Committee (5th Day)
Relevant document: 13th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee
My Lords, a limited number of Members are here in the Chamber, respecting social distancing. If the capacity of the Chamber is exceeded, I will immediately adjourn the House. Other Members will participate remotely, but all Members will be treated equally wherever they are. For Members participating remotely, microphones will unmute shortly before they are to speak. Please accept any on-screen prompt to unmute. Microphones will be muted after each speech. I ask noble Lords to be patient if there are any short delays as we switch between physical and remote participants. I should remind the House that our normal courtesies in debate still very much apply in this new hybrid way of working.
A participants’ list for today’s proceedings has been published and is in my brief, which Members should have received. I also have lists of Members who have put their names to amendments in, or expressed an interest in speaking on, each group. I will call Members to speak in the order listed. Members’ microphones will be muted by the broadcasters except when I call a Member to speak. Interventions during speeches or before the noble Lord sits down are not permitted and uncalled speakers will not be heard.
During the debate on each group I will invite Members, including Members in the Chamber, to email the clerk if they wish to speak after the Minister. I will call Members to speak in order of request and will call the Minister to reply each time. The groupings are binding and it will not be possible to degroup an amendment for separate debate. A Member intending to press an amendment already debated to a Division should have given notice in the debate. Leave should be given to withdraw amendments. When putting the Question, I will collect voices in the Chamber only. If a Member taking part remotely intends to trigger a Division, they should make this clear when speaking on the group.
I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate. Anyone wishing to press this or any other amendment in this group to a Division should make that clear in debate.
Clause 4: Multi-annual financial assistance plans
130: Clause 4, page 5, line 15, leave out “seven” and insert “five”
My Lords, I declare an interest as co-chair of the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Nature Partnership. I shall speak also to Amendment 142. Both these amendments relate to reducing the transition period for the introduction of ELMS from seven years to five years. I suspect that Members are probably not that keen on the idea at the moment, so for the next couple of minutes I intend to try to persuade them otherwise, because it is important that we reduce the transition period.
Members and indeed the country as a whole are aware of COP 26 this year which was supposed to take place in Glasgow concerning the climate change agreement and getting the Paris agreement carried forward in a positive way to meet our planetary carbon emissions targets, but many people are not so aware of a second major conference, COP 15, about the diversity convention. It was supposed to take place this year in Kunming, China but it has also been postponed until next year.
Biodiversity is a global crisis equal to climate change. Biodiversity is not just a problem of equatorial rainforests; it is a problem in Europe and here in the United Kingdom as well. The 2019 State of Nature report states that
“15% of species in the UK are now threatened by extinction,”
41% are in decline and a third remain effectively static, with only a small proportion gaining in number. Biodiversity is not just about bird spotters or twitchers and a comfortable feeling about nature, important though it is for our mental health and the energy of our countryside. It is also about supporting natural systems and allowing them to operate—ecosystem services such as pollination, soil formation, clean water, atmospheric oxygen, disease control and many more. All these are essential not only to the natural world around us but to our economic performance and indeed to our continued existence on this planet.
One of the great things that I have always praised in the Agriculture Bill is the idea not just of public money for public goods but that it should be concentrated on building up and improving biodiversity and nature in our countryside. That is important because about 70% of the land in England and across the UK is used in agriculture. However, I regret to say that it is because of agricultural management that biodiversity in this country has declined so significantly. I do not blame the farming industry and individual farmers for that, but I do blame the financial incentive system within which they have had to operate.
Why am I asking for the transition period to be reduced from seven to five years? It is because the biodiversity issue is a global crisis as well as one here in the United Kingdom. If we take no action and carry on with business as usual, economic systems will fail. At the end of seven years, we will be almost half way through the period of the 25-year environment plan, which I also welcome, although it must be properly financed and delivered.
It may sound trite, but I remind noble Lords that the Second World War lasted for a mere six years and we managed to overcome all the problems and challenges that affected us globally within that time. At the moment we are in a transition period, moving from being a member of the EU to our global position in just 11 months, with all the challenges that that poses, so surely we can manage to implement ELMS over five years rather than seven. I also remind noble Lords that, on nature depletion, the United Kingdom is not in a good position. We ranked 29th from the bottom out of 218 countries. That is why this issue is so important. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, who is the illustrious chairman of our EU sub-committee. For the record, however, I would like the transition period to remain as it is.
I want to speak to Amendment 143, and I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, my noble friend Lord Caithness and the noble Earl, Lord Devon, for lending their support. It is a simple amendment, which would delay the start of the seven-year transition period away from direct payments coming into effect from 2021 to 2022. I should like to pause here to explain why this is necessary.
In seeking to delay the start of the transition period to the new policy framework to 2022, I accept that there is wide support across the House for the government objectives in the Bill to move towards a new framework of support for agriculture that focuses on public payments for public goods and increasing productivity. Much of the detail will be set out in supporting regulations and in the Environment Bill, of which we in this House have not yet had sight. However, the changes being envisaged will be the biggest in a generation and look set to be in place for many years to come.
I accept that we are leaving the European Union but note with regret that, in the four years since the vote in June 2016 signalled the beginning of a process of change, particularly in leaving the CAP, we have made very little progress in developing the necessary mechanisms, policies and schemes that would be worthy of the major changes that we are expecting in this Bill. I accept that much of this is down to the political impasse leading up to the last general election and, more recently, to the pressing issues around controlling Covid-19, which I am sure have affected Defra as they have many other departments.
It is essential that we take the time to introduce new schemes and measures that will stand the test of time, rather than simply bringing them in quickly for the sake of it. I fear that there is an overarching desire through the Bill to show that things have changed as a result of our departure from the European Union, rather than to ensure that we put in place good, made-for-purpose, fit-for-purpose, resilient schemes. Let us face it: our track record in delivering new schemes and new IT to support them is not that great.
Following the environmental land management scheme tests and trials, which themselves have been impacted by the issues surrounding Covid-19 and are ultimately delayed, the Government intend to conduct a pilot in England of a new ELM scheme in 2021, with a view to it being fully operational by 2024. However, if it is true that the Rural Payments Agency will be in charge of running these pilots—I hope that my noble friend can put my mind at rest on that—we have to question its capacity to run such a pilot when it is already struggling to deliver business as usual. Once again this year, the RPA has had to ask the Treasury for funding to bridge payments to environmental stewardship and countryside stewardship applicants before being penalised for failing to meet the required payment targets by 30 June this year. What reassurance can the Government provide that there is adequate capacity within the RPA to deliver the pilot, or does my noble friend think that another body would be more appropriate?
I also place a question mark on the extent to which the Government would be able to spend any money saved through the reductions in direct payments starting in 2021. I understand that Defra has identified this as a potential problem and is therefore looking to make an announcement in September about enhanced options for countryside stewardship and productivity schemes. However, we have none of the detail available to us today. In my view, the sensible thing is to delay the start of the transition period until 2022. That is not kicking the can down the road but giving the Government and Defra the time and space to deliver the good schemes that we know they are capable of, rather than producing half-baked schemes.
The reasons for this delay are these: we are being asked to take a lot on trust; we have not had sight of the Dimbleby food strategy, which I understand will not reach us before Report; we have not had the results of the trials of the ELM schemes; the OEP has yet to be set up; and we do not know what its relationship to the Environment Agency, Natural England and the RPA will be. We owe it to Defra to give it time, because of the Covid pandemic, to reach a proper conclusion to these schemes. I therefore ask the House to commit to supporting Amendment 143.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, whose analysis I almost completely agree with, although my conclusion is a little different. I declare my interests as a farmer and landowner, as set out in the register, and that I have been a recipient of the basic payment over several years.
I tabled Amendment 144, to which my noble friend Lord Curry of Kirkharle has kindly attached his name, and Amendment 145 in order to address the problem of the likely gap that will affect farmers as direct payments are reduced in 2021, while the revenue from the joining of any new environmental land management schemes will not arrive until 2024—although this will be mitigated for some farmers who have existing countryside stewardship schemes. This is no small issue. As we have heard in the debates on the Bill, the BPS accounts for some 58% of farm business income, varying from sector to sector, and around 25% of farms are unprofitable without it.
Although the industry has been aware for several years that the Bill was coming and that its major feature would be public money for public goods, rather than an area-based subsidy, the details of the replacement scheme have been few and still remain a work in progress. Adjustments to a new world have therefore been understandably slow because options have been limited. Diversification of businesses into non-farming activities has been done by some farmers, but this has to an extent been dependent on the tenure of their farm—owned or tenanted—their location and their ability to access funds. Some have looked at selling their produce directly to local shops to improve on the low margins imposed on farmers by the power of supermarkets. Others have cut costs to the bone, affecting their family and lifestyle. Others have attempted to raise productivity, but, once again, this has often depended on their ability to borrow. Still others have emulated Micawber and are waiting for something to turn up. Furthermore, like everyone, all farmers face the uncertainties of Brexit, the new trade agreements and, of course, Covid-19.
It therefore seems fair and reasonable to address the problem of the gap between the BPS cuts and the introduction of the environmental land management scheme, particularly since a solution is suggested in Amendment 144 that would not hold up the transition period and would come with no additional cost to the Government. Under current plans, the Government intend to introduce a cut to BPS in 2021 of a minimum of 5%, with progressive increases in the cuts to the largest recipients of BPS amounting to 25%. No details are given as to what percentage cuts will be made in succeeding years, which is highly regrettable from a business planning point of view. I would be interested to hear the Minister’s response on this point.
Based on these percentages, it is entirely possible that some farmers, both owner and tenant, will see their BPS cut by more than 50% in 2021 before they have access to the environmental land management scheme, which might address some of the shortfall. The amendment therefore proposes that no farmer should have his BPS payments cut by more than 25% until the environmental land management scheme becomes available. I think that we all wish to see a thriving farming industry in this country. The amendment should help in this respect, particularly because the farming businesses likely to be most affected by the BPS cuts, according to the AHDB, are commodity arable producers and lowland livestock farmers, since these are known to be heavily reliant on direct payments.
Furthermore, this solution to covering the gap between the introduction of the ELMS and the reduction of BPS would bring England more into line with Wales and Scotland. I believe that Wales will make no cuts to BPS until 2022 and Scotland until 2024. The amendment would help to level the competitive playing field.
Finally, I will make one further comment on the environmental land management scheme. The Minister is well aware of my frustration about the lack of detail at this late stage. We all hope for the success of this policy. However, there is an irony in the announced reward formula of covering farmers’ costs as well as profit foregone in that it surely would mean a return to the much-condemned area-based payment, since averages rather than farm specific figures will be used in most cases in tier 1. Furthermore, farmers would also hope that income foregone from BPS will be taken into account in the calculation of income foregone.
Amendment 145 is a technical amendment to ensure that regulations made under Amendment 144 would be subject to the affirmative procedure.
My Lords, there are two strands of amendments in this group: those that probe the Government on the agricultural transition period, such as Amendment 143 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh; and others, such as my Amendments 147, 148 and 154, that would prevent secondary legislation that would undermine animal welfare.
As other noble Lords have said, the agricultural transition period needs probing to understand what the Government’s current position is. The Bill has been floating around for a long time, but there is still no real detail in it, which is very frustrating for us who have to comment on it. On the one hand, I am very swayed by the argument from the noble Lord, Lord Teverson. The transition period should probably be as short as possible, simply because we can then move rapidly to a new system of public money for public good. I also do not particularly want to give the Government a lot of time to delay the big, tough decisions they will have to make, but they of course have to give farmers and land managers the time to adapt and improve. Overall, we need the certainty that comes from the Government setting out their plans very clearly. I hope the Minister can set out a timetable for that happening.
The second strand of this group is my amendments which, like so many of my amendments, seek to protect animal welfare. Clauses 9 and 14 grant very broad power to the Secretary of State in what might be termed cost cutting and corner cutting. The clauses should be scrutinised on their own and the Government should make it clear what they plan to use them for to justify their existence. My amendments would prevent the Government cutting these corners for animal welfare so that the Secretary of State cannot simply say, “That’s rather expensive for animals. Let’s see if we can improve on that and cut the cost.” There are probably a dozen other issues that should be added to the list of things that these clauses should not be allowed to tamper with, but for me, animal welfare stands out as a priority.
I hope other noble Lords will join me in their concern about Clauses 9 and 14. We might work together in bringing amendments on Report to curtail these cost-cutting and corner-cutting powers.
My Lords, as before, I declare my agricultural interests as detailed in the register. During the many days of this Committee a considerable number of thoughtful and constructive amendments have been tabled, but in most cases the Government have suggested that they are unnecessary since the matter is already covered in Clause 1 or can be provided for in the new environmental land management scheme. However, the ELMS will not begin until 2024. During the years between now and then, many farms that are currently barely profitable will suffer or disappear.
I will speak to my Amendment 149. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, for signing it as well. As I said at Second Reading, my real concern is for the very survival of smaller hill farms during the intervening years from now until the new ELM payments begin in 2024. The Government announced in February that farmers in the lowest band of basic direct payments—up to £30,000 per annum—would have their payment cut by 5% in 2021, with further cuts in the following years. However, the Government’s own figures for 2018-19—the latest available—show that the average cattle and sheep farmer in a less-favoured area received a direct basic payment of £24,000 and still made a profit of only £15,500. Figures for 2019-20, when available, will probably show a slightly better position. Nevertheless, these smaller hill farms are only marginally profitable even with the basic payment and would be commercially totally unviable without taxpayer support.
We all accept that we are moving away from the basic payment system to the new environmental land management scheme payments. The purpose of my amendment is to ask the Government to think again about whether it is sensible or fair to reduce those in the lowest band even by 5% before ELMS payments kick in in 2024.
On Tuesday two weeks ago we debated Amendment 78 in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Bruce and Lord Greaves. Their amendment urged the Government to maintain support for hill farms and other marginal land. I support this general principle. My amendment is more specific and asks the Government simply to protect just the lowest band of recipients from the cuts until the new payment systems come into play.
Last Thursday, the noble Baroness, Lady Bloomfield, stated that since small abattoirs operate on a commercial basis they would not fit into the principle of the public good. My contention is that, unfortunately, small hill farms are not in any way commercial on their own, so I believe the public will consider it more than just for taxpayers’ money to be given for the public good of maintaining our small hill farms, which play such an important part in so many rural communities in this country. When the Minister responds to this group of amendments, I hope he will give the Committee an assurance that the Government will look again at the timing and percentage of the reductions in the basic payments for small farmers in the uplands.
My Lords, I declare my interest as a director of a tenant farming enterprise as set out in the register. I shall speak to my Amendments 150 to 153. Although there is an understandable desire to demonstrate that we are moving away from the old regime of the CAP, we must do so in a way that is effective rather than just quick. The delay in our exit from the EU and the implications of Covid-19 point to a possible delay in the implementation of this new policy framework. These amendments would allow greater flexibility in pausing or even reversing the phasing out of direct payments should, and only should, circumstances require it. This would be particularly important in a scenario where payments to farmers had been reduced but where the funds freed up had not been spent on alternative programmes and remained unused.
Amendment 150 would allow Ministers to reverse reductions in direct payments if they were found to be having a detrimental impact on the nation’s ability to produce food. The Covid-19 crisis will have long-term implications for our country, so this amendment would allow for welcome flexibility. UK consumers, who have valued the domestic supply of food over recent times like never before, will not welcome any dip in that supply. In the event of a pause or a reversal for these reasons, the Government should be allowed to maintain independent financing for the development of alternative schemes, such as ELMS, so that they are not delayed or interrupted.
My Amendment 152 would enable those who have opted to take delinked payments to return to receiving direct payments if the direct payment scheme is extended. If a delinked payment is introduced, the powers to extend the transition period in accordance with Section 8(3) will be used. The status of the farmer would be uncertain. He may be locked out of the system for longer than envisaged. The status of such a person in this situation should be defined in the regulations to provide legal certainty. Given the current uncertainty about what future schemes will look like, this amendment would provide a safeguard against unintended consequences for farmers if the agricultural transition period is extended.
I turn to Amendments 151 and 153 in my name. As any farmer will tell you, cash flow is the number one consideration. This is particularly true for tenant farmers, who have to pay rent twice a year, irrespective of their cash position. A large proportion of farmers are reliant on BPS payments as part of their farm income and any delay to these can have a serious impact on a farmer’s ability to run their business. Ensuring that those entitled to payments receive them within guaranteed timescales will help ensure certainty of cash flow. That certainty will encourage productivity and investment—two clear ambitions of our Government’s wide-ranging agricultural policy.
