not know what the market will be like when we leave the European Union.
The Minister is quite correct that we will discuss Clause 17. This is important and I very much welcome it, but it does not state what the Government will do if there is a food security crisis. I suggest to the Minister that it may be appropriate to reconsider whether food security should be included as a public good, should the Government need to intervene at some stage in future.
Obviously I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Curry. The construction of the Bill, as I said, ensures that we are rewarding farmers for those matters that we have hitherto not rewarded them for. We will get to that in Chapter 2, which deals with
“Fair dealing obligations of business purchasers of agricultural products”.
We want to address that, which is why it is in the Bill. Clearly, the farmer has not always had a fair deal with agricultural producers and others in the supply chain—and of course in Chapter 3 we will look at producer organisations.
As I said, the construct of the Bill is designed to provide new financial assistance powers within the prism of productivity grants. As subsection (1) states:
“In framing any financial assistance schemes, the Secretary of State must have regard to the need to encourage the production of food”,
and this production must be undertaken
“in an environmentally sustainable way.”
We all want a healthy diet. We all want food security. That is why the Government have been working with industry and will continue to work with industry, as we always have. Industry is often the best at finding sources all around the world so that we have resilience in our food supply.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Curry, I wanted to probe very quickly on what basis the production of healthy food would ever be classified as a public good. The Minister has reiterated his view that it is a private good. But does he not accept that in some circumstances it would be a public good and therefore entitled to some of the funding that is set out in the Bill?
The problem with referring noble Lords to the later clauses that deal with food security and the national food strategy is that that area does not necessarily have any money attached to it, whereas the financial assistance and the public good element is the one that we are really interested in, so the onus is on that. Are there any circumstances in which the Minister would see it as a public good?
I apologise to the noble Baroness, but the only way that I can reply to that is to repeat that the whole construct of this is to ensure that farming with food production and enhancing the environment go hand in hand. There is obviously a limited sum of money. The noble Baroness and other noble Lords have said that we must be careful that we do not make this Bill a Christmas tree affair by adding everything on—so we need to be pragmatic.
The area where we have not hitherto rewarded farmers is in relation to the purposes set out in Clause 1(1)(a) to (j). They are considerable projects that will, in the end, help us to produce even better food. If one were to start rewarding food production, it would drive a coach and horses through the construct of the Bill, which is that produce is created by the farmer, for which they receive money. They do not often receive money for the projects in paragraphs (a) to (j). We think, looking at the British taxpayer, that this is the best way of reflecting that we need food production for which the farmer receives payment, and in Chapter 2 we recognise that we need to address fairer arrangements for the farmer. But this is better than, in effect, having a direct payment for the food you produce when you are already being paid whatever you sell your wheat or your milk for. We can have a discussion about that price, but in terms of the taxpayer rewarding and acknowledging farmers, we think that subsections (1)(a) to (j) and (2)(a) and (b) are the right way forward.
I thank the Minister for his detailed response to the group. I think he has answered my question. Is what he has just said the reason why he does not approve of Amendment 60—because it does not directly support domestic production financially?
My Lords, I will have to look again at Amendment 60. The construct is about where, following the Health and Harmony consultation we undertook, it was decided that we should recognise support for farmers in a post-CAP world. It was recognised that we needed to put food production and food security in the Bill, and we have put them in. This is the difficulty when you have improvements in iterations. They were valuable new iterations, but the point about rewarding food production is that, with better fair dealing, the farmer gets a reward from the market. They do not as yet for the purposes in Clause 1(1)(a) to (j), and we think that is where the reward should be.
My Lords, I am grateful to all who have contributed to this group of amendments. There were almost 40 contributors, including the Minister and me. It has been a vigorous debate and almost all noble Lords were united.
I am grateful for the response from the Minister. My remaining concern, as has been reflected in the questions, including those following his speech and his response to them, is that food production should be considered a public good. I am not quite sure that we have established that yet. Also, I remain deeply concerned —as, I believe, do other noble Lords—about the future of food security. We have not had and will not have sight of the Dimbleby report on food strategy, in which a lot of this will be dealt with, according to my noble friend said. That is regrettable. But the hour is late. For the moment, I will withdraw this amendment, but I reserve the right to return to it later. I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 35.