My Lords, the Committee has already heard some powerful speeches. The more the Bill is discussed, the more respect I have for farmers who, in a time of uncertainty, have a future that is even more uncertain than the present. We do not know where ELMS is going; we have not discussed the Environment Bill. We are threatened with ELMS being run by the RPA, whose record we cannot respect hugely. Farmers are, therefore, in a difficult position. As the noble Earl, Lord Devon, said last week, the advice he has received is to stop all investment. That is a terrible situation to be in at this time. Our farmers should be investing but, in the uncertain world we are faced with, the right thing for them to do is sit on their hands. That is going to cause huge problems. I agree with noble Lords who have said that small farmers, particularly hill farmers, face the most problems and are most likely to fall by the wayside as the current situation continues.
I have put my name to Amendment 143, which would delay the process of implementing ELMS for another year. Given what has been said, there is nothing for me to add, except that I support the principle of all the amendments that have been spoken to. I hope that the Government will show some flexibility on these, because the current situation is untenable for quite a number of farmers.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 143, to which I have put my name. I too have very real concerns that Defra will simply not be ready for the transition period to begin in 2021 and that farming will suffer as a result. To provide the Government and farmers with sufficient time to prepare for transition, we should start it in 2022, rather than 2021. This way, we can ameliorate the transition chasm that I have discussed before. The House has spent four long days in Committee, debating many variations of ELMS, and has made its way through Clauses 1 and 2 of the 54-clause Bill. We hope to rush through the bulk of this legislation in another two days, under huge time pressure. Scrutiny cannot be sufficient in these circumstances and major aspects of this crucial legislation will be barely considered.
The Government have suggested that time is of the essence and that this Bill simply has to be passed so that the transition period can begin on 1 January 2021. They say that farmers will not be able to be paid if it does not. This is simply not true. It was easy for Parliament to extend direct payments to farmers for 2020; we can simply repeat that process. Given that the Government have confirmed that they will maintain the level of agricultural funding until the end of this Parliament, this will have no negative impact on the Treasury or on budgets. What it will do is permit Defra to prepare for ELMS in an orderly manner.
Despite the best efforts of its overstretched and underfunded staff, Defra is transparently far behind where it needs to be. The EFRA Committee took evidence on 16 June 2020 from Defra’s two leads: Tamara Finkelstein, its Permanent Secretary, and David Kennedy, the director-general of food, farming and biosecurity. I recommend the transcript of their evidence to all noble Lords, as it provides a valuable insight into its much-delayed progress. They admit to considerable delays in the tests and trials programme caused first by Brexit, which took many staff for emergency no-deal planning, and then by coronavirus, which meant that many key tests and trial programmes have not begun.
Defra is triaging. For example, it has confirmed that it has abandoned plans to build a new computer system to administer ELMS. Instead, it will be delivered using the current SITI Agri system, which is used by the RPA to administer BPS. Reading between the lines, it appears that tier 1 of ELMS is effectively going to be little more than BPS plus greening obligations by a new name, administered by the same team, using the exact same technology. I would appreciate the Minister’s confirmation of this.
On Thursday, the Minister helpfully confirmed that Defra would publish a multiannual financial assistance plan this autumn. Given the incredible delays disclosed by Defra, what details is it really able to provide? Will the Minister confirm whether, but for Brexit meaning Brexit, Defra would prefer to agree to this amendment and give itself longer to prepare for the transition?
I warmly support the amendments proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, which also relate to the transition chasm. However, I cannot support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson. ELMS is optional—the quicker the transition, the less uptake there will be and the worse the outcome for our environment.
My Lords, my interests are as recorded in the register. I fully support Amendment 144, in the name of my noble friend Lord Carrington, to which I was happy to attach my name. I am very concerned about the gap in support as the current basic payment scheme is unwound and access to the new ELM scheme becomes available, as planned, in 2024. As I said at Second Reading, this is fraught with risk. The delays caused by indecision on Brexit and then the impact of coronavirus mean that the ELMS pilots are just under way. Meaningful conclusions will take a couple of years or more to interpret. The design of the schemes, and the value of public goods that we hope will be delivered by this brave new model for supporting the management of the countryside, must be promoted to farmers and land managers with confidence. We need the evidence from the pilots and there is no slack in the timetable to experiment or for systems to fail and be rerun, which is why many of us are deeply concerned about the Government’s reluctance to change the current seven-year transition plan. At Second Reading, I suggested that the Government should be willing to extend the period to eight years.
Under the current plans, there will only be three years by the time the Bill becomes law to draw conclusions from the pilots and then launch the ELM scheme to the entire farming sector. Tens of thousands of family farmers are not prepared for the scale of the change that the Bill will introduce. It is the most fundamental change in support, and the greatest cultural change, that any farmer in Britain today has ever faced. At present, there is no way farmers can prepare for this change because, for obvious reasons, there is no information available on the basis of which they can begin to consider their future plans and make decisions.
This change in policy is a unique opportunity to facilitate restructuring of the sector, but this cannot be rushed. Every farmer needs to consider the impact of the change on their individual business. As a result of the scale of this challenge, it is inevitable that there will be a capacity problem. The quantum of qualified consultants who are trusted and able to provide 30,000 or 40,000 farmers with informed advice in good time to make considered decisions will be an enormous challenge. To ensure that the potential benefits which the ELM scheme can deliver, and which will hopefully be realised, will require careful consideration by each farmer and land manager.
If ELMS is launched in 2024 as planned, there will be a deluge of applications and the capacity of the RPA and Natural England to cope with the volume will be stretched to the limit. The possibility of every farmer who wishes to participate in the ELM scheme being able to do so in 2024 is unrealistic. For all these reasons, the Government need to think very carefully about the timetable. This amendment is designed to help smooth the impact. Limiting the dismantling of support from the BPS to a total reduction of 25% until the ELM scheme is available is a sensible approach.
I restate what I said at Second Reading: I reassure the Minister that I am enthusiastic about this bold change in policy and genuinely believe that we can lead the world in delivering a wide range of crucial outcomes from the management of the countryside, provided that the policy is well designed and land managers are appropriately incentivised. It would be a disaster if such an important change in policy was rushed through and we failed to engage appropriately. I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure the House that the department will adopt the timetable proposed in this amendment. It would be very much appreciated by farmers and land managers and would ensure a greater chance of achieving the desired outcomes.
Very briefly, I have considerable sympathy with the purpose of Amendment 149 tabled by the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington. Smaller livestock family farms, both in LFAs and in the lowlands, are the most vulnerable to these changes. They manage some of the most precious landscapes in Britain and are a crucial part of rural communities. The choice of taking a hard-nosed commercial approach, resulting in many being forced out of business, or a more sympathetic view that would require some special care and support to help those farming businesses adjust to change is a no-brainer, otherwise the impact could be disastrous. The Minister is aware that I chair the Prince’s Countryside Fund. We have supported over 1,000 such farmers through the Prince’s Farm Resilience Programme, with considerable success. It is essential that these crucial farming families are given appropriate support to ensure that they can adapt their businesses, not just to survive but to prosper in this brave new world.
My Lords, I will not detain you long. I have every sympathy with the impatience of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, to get on with improving our biodiversity. However, I do not think it is feasible to bring this forward from seven to five years, so I am afraid that I cannot support that, however much I am keen for the things that we all hope for to take place.
I agree very much with my noble friend Lord Caithness. The more I have listened to our proceedings, the more respect I have for farmers—I had a great deal of respect for them before—and I can imagine what it is like facing these changes with all the uncertainty that we have just been talking about. Having been not in farming but in retail for most of my working life, I can imagine the concerns about the future. I would also say, however, that we always work to deadlines. If we extended things, we would be in a similar position, so I cannot support any extension as discussed—very eloquently—by many noble Lords.
I have put my name to Amendment 147 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, principally to emphasise my concerns over any reduction in animal welfare. I have no doubt at all that British farming has the highest standards of animal welfare in the world and I do not think for one minute that that will be negated by anything in the Bill, but I wanted to underline my concerns on that.
Again, I give my support in as far as upland farms, and to some extent some livestock in the lowlands, are some of our most precious guardians of the countryside and are really threatened by some of these measures. I urge the Government to look at this; I am sure that they will.
My Lords, the last time that I can remember being called to speak by the noble Baroness the Deputy Speaker is when she was chairman of Lancashire County Council and I was a somewhat dissident member on the back benches. The reception and politeness that I have found in your Lordships’ House since I came here a long time ago is of an altogether greater level than the shouting and ranting I got in Lancashire County Council from time to time. Noble Lords can decide whether they ought to be a bit more robust when I speak—I do not know.
I spoke in the debate last Thursday afternoon about what I might have said today on this amendment, so I will not repeat it. I was accused of being gloomy by the Minister and one or two other people; I thought I had perhaps gone a bit over the top—in a Lancashire County Council sort of way—until I read Hansard. Having read Hansard, I thought that what I said was rather good, but Hansard sometimes has that effect on what noble Lords say in this Chamber.
I very much support everything that the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, said this afternoon. I understand the point that my noble friend Lord Teverson and others are making about the need to get on with transforming agriculture and the countryside in this country for ecological reasons and climate change and so on. Nevertheless, the thought that this new, extremely complex, top-down system of working out what people are paid for, with individual assessments of every farm and three tiers that have to be linked together, will be carried out by the Rural Payments Agency fills me with dread. I say to the Government—in a friendly way, because I do want this to succeed—that, in modern parlance, it is a huge car crash rushing over the horizon. We will see. It requires huge resource, effort and ability to introduce large, complex computer-based schemes, which British Governments—not just this Government—are not terribly good at doing. I say no more about it.
I was very pleased indeed to put my name to the amendment tabled by the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington. Again, the particularly small hill farms are the main concern here. As I said on another amendment, which now seems a long time ago in this Committee, unless these farmers get a considerable amount of subsidy, which not only allows them to do things that are desirable environmentally and for the landscape but to carry out their basic job of hill farming and make at least some profit from it, they will simply go out of business. I do not believe that the Minister and the Government have, so far, explained how such farmers will survive under the new system and continue to do their farming. We all know how the sheep farming system in particular works in this country: the people who rear sheep in the lowlands require the sheep to come down from the hills; it is all pretty integrated. If the hill farms close down and stop keeping their sheep, it will have an effect right across the industry and the country. The most important thing is that the hill farmers themselves get the support they need for their own benefit and the benefit of their communities and landscapes.
Can the Minister explain how the new system will do this, when it is supposed to provide only for what are known as public goods and is not meant to be a production subsidy? I do not see how hill farms can continue unless a significant part of the money they get from public funds is, in effect, a production subsidy, whether or not the Government disguise it as something else.
My Lords, I declare my interests as on the register. It is a pleasure to the follow the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, and in relation to his comments on Hansard, I tell him, and indeed the whole Committee, that I once asked the late Lord Armstrong, who I rate as one of our greatest ever Cabinet Secretaries, “Robert, when you wrote up the Cabinet minutes, did you write what the Minister said or what he thought he had said?” He told me, “Oh, no, David. I wrote what the Minister would have said if he had thought of saying it.” I sometimes wish Hansard would do the same with my speeches.
I oppose the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, in that the seven-year period should not be reduced to five. However, he is right to draw attention to the importance of CBD15 next year. It is every bit as important as COP26. Indeed, in a sensible world, there would not be two conventions but one, since they are inextricably linked. Habitat loss leads to more carbon and more zoonotic diseases as animals are forced closer to humans. However, that is not for this Bill. I think Defra has got the seven-year period right, and so has my noble friend Lord Randall; moving the deadline does not necessarily buy us more time.
This is the greatest and most exciting change in British agriculture since 1970. I am old enough to remember those UK White Papers produced by the ministry of ag, fish and food—MAFF, an excellent department, if I may say so—such as Food from Our Own Resources, which exhorted us to “produce, produce, produce”. One of the many excellent things about leaving the EU is that we will once again be able to design plans to produce food from our own resources and protect the environment at the same time. But let us not pretend it will be a simple change. Studies on ELMS are being undertaken, and the three tiers are being designed, but it will be a mega change for UK agriculture.
The EU system of giving every farm money based on acreage is simple, but utterly wrong, yet giving farmers payments for undertaking environmental land management schemes is infinitely more complicated; farmers need time to adjust, and Defra needs time to tweak the schemes. Of course, we want rid of the perverse EU payments system as soon as possible, but I prefer to take seven years and get it right than five years and get it wrong.
My Lords, I declare my interests as stated in the register. The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, suggests in Amendment 130 that the period of the first plan should be five years rather than seven years. In Amendment 142, he seeks to reduce the seven-year transition period, during which the direct payments scheme will be phased out, to five years. Farmers are already anxious about how their business models will have to change, and would not welcome the shortening of the transition period. Particularly because they do not have enough information on the new scheme, the noble Lord’s amendment is unwarranted and would be damaging.
However, there is considerable merit in Amendment 143 in the name of my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering, in that the seven-year transition period should start 18 months from now, rather than six, which would give more time for the Government to work out the details of the scheme, and would be neutral in terms of costs to the Exchequer.
The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, in Amendment 144, is right to seek to ensure that payments under the new schemes compensate for the reduction in and ultimate removal of payments under the direct payments scheme. But I think his intention to limit the reduction in total support to 25% is rather modest. I believe direct payments for larger farms are set to be reduced by 25% in 2021, and the noble Lord’s amendment would still permit this to happen, even if such a farm receives zero under the countryside stewardship scheme and other current schemes. As I said previously, the larger farming businesses employ the majority of agricultural workers.
I would not support Amendment 146 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, except in so far as it equates to Amendment 143 to delay the changes by one year. The seven-year transition period is not too long, given the extent of the changes farmers will need to carry out.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, seeks to use this Bill to advance her concerns regarding animal welfare, but I cannot agree with her Amendment 147, which assumes that animal welfare standards are higher or lower, whereas different standards may produce different outcomes, and it is a fine balance. I regret that I do not see the justification for supporting her Amendments 147, 148 or 154.
My noble friend Lady Rock has eloquently explained the reasons behind her Amendments 150 and 151. I can see that where moneys are unspent, the amount provided in a subsequent year might increase if the Government accept carryover procedures. As for her Amendments 152 and 153 on delinked payments, they seem to provide an improvement to the Bill.
My Lords, I have christened this group of amendments, “Mind the gap”. We need some sort of rethink from the Government on a safer way forward.
I support Amendment 143. When I first read the Bill in its earliest form, nearly two years ago now, I thought, “That’s good—the seven-year transition from one system to the next. All will be well; farmers can plan ahead with no problems, and while the single farm payment goes down, they can enter into ELM schemes, with profits, under the new regime.” Defra had three years to get ELM schemes in place, then several years to roll them out to farmers on the ground, which, as others have said, is going to be an almost impossible task. I thought, back then, that it could happen at a manageable place, and all would be well. Farmers would be involved in tremendous changes, but they could survive the transition because the way forward would be clear to them.
But now, two years on, the way forward is still as clear as mud. ELMS have only just entered the pilot stage, farmers have no framework by which to plan and they are saying, “What will ELMS look like for me in my area? I have no idea. What training do I need? I have no idea. Do I need to plan for new equipment or facilities? I have no idea.” No one in the farming community has any clear idea of the future. The details of ELMS will not really emerge from the mist until nearly 2025.
In spite of the delays, we still seem to be stuck with a 2021 start to the transition period. This cannot be right. With the rug of the old world being slowly pulled out from under them, and the new rug unlikely to arrive for some time, I worry farmers will fall down the gap. As others have said, the delay is not really Defra’s fault; we had all the shenanigans around Brexit, and so with this Agriculture Bill doing the hokey-cokey—in, out, in, out—then Covid-19 causing genuine paralysis this year, it is not surprising the timetable has slipped. So, the Government have every reason to take this back and think again before we get to Report. I do not care how they do it, but we need something to close the horrible gap that is looming.
My Lords, I declare my interest as an arable farmer and landowner in receipt of BPS. Before I come to the amendments, I want to defend the RPA after the swipe at it by my noble friend Lord Caithness. What he said might have been true some years ago, but I pay tribute to the Minister for its much improved status over recent years, although it will clearly have its work cut out with the new regime.
The Bill establishes a framework for phasing out direct payments over seven years. It is highly likely that payments under the ELM schemes will result in significant reductions in net income, especially for cattle and sheep farmers, whether in less favoured or lowland areas, and delays in its introduction until 2024 will have a serious effect. Hence, I support Amendment 149, in the names of the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, and the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, but would extend it to certain smaller lowland cattle and sheep farmers. I also strongly support Amendment 144, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, believing that interim financial assistance measures need to be given to these sectors of farming in particular.
I do not support Amendment 130, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, as he did not really mention the effect it would have on farmers, which could be serious—in fact, I do not think he mentioned farmers at all—but I do support Amendment 143, which proposes a delay in the start of the transition period, and appreciate my noble friend Lord Trenchard’s support, even though he is on the Brexiteer side. I also support the concern of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, about the lack of detail on the progress of the BPS reduction after year one. I also ask, like my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering, whether a new set of countryside stewardship schemes will be forthcoming in the autumn.
My Lords, I declare my interests as detailed in the register. Along with others, I agree with Amendment 143 in the name of my noble friend Lady McIntosh: the transition period should begin in 2022 rather than 2021. Equally, the case for being more realistic about timescales, although in a different context, is addressed by my noble friend Lady Rock’s Amendments 151, 152 and 150 respectively. The first would ensure that those entitled to payments receive them within guaranteed periods to achieve certainty of cash flow. The second would, through regulations, offer legal certainty to farmers, otherwise possibly disadvantaged where delinked payments, if introduced, might lead to extended transition periods. The third, Amendment 150, would enable the Secretary of State to increase payments during the transition period, after phasing out had started, to use up any unspent money and, when necessary, to protect the industry from harm.
Corresponding to the pragmatism of the latter proposal is my noble friend Lord Carrington’s useful Amendment 144, ensuring that any cuts in direct payments do not undermine businesses before the new public goods programmes begin. Then, reflecting the purposes and principles of the Bill themselves, there is Amendment 148 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. This emphasises the preservation of animal welfare standards, irrespective of financial consequences, while my noble friend the Duke of Wellington’s Amendment 149 would ensure direct payments to smaller livestock farmers in less favoured areas. Since all these contributions would much improve the Bill, I hope the Minister will accept them.
My Lords, this has been a particularly thoughtful debate, as it should be, because underlying the whole series of amendments being advanced is the recognition that this is, first, a major change in how we approach support for our land and our farming. Coupled with that is concern about how we bring about the change, and concern that the period allowed to bring it about is not flexible enough and may not be of the right length. Various proposals have been argued very eloquently that perhaps it should be a bit shorter—five years instead of seven. I favour a seven-year period, because the challenge is so great that we will not be able to tackle it. There are so many changes, not only in our approach—public money for public goods, instead of just production costs—but against a changing background as it is. I do not think many of us fully appreciate the changes taking place in agriculture at the moment.
I have a particular interest in the uplands and hill farming, but one cannot look at hill farming without looking at the low-level farming that depends on, feeds on and feeds from the upland areas. One has only to drive in the national park, for example, and once one gets on to the low-level farming, there are no longer any cattle, mixed farming or dairy farming: all the sheep are down on the low level 12 months a year, and that is causing problems in itself. So there is the unstable nature of farming to start with, and we then wrestle with the problem of how we make sure that the various aspects of the new legislation are tied together. Is Defra capable of handling such a major change when it is also dealing with Brexit and will face the challenge of pressure from the Treasury, in spite of what the Government may say? Then, from my experience of running the Cabinet Office, I am concerned about the ability of the Government, or any public body, to run major computer programmes. We are not always able to employ the best people, we do not have the experience, yet we take so much for granted when we look at these proposals.
I must admit that when I look at the ideas, I think Amendment 146, in the name of my noble friend Lord Grantchester, has some suggestions of a way forward. It suggests a slightly later start date—2022—coupled with some flexibility if we find that even that is too early. It even goes so far as to say that if we find that the seven-year period is not correct, it can be changed by affirmative resolution. I am not sure that I entirely agree with that, but I could be persuaded in an emergency that it is the way forward.
We are right to spend so much time debating this. Unless we get it right, the whole thing will be a disaster and there will be tears of woe, not only from the farming community but from foresters, environmentalists and a whole range of people who love our countryside.
My Lords, this has been a very interesting, thoughtful debate and I associate myself with many of the comments, not least those of the noble Earl, Lord Devon. In normal circumstances, I would agree wholeheartedly with my noble friend, Lord Blencathra, about not extending a deadline, because projects will simply extend to fill the space provided, but we are in extraordinary times, not just because of Covid but because, for the last four years, Defra and much of Whitehall have been able to focus only on one piece of wildlife, that being Yellowhammer.
Yesterday was Report on the Business and Planning Bill. In our deliberations, it became clear that emergency legislation needs to be passed in various situations and circumstances which will run to September 2021. In light of that, it seems logical and coherent across government policy that a move regarding the start of the transition period, from 2021 to 2022, would dovetail very much with that same legislative logic. Does my noble friend the Minister agree?
I also very much support the amendment in the name of my noble friend the Duke of Wellington. If legislation means anything, it must mean that it touches on those in the greatest need. I believe that my noble friend’s amendment very much goes to the point of covering those who fundamentally understand and deliver on stewardship, guardianship, public good and, indeed, equity. Does my noble friend the Minister agree?
Finally, will my noble friend the Minister comment on the current situation with the IT system within Defra? What is proposed for the new scheme, and is this set in stone or are discussions still afoot as to exactly how to structure the scheme from an IT perspective?
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Holmes of Richmond, in particular because I too support Amendment 149. In these proceedings we are encouraged and even exhorted to be brief, and I hope I can meet that expectation, first by adopting all the observations made by the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, and my noble friend Lord Greaves.
Some of your Lordships may remember that at an earlier stage in these proceedings I sought to make a case for the recognition of support for small farms in less favoured areas. I do so again today unequivocally because in my judgment, such support is not only desirable but necessary. It is necessary to ensure the survival of viable businesses, it helps avoid the risk of land abandonment, and it ensures that land continues to be put to good agricultural use, in addition to which it combats depopulation. I would describe all these as public goods. However, they are public goods which have benevolent consequences, because support of that kind and the continuation of agricultural activity in such areas helps preserve communities and support social infrastructure, such as schools, post offices and medical services. I hope therefore that when the Minister comes to address us he will provide an explanation as to why these desirable objectives and outcomes do not find favour with the Government.
My Lords, I support Amendment 130. In my years in business I have run a few businesses in the rural area: principally some forestry in Herefordshire, a little horticulture—down to a very small amount now—a small amount of viticulture, and just 40 acres of woodland registered with the Forestry Commission. I have led a number of large businesses, in India, Sri Lanka and the UK. One of the key determinants of a successful business is not to have a review too long after you start out on a big project such as this one. In my judgment, seven years is far too long when there are quite so many variables.
We have only to listen to noble Lords as we debate the Bill. We hear of variables that were anticipated and of those that nobody ever expected to happen. In addition, there are new problems due to the fact that we will be an independent nation. There are variables caused by climate change—how many of those have we had in the last seven years? There are variables due to Brexit, and due to the Environment Bill, which we have yet to debate. There are variables that will come from the penetration of 5G across the rural parts of the United Kingdom. Broadband is absolutely vital to rural communities.
Finally, one of the key problems at the moment is that a significant number of the staff who serve us as civil servants, and do it so well, are still working from home—is it 90% of them? Can my noble friend tell me how many or what percentage of Defra staff are currently back in the office?
My Lords, I will say a few words about the transition period and, in particular, in support of Amendments 150 to 154 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Rock, which have the support of the National Farmers Union and the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, among others.
These amendments focus on funding during the transition period and touch on the vital importance of maintaining food security during the period when we are moving over to the new payment scheme. Cash flow is a major problem for many organisations, and in some cases it has been a factor in businesses, and indeed farms, going bankrupt. It has become a huge problem during the Covid-19 lockdown, and it threatens many people’s livelihoods. It has also been an ongoing problem for farmers, who have sometimes had to wait long periods before receiving payments. We know that any new systems need time to bed in, so these amendments make allowance for any problems in the implementation of the new scheme, and I support them.
I am also supportive of Amendment 149 in the name of the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, and the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, as are number of your Lordships. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response on the need to take special care of small farmers and less favoured areas where farming is extremely vulnerable, which need our support during this time.
My Lords, I declare my interests as in the register. I will speak briefly to Amendment 146 but will refer in passing to quite a number of other amendments.
Before the CAP was even a glimmer in the eye of the founder of the European Union, the agricultural sector was operating in a regulated marketplace, which makes it quite different from almost all other kinds of business and commerce. In such a marketplace there is a need for all those involved to have a degree of certainty, which is as important from the Government’s perspective as it is from the agricultural sector’s. The parties need to know what the lie of the land might be, if I may put it thus. That is why Clause 4 is so important, because it sets the framework of the way the land lies for the transitional period and points to the world beyond it.
It seems that the problem surrounding Clause 4 is essentially twofold. First, the process of Brexit has been so drawn out that the length of time to effect a seamless move to the new era is too curtailed for it to be achieved as originally envisaged. Secondly, the coming into being of the ELMS—the environmental land management scheme—which was intended to replace the basic payment scheme, has been so delayed, as a number of noble Lords have said, that it is no longer available for farmers and land managers to transition into it and into the new economic and agricultural environment, which is the heart of the new era. As well is it seeming inherently unjust, it is not part of the basic political and policy proposition that was put to the British people as to how we left the CAP.
Moreover, there is a real risk that it may end up causing a muddle in terms of public policy outputs. If you oversimplify it, under the basic payments scheme, the public goods which the state paid for were farming, and everything else was a kind of bolt-on extra. We are now moving into a brave new world where everything else is public goods and food production is a bolt-on extra. That is quite a turnaround.
Against that background, there is, as several noble Lords have said, a chasm—or what might be described as the valley of the shadow of death—that lies between the two eras and into which a significant amount of both farm businesses and land may fall. This will get in the way of implementing the policies we are discussing; indeed, it may put certain parts of them into reverse.
Although, as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said on a previous occasion when discussing the Bill, we must not be frightened of failure, surely the underlying intended purpose is to effect a successful transition from the old to the new. That is why the amendment of the noble Lords, Lord Carrington and Lord Curry, is important, as is that of the noble Baroness, Lady Rock, because they recognise, as was recognised by the noble Lord, Lord Clark of Windermere, that things may not actually turn out as planned and intended. You need to build into your system a way of modifying your arrangements, and an escape route.
It is clear from our discussion of this clause that the present transitional process is flawed, and those flaws need ironing out, because if we are to make a successful journey from the old world to the new, we have to get to the destination in one piece and not have a car crash.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Teverson has tabled Amendments 130 and 142, which would reduce the transition period between farmers receiving direct payments under the CAP and moving on to the ELM scheme. He is concerned about the length of time that will elapse before the farming community has become fully environmentally aware and responds to the Bill’s ethos of public money for public goods. Both COPs 26 and 15 have been postponed. The number of species facing extinction is growing, and biodiversity, which includes pollination and soil quality, is very important. The current financial systems work against biodiversity. This is not satisfactory.
Most Peers are concerned that the period before ELMS becomes fully operational should be further away, giving farmers more time to adjust to the change. The noble Baronesses, Lady McIntosh of Pickering and Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, and the noble Earls, Lord Devon and Lord Caithness, support this view. The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, spoke about the gap between phasing out direct payments and introducing ELMS, and said that no farmer should have more than a 25% cut in their direct payments until ELMS is introduced.
The funding of less favoured areas has again been raised by the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, and I fully support him in in his concerns. I ask the Minister to give a categoric undertaking that the so-called less favoured areas will receive funding. Unless he does, noble Lords on all sides of the House will continue to raise this important subject.
The noble Baroness, Lady Rock, has tabled a number of important amendments related to timescales, cash flows and delinked payments—all extremely important in reassuring the farming community of just how and when they will receive financial assistance—which the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans has supported. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, again raises the issue of animal welfare, supported by the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge. We have debated animal welfare on previous amendments, and it is essential that that theme be a thread that runs through the Bill and thus be included in a number of clauses.
The noble Earl, Lord Devon, believes that Defra will not be ready in 2021 to move to ELMS, and so wishes to put this off until 2022, and he is supported by other Peers. I share his concern about Defra’s preparedness. However, giving it more time is unlikely to assist. Moving deadlines does not always produce results, as the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, said. The noble Lord, Lord Cameron, lets Defra off the hook for not having met the deadlines; I am afraid I am not quite so generous.
Finally, farmers are left in the dark on what is approaching, despite its being trailed well in advance. I fully support the move to ELMS, but I am very concerned that insufficient information is available to give your Lordships and farmers confidence that their future will be secured. The Minister needs to provide reassurance that Defra and the RPA can cope, because from what I have heard this afternoon, I do not believe they can.
This is an interesting group of amendments, the various areas of focus being multiannual plans and the transition period. As is customary, I declare my agricultural interests as recorded on the register.
The first cluster of amendments concerns the start date and duration of the multiannual plans. Amendment 130 and, consequentially, Amendment 142, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, would reduce the initial multiannual plan to five years starting from 2021. Moving from a previous group to this group, Amendment 131, in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Devon, and the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, would extend the subsequent multiannual plans to seven years, in the opposite direction, but leave the start date at 2021. Amendment 143, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, and others, delays the start of the transition phase of seven years until 2022, but technically, this seems to leave hanging the oddity under Clause 4(3) that the first planned period of seven years—the transition phase—starts in 2021 and will give rise to two competing seven-year periods.
Amendment 146, in my name, appears to involve a similar anomaly to the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, regarding Clause 4(3), by delaying the start of the transition phase to 2022. However, under proposed new subsection (4) in our Amendment 146, flexibility is provided to shorten the transition phase if this becomes necessary. The whole amendment, drafted to replace Clause 8, is designed to provide flexibility. Proposed new subsection (2) would provide that flexibility by accommodating the disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic this year through a one-year delay. It would also accommodate the possibility of a subsequent further disruption should a second spike strike, as further misfortune, it has recently been argued, may well be a possibility or even a likelihood.
Is there Minister confident about the readiness to implement the first planned period as soon as 2021? Last year, the National Audit Office was concerned that the Treasury and Defra had not built in enough time to implement the new funding system. Certainly, there are doubts that farmers and land managers would be able to accommodate the change to the support system in order to start next year. However, it could be argued that it may not be necessary to require a further full seven-year period for the first planned period, having had a delay to the start. The planned period could be shortened by the flexibility provided by proposed new subsection (4).
I merely comment to the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and the noble Earl, Lord Devon, that the first planned period being longer than subsequent planned periods would appear to make sense in order to allow the trials, pilots and designs of the new ELM scheme to be properly understood, responded to and taken up, in time for any reassessments to be thought through for subsequent planned periods.
I do not know whether we really need to be concerned about election cycles, debated last week, should the plans to change the five-year Parliament Act be taken up. Clause 4(4) of the Bill merely stipulates that subsequent planned periods must not be less than five years.
The Minister will be aware from the UK’s membership of the EU that one multiannual plan is often barely in operation before plans come forward to improve it to ignite responses in the member states.
I appreciate the intent behind Amendment 144 in the name of the noble Lords, Lord Carrington and Lord Curry, that the viability of farm businesses could be jeopardised by making deductions before measures are introduced, to which participants could make up that shortfall, as I have commented previously.
Amendment 149 in the name of the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, and the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, would require the Secretary of State to have regard to the impact of these payments on the viability of less favoured areas specifically.
The concern expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, is well understood. I reflect only that animal welfare standards are enshrined in farm assurance schemes and underpinned by good husbandry, and that regulations are a cumbersome tool in this regard. Welfare standards are not “burdens”, as expressed in this Bill; they are fundamental to good practice.
Amendment 150 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Rock, also calls for flexibility around payments. Although counterintuitive to the phasing out of direct payments, it is similar to effect to our Amendment 142, in an earlier group, which would allow the carrying forward of unspent sums as schemes under ELM may need time to be developed and taken up. The noble Baroness is right to signal in Amendments 151 and 153 that late payments suffered under the RPA’s management, especially at times of adjustment to new systems and developments, must be avoided.
I thank her for her Amendment 152 on the delinking payment provisions. It allows me to ask the Minister to clarify his department’s plans for the introduction of delinking payments from land. The Bill states that this cannot be before 2022, which is understood. As this will be the break from the past land-based payment systems, it would be helpful to have on the record what considerations his department has in mind regarding its introduction. How much notice will be given, especially if it is decided to activate the provision before the end of the transition phase? Can the Minister say that it will not be before the various trials and pilots throughout the country have been completed and the full array of new ELM schemes is available for uptake?
The Minister’s department has not published any further thinking beyond what was published in February this year. I hope and expect that the department has taken forward many aspects of all the measures that make up this framework. As we come to the Summer Recess, can the Minister give the House a clear commitment that there will be far more details against which to judge this stage’s amendments in good time for Report stage, which is expected in mid-September? Last week, the noble Baroness the Minister spoke of more information perhaps coming forward by mid-October. She will be aware that this will be too late. Details of other enhancements are promised to be forthcoming in September. Can the Minister map out the scheduling of information that will be necessary for our considerations on Report?