Amendment 35 withdrawn.
Amendments 36 to 57 not moved.
58: Clause 1, page 2, line 31, at end insert—
“( ) providing advice and support to those in receipt of, or potentially in receipt of, financial assistance under subsection (1)”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment provides for an advice-based system of support, as opposed to a sanctions-based one.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 58. Anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk. I remind the House that anyone wishing to press this or any other amendment in the group should make that clear in debate.
My Lords, in moving Amendment 58 I shall speak also to my other amendments in this group. There are two basic ways of managing the flow of funding under the Bill: through penalties or through encouragement and advice. I hope that the Government’s intention is to focus on incentives—broad-brush, bottom-up, banded, with plenty of room for local initiatives and a clear understanding that initiatives will often fail—rather than opting for top-down micromanagement. I hope that the Government will institute a strong supply of advice and the funding for it, so that good practice and ideas find it easy to spread, rather than relying on audit and enforcement.
The management of chalk grasslands is a challenge local to me. These are a potentially immensely rich, if sometimes rather small, environment. They were created by a pattern of agriculture that has gone: cattle and sheep herded in large open areas, then folded in the lowlands at night, with a plentiful supply of shepherds and rabbits to keep the scrub from spreading. That has all gone, but we still want the chalklands ecosystem. It is the principal objective of the South Downs National Park.
We have to take the overloaded pastures that have resulted from wartime needs and subsequent agricultural policies, with lots of parasites and consequence high use of biocides, and end up with fields full of insects and wildlife, and a profit for the farmer. We have to find ways to allow the public to enjoy the results of the system that we create; to allow larks to nest undisturbed and people to listen to them; to have fields full of orchids that people can picnic in; and to combine dog walkers and sheep, and old ladies enjoying the outdoors and a herd of bouncy cattle.
Finding a way to do that will take lots of experimentation and there will be lots of failure. Farmers will participate in this over the whole of the chalklands. We do not need, “You can have money to do this, but if you don’t succeed, we’ll be after you”; we do need lots of advice, recording and sharing of data, experimentation and supported failure. That is expensive. The Government would have to fund a team of people over decades. To hazard an estimate, £10 million a year might be the basic level for 200 field staff. However, that £10 million would multiply the benefit of the hundreds of millions being spent elsewhere, because it would make that larger expenditure much better focused and better directed. It would also set the tone of the whole agricultural support system and make it a pleasure to interact with, since it would look for ways to make better things happen. That would make a huge difference to compliance and effectiveness in a fragmented industry.
Of my three amendments, Amendment 135 is key. That is the one I want the Government to get behind.
My Lords, I am delighted to support my noble friend Lord Lucas. I have put my name to Amendments 58 and 119. The Minister will recall that I majored on the whole question of advice in my Second Reading speech. I dedicated all my time to it because I think it is so important.
Farming has been partially insulated from market pressures by the support schemes of the CAP. In particular, the area payments developed by the CAP since 1992 and subsequent steps in 2003 and 2013 have acted to reward land occupation, not business activity. This has been associated with reduced flexibility in land occupation markets, and thus with the relative weakness in the United Kingdom’s agricultural productivity growth.
The progressive removal of area payments and the prospect of more open trading agreements seem likely to drive an accelerated process of change in who is farming what land and how, by both unwinding the protectionist effects of past area payments and responding to the coming changes. This might affect poorer businesses on more marginal land in particular, whether cropping or livestock. My concern is that this process of change should be managed to maximise its economic, environmental and social benefits, while minimising costs.
Farming’s adaptation to the new policy and business environment will not be a simple and swift transformation, but will take much time and effort. The scale of the challenges and the changes associated with them should not be underestimated. Success will require attention to skills and training, investment, approaches to sustained innovation in business policy, technology and marketing. It will be all the better if this is enabled by a new positive regulatory regime after Brexit, ensuring flexible and open markets in land occupation and use. All this must be supported by effective and practical advice and facilitation.