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. It is always challenging when one noble Lord decides on one timeframe and another noble Lord chooses another. Sometimes the Government must make decisions on their position. Our position has been undertaken through a lot of consideration. I declare my farming interests as set out in the register. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, for his Amendment 130, which seeks to reduce the length of the first multiannual financial assistance plan.
We are all agreed that the nature of farming is a long-term affair. For that reason, we felt that having clarity of funding across multiple years was of paramount importance. As drafted, Clause 4 requires that the first planned period will run for seven years. This is designed to match the length of the agricultural transition period, which is a key time for the development of government policy. Schemes will be tested and piloted. As my noble friend Lord Inglewood said—I was not in a position to reply to my noble friend Lord Lucas—the purpose of tests, pilots and trials is to iron out what has not worked particularly well and find those schemes that come forward as the most dynamic and the best value for money for the taxpayer. The findings from these experiences will inform the development of future schemes and strategic objectives. We believe that shortening the period covered by the first plan would hinder our ability to assess schemes and take a considered view of what works and what does not.
The majority of the amendments in this group address the length of the agricultural transition period. I will address Amendments 142 to 146, on the subject of direct payment reductions. The planned agricultural transition period allows a gradual transition from the existing area-based payments to the future system, where public money will be paid for public goods. We deliberately made this time to avoid a cliff edge for farm businesses. Following an extensive consultation, we believe that seven years strikes the right balance between signalling the end of area-based payments and giving farmers time to adjust. Shortening the transition period would mean steeper rates of payment reductions, which we believe would put undue pressure on farmers who are currently reliant on direct payments at a time when they are adapting to a future without them.
I think that most of us agree that direct payments offer poor value for money. Appropriate reductions to these payments will free up funds that can be used to fund new countryside stewardship agreements, introduce the Environmental Land Management national pilot in 2021 and introduce schemes to boost industry productivity, through which grants will be available so that farmers can invest in equipment, technology and infrastructure. The reductions for 2021 will be modest. As I was reminded, there are within the margin of what would often be currency rate changes in previous regimes. They will be no more than 5% for around 80% of farmers, based on the 2018 scheme data. I will look at Hansard because I think that the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, spoke about a minimum; my understanding is that it will be no more than 5% but I would like to clarify that point.
A seven-year transition period gives enough time to ensure that ELM is fully up and running before direct payments end. The Government are undertaking a large stakeholder-led programme of tests and trials for certain elements of the scheme design. We plan to pilot our approach in 2021 ahead of the rollout of ELM in 2024. In their election manifesto, the Government guaranteed the current annual budget in every year of this Parliament. We have also published the maximum reductions that we intend to apply in the first year of transition. These were first announced in September 2018 to give farmers sufficient notice. The Government will set out further information on funding for the early years of the agricultural transition period, including direct payments, in the autumn.
Having declared my interests, I should say that I well understand that many of my neighbouring farmers—indeed, all the farmers I know—are very keen to know more on this. I appreciate that. I assure noble Lords that the point is hoisted and that I know why it is important. I look forward to that information coming forward in the autumn.
While direct payments currently form an important contribution to income on many farms in England, we believe that they can hamper productivity growth in the agricultural sector. That is why, within the sum that will be released, that money will be diverted into countryside stewardship and productivity grants so that farmers can start, through their business interests, to take advantage of the money that will move from direct payments into these other areas of support.
While I have been at the Dispatch Box, there have been varying years relating to the RPA. It is interesting, and I think my noble friend Lord Northbrook is correct. The payment profile of the RPA has very much improved since my first exercises on this in 2015. We have seen considerable advance in rates of payment; indeed, this has been a very strong priority of the ministerial team.
Defra’s ELM programme will lead and be accountable for the delivery of the national pilot, working with our delivery partners: the Environment Agency, the Forestry Commission, Natural England, the Joint Nature Conservation Committee and the Rural Payments Agency. We are working with the RPA to ensure that it has capacity to deliver the pilot, and we are confident that it will be able to do so. This is on the relationship in this first stage of the pilot.
Another concern which the noble Lord, Lord Clark of Windermere, and my noble friend Lord Holmes of Richmond raised was computer programmes. Again, we have all been scarred by computer programme issues. Defra digital, data and technology specialists are currently working to ensure that the IT needs of the national pilot and ELM will be in place on time, and they are focusing on the ability to make accurate payments on time, on which I place enormous importance. We are confident in our ability to deliver these IT schemes.
The noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, tabled Amendment 149 relating to upland farmers, and I am struck by what my noble friend Lord Randall said about lowland farmers as well. The Government recognise that upland farmers play a vital role in looking after the countryside. We believe that they already provide many environmental benefits, and so will be very well placed to deliver environmental outcomes—and incomes—which will be rewarded under the ELMS.
Therefore, I say in particular to the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, that we are fully seized of the importance of small upland and lowland farmers who have contributed so much, not only to communities but to the landscape more widely. It is really important that they are part of the ELMS, and I believe that what they will provide for the nation will be very considerable. The Government will apply reductions to the payments in a fair way, and smaller farmers will initially experience lower reductions than larger farmers.
Turning to Amendments 150 to 152, we recognise in Part 2 of the Bill that in exceptional market conditions it is right for the Government to be able to intervene. Clause 8 allows for the extension of the agricultural transition period, should it be necessary. The Government believe that seven years is enough time for an agricultural transition, however we may need to act swiftly and robustly in unforeseen circumstances that warrant an extension.
I say particularly to the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, but also to my noble friend Lady Rock, that, regarding how delinked payments will work, the Government have made clear that they intend to delink direct payments during the transition period. When that happens, the recipient of delinked payments would not need to remain a farmer to receive them. When delinked payments are introduced, they will replace the current basic payment scheme entirely and for all farmers. The basic payment scheme and delinked payments cannot and will not coexist.
Eligibility for delinked payments will be based on a reference period. For example, it may be necessary to have claimed, or been eligible, under the direct payment scheme in a particular year or years. This is also important: we will consult with farmers before setting this reference period in regulations, and it will be subject to affirmative resolution procedure. I say particularly to my noble friend Lady Rock that timescales for basic payment scheme payments are already set out within the retained EU regulations.
With regard to Amendment 153, when we introduce delinked payments, we may wish to move away from the current approach of making a single payment per year and issue payments more frequently instead; Clause 12 gives this flexibility. We believe that more frequent payments would help farmers’ cash flow, and this has been mentioned by your Lordships.
We will publish details of how and when delinked payments will be paid, following a consultation with farmers on the design of the scheme. Specifying payment timescales and regulations could hinder our ability to adapt the arrangements, in light of experience, in the future. We want to move away from the rigidity of the CAP, so that we can offer a better, more responsive service to farmers.
Turning to Amendments 147, 148 and 154, I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, that the Government are committed to maintaining the UK’s position as a world leader in animal welfare. What I say now is because of the way that regulations and legislation are drafted, so it may seem a bit technical.
Clauses 9 and 14 provide the Secretary of State with powers to modify retained EU legislation governing the basic payment scheme and the common agricultural policy, known as the horizontal regulations for specified purposes. Those purposes aim to make the scheme simpler and improve it for farmers. The underlying animal welfare standards, to which all farmers must adhere, are not found in this basic payment scheme legislation or in the horizontal regulations; they are found instead in underlying domestic and retained EU law, which Clauses 9 and 14 do not allow us to change. I hope that helps the noble Baroness to understand why her very legitimate issues are not placed within these clauses.
It has been a very interesting debate, and I am fully seized of the points made about what has been described as “the gap”. I hope I have set out what we intend to do with the fairly modest sums—I think it is a maximum of £150 million out of £1.8 billion—that would be spent on these new schemes, which are about moving us forward, both with the ELMS and pilots and in productivity. I am fully seized of the importance of that, and the autumn announcement will therefore be very important, not only for your Lordships but, in particular, for farmers and how they work through these changes.
I repeat to the noble Lord, Lord Teverson: the Government felt that seven years was a responsible length of time for the multiannual financial plan and for an agricultural transition. We want this to be a success for farmers, because they provide us with so much; the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, spoke about this in one of our debates, which now seems a little while ago. We ask the farmer to do a lot, and that is why I think, and the Government feel, that seven years is an appropriate period.
With those points, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, in that full reply from the Minister I heard him justify the seven-year period and explain Clause 8 giving the Government power to extend the transition if necessary. However, I did not hear his response to Amendment 143 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, on why the transition is to start next year and not in 2022.
Some of us, going back to the last Labour Government, have a lot of experience with the problems of the RPA and getting new systems up and running. The Minister spoke with great confidence about these systems being viable and how the IT was going to work. All I can say to him is: good luck with that. I hope he is correct.
In the event that the RPA runs into problems, under the Bill as currently drafted—irrespective of the amendments from the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh —do the Government have the power to delay the start of the transition and the pilots? Despite the noble Lord’s confidence that everything will be okay, many of us will feel much more assured if we know that the legal powers are there and will prevent a headlong rush in the event of teething and administrative problems.
There are a number of points there. I think I said that under Clause 8 the Government allow for an extension of the agricultural transition period, should that be necessary, so there is an important safeguard there; we can extend the agricultural transition period.
I think I did reply to my noble friend; it may not be satisfactory to the noble Lord or my noble friend. We believe that direct payments offer poor value for money, and that is why we want to start in 2021 with, as I say, a modest reduction. I have deliberately said that this will be no more than 5% for around 80% of farmers, so that we can redirect that money into an ELM national pilot, Countryside Stewardship agreements and productivity grants.
Yes, we are all scarred by computer systems. I am the first to say that I am not a computer expert; that is why we have people who are. I repeat that everyone working on these matters is experienced in them, because clearly—as I have said—we want payments on time and a successful outcome for farmers. We also want to make sure that the ELM and all we do hereon in is value for money for the taxpayer. In the end, it is the taxpayer who will reward the farmer for doing the things that we as a society know the farmer can do very well.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister for his response. I have two questions. He said the RPA would do the trial next year, then he came to a full stop. Does that mean his mind is open and that another body could be responsible for implementing the ELMS in future? Secondly, he referred to the autumn announcement. Can he be more specific on the timing of the autumn announcement and whether we will get that before Report?
I cannot give my noble friend the precise date. I know noble Lords would like that announcement to be as soon as possible—I will take that away—but I am afraid I cannot give your Lordships a precise date. In fact, I do not know the precise date, but it will be in autumn. I am fully seized of the importance of that.
As to whether the delivery body is the RPA in the long term, I believe it is well placed. I cannot give a direct answer as to whether the RPA will in fact do all the ELM. I suspect it may, but that is obviously a matter we will consider.
My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, beat me to it. I was going to ask for the date of the Autumn Statement and request that it occur before Report. I reiterate that there really is no point in us coming back to all these issues if the Government are about to issue a Statement that will add considerable clarity and amount to a multiannual financial assistance plan. Anything the Minister can do to get that Statement before Report would be appreciated.
I was not going to pursue this, but my noble friend’s answer has perplexed me. He said the Government wish to phase out direct payments as they provide poor value for money. The whole thrust of the debate on Amendment 143 this afternoon is that if whatever will replace direct payments is not in position, is it wise to start phasing out direct payments at that time? Can my noble friend not permit himself a degree of flexibility in this regard?
My Lords, the Government have sought that flexibility in how we reduce the payments, as I say. Although we will make announcements on funding for the early years of agricultural transition, we have also provided that flexibility for unforeseen circumstances in which, for instance, we would need to extend the agricultural transition period.
We want to start in 2021 because this is a journey—to pick up some of the points at the beginning—about how we work with health and harmony. How do we ensure, working with farmers, that we produce very good food and enhance the environment? Of course, I take the point that we must get the system working well, but the prize in all this—public money going to support farmers in enhancing the environment—is a very desirable thing.
My Lords, I first thank the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, for his support. We are not often on the same side of things and I very much appreciate his remarks and the considered remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, and even the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, who understand the biodiversity dimensions of this, even if they do not—[Inaudible.]
There is a real issue here. Funnily enough, I do not disagree with the view of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, about pushing back the start one year, just to make sure we get this incredibly important issue for the nation right before we start. But I cannot believe it can take seven years for a nation such as ours to implement a new system; five years is far more acceptable for what we have to do. In fact, it seems the seven years that many advocate is going back to the mentality of the common agricultural policy and the European Union—that slo-mo mindset that we are trying to escape with this new scheme. However, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 130 withdrawn.
Amendments 131 to 134 not moved.
Clause 4 agreed.
Amendment 135 not moved.
Clause 5: Annual and other reports on amount of financial assistance given
Amendments 136 to 138 not moved.
Clause 5 agreed.
Clause 6: Monitoring impact of financial assistance etc
Amendment 139 not moved.
Clause 6 agreed.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 140. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate. Anyone wishing to press this or the other amendment in this group to a Division should make that clear in the debate.
140: After Clause 6, insert the following new Clause—
“Financial assistance to be provided on the basis of public funds for public goods
(1) Financial assistance under this Chapter may only be provided if it is in accordance with the rule “public funds for public goods”.(2) The rule referred to in subsection (1) is to be provided for in regulations made by the Secretary of State.(3) Regulations made under this section are subject to affirmative resolution procedure.”Member’s explanatory statement
This new Clause would require that the meaning of public goods for the purpose of this legislation is set out and agreed by Parliament and provides a clear basis for the provision of financial assistance.
My Lords, in moving Amendment 140 I will also speak to Amendment 141, which is grouped with it although it is a different issue. I will speak to Amendment 141 first.
Earlier on in this Committee, a long time ago, the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner, said—I am almost quoting him—that the Government never use compulsion and would never instruct farmers what they should do. That is a fine sentiment. The purpose of this slightly convoluted amendment is very simple: to ask how the Government intend to proceed on large tier 3 schemes in circumstances in which one or more landowners is being obstructive and refusing to take part.
For example, there may be a large area of moorland, such as an upland moor in the north of England, for which a tier 3 scheme is proposed for a combination of reasons, such as wildlife, carbon sequestration, restoring the peat, water catchment, and improving the management of the farms as a whole in that area. One large landowner, who occupies a strategic position on that moorland massif, may refuse to take part. It is a simple question: what procedures or ways will there be to overcome that and force them to do what is in the interests of the public and everybody in the area?
Amendment 140 is a slightly convoluted amendment that puts to the Government that the words “public goods” are not terribly specific or clear. A lot of people have taken to repeating, because it is a good thing to say, “Public money for public goods”. In the instance of the Bill and Clause 1 specifically, what does this mean? We need to know. The phrase originally came from Michael Gove when he was Secretary of State, who put it forward as a major principle. The cynic in me suggests that, rather than being a principle, in many cases it is a slogan; it sounds good.
Most members of the public, if asked, would say that a public good was something that was good for the public. Some of this confusion is behind some of the amendments we have already discussed and dealt with—for example, the question of food security. Is food security, however defined, a public good or something that is good for the public but, in strict economic terms, not a public good? Earlier in Committee, the Minister was specific that the production of food was not a public good; it is a private good, because it is produced and distributed via the market. That is a summary of what he said, and he is agreeing with me.
I am not an economist, but I have read far too much of what economists have written during my life. I notice that they are rather like lawyers: you can pay them to say what you want, in some circumstances. At its most basic, a public good is defined as a commodity or service that is made available to all members of society. It may be free, like the air that we breathe—to almost quote The Hollies, Pendle’s most famous pop group in history. It may be charged for but available to everybody, like a bus journey; on the other hand, if you have an old person’s pass, as I do, you get a free journey, so it is not clear. It is often administered by government and public authorities, paid for by the public purse, often by taxation but perhaps in other ways. For example, clean drinking water, law enforcement, defence security, rule of law and more specific things—street lighting and primary education—are often cited as public goods. They are the opposite of private goods, which are inherently scarce, if you read what the economists say, and paid for by individuals or private corporate bodies.
A further criterion of public goods is that they are not scarce. Their supply does not reduce if they are used or, if it does, the authorities can come along and replenish them. They can be used by any number of people at the same time. The issue is obviously complex. You might think that roads, for example, have been a good public good for cyclists in the last four months. Whether that continues is a different matter. Public parks are thought to be public goods, and so on.
As it applies to the Bill, the question is which items in Clause 1(1) and (2) can be regarded as public goods. You can make a pretty good argument for most items in Clause 1(1), but the health of the livestock or the soil is specific to a particular farm operation. Putting public money into them might be highly desirable, but are they public goods? Clause 1(2) is about creating new farming institutions or increasing the productivity of an existing farm in various ways. That comes close to direct subsidy of what the Minister said is not a public good, but is simply producing food in a better way. How come increasing productivity and making people more efficient, rather than doing things in a more environmentally desirable way, is a public good? It is not clear who benefits from that kind of thing. It is clearly not about what is good or bad.
What is it about? The truth is that, the more you look into it, the more different people think it is different things. I want to know what the Government think it is. If they are saying to the public that they are not going to reduce farm subsidies generally, but spend them on different things—and perhaps turn them around, as the noble Lord said earlier—I suggest they stop using “public goods” in a vague way or as a slogan in general, and define what they mean. It is only by clearly defining what they mean that they will give clarity, not just to farmers and land managers but to people generally. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, in the sentiments behind these two amendments. To consider Amendment 140 first, we are in the dark a little. My understanding—and I hope my noble friend the Minister will explain this in winding up—is that public good and natural capital will be explained further in the Environment Bill, which we have not yet had sight of here. I share the noble Lord’s concern as to what we understand by “public good”.
I was heartened yesterday by an Answer from my noble friend Lord Goldsmith that nature lies at the heart of the Government’s biodiversity strategy. I argue that looking after nature, which farmers do so well, is a form of public good. I am wedded to the idea of natural flood defences as well. I like to think that active farming underlies this. Will my noble friend confirm that we will have a better understanding of what public funds for public goods are—this is the whole difficulty with the Bill—because it is set out in the Environment Bill, which is not before us now? That would be very helpful.
I also support the idea of providing the means to resolve a dispute in the cases set out in Amendment 141. I took a great interest in one of the vexed schemes, because there were 16 to 20 graziers in a project, who had the right in perpetuity to graze on common land that had a different landowner from where they were tenants. It was a very complex situation. I hope that my noble friend and Defra come up with a scheme where the natural capital or public good is provided by the landowner and a tenant benefits from the scheme. I would like to know what the Government have in mind to resolve disputes such as this. There are similar instances that I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, will discuss as part of his Amendment 159A, but he has raised issues that are worthy of debate today.
My Lords, we are all anxious to make progress, so I shall be brief.
These two amendments from my noble friend Lord Greaves, which I strongly support, are deceptively modest but very significant in the context of this Bill. As has been said, the concept of public goods has been a persistent and welcome thread through the early sections of the Bill. Some Members may think that it should have been more rigorously defined on the face of the Bill. I do not accept the suggestion from the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, that we can wait for the Environment Bill. Frankly, by the time we get there, too much of the present Bill will have been decided.
With Amendment 140, my noble friend rightly seeks to achieve a full parliamentary examination of this essential element of the post-CAP package. I lost count of the number of Members in the previous debate who were referring to public goods, and of course Ministers have, throughout all stages of this Bill in both Houses, referred to public goods. Therefore, I hope that the affirmative resolution procedure, which would ensure that we have a proper parliamentary discussion of this important definition, can happen. My previous service on the DPRRC persuades me that this is the proper procedure here.
Turning to Amendment 141, which deals with large-scale tier-3 schemes, my experience of Dartmoor, where I used to chair meetings of the national park committee, and my experience of Bodmin Moor, which adjoined my home in my then constituency, made me especially aware of the sensitivity of moorland restoration schemes. These can have a challenging effect on all those who are interested in them, and on farms in LFAs, which have also been a common theme this afternoon.
Whatever their respective merits, nobody can deny that they inevitably impact on several landowners and land managers, and a variety of other users. Since the UK has responsibility for the stewardship of no less than three quarters of the world’s heather moorlands, this should be very high in our awareness of potentially clashing interests. I was interested in what the noble Baroness said. Like me, she will be well aware of how difficult decisions can be in deciding between different interests in that context.
It may well be true of other projects with overall beneficial environmental objectives, but the likely economic or other impacts on individuals or groups in those circumstances can be very important. I have had experience of uncomfortable impacts—admittedly relatively short-term ones—from major schemes such as coastal marsh creation schemes. My noble friend suggests that we should have the affirmative procedure to look at the details when then Minister comes forward with these. I hope he accepts that this too offers a practical solution.
My Lords, my noble friend’s two amendments are very interesting. Starting with Amendment 140, I thought that I knew what the public good was, having produced amendments which I thought were centred around it, such as public access and how you support that access and make it more readily available to those with disabilities and so on. However, when I read this amendment, I thought, “Ah, someone else put that at a priority level; that makes it a public good.” It is in the Bill, but is it as high a public good as something else? What happens if it starts to compete, which it will, with other activities? For instance, if you want to encourage a certain animal or plant somewhere and a path goes through it, which changes? On that fundamental level, getting some idea about how the assessments are made is important.
This is probably the start of a discussion that will run over several Bills, but if the Minister replies now, at least we will then know what we are disagreeing with and be taking a step forward. It is very important to find that out here. What is the Government’s starting point on this? How does it relate to various things? The process by which we establish that, if there is any doubt, will become very important as we go forward.
On the next amendment, the noble Lord mentioned one large landowner stopping a scheme. I have met many a small landowner who would stop anything that interferes with his life as it currently exists, so the net might need to be spread a little wider. We are going down because everybody assumes that the way they live is of value. The vast majority have strived to get to where they are, so they will at best be wary of change. Getting some definition of when you are making a change like that, how it will affect you and where the Government must push and say “No, it is going to happen” is something that we need. These are very important amendments in the subject that they deal with, because if we do not have the definition and terms—I thought that I did and, clearly, I do not—then we must find them. Otherwise, this will run into trouble and only serve to annoy us.
My Lords, I well understand why Members who are in the Government are anxious to move this Bill forward as quickly as possible, but if anything ever illustrated the value of this House and the limitations of another place, it is this Bill. The other place barely considered this Bill, and certainly not in any detail. Your Lordships’ House has sought to scrutinise, which without filibustering has still taken a long time, but it is a crucial Bill which will affect the lives of all of us, directly or indirectly, in the coming years.
There is no more important industry in our country than farming, and certainly no industry more productive or upon which we all depend so much, yet it faces a period of unparalleled uncertainty. I pay tribute to the Minister for listening so carefully and replying so sympathetically, but it is crucial that the Government display sensitivity and flexibility. This was illustrated very well indeed by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, who did himself a disservice by talking about “convoluted amendments”. Frankly, we must address this central issue of public goods and public money. I would prefer “public” to have a capital “P”, and to have “good” and “benefit” in the singular, because although the phrase may come trippingly off the tongue, the public good is very different in the farmlands of Lincolnshire from the farming of the Scottish borders. Of course, the farming duty goes with farming, the responsibility for wildlife, the countryside and the overall appearance of the environment, but the fundamental public good is the quality of what is produced, and this is where I cross swords with the Minister.
We touched on this in our debates last week. There is no greater public good and certainly no greater public responsibility than producing food to sustain the nation. Last week we also touched on the fact that the defence of the nation itself depends on the amount and quality of food that our farmers are able to produce. I hope that between now and Report the Minister—I address this to him personally and specifically—will seek to produce in the Bill a schedule or clause that defines “public good”, setting out precisely what it means and precisely what it is.
I will not go on at greater length. I am limiting my contributions to the debates on the Bill because I understand the Minister’s wish to move forward as quickly as possible. However, it must not be speed at the expense of scrutiny and, when we come to Report, ultimately the Government must help to put the Bill into better shape than it is in at the moment.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Greaves has set out his case for the inclusion of Amendments 140 and 141, supported by my noble friends Lord Tyler and Lord Addington, both of whom pressed the case for an assessment of what constitutes “public goods”.
Amendment 140 would require financial assistance to be provided on the basis of public money for public goods, and it requires the regulations to be subject to the affirmative resolution. More examination is needed of exactly what the Government mean by “public goods” and how that will be defined. It could mean myriad things.
Amendment 141 would give clear instructions to the Secretary of State to order owners and managers of land to take part in a project—that is, a coastal marsh creation or a large-scale moorland restoration—in which they do not wish to participate.
The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, supports both amendments. She is aware that there are often disputes between tenants and landlords that need to be sorted out. My noble friend Lord Addington said that even small landowners and not just large ones are very wary of change and will often object to taking part in projects. The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, raised the importance of scrutinising the Bill and of taking time to do it. I do not think that we can be accused of not doing so. As he said, farming is extremely important.
It is important that such vital projects for land improvement are not thwarted by individual landowners, but I am less clear that the degree of compulsion is in the spirit of the Bill. I look forward to the Minister’s response on this issue.
I thank all noble Lords who have spoken. We have had a varied debate but I wish to raise some further points and questions.
The Government’s communications on the Bill have focused on the principle of public money for public goods—a principle of almost total consensus. However, our current understanding of what constitutes “public goods” is fairly limited and, although widely used in this debate and the previous one, it is not a term used in the Bill. Although Chapter 1 outlines the purposes for which money can be given, our understanding of “public goods” probably differs according to our political emphasis. For example, my party would have a greater focus on food as a public good. It is a long time since I studied A-level economics, but I am sure that I remember a discussion centring around the fact that public goods are particularly apposite to sustaining a well-ordered society. They contribute to social inclusion and strengthen a shared sense of citizenship. In fact, it was debates such as those that fired my interest in politics and led to a lifetime spent working in public service. Therefore, will the Minister seek to define the phrase for the purposes of this legislation?
Amendment 141 proposes introducing an ability for the Secretary of State to order a landowner to participate in a large-scale tier 3 scheme. The Bill already represents a huge shift in how farmers are funded and this process will be much easier if it has the consent of landowners. Can the Minister therefore outline what powers are already available in the event of an owner or land manager refusing to participate in a scheme, even when there is a clear public interest in that scheme going ahead?
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, for his Amendment 140. Our new “public money for public goods” policy aims to reward farmers and land managers for goods and services that benefit society but are not currently traded on the market. The financial assistance powers in Clause 1(1) provide the Secretary of State with the power to spend money for furthering certain purposes, which in turn can help to deliver these public goods. The amendment would require the Secretary of State to define the “public funds for public goods” rule. This Bill does not include a definition of “public goods” because it provides powers to the Secretary of State to pay financial assistance for a number of purposes that will enable Defra to introduce its future policies, including productivity grants, as set out in Clause 1(2).
Perhaps I may go further. In terms of this Bill, public goods are goods and services that are valued by society but not provided by the market, including things such as clean water and air, thriving plants and wildlife, a reduction in and protection from environmental hazards, adaptation to and mitigation of climate change, the beauty and heritage of the environment and engagement with it.
The noble Lord asked whether productivity was a public good. The more productive the method of farming, often the more environmentally sound that farming method is. Our priority is a productive farming sector—one that will support farmers to provide more home-grown healthy produce made to high environmental and animal welfare standards. More efficient production has the benefits of lower costs and higher yields and, in many cases, a reduced impact on the environment.
The Government believe that by moving to a new system based on public money for public goods, and by supporting farming through productivity schemes and grants, we will put English farmers in the best position possible to boost sustainable food production. Defining “public good” in the Bill and requiring every pound spent under Clause 1 to meet this rule would unnecessarily restrict the Government’s ability to deliver their goal of a more sustainable, productive sector. Perhaps I may reiterate what Clause 1(4) says:
“In framing any financial assistance scheme, the Secretary of State must 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.”
Amendment 141 seeks to provide powers for the Secretary of State to require landowners or managers to participate in landscape-scale land-use change projects. The Government recognise that the ELM scheme will be most successful if it has very high levels of participation. This could be particularly important when considering locally targeted or landscape-scale projects under tiers 2 and 3 of ELMS, especially where any such projects require collaboration. The Government are therefore working closely with stakeholders, including landowners, to ensure that the scheme is attractive and offers appropriate and sufficient incentives to secure the necessary voluntary participation in projects. Indeed, the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, was correct in saying that the use of coercion in these larger projects is very much against the spirit of the entire Bill.
With that, I ask the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, to withdraw his amendment.
I thank the Minister but I have to say that those are the two most disappointing responses I have heard from Ministers during the entire Committee. I have spent a lifetime trying to get practical public projects of all sorts going—some big, some small—and, if I am an expert in anything, it is knowing about obstruction and delays, and overcoming those.
If the Government are relying on the completely voluntary involvement of everybody in tier 3 schemes there will not be many successful tier 3 schemes, although there will obviously be some. Unless there is a backstop somewhere for such schemes, which will cover landscape-scale—that is, large—areas of land, then this is not the way forward. It may be that tier 3 schemes can come in on the back of other ways of organising these projects, but this is disappointing.
I will read this debate carefully but I have to say that, if the intention of this amendment was to get the people who write answers for the Minister to think a little bit, it has failed. I do not blame the Minister for that in any way.
Regarding Amendment 140 on public goods, I have read everything that the Minister said in reply in the document put forward by the Government. As concerns my attempt to get the Government to explain what they mean and answer some of the questions, I will have to try again. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 140.
Amendment 140 withdrawn.
Amendment 141 not moved.
Clause 7 agreed.
Clause 8: The agricultural transition period for England and the termination of relevant payments
Amendments 142 to 146 not moved.
Clause 8 agreed.
Clause 9: Power to modify legislation governing the basic payment scheme
Amendments 147 and 148 not moved.
Clause 9 agreed.
Clause 10 agreed.
Clause 11: Power to provide for phasing out direct payments
Amendments 149 to 151 not moved.
Clause 11 agreed.
Clause 12: Power to make delinked payments
Amendments 152 and 153 not moved.
Clause 12 agreed.
Clause 13 agreed.
Clause 14: General provision connected with payments to farmers and other beneficiaries
Amendment 154 not moved.
Clause 14 agreed.
Clause 15 agreed.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 155. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate. Anyone wishing to press this, or any other, amendment in this group to a Division should make that clear in the debate.
Clause 16: Support for rural development
155: Clause 16, page 12, line 44, at end insert—
“( ) making provision for future contributions to existing rural socio-economic schemes;”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would safeguard the availability of financial provisions to continue the socio-economic programmes under Rural Development Programmes in the event of delays in the introduction of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund.
My Lords, I congratulate the Committee—we have made a lot of progress in the last few minutes. It is good to see that we are now up to Clause 16, focusing on support for rural development.
It is an honour to move Amendment 155. This is a simple amendment, supported by the CLA, which seeks to ensure that there is no gap in the support for rural socioeconomic schemes such as the Growth Programme and LEADER scheme, which are currently administered by the RDPE. They do so much to support the development of rural business through grants, training and the provision of advice. I have already noted my farming interests but, specific to this amendment, I should note that our rural heritage tourism business has applied for, and been granted, an RDPE grant—although, as far as I am aware, it will not be impacted by this amendment.
The work of the RDPE in assisting and administering rural development using European funds is key to maintaining the productivity and employment currently enjoyed by many otherwise struggling rural businesses. These are the businesses that, by current estimates, will suffer most from the economic catastrophe that is Covid-19 and the subsequent brutality of Brexit.
The role of the RDPE is due to be taken over by the UK shared prosperity fund, but we currently have no idea when that will take place. This amendment seeks simply to ensure that there is no gap between the winding up of the RDPE and access to the European funds and the establishment of the UK shared prosperity fund.
In a series of questions in this House on 21 May 2020, the noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh, on behalf of the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, made it clear that, while the Government could give assurances about the UK shared prosperity fund, they could give no assurances whatever as to its timing—and so, we remain in the dark. Perhaps the Minister can shed some more light on when the UK shared prosperity fund will take effect.
Without this amendment, these key socioeconomic schemes may find themselves falling into that transition chasm, lost in the valley of the shadow of death. I beg to move.
My Lords, I want to speak to my Amendment 156. It tries to ensure that as many as possible farming families, who, to me, are the backbone of rural England, will be able to survive on their land through the various agricultural crises that will inevitably come their way over future decades. The first crisis is the dramatic changes introduced by this Bill.
Anyone who talks to farmers, tenants or owner-occupiers who are farming land that could probably not be described as prime agricultural land will know that, without the single farm payment, they currently have little chance of survival. They cannot survive solely on their agricultural production to produce the family income. All too often, the single farm payment provides more than 100% of their agricultural returns. As we all know, this will soon not be there anymore. Some farmers and their families branch out into other enterprises on their farm, involving tourism, leisure or local services such as contracting or some form of engineering. But mostly, these farming families—wives, sons, daughters and often even the farmer himself—depend on cash wages from local businesses, which allow the farming household to survive on the land. The whole survival of the farm and the family, or families, on it depends on the vitality of the wider rural economy around them.
It is important to remember that, throughout England as a whole, agriculture represents less than 5% of the rural economy. This dependency on outside jobs is particularly obvious on those farms, both lowland and upland, involved in livestock—mostly up and down the western side of England and, of course, in Wales and Northern Ireland. The further you get from urban centres, the more this applies.