The outcome will be a much less standardised industry than the one we created since the war through policies before and under the CAP, which were largely dedicated to full-time commodity protection. Achieving this will be a major call on all those involved, not only Governments and farmers.
At Second Reading, I quoted a statement from the Welsh Government. I will repeat it and hope my noble friend the Minister will confirm that he agrees with it:
“Advice should be seen as an investment in the capacity of farmers and farms rather than a cost”.
My noble friend Lord Lucas also talked about the importance of the need to experiment; schemes might go right, they might go wrong. I draw the House’s attention, as I did earlier, to the Northern Devon Nature Improvement Area. The reason that has worked, as well stated in its report, is that the key to achieving its objectives was the creation of
“an integrated and co-ordinated advisory service to landowners.”
That is the purpose of these amendments. I hope the Minister will respond favourably to them.
I have one other point which did not occur to me when I put my name to this amendment, because I was looking at the farmers’ point of view. County shows, which principally exist to educate us about food, farming, the countryside and the wider environment, have been going a long time but are now in very uncertain territory. Most of them take about nine months or so to plan. What will happen next year? As my noble friend is aware, the shows have been cancelled this year. What will the guidance be for those planning mass gatherings next year? How soon will that information become available?
Also, will there be any financial assistance for events such as county shows? They are in jeopardy of falling by the wayside and giving up because they have not been given the attention they deserve. I hope my noble friend can comment on both those points, because I know he has lauded county shows in the past in this House. I support him on that. Defra would be a poorer department if it did not have the help from county shows in educating us the way they do.
My Lords, I put my name to these amendments on a very simple principle: if you are asking people to change how they go about their business or the way it happens, you will need some advice or guidance to get you through. If you have not done it before, you will need to be given some guidance, some advice or pathway, on how to get through so that you can do it correctly. Also, if you are giving assistance, you need to be told what you are expected to do for that.
This will be a very complicated mesh—two speeches have been made already and I cannot think of anything I disagree with. If you are trying to do this, you will have to give guidance through very different pathways which will change in every type of landscape you come across. The South Downs, the North Downs where I live, and the fields of East Anglia where I grew up will all need different structures. As the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, brilliantly said in introducing this, you must allow for, if not failure, then less successful schemes to be tried to see how long they take to develop.
We will need this to make sure that the Government’s actions work. It might well be that the Government will not smile on these amendments, but could the Minister embrace the principle here and tell us whether the Government expect to be a place where good information is brought together and passed on? Could he also say what is unacceptable—what will not be supported, financed and encouraged? That would also be beneficial.
The Government are changing stuff. They are basically creating a new rulebook. It would help if everybody could read it before we start.
Lord Marlesford, you suggested that you were going to speak on only one group today. Do you want to speak now?
I have one thing to add. There is the inescapable fact that after 2021 farmers will not get money under the basic payment scheme in the same way as they have done. That money is on average around 70% of their taxable profit. Without it, many would not be able to continue. They therefore must be helped into what they will do instead and how they will diversify their farming operation to get themselves a living. That is why I back these amendments.
My Lords, on this group of amendments on training for farmers we have come to the nub, that pivotal point where this Bill will either succeed or fail in its ambitions. These amendments are the key to getting the whole new agricultural, environmental land management programme to work on the ground.
It is exciting that with this Bill we have a whole new approach to producing our food and managing the countryside while rewarding farmers. We do not know yet exactly where we are going—ELMs is still at the pilot stage—but one thing is certain. Farmers and land managers will need all the help and training they can get if we are to make it work on the ground.
There is very little time between the demise of the single farm payment and the putting in place of thousands of ELM contracts—good luck with that—so we must get a training scheme in place as soon as possible, training not only how best to judge what the farmer and his land can provide for the nation, but also how best to deliver. Proper training will make things better for farmers, better for our flora, fauna, meadows and woodlands, better for visitors and, above all, better for the taxpayers, who might then get the best return on their money.