What I am saying should not surprise anyone as this feature of rural living was one of the founding principles of the CAP with its two pillars: Pillar 1 supporting agriculture per se and Pillar 2 supporting rural development. The EU decision-makers knew that, to keep farmers on the land and prevent them leaving to join the urban unemployed, a variety of rural jobs would need to be available to both men and women near their farms. Returning to this country, and going back even further in history, it should be noted that, when Lloyd George started the Rural Development Commission before the First World War, he had exactly the same targets in mind. The RDC eventually became the Countryside Agency until it all got swept into Defra and then, of course, disappeared.
I am trying to give back to Defra a very small arrow in its quiver to continue the good work started so many years ago. It is not a new game but a tried-and-tested tool to help farming families stay on their land. I am also trying to give Defra a small reason to justify keeping “rural affairs” in its title.
I know that the Government will say that all this is going to be taken care of by the shared prosperity fund —as my noble friend Lord Devon has just said—but how and when will we know? Rural proofing is a concept that has lost its way recently, so what makes us think that the shared prosperity fund is going to break that mould? Can the Minister guarantee today that there will be a well-financed ring-fenced rural fund that will be an essential part of the shared prosperity fund?
If he can, that is all well and good but, even so, would it not be a good idea for Defra to have this rural development arrow in its quiver? Would it not be a good idea to hold on to the tried and tested way of helping farmers stay on the land, particularly as Defra already knows that a good percentage of farmers are going to struggle to survive under the new regime this Bill is putting in place?
My Lords, I oppose Clause 16 standing part of the Bill. This follows on neatly from the comments of the noble Earl, Lord Devon, and the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, with whom I have the pleasure to serve on the EU Environment Sub-Committee.
The original purposes of the rural development fund have made a great change to the countryside, improving the quality of life and economic well-being especially of those living in rural areas that are particularly isolated and sparsely populated, such as where I grew up—Teesdale in County Durham—and also the areas that I had the pleasure and privilege to represent in the other place: deeply rural parts of North Yorkshire.
The policy statement that was published in February this year says of the Rural Development Programme for England for 2014 to 2020:
“This £3.5 billion programme will continue to include support for rural businesses to expand and create new jobs and for farmers and growers to buy innovative new equipment.”
This is under the “Preserving our rural resilience” heading, and it goes to the heart of what is perhaps another gap.
I ask my noble friend the Minister, in summing up, to show that this gap will be closed in the current aims of the Rural Development Programme—which have so well served rural communities—and to show how this voyage into the unknown of the UK shared prosperity fund will actually work in the interests of rural areas. Therefore, my question to the Minister is: how will Clause 16 build on this and how will necessarily limited funds continue to be used for these socioeconomic purposes that have served rural communities so well?
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering. I also support a number—in fact, the majority —of the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Cameron. Amendment 157 is in my name and I thank noble Lords who have offered their support for it, and the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, who has also put his name to it.
The farmers—those in our rural communities bringing in the crops and so on—have been on the front line throughout the Covid crisis and they deserve our thanks and an enduring debt of gratitude. In the Agriculture Bill in front of us, we have the opportunity to repay some of that debt, and part of this is what Amendment 157 is all about. Inputting high-speed, reliable and capacity-led broadband and the digital skills with which to competently and comfortably operate online seems to be essential to farmers and all those in our rural communities, to enable them to have optimal business, professional and personal lives.
I am grateful to the NFU for its support of this amendment, and I draw noble Lords’ attention to the rural connectivity survey that the NFU has conducted since 2015. What this shows is quite alarming: over that time period, on almost any measure, there has been a minimal increase in connectivity. Perhaps more worryingly, in the latest figures from 2019, there has been a 2% increase in those who say they have no broadband connectivity whatever. Farmers have told me that they have to go to McDonald’s to get broadband coverage, and while its advertising proudly states that all of its produce comes from British and Irish farmers—which is a thoroughly good thing that gives some circularity to this position—this should be a choice rather than a must for farmers.
Similarly, when one considers tax being digital by default, when farmers have approached HMRC with the issue of not being able to get online, it has been suggested to them that they go to their local library to transact their tax calculations and submissions. While all noble Lords would agree that libraries are quiet and calm places, are they really the venue where one should be forced to set out one’s finances?
Does my noble friend the Minister agree that broadband and digital literacy are absolutely essential? As we set out in our Lords Digital Skills Committee report in 2014, digital literacy is the fourth literacy and as important as the existing three. Does he also agree that this amendment would have social, psychological and economic benefits across our rural communities, where the rates of suicide that currently stubbornly exist are desperately concerning? Surely, good broadband connectivity would be part of the solution to such a tragic issue, which has blighted our countryside for so long.
We owe it to our farmers and all those in our rural communities to have the level of broadband infrastructure that others take for granted in more urban locations and the digital literacy with which to operate effectively online. Amendment 157 puts broadband and digital literacy at the heart of this part of the Bill. Does my noble friend the Minister agree that this amendment would go a considerable distance to enabling us to set aside the digital divide in our countryside?
My Lords, I support of Amendment 157, of which I am a signatory and which was so well proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Holmes. As we all agreed during the passage of the Telecommunications Infrastructure (Leasehold Property) Bill, the Covid-19 lockdown has shown how dependent we all are on good, fast and resilient broadband—nowadays, few more so than those in our agricultural sector. Indeed, it is clear from the difficulty many Peers have had in contributing virtually to our proceedings how woeful broadband is in some areas, especially rural ones.
The noble Lord, Lord Holmes, illustrated the lack of rural connectivity through the NFU surveys and this is backed up by the Ofcom reports. The average broadband speed in rural hamlets and isolated dwellings in a sparse setting was half that in major conurbations in 2018. During the passage of the Bill, I said that the status of the Government’s intentions regarding the timing of the delivery of a 1 gigabit-capable service or ultrafast broadband was unclear. It is especially unclear as regards rural areas and specifically 5G.
With regard to 5G, we have the Shared Rural Network, which is a collaboration between the four networks that started as a 4G project to cover the notspots. Then, we have the seven trials that have been selected in the Rural Connected Communities competition for funding from what is called the 5G Testbeds and Trials Programme. It now seems that projects have been selected in West Mercia, Orkney, Dorset, Monmouthshire, Wiltshire and Yorkshire.
How do all these fit in with the several existing funding programmes for full fibre, launched under the May Government, including two voucher schemes to subsidise full-fibre connections to rural premises and small and medium-sized businesses? How are the Government avoiding unnecessary duplication in the rollout of full fibre to the home? What about Ofcom’s determination that there will be market competition in some areas—prospective competition and others—and non-competition in yet others? Is that really the most effective way of delivering the Government’s strategy, particularly in rural areas?
In another development, the Secretary of State did not mince his words last Tuesday on the consequences of the Government’s decision on Huawei, from which it is clear that the operators charged with delivering 5G will now, without compensation, have £2 billion less to spend on rolling it out while bearing, as they will have to, the cost of ripping out high-risk vendor 5G equipment by 2027. Many of his Conservative colleagues thought that he was offering too extended a timescale. This is a huge proportion of the investment which was to be committed by the operators towards 5G rollout. Are there really no plans to compensate operators, and will the full costs actually fall on consumers?
In his announcement, the Secretary of State admitted that this will delay rollout by two to three years. Given that 100% coverage at one gigabit will take much longer to achieve, will the Government now prioritise 5G rollout for rural areas, where full-fibre broadband is least likely to be installed on a market basis in the short and medium term?
I applaud the noble Lord, Lord Holmes of Richmond, for bringing forward this amendment, intended to deliver specific priority for rural broadband provision and rural digital literacy. It seems extraordinary in retrospect that broadband connectivity was not included in Annex IV of the rural development regulation as a thematic sub-programme for the purposes of article 7, given that it dates only from 2013. In current circumstances, this is highly relevant—in fact, essential—to the future success of our agricultural sector. It must be part of achieving what are now the UK’s priorities for agriculture.
As the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, argued, there should be a full review of the levels of rural broadband provision and digital literacy, especially before there is any obligation on farmers et al to comply with any regulations by digital means. I very much hope that the Minister will be able to answer my questions about the rollout of rural broadband, but also that he will accept the crucial amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Holmes.
My Lords, this is one of those occasions when you know that somebody in front of you has said it a little better than you. The noble Lord, Lord Cameron, has done most of the heavy lifting on the basic thrust of this group: are we going to make sure that the rural economy is generally supported, along with agriculture? That is how I take it. My noble friend Lord Clement-Jones and the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, talked about broadband. As the last few months have established, I am afraid that it is nigh-on impossible to function in the modern world without broadband at the moment, unless you are going to live in a very tight circle. I hope that we will get answers in the affirmative.
Amendment 155, which I have my name to, asks a technical point: are we going to ensure there is continuity of supply if the UK shared prosperity fund takes a bit of time to get up and going? I hope that we will get the answer to that, and I express my total agreement with the sentiments of those who have already spoken.
My Lords, I am happy to support the amendments in this group and will refer particularly to Amendment 156, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington. For me, as somebody from Northern Ireland, this amendment resonates with our whole rural development approach. Through the rural development programme within the European Union, many rural communities benefited from the LEADER programme. It allowed farmers—and farming families—to supplement their income through like-minded industries such as crafts and other types of revenue-making businesses. It also helped the rural community to survive and ensured that those people were retained there, thus creating vibrant farm enterprises. It was a particularly good model. I would like to hear the Minister say how it is to be translated and transposed, through the Bill, into the local economy of England and Wales. What discussions have been held in the ministerial and officials’ group with the devolved regions about how it is to be translated on the ground, so to speak?
It is very important that productivity and employment in rural areas are underpinned so that farming families survive on the land. It is also important that we provide for sustainable farming enterprises, while recognising the difficulties that such households can face during unplanned-for crises, such as the pandemic at the moment or floods. We have witnessed many horrendous floods, which the science would suggest are a consequence of climate change. The amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, recognises the function of farming households in the countryside. It recognises that they are the pivot in the farming enterprise and of the rural economy.
My Lords, I am delighted to support all three of these amendments. I am probably the least qualified of all in your Lordships’ House to talk about broadband. Even during the previous debate, I lost the picture on my screen and without the Digital Support service would not have been able to regain it. But I accept all that the noble Lords, Lord Holmes and Lord Clement-Jones, have said; they made persuasive speeches and clearly have my support. I hope they will have the support of the Government.
I want to address my brief remarks to the amendments spoken to so eloquently by the noble Earl, Lord Devon, and the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington. As someone who represented a rural constituency for 40 years in the other place, what they said rang true in every possible way. We must have not only a properly sustained agricultural industry in this country; we also need the rural support industries, of which they both spoke so eloquently and persuasively. I hope that when my noble friend the Minister comes to reply, he will accept the absolute necessity of what they called a ring-fenced rural fund because without it, there will be a bleak future.
We have all seen the devastation already wrought by Covid-19. It will take many in the rural communities much longer to recover than many of those in the urban communities. Businesses will have gone for ever; we need to keep all the businesses we can and add new ones. Most of all, we need young people who feel that there is a future in the rural economy. I give my total support to all three amendments and await with expectation the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I had the very pleasant experience on Sunday morning of paying a visit back to Glenscorrodale, the farm-steading where I grew up. Walking around what is no longer a farm, I was reminded of a number of factors relevant to this debate. From a very young age, I was absolutely convinced that it was not the life for me, but I have never failed to admire my brother and cousins, who stayed in the farming life however hard it was for young people to continue in farming as the decades progressed. These three amendments are really important for that reason. I am struck by just how much has changed in farm life over the decades since I was first able to wander around Glenscorrodale, and how much of farm life now is computerised or driven by technology for productivity reasons.
I echo the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, in relation not just to other rural businesses but to farming itself. Strong connectivity would be worth including in this part of the Bill, and would be a strong signal about the future of those willing to stay on the land, whether in farming, other businesses or a mixture of the two. It is, however, also important that we get the redesigned funding right, following the departure from the European Union. When I was Finance Minister in the early days of the Scottish Parliament, some 20 years ago, I was responsible for negotiating with Michel Barnier, of all people, the redesign of the structural funds as enlargement came on to the horizon. The rural development fund was key to that. I remember arguing very strongly at the time that the Scottish programme should include support for young farmers and their ability to take on responsibility for managing the land, but also perhaps to diversify into other businesses.
Continuity, flexibility and a joined-up approach to these new funds—as driven by the content of Amendments 155 and 156—would be highly relevant in these difficult times. I hope that the Minister will take on board all three amendments in his summation of the debate.
My Lords, I will speak briefly in support of my noble friend Lord Devon on Amendment 155, and of my noble friend Lord Cameron on Amendment 156.
As I said in an earlier debate, the changes in policy embraced by this Bill are a huge opportunity but a massive challenge. One challenge is the lack of clarity on rural development. I am concerned that the Government’s response to the Rural Economy Committee’s report—I was a member of the committee—rejected a recommendation that there should be a dedicated element of the shared prosperity fund for the rural economy. Furthermore, as my noble friend Lord Cameron, has said, there is confusion about where support will come from for farming families, whose survival will depend on diversified activity. It is very unclear where the boundaries are within the potential sources of funding. The scope of the ELM scheme is unclear; the future of the RDPE is unclear; and the long-awaited terms of the shared prosperity fund are unclear. All this is on top of the fact that we await the details of the Environment Bill.
The level of uncertainty is unparalleled; there are so many overlapping unresolved issues. Twice this afternoon Psalm 23 has been quoted, likening the potential risk that we face to
“the valley of the shadow of death”.
The psalm continues with the phrase
“I will fear no evil”,
so I am sure that the Minister will provide clarity on this important issue.
My Lords, Amendment 156, from the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, provides flexibility as not yet sufficiently available for Defra to help farming households carry out the purposes of the Bill. In the names of the noble Earl, Lord Devon, and the noble Lord, Lord Addington, Amendment 155 is equally pertinent in anticipating delays following the introduction of the United Kingdom shared prosperity fund—hence its safeguards, financial provisions and continued socio-economic interventions under rural development programmes.
With regard to food supply chains, does the Minister consider that local, regional and domestic supply chains ought to be strongly encouraged, while backing for our producers is essential if we are to set them against cheap imports from America and subsidised food from Europe, and that rural development funding should therefore be provided for this purpose? Does he agree that government incentives for food supply chain infrastructure are not the same as subsidising food directly, and do not therefore conflict with the market, but instead—to the advantage of so many communities —would assist production viability, reduce food miles, improve animal welfare and create jobs?
The range of examples to be encouraged comprises outdoor markets; local food delivery hubs; enterprises that collect from farmers to sell to supermarkets, school canteens and hospitals; local farmers’ processing co-operatives; small factories making cheese, bacon, vegetable burgers, apple juice and other products processed from local farms; and, not least, small abattoirs, including mobile ones, in certain farming areas.
Does my noble friend also agree that local food supply chains already work very well with supermarkets, where the majority of United Kingdom consumers shop? This is evident in several countryside areas, such as Yeo Valley in Somerset. A processing co-operative there makes yoghurt, crème fraiche and butter, selling to large retailers, including Tesco. These are organic farmers using agro-ecological systems, yet they can sell their yoghurt at a very reasonable and affordable supermarket price. It is also now well illustrated in a number of other countries, including Germany, the Netherlands and Norway, how local food hubs and farmers’ processing co-operatives can easily supply supermarkets, school canteens and hospitals.
Currently, and through this Bill, we have to review the best ways of replacing and restructuring previous schemes for rural development. Can the Minister reassure the House that, within the new arrangements, proper government incentives will be given to local food supply chains?
My Lords, Clause 16 allows the Secretary of State, by a negative resolution, to modify existing rural development schemes agreed under the common agricultural policy as to both time and content, and to devise new schemes entirely outside the present parameters. I fail to see any requirement for consultation. Is there any and, if not, why not? Who will represent rural interests in Whitehall and inform funding decisions? The whole point of devolution in Wales and Scotland was democratically to bring the interests of all sectors closer to policymakers—and it has been highly successful.
England has very disparate rural and regional interests that have to look to Whitehall for compromises and single solutions. Perhaps a devolved Yorkshire assembly could occupy the hub that the Government propose to create in York, once the Westminster politicians have been there, done that and departed with the T-shirt. Clause 16, however, creates very significant powers, and their exercise should be open to full parliamentary scrutiny. Will the Government commit to amending the Bill on Report, to require the affirmative procedure? No consultation, and the negative procedure proposed in this Bill, make a very strong case, both in principle and practice, for the stand part opposition of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering. She described it as a voyage into the unknown—and that is exactly what it is.
Funding for rural development has, over the period of our membership of the European Union, come from the rural development basic act and the common provisions basic act, and has accordingly been ring-fenced against the austerity cuts that have affected such areas as education and social services throughout this country. That ring-fencing of rural interests is about to be dismantled. I note the concern expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, about the absence of ring-fencing.
I have always feared, and have said so in this House on a number of occasions, that in the post-Brexit world, there will be overwhelming political pressure on the Government to switch money from rural communities to urban areas. Demands on public services, particularly health and social care, must be answered—there are votes at stake. This issue is even more acute since the last election, when the Government derived significant support from the crumbling “red wall” urban areas, whose interests they now have to consider. The further centralising of services and jobs in large conurbations may drive further depopulation from the countryside. It may even destroy the Conservative Party’s traditional rural base of support. Will the Government make a commitment now, in the post-pandemic world of massive government expenditure, that rural communities will receive the same level of support for rural development as they do at present under the CAP regime? This issue is addressed in Amendment 155.
We await the details of the shared prosperity fund, and I am particularly concerned as to Wales’s involvement in that. I share the doubts expressed by the noble Lords, Lord Cameron of Dillington, and Lord Curry, who pointed out how unclear it all is. It is important to build an infrastructure to support work in the rural communities—the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, referred to some agricultural-based industries. Part of that is addressed in Amendment 157, through the extension of broadband and mobile networks. All of us are learning the advantages of working from home and I have no doubt that, with proper investment, fresh employment opportunities in rural areas will arise from that, enabling people in rural areas to lead optimal lives with digital literacy, as the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, put it.
I have pleasure in supporting all the amendments in this group.
My Lords, rural development programmes are extremely important and any delay in their implementation would be a very retrograde step. I support the arguments put forward by the noble Earl, Lord Devon, and my noble friend Lord Addington on the shared prosperity fund and look forward to the Minister’s response. The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, also supports proper rural development and businesses to encourage young people and others to share in rural prosperity.
The noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, has, as usual, made a very powerful case for assisting farmers and the rural communities to deliver agricultural, food and environmental services. Living as I do in a rural area, but within easy reach of two market towns, I am painfully aware of the issues around the rural economy. With no single farm payment, some farmers on poor land will not survive. They depend on the wider rural economy. I look forward to the Minister’s response to the many questions from the noble Lord, Lord Cameron.
The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, objects to Clause 16 being included in the Bill. I have listened to her arguments and can understand where she is coming from. Support for rural development is important; the Agriculture Bill may not be the perfect place to include this, but we have an opportunity to enshrine the rural economy and development in this Bill and ensure that those of us living in rural areas are considered in a more holistic way.
The noble Earl, Lord Dundee, pressed the case for locally produced goods and food, both through farmers’ markets and supermarkets. I fully support this, as it is extremely important to bring locally produced quality food to a much wider audience.
My noble friend Lord Clement-Jones and the noble Lord, Lord Holmes of Richmond, have an amendment to add broadband connectivity and digital literacy to the list of support for rural communities. Farmers and their families need access to decent broadband to fill in the various forms and licences required to carry out their activities, and their children need access to complete homework and, currently, to take part in lessons. Going to McDonald’s to gain access to broadband is completely unacceptable. We have no access to 5G in my rural area. As someone who struggles with the strength of the broadband signal—or lack of it—and my own level of expertise, I can confirm that assistance with digital literacy is a vital element in improving connectivity. I look forward to the Minister’s response on this subject. Can I personally hold out any hope of better broadband connectivity in the near future?
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lords who have tabled these amendments today and to all those who have stressed the need to maintain the equivalent of the social economic schemes under the rural development fund. I agree with the many other noble Lords who said that both the noble Earl, Lord Devon, and the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, made very compelling cases that underpin those arguments.
It is clear that, to have a thriving agricultural sector, we need a strong rural economy and infrastructure. We need to address the many social problems that are holding those developments back. We know that rural areas are characterised by higher levels of poverty, poorer health and social isolation. Young people in rural areas struggle to find good-quality training opportunities and are held back by poor public transport and the lack of affordable housing. Local businesses find it difficult to access finance and, as the noble Lords, Lord Holmes and Lord Clement-Jones, rightly pointed out, have huge difficulties with broadband connectivity. I agree very much with them that digital literacy can go a long way to tackling the digital divide. The opportunities to make rural areas great places to live and work are being squandered.
I was also interested in the question from the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, about whether local food activities such as outdoor markets could be eligible for rural funds. That gets around some of the arguments we have been having about whether production of food is a public good.
Much of the problem lies with the Government’s failure to adopt a joined-up approach to rural development, bringing together all the departments and agencies with responsibilities in this area. Although rural proofing partly addresses the problem, it is still not providing the funding and policy priority that rural communities deserve. Rural development funding remains just one aspect of the solution. Nevertheless, that funding has provided a vital lifeline for many local communities.
The current Clause 16, on support for rural development, is welcome in as far as it goes, but it leaves a great deal of the detail unspecified as so much is delegated to regulation. It therefore leaves a lot to trust—a point well made by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford. I share the concern that funding could be lost without an equivalent funding regime in place. I also share noble Lords’ concern that we must have much greater assurance about access to the shared prosperity fund when the details become clearer.
I welcome the proposal by the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, which provides an opportunity for new socioeconomic programmes to help farming families. He has a great deal of expertise in that area and has made the case extremely well, so I do not intend to repeat it. I hope that the Minister can reassure us that the Government do not intend to focus solely on agriculture in this Bill, without a plan to maintain a thriving social and economic infrastructure around it. A thriving rural community with a strong infrastructure and new economic opportunities is the bedrock of an agricultural system, but it will need appropriate funding.
I have not lined up a biblical reference, which seems to be the order of the day today, but I do pray that the Minister can spell out in detail the access to the different rural development funds that will be available as we leave the EU, and the timescales applicable to each of those funds. I look forward to his response.
My Lords, I am most grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate, which goes to the heart of the rural economy and how rural communities play their essential part in it. I turn to Amendments 155, 156 and 157. Clause 16 provides for the continued payment of long-lasting Rural Development Programme for England agreements where they will extend well beyond the end of the current programme in 2020. This is needed because agri-environment and forestry agreements can last for many years. Some will still be active in the 2030s. The Bill does not deal with socioeconomic schemes, because these are short agreements and all payments will have been made by the time the EU rural development funding has been exhausted. Under the withdrawal agreement, Defra will continue to deliver the RDPE under the terms of the EU regulations. It therefore remains the case that all projects agreed under the RDPE will be fully funded for their lifetime. For multiyear agri-environment and forestry agreements, domestic funding will be used to honour commitments once EU funding ceases after programme closure.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, and all noble Lords. The Government absolutely recognise the invaluable contribution that rural areas make to our national life, economically, socially and culturally, and are committed to supporting rural communities through post-EU exit funding and wider government initiatives. It is essential that future generations see a future in the countryside, in agriculture or in a wide range of other elements and components of the rural economy. I am minded of what the noble Lord, Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale said. I have experienced my first Zoom meetings with an agronomist and an arable contractor and so forth. Things that I never thought would happen are happening regularly, so I understand all these things.
A lot of the matters raised in this debate are dealt with separately from the Bill, and I will expand on that. As set out in our manifesto, the Government intend to introduce the UK shared prosperity fund to replace EU structural funds. As the Rural Affairs Minister, I do not identify with the commentary on rural-proofing from the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, who was helpful to us in revising the rural-proofing guidance. We have officials working to ensure that rural-proofing is entrenched in every department. We have been working extremely closely with the MHCLG, which leads on the development of the UK shared prosperity fund, to ensure that its design takes account of the dynamics of rural economies and the particular challenges faced by rural communities. Both departments have been engaging with rural stakeholders to support development of the evidence base around what rural communities and businesses need for the fund. Final decisions about the quantum and design of the fund will take place following the spending review.
My noble friend Lord Dundee spoke about relationships with supermarkets. Some noble Lords are keen on berating the supermarkets. When I spend time going around them, I look at the British produce and the relationship there often is with local farms. That important development of relationships with local produce is strong, whether in large retail outlets or small ones. Clause 1(2) could support productivity measures which could, for example, aid local food chains. In response to the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, on the consultation requirement, this clause will only amend existing schemes, not create new ones. We have already consulted on the changes to existing schemes, as part of the Health and Harmony consultation.
Beyond the scope of the Bill, the Government are already taking steps to ensure that our rural communities can prosper. In response to my noble friend Lord Holmes of Richmond and the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, through the outside-in approach, as part of the future telecoms infrastructure review, we are supporting the deployment of gigabit-capable broadband to the least commercially viable UK premises. We are already connecting some of the hardest-to-reach places in the country, including through the superfast broadband programme and the £20 million rural gigabit connectivity programme. We have announced £5 billion of public funding to close the digital divide and ensure that rural areas are not left behind. The Government are also working with mobile network operators to deliver mobile connectivity improvements through a shared rural network. I also highlight the Digital Skills Partnership, launched by DCMS in 2017, to bring together organisations from across the public, private and charity sectors to work together to close the digital skills gap at local level.
The noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, asked about 5G rollout in rural areas. The 5G Rural Connected Communities programme is looking at potential 5G test cases in rural areas. Through the Rural Connected Communities competition, the Government are funding up to 10 5G research and development projects to run over two years.
The noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, asked about discussions between devolved Administrations and rural development. As all noble Lords know, rural development is devolved, but Defra officials meet counterparts in devolved Administrations to discuss rural policy and share experience.
Returning to digital, although the current rural development programme allows for support for broadband and digital skills, wider government initiatives are the main funding mechanisms for broadband connectivity and digital skills. These are delivered through DCMS, rather than Defra. The role played by me, as Minister for Rural Affairs, and the rural team at Defra, is to work closely with DCMS and, at ministerial level, make sure that there is a complete understanding of the fact that rural communities need to play their part in a modern economy, and of the need to improve that.
Clause 16 gives the power to continue making payments where agri-environment and forestry agreements have already been signed, using Exchequer funds once the EU rural development funding contribution has been exhausted. Without subsections (1), (2) and (5) of this clause, the Secretary of State will not have the powers required to continue making annual payments specified in existing agri-environment and forestry agreements, and farmers and land managers will not be compensated for the valuable benefits that they are delivering. Furthermore, without this clause it would be more difficult for agreement holders to move from a CAP scheme to new domestic schemes under the Bill. For example, subsection (3)(a) will allow agreement holders to terminate their agreements early if they successfully secure a place in an ELM scheme. The Government want to ensure that the environmental benefits delivered through these agreements are retained and built on as we move from the CAP to a new system of ELM, designed with farmers and land managers in mind.
The powers in subsection (3) of this clause facilitate the transfer of existing agri-environment and forestry agreement holders into new schemes operating under Clause 1, such as ELM or the simplified Countryside Stewardship scheme. For example, subsection (3)(c) could allow an existing environmental stewardship agreement holder who is managing a priority habitat to convert their agreement into a new domestic Countryside Stewardship agreement. Without subsections (1), (2) and (5) of Clause 16, we will be unable to pay farmers and land managers for the work they are undertaking, and we risk complicating the transition to ELM for land managers who are already participating in agri-environment schemes. We intend to offer domestic countryside stewardship agreements until 2024, at which point we want to ensure a smooth transition from both domestic Countryside Stewardship and EU agri-environment schemes into ELM.
I do understand and take on board all the points that have been made and our mutual desire to work to ensure that the UK shared prosperity fund is up and running and successful. From a rural-proofing point of view it is imperative that the needs of rural interests, communities and business are taken into account. However, I do hope that the noble Earl, Lord Devon, will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I have received requests to speak after the Minister from the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, and the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington. I call the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle.
My Lords, I offer the Green group’s support for Amendments 155 to 157 and thank the noble Lords who tabled them and supported them. This debate and the questions have brought out the political impact of the relatively low number of votes in the countryside. We have seen just this morning, with the report on the distribution of the Government’s regeneration fund before the last election, how, since we do not have a rules-based system such as the EU’s whereby funds are distributed to the areas that are most disadvantaged and most in need, it very much depends on the Government’s view of where such money should go.
This debate has focused a lot on keeping what we have in the countryside: alternative businesses, non-farm businesses and alternative sources of revenue for farmers. But what is the Government’s vision for the countryside —where do they see money going, say, from the UK shared prosperity fund? Do the Government see the countryside as a place where there can be large numbers of new, growing, farming, food-producing businesses, and large numbers of good jobs—not simply pickers who are casual workers coming in for a couple of months and then going away again having lived in caravans, but people who can make their lives in the countryside? Is that the kind of vision of a horticulture-rich, healthy food-growing countryside—tying together many of our debates from last year—that the Government have?
My Lords, the vision is for a prosperous rural economy, which obviously includes food production and agriculture. However, a whole range of communities form the rural economy. We want to ensure that all rural dwellers have the same opportunities. I have to say that very few industries have been promised that they will retain the same annual contribution from the taxpayer for the whole of this Parliament; sometimes noble Lords forget that in some of their commentary. That is most exceptional, and it shows that the Government support farmers and rural communities. That is of course why there is a very significant investment in the broadband structure. Therefore, there is a considerable vision for a prosperous, skilled and innovative agricultural sector within a broader rural economy.
My Lords, I thank the Minister very much for his extensive response to this debate. When will he be able to tell us whether there will be a well-financed, ring-fenced rural fund as part of the shared prosperity fund? When will we know about that?
I am afraid that I cannot give a precise date other than what I said in my remarks, that the quantum and design of the fund will take place following the spending review; I cannot give any further detail. However, I can say that the efforts and the work of Defra with MHCLG are to ensure that there is a very strong rural component so that rural businesses are an intrinsic part of this fund.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his response to my Amendment 157. He referred to the £5 billion which was set in principle as a response from the Government to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee report. Can he tell the House what the pathway is for that in-principle commitment to be rolled out and an on-the-ground practical reality?
As I say, the purpose of trying to start with an outside-in approach is precisely to ensure that rural areas and farms are connected—very often the village is connected but the outlying farms are not. That is where we want to ensure, in working with this £5 billion and the £200 million rural gigabit connectivity programme, that these are absolutely geared to ensure that rural areas are not left behind. I am most grateful to my noble friend for raising the matter.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his, as ever, courteous concluding remarks, and in particular his extensive comments on rural connectivity, which were enlightening. I am disappointed that we still lack detail on the UK shared prosperity fund and the Minister was unable to provide any enlightenment greater than what was given back in May. It has been a helpful debate and I am grateful to all noble Lords for their contribution on this key issue of rural development. I particularly acknowledge the tireless work of the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, on the subject of rural prosperity and the survival of farming households.
All noble Lords are well aware of the tremendous fragility of our rural economy and the many small rural businesses that are key local employers in areas of often desperate poverty and huge social deprivation. The noble Lords, Lord Holmes and Lord Clement-Jones, have done well to highlight the issues of rural connectivity as key issues that have been so graphically shown during the lockdown. Might the Government consider following the lead of Northern Ireland, which I understand has sought to implement rural connectivity by connecting the furthest and hardest-to-reach properties first and not last? I hope that we can revisit these issues on Report but until then, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 155 withdrawn.
Amendments 156 and 157 not moved.
Clause 16 agreed.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 158. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate. Anyone wishing to press this or any other amendment in this group to a Division should make that clear in debate.
158: After Clause 16, insert the following new Clause—
(1) Every smallholdings authority which, before the commencement of Part 1 of this Act, holds any land for the purposes of smallholdings must—(a) review its smallholdings estate, and(b) before the period of 18 months beginning with the day Part 1 of this Act comes into force, submit to the Secretary of State proposals with respect to the future management of its land for the purposes of providing—(i) opportunities for persons to be farmers on their own account;(ii) education or experience in environmental land management practices for farmers, potential farmers and farm workers;(iii) opportunities for increasing public access to the natural environment and understanding of sustainable farming; and (iv) opportunities for innovation in sustainable land management practices.(2) No land held by a smallholdings authority immediately before the commencement of Part 1 of this Act is to be conveyed, transferred, leased or otherwise disposed of other than—(a) in connection with the purposes listed in subsection (1), or(b) in accordance with the proposals submitted under subsection (1). (3) For the purposes of this section “smallholdings authority” has the same meaning as in section 38 of the Agriculture Act 1970.”Member’s explanatory statement
This new Clause would limit the disposal of "county farms" by local authorities and would require local authorities to review their holdings and submit proposals for future management to provide opportunities to extend farming to new farmers, provide agricultural education and stimulate innovation.
My Lords, apropos of the discussion on the previous group of amendments, this is the first time I have contacted your Lordships from rural Dorset. The bandwidth and the stability of the internet connection appear to be somewhat suspect, so if I get cut off, your Lordships will understand.