By their very nature, farmers take a long-term view: live as if you will die tomorrow, but farm as if you will live for ever. That does not necessarily mean that they are slow to change, but they need help and assistance to change. Farming is one of the most isolated jobs in the world, so without some form of a proper training scheme it will be hard for farmers to engage properly with this brave new world that we are hoping to roll out—and without their engagement, frankly, the brave new world will not happen.
My Lords, I support Amendments 58 and 119, as tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and the noble Earl, Lord Caithness. I also agree with every word that the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, just said, and the words of other noble Lords.
The threat of sanctions put off many farmers from taking up opportunities under the current environmental schemes. These sanctions threaten not only the environmental scheme payments themselves, but also, through cross-compliance, the basic payments. Access to and the eligibility of financing advice is therefore supremely important if there is to be a wide take-up of ELM schemes. The wealthier farmers with larger farms often have good access to advice, but most of this is expensive and unattractive as an option. Farmers are not a homogenous group. All that a farmer with a small to medium-sized farm knows about is the traditional farming that he has done for ever through good and bad years. He knows the risks. That is his life and livelihood. A farmer may not have great expectations and he may not take foreign holidays, but he fears getting involved in a new venture outside of his comfort zone which could lead to direct or indirect sanctions and put him out of business.
A study by the School of Agriculture, Policy and Development at the University of Reading and the Institute for Sustainable Food at the University of Sheffield looked at the impact of the digital divide and sometimes limited access to broadband in rural areas, which, together with lack of time, the age of the farmer and social isolation, has made it difficult for farmers to contribute to or participate in the design of ELMs.
These factors will not have changed at the implementation stage, so access to and funding for farm advisers with good training and good communication skills is essential. The success or otherwise of the Bill will be judged partly by the take up and success of environmental land management schemes. The balance between crop production on marginal land and environmental schemes is the key. Too little profit from the environmental land management scheme will encourage continued production on marginal land, leading to possible losses and risks to the farmer’s business and livelihood. If there is too much profit in the scheme there will be a loss of farm production and, consequently, greater imports of food and less self-sufficiency. This demonstrates the importance of the provision of advice and, if necessary, financing it.
My Lords, I support Amendment 122 in the name of my noble friend Lord Grantchester and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, for bringing forward his amendments. We are standing at a watershed for farming and land management. We cannot underestimate the scale of change that this Bill denotes. We need to fund an effective advisory process to support farmers and land managers through what could otherwise be cataclysmic changes. Over the past 30 years we have seen the erosion and virtual disappearance of what was, in early days, a systematic advisory support service, which had developed to support farming improvements in the post-war era. Most farming advice is now provided by commercial agronomists with products to sell or by fragmented single-focus organisations. Advice needs to cover not only technical and productivity improvements but ecological literacy. The scale and ambition of the changes the Bill proposes and the multiple functions we need land to deliver show that the time has come again for a comprehensive and joined-up approach to advisory services, and for the funding to deliver that. I hope the Minister can support this.
My Lords, being a farmer, over the past two or three years I have had to think very carefully about my activities in future. In my case, I have one specific and really quite complicated land use problem—or perhaps I should say challenge—to deal with. The way in which I have approached it is to take a certain amount of specialist advice. In simple terms, that advice has been paid for by the BPS payment I received. As all your Lordships know, the BPS payment is to be cut and the effect is that the money that otherwise would pay for advice may well not be there.
My example is not particular to me; a lot of farmers are thinking seriously about what they have to do next. They will have to take external advice, probably now—it is no good waiting until the changes come into effect before you decide what to do. What you have to do is think about the future, work on the basis of what we know about the general rules and regulations that will be in place and plan a course. In all sorts of ways, this is something which many farmers cannot do. Of course, if you are going to take advice, you have to pay for it. When the BPS is cut back, individual farms’ resources to do that will be curtailed. I suggest to the Committee, and through it to the Minister, something which I have mentioned to his private office. Instead of simply cutting pieces off the BPS payment until ELMS comes into being, it should be possible for that money to be drawn down from individual farms and hypothecated to get the advice necessary to prepare the farmers for the future world that will come. Otherwise I fear a lot of farms will not do enough homework, which will be to the detriment of not only British agriculture but Britain as a whole.