This amendment is about introducing a new generation of farmers to our agricultural system. Much of the debate on the Bill has been about the outputs of farming: food, and the impact on the environment and the countryside. The key inputs into farming are of course the skill and enterprise of those who work the land, but we have heard very little about that in the debate. A subsequent amendment from my noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch deals with the general improvement of the supply, quality and skill of labour in agriculture, which I will strongly support. However, this amendment is about getting people in who will run their own farms and who need to be given that opportunity.
I well remember when I was first made an Agriculture Minister—over 20 years ago now—and I was told that the average age of English farmers was about 59; I was slightly younger at that point, but not a lot. I was slightly shocked at that, but then I was told that this was always the case, because you either inherited your land from your father or your uncle or you had to save up enough money to buy the land. Another way in was provided from the beginning of the last century by many rural counties, which established tenancies directly for young farmers who could not afford to enter in the normal way through inheritance or purchase. It was a successful scheme, and it continued and was reinforced after the Second World War. However, from the 1980s, there was a drastic fall in the number of tenancies and the acreage covered by such tenancies almost halved. We sped it up a bit around 2000 but in the last 10 years, as a recent report by the CPRE shows, there has been a further 10% decline in the areas covered by county tenancies.
This is a crucial way in, yet some of our proud rural counties have drastically reduced the acreage covered by county tenancies. These include counties such as Herefordshire, Somerset, North Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, and some counties, such as Northumberland, Northamptonshire and Lancashire, appear from the figures not to have any county tenancies nowadays. Even my own adopted county of Dorset—whose internet connection is not great—has also capped its tenancy by 10% over the last 10 years. This is pretty disastrous in terms of getting new blood into managing farms and running their own farms.
My amendment is quite modest, but it would require those counties with such smallholdings to review the situation and not to dispose of any such holdings except for the purposes similar to the objectives of the county farm tenancies. That would require each county to work out a new strategy, discuss it with Defra, continue to provide support for those tenancies that existed and, hopefully, resume providing further tenancies.
I was heartened at the end of the previous day of the Committee stage when the noble Baroness, Lady Bloomfield, indicated that there will be some support for county farms as a result of the new agricultural system. I have yet to see any details of that, but it would be important to improve availability for rural young farmers, or indeed urban people who wish to get into farming, if the county scheme could be revived or, at the very least, stopped from declining further. An objective assessment by the counties and Defra would reinstate tenancies and start increasing the amounts of such tenancies that are available, which should help to herald a new future in farming for those who desperately want to run their own farm and improve the environment at the same time. I beg to move.
My Lords, within this grouping I support Amendment 158, in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, and others, which sets out to enable new entrants to county farms, to provide education in farming these holdings and to stimulate innovation within them.
I am also in favour of Amendment 246, in the names of my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering and others, which suggests that landlords should contract longer farm business tenancies.
I also support my noble friend’s Amendment 237, which would enable tenants to object to a landlord’s possible refusal of consent to enter financial assistance schemes.
I come to Amendment 159 in my name. This proposed new clause would encourage agricultural smallholdings in areas close to towns and cities. In terms of the Bill, there are a number of advantages.
The first is consistency with the Government’s commitment to building houses where people want to live. Many would like to live in the countryside; however, very often this is not possible due to planning constraints and the high costs to applicants of gaining permission. The proposed new clause would allow for the development of affordable green homes arising from government incentives to local authorities for that purpose. Local authorities might then incentivise the private sector to invest in this type of endeavour. Along with other locations, green-belt sites could be used. Since we are considering agricultural smallholdings, these would not be subject to current urban restrictions applying to green belts.
Secondly, the developments would be combined smallholding, home and work spaces. Residents would have two occupations: farming some land; and working from home. An example might have 30 houses and 180 acres of farmland, thus 6 acres per unit. A typical occupant might farm vegetables in polytunnels while also working part-time as an IT consultant via high-speed internet. Post coronavirus, two interconnected trends have emerged: a greater demand for property in the countryside and a growing potential of being able to work from home. The proposals outlined thus fit in with those new demands in facilities.
Thirdly, the projects, as envisaged, would provide fresh, high-quality produce to local urban markets, thus strengthening the United Kingdom’s food security, while assisting government aims for the countryside by increasing opportunities for rural employment.
Fourthly, in connection with this Bill, the farming methods adopted by these smallholdings would qualify to benefit from this financial assistance for the purposes detailed in Clause 1. I hope that my noble friend the Minister can support this proposal.
My Lords, I am generally supportive of the amendments in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, and the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, and their desire to get younger farmers on to the land. This is crucial to improving diversity and productivity and is generally crucial to the health of the farming industry.
However, I oppose Clause 34 and the entirety of Schedule 3 standing part of the Bill. This is not because I think that agricultural tenancy reform is not much needed; rather, it is far too important an issue to be addressed in a simple schedule to this complex Bill. It must not be treated as an afterthought. In these constipated proceedings, we simply do not have time to do justice to agricultural tenancy reform. I have barely had the capacity to consider the provisions in Schedule 3; perhaps this proposal is aimed at sparing me and your Lordships the time of doing so.
I was horrified to learn that the average length of modern agricultural tenancy is just three years. This is the worst possible thing for the environment. For all our days of effort to define and incorporate a variety of public goods and worthy causes under Clause 1, probably the best thing we can do for the environment is simply adjust the term of agricultural tenancies from three years upwards towards 10. There is simply no way a farmer can commit the resources to maintain his or her natural capital, such as soils, hedges and trees, when he or she has only a three-year term and the bank that is financing the business needs to see a commercial return within that short timeframe.
I also keep in mind the excellent work of the Tenancy Reform Industry Group—TRIG—whose final report to Defra made wide-ranging and sweeping recommendations for agricultural tenancy reform. Schedule 3 is a wholly inadequate response to that. Many will say that we should take what we can by way of primary legislation in this area, as the chance does not come along too often. However, I would resist that and reiterate that this far too important an issue to be resolved by Schedule 3 alone.
I have some sympathy with the noble Earl, Lord Devon, but I have tried to use my best judgment to amend the Bill as it stands. Amendment 223 builds on the work, as the noble Earl pointed out, of the Tenancy Reform Industry Group, just to ensure that the amendments put forward by TRIG can be implemented in a timely manner.
I turn to other amendments in my name and thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, Lady Bakewell of Hartington Mandeville and Lady Northover, the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, and my noble friend Lady Rock for lending their support to these. Amendment 237 also has a complementary one for Wales. It makes a straightforward change to require the Government to bring forward necessary regulations to allow an agricultural tenant to refer to arbitration any unreasonable refusal from the landlord following a request by the tenant to join a scheme developed under the financial assistance provisions. Let me say at the outset that there are plenty of examples of good relations between landlords and tenants; the amendment deals only with circumstances where they are perhaps less good. I think it fair to say that tenant farmers are rightly concerned about their ability to access new public payments for public goods in light of their tenancy agreements and some of the restrictive clauses they contain. I hope the Government will give an assurance in that regard.
Amendment 238 closes a potential loophole in the Bill regarding the consent of the landlord, which the tenant is required to obtain before entering a financial assistance scheme. As drafted, the Bill contains a relatively narrow set of criteria which has to be in place, but envisages providing the tenant with the option to object only where the tenancy agreement or legislation governing the tenancy relationship between the landlord and the tenant restricts the tenant’s ability to participate without the landlord’s consent. Currently, the situation would not be covered by the provisions in this part of the Bill. This amendment seeks to address that by ensuring that all refusals by a landlord are referable by the tenant to arbitration on the grounds of reasonableness. I hope my noble friend will see that that is very modest ask.
Amendment 239 again concerns the landlord’s consent. This and Amendment 238 would together address issues around unreasonable restrictions within tenancy agreements that prevent farm tenants investing in their holdings to carry out activities or improvements which assist with the productivity or sustainability of the holding. As the noble Earl, Lord Devon, said, three years being the standard tenancy is simply not conducive to the investment that I personally would like to see. I hope my noble friend will look favourably on this amendment. Again, it is a suggestion put forward by TRIG and I hope my noble friend will make sure that tenancy agreements contain reasonable clauses that would make an appeal against an unreasonable refusal from landlords easier.
Amendment 240 addresses the definition of “diversification activity” and would extend it to activities that, although by nature not deemed to be agricultural, horticultural or arboricultural, enhance and complement the use of the holding for those purposes. Again, the intention is not to create a complete free-for-all but simply to give the tenant certainty of provision. I would hope that it is reasonable to allow farm tenants to have access to the means to carry out reasonable farm diversification activities without the landlord’s unreasonable refusal disallowing them from doing so.
Amendment 244 also has a similar one for Wales and, taken together, they seek to enhance the franchise of individuals who are able to apply for succession of a tenancy for the limited number of tenancies under the Agricultural Holdings Act 1986 that continue to have rights of succession. This is simply looking to extend the current franchise that includes husbands, wives, civil partners, sons, daughters, individuals brought up in farm families and treated as children of the marriage or civil partnership, and brothers and sisters of the deceased or retiring tenant. Crucially, the list of potential successors does not include the grandchild, nephew or niece of the deceased or retiring tenant; nor does it include children from a cohabiting partner of the deceased or retiring tenant. This amendment seeks to plug that gap. Again, this was considered by TRIG, so I hope my noble friend will look favourably upon it.
Amendment 245 looks to ensure that tenant farmers in England are not locked out of new government public payments for public goods schemes, or schemes that provide support for productivity. The Bill already recognises the difficulty tenant farmers occupying under the Agricultural Holdings Act 1986 might have in gaining consent from their landlords, due to the nature of their tenancy agreements, but leaves tenants occupying under farm business tenancies regulated by the Agricultural Tenancies Act 1995 fully exposed to the whims of their landlords, without a legislative backstop. I hope that my noble friend will look favourably on this amendment. Tenant farmers want to play their full part in these schemes, which enhance the environment, landscapes and animal welfare, and I am sure that, through the good offices of my noble friend, that can be achieved. It is important to say that when this was considered in Committee in another place, it was voted down on the basis that farm business tenancies are shorter term; however, this misunderstands the nature of the marketplace for letting land and I am sure my noble friend will take a much more considerate view.
Finally, I come to Amendment 246. As with the amendment to the franchise for tenancy succession, this amendment was also considered by the Defra-sponsored Tenancy Reform Industry Group. It is part of the Government’s policy to encourage longer-term farm business tenancies. It is important to note that the average length of a farm business tenancy in England and Wales is less than four years, and 90% of all agricultural tenancies are let for a period of only five years or less. Such short-term agreements are inadequate to allow farm tenants to invest in and profit from these holdings and to have the freedom to take part in agri-environment schemes. This amendment would make the changes necessary in this regard.
I hope my noble friend will consider these amendments vital, putting all tenants on an equal footing and enabling them to benefit in the same way that landlords would hope to benefit from these schemes.
My Lords, I am very pleased to attach my name to Amendment 158, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. The tenant farming sector is hugely important in the United Kingdom. Some 30% of all agricultural land is tenanted. I have long been concerned about the future of the county farms estate. As the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said, many have been disposed of, including in my own county of Northumberland. Indeed, in conjunction with the Tenant Farmers Association, I wrote a report in, I think, 2007 on this topic.
Many of the farms that remain under the ownership of local authorities are no longer smallholdings. Of course, it is important that farms of different sizes are available to let to tenants. I speak as someone who started farming in 1971 as a tenant on a relatively small mixed farm in Northumberland. We had then what we called a farming ladder: it was possible to start small and, through hard work and sound business skills, gradually move on to larger farms. The model worked really well and provided an entry into farming for those from outside established farming businesses. New blood is crucial for any industry sector, and certainly for farming. Many of today’s successful farming families started small and have built impressive rural businesses as a consequence.
County farms are clearly owned by local authorities, but, as I said in the aforementioned report, they are a national asset and should be retained. Too often, local authorities have taken short-term decisions to dispose of their landholdings to plug an annual funding gap without, in my view, considering seriously the strategic importance of these assets. There are innovative ways in which these estates, in partnership and in conjunction with their tenants, could provide a wide range of key services such as local food markets, educational access and other public services—including, potentially, energy generation—to try to ensure they are financially viable, as indicated in this amendment.
There are many challenges in trying to achieve financially viable businesses on local authority estates, including small farms becoming the equivalent of bed-blockers in hospitals. If tenants granted the tenancy on a starter farm do not move on to a larger unit, the starter farm fails at its purpose. I realise this may be considered too controversial, but I think the starter farm tenancy should be limited to a maximum of 10 years. If the business has not been established and become financially viable to the extent that it can move to a larger holding in 10 years, it is unlikely to succeed.
To move on within a reasonable period requires larger farms to be available to rent. I regard this as a serious concern. Is the farming ladder permanently broken? So many rungs of the ladder have been removed through the merging of farms, particularly by institutional landowners, that opportunities are much more limited than they were when I started my farming business. However, I am unwilling to accept that it is impossible to establish a successful and sustainable long-term farming business on tenanted land. We need new blood today as much as in the past. In fact, one could argue we need an infusion of new blood more than ever in this fast-moving, rapidly changing world.
This amendment may seem like a fringe issue within the Bill, but I regard it as an important opportunity to assist in restructuring the farming sector and ensuring that it is fit for purpose. Retaining the county farm structure is very important in this respect. I also support the other amendments in this grouping that protect the interests of tenants, as recommended by TRIG and as spoken to by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh.
I was about to call the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, but do we have the noble Baroness, Lady Young, back with us?
We do indeed. I shall speak to Amendment 222 in my name. I feel, at this precise moment, like having a rant about the inadequacies of rural broadband, but I shall restrain myself. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Randall, for supporting Amendment 222.
The community infrastructure levy was introduced in 2010. Some local planning authorities apply it to new agricultural buildings, but some do not. Agricultural buildings are often required for things such as housing livestock or storing grain, and new buildings are often driven by changes in regulations on animal welfare or food safety standards; or, they may enable business growth or productivity. These things will be important in the new agricultural world we are envisaging in the Bill. New agricultural buildings, however, are not like commercial buildings or housing developments, which are built by investors for immediate profit by selling or letting. Farmers have to stump up for the CIL payment, which can be tens of thousands of pounds, for loans they have taken out to construct a building, and they add to the servicing costs of loans—a direct cost on the farm business.
We are, in the Bill, seeing an environment where farming businesses will need to invest in an innovative way to improve their competitiveness and productivity. The CIL charge for new farm buildings risks inhibiting such investment. It is even more complicated in the current position, because some planning authorities, as I said, choose to levy the CIL on new farm buildings, and some do not, so there is an uneven playing field across the country, for a farming industry that supplies national and global firms. I can imagine the conversations with the supermarkets if you tried to tell them about your CIL charge when they are pressing down on costs across industry as a whole.
We need to bear in mind what the CIL was intended to do; it was a charge to fund local facilities, infrastructure and services to meet increased pressures that new developments often cause. Agricultural buildings are often large in size, so they attract a higher CIL, but low in impact on community infrastructure and services. Cows do not really need social services or want enhanced transport routes. Agricultural buildings are clearly defined in planning laws, so there is no danger of this becoming a creeping extension to any exemption, and there is clear evidence that imposing the CIL discourages investment in these farm businesses. So, this amendment would enable the Government to help farm businesses when they are facing what will, by all accounts, be very uncertain times as a result of the major changes in the agricultural support system. I hope the Minister might see his way to supporting this amendment.
My Lords, I support what the noble Earl, Lord Devon, said about less than five years being far too short for average farm tenancies if we are to succeed with a comprehensive agri-environment scheme. I also agree with him that accepting half a loaf now may not lead to the other half appearing; I think we all ought to understand, in this House, how that works. I am very grateful for Tony Blair’s willingness to accept half a loaf all those years ago.
My interest in this group is in Amendment 242. I am not an agricultural tenancy specialist; I come at this from an education point of view. Subsection 11(3) is an odd bit of legislation. It abolishes a large chunk of Part 1 of Schedule 6 to the Agricultural Holdings Act, which is full of definitions—I cannot, for the life of me, understand how we can do without them, but presumably it all fits in with the rest of the Bill. The bit that we are left with is a restatement, effectively, of one bit of Part 1 of Schedule 6, which governs the interface between the successor to a tenancy and that successor going off and learning their trade at an agricultural college. But it says that you are allowed only three years, and a lot of modern level 6 courses in agricultural colleges now last four years, because they—quite rightly—incorporate a year’s experience.
Today, I listened to the Universities Minister, Michelle Donelan, urging universities to be much more flexible and offer structures that are part-time, modular and akin to continuous professional development over many years. Looking to the future, therefore, the answer is not my amendment, but to remove the time restriction from this clause entirely. A successor to a tenancy ought to be allowed