My Lords, there appear to be two different types of amendment in this group: those that seek to promote and incentivise advice and guidance, and those that seek to impose requirements on the Secretary of State. Amendments 58 and 119 in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and my noble friend Lord Caithness seek to promote advice; they are entirely right in that and the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, spoke most eloquently about it. I will be interested in the Minister’s response; I am sure he holds all these leads close his heart. The noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, spoke so movingly about the challenges of change.
I suggest that Amendment 122 goes too far in requiring, rather than facilitating, advice—and across a large number of areas. This will inevitably make any advisory system more bureaucratic and less flexible. The object of the exercise is to promote opportunities for farmers, not bureaucracy. It is so important that we move flexibly and quickly in this area, rather than trying to set up another version of the common agricultural policy.
My Lords, I partially support the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Lucas. Assistance should be given to training but there should not be just blanket financial assistance in this area. Last week, I received a letter from Defra about the environmental land management summary document; before I move on to that, let me put on record my thanks to the Minister for his tremendous work in tightening up matters at the RPA and improving BPS payment times.
The letter said, “Environmental land management: we want to hear your views”, and explained that, going back to February, there was a 10-week national conversation, which has been delayed due to coronavirus —fair enough. It also said that Defra was launching webinars, which I will take part in over the next few weeks. Then there is a six-page document setting out, very helpfully, broad details of the various tiers. I will summarise the purposes of each. Tier 1’s purpose is to incentivise environmentally sustainable farming and forestry and help to deliver environmental benefits; that is perfectly clear. Tier 2’s purpose is to incentivise the management of land in a way that delivers locally targeted environmental outcomes; that is a little more difficult. Tier 3’s purpose is to deliver land use change projects of a landscape scale to deliver environmental outcomes; that is not clear at all, in my view.
Then there is a chart about how you decide whether to participate in these schemes. Two key boxes say, “I decide which environmental outcomes and associated actions I am best placed to provide on my land”, and, “I develop a plan and submit my application”. For larger farmers, with the aid of advice, that will be not such a difficult thing, but as the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, said, for small and medium-sized farmers, it will be a very daunting task. Those farmers should get the financial assistance.
My Lords, I reiterate the declaration of my interests as a landowner and land manager.
In the context of my noble friend’s Amendments 58 and 119, I draw the attention of my noble friend the Minister to the agricultural associations and societies, which have been getting a bit of coverage on Radio 4’s excellent “Farming Today” programme this week. There are about 200 agricultural and show societies in the United Kingdom, many with histories stretching back to the agricultural revolution in the 18th century. Much in line with these amendments, they are there to support, represent and indeed connect providers of advice with those who make up the agricultural industry and to provide a showcase for anything that members of the public might want to know about food, farming and rural life.
My noble friend Lord Caithness referred to the county agricultural shows. I know that the Minister and other noble Lords will, like me, have visited many of the annual summer county agricultural shows in recent years—although, sadly, of course not this year.
All the agricultural societies are charities in their own right. Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland hold their own national shows, as well as many regional and county shows, as does England, which has 15 significant societies, each of whose visitors number more than 60,000 per show in a normal year. What I might call the top 18—the Scottish, Northern Irish and Welsh national societies and England’s top 15—welcome a total of 1.8 million visitors just at their annual shows. The likely combined economic value of these events is in the region of £450 million to £500 million. Taking in other year-round activities, this probably increases to about £800 million. The remaining very large number of agricultural society shows around the country could account for a similar economic impact.
Show grounds, a number of which are permanent, also act as venues for a wide range of year-round events and activities supporting business, leisure and tourism across the nations and regions. Each of the societies offers educational activities throughout the year, as well as providing a forum for conferences and events aligned to and supporting the agricultural sector. Formal links exist with local further and higher education institutions and research centres focused on promoting the skills and careers that the industry needs and offers.
Like many other businesses and organisations, the agricultural associations face uncertainty, especially regarding the next one to two years. Their major events, such as the annual county agricultural shows, take at least nine months to prepare for, and without any support after October, particularly from the current furlough scheme, they could find themselves facing a bleak future. Many of them are already running a slide rule over a “no show in 2021” scenario. As my noble friend Lord Caithness said, the agricultural societies are not asking for special pleading. What would really help them is: first, clearer guidance on mass-gathering indoor and outdoor events by no later than September this year; secondly, recognition of the impact of their unique sector as part of the fabric of agriculture in the UK; and, thirdly, financial assistance, perhaps under the replacement for Pillar 2 if it becomes clear that next year is in jeopardy, particularly, as I said, as the current furlough support will end in October.
Policymakers need to bear in mind that, although heritage and tradition are themselves important, the collective economic and jobs contribution from the agricultural societies is significant. Their collective reach is international and they contribute more broadly to UK plc—for example, through tourism. Therefore, I take this opportunity to ask the Minister to look into the plight of the agricultural societies and to see what he can do to help.
My Lords, the provision of advice to farmers at various stages of the Bill is essential. I listened carefully to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, talk to Amendments 58 and 119. Agriculture is moving from one system to a completely different method of funding, and farmers will be uncertain about how this will operate and what is expected of them. I therefore completely agree that a system of advice-based support is needed.
The noble Lord, Lord Cameron, and my noble friend Lord Addington spoke in favour of an advice system. There will be a few farmers who are unwilling to make the necessary changes to ensure the protection of the environment and the restoration of land to encourage the return of bird, insect and plant species. For those, it might be necessary for a sanctions-based system to be coupled with advice to encourage them to conform. It will be at best unhelpful if there are one or two renegades who spoil the overall thrust of the Government’s measures.
The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, spoke of the difficulties and the digital divide. Rural areas are very poorly served by wi-fi and broadband, which are essential for farming communities.
I fully support Amendment 122, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester. The list of measures to be taken into account in proposed new subsection (2) are essential, especially the impact on the environment, alternative methods of pest control, and food safety. To have this list on the face of the Bill will help farmers to have a much better idea of what is expected as they move towards the new system and, I hope, will remove the need for any sanctions further down the line.
The noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, and the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, have raised the plight of the county shows and all the good work they do. They are an essential part of the farming and rural communities, and I have visited many very many of them over the years. They need certainty for the future and funding.
I trust that we are not too far into the debate for the Minister to have become reluctant to accept the arguments made. Advice is absolutely essential.
My Lords, I declare my interests as recorded in the register. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, and the noble Lord, Lord Addington, for their amendments defining that advice and support should be given to those in receipt of financial assistance in a more positive manner rather than the response being one of making sanctions and deductions to an application that one has submitted—as is too often the case. The receipt of applications would therefore need to have some supervision or opportunity for corrections to be included in the submission process. How far there will be explanations at the beginning of the transition to be implemented and under the new ELM scheme is an interesting call for the Minister. I am sure that the initial expositions about the new ELM scheme will be vital to achieve a confidence-based response from potential applicants.
I shall speak to my Amendment 122, which places a duty on the Secretary of State to include the provision of advice, training and guidance to those receiving financial assistance. Clause 3 is to enable good administration of the new payment system. As part of that good administrative system, regulations must also include the provision of advice across a wide area of important matters—this is in my proposed new subsection (2)—to look at how the running of a land-based system can encompass all the features necessary for success. This covers: business management; the welfare of stock; farm safety—on which farming does not have a particularly good record—and the welfare of land-based workers; and good agricultural practice, which are all necessary to encourage a thriving countryside that is aware of its responsibilities and positive in its outcome.
Good administration is not merely a mechanical process characterised as sanction based and without acknowledgment of responsibilities towards the people who will be undertaking activities we wish to promote. As my noble friend Lady Young noted, this has previously often been delivered in the past through ADAS and other services, but it is no longer provided.
Amendment 135 seems to follow in this vein and provides for advice on three main strands: strategic direction; compliance with the responsibilities of participants; and such compliance provided through encouragement. I would also encourage regulations to include those personnel-type administrative functions.
I thank all noble Lords who recognise the extent of the adaptability required of farmers and who have spoken on these amendments.
My Lords, this has been very helpful debate. I am grateful to my noble friend for Amendments 58, 119 and 135, and to the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, for Amendment 122.
The Government agree that effective advice and guidance will play an essential role in ensuring that agreement conditions are met and that the outcomes we are looking to achieve through future agricultural policy are delivered. “In connection with” in Clause 1(1) includes advice and guidance given to recipients so that they can better understand how to deliver the purposes for which they are in receipt of assistance. The same is true of the two purposes in Clause 1(2).
My noble friend Lord Northbrook spoke of the environmental land management policy discussion document. My notes state that it is currently live, and my noble friend endorsed that by remarking about it. The Government make it clear that access to an adviser will be a crucial component of the success of ELM. I do not want to go into too many of the tiers at this stage, but tier 3 will be where we provide financial assistance on a much broader, landscape level. I can think of catchment areas and greater expanses of land where a number of land managers and farmers would be involved. Tier 1 would be for the farmer, but tiers 2 and 3 would most likely involve a wider number of farmers and land managers. Those policy documents set out a range of models for the provision of advice, including one-to-one advice, group training, telephone and online support, and facilitation of peer-to-peer learning.
I agree with what was said by my noble friends Lord Lucas and Lord Caithness and the noble Lord, Lord Carrington. The ELM tests and trials team has established an advice and guidance thematic working group—that sounds pretty awful, but I am sure that it is a very good working group. This will gather evidence on how different types of expert advice could help farmers and land managers plan, and record, the public goods they choose to deliver across their land. There are currently 34 tests and trials on advice and guidance. I not only take but endorse the point made by my noble friend Lord Lucas on tone and what the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, said about the manner in which all these things are done.
In the policy and progress update published in February, the Government confirmed their intention to offer advice to applicants for productivity grants. This advice could help applicants decide how to target investments to achieve the greatest improvements in business performance. Advice and guidance are also an integral part of the Government’s future animal health schemes, with vets in particular having been identified as a key source of advice for farmers who wish to take pragmatic steps to improve animal health.
In the policy update, the Government also committed to a future system of agricultural regulation which, among other things, understands and implements better ways to provide advice and guidance to the sector. The Government will work closely with industry to consider the best way to deliver such advice. It is, however, imperative that that advice and guidance are delivered by the right people, in the right places, at the right time and—I emphasise—in the right way. A wealth of knowledge and expertise already exists across our farming and land management communities. However, it is also a priority for the Government to ensure that the farming industry is adequately supported by advice and guidance.
My noble friends Lord Caithness and Lord De Mauley spoke about agricultural shows. As a former president of the Bucks County Show and a current vice-president of the Buckinghamshire and Suffolk Agricultural Associations, and having made many visits to agricultural shows across the kingdom, I know that they are an extraordinary example of the great part of rural life and farming at its backbone. All of us obviously regret not having been able to go to our local county shows. The current advice on meeting people outside your household is available online and allows that events of more than 30 people can take place as long as they are planned by an organisation in compliance with the Covid-19-secure guidance, Working Safely During Coronavirus: the Visitor Economy. So I say to my noble friends and all noble Lords that planning for next year, which I know all of them are doing, will clearly depend on where we are in the containment of the virus. There is also industry-led guidance on keeping workers and audiences safe during Covid-19, which applies to those working in outdoor events.
I am well aware that many of these show societies are charities, and of the use of the furlough scheme. I will reflect on what noble Lords have said. Agricultural shows are an important part of the rural calendar and are a way for urban and rural schools to get involved and understand why agriculture and rural life are so important. They are a key part of showing the country what the countryside provides.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for his comprehensive and optimistic reply. I urge on him again the importance of allowing failure; allowing people to get things wrong; to try things for the best reason and find the disaster and then have to put things right. We are going to find the right way to do some of these things only if we are adventurous and stick our necks out. That is the sort of support that I hope this Government will feel able to give. I am comforted by what my noble friend said and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 58 withdrawn.
Amendments 59 to 72 not moved.
House adjourned at 9.52 pm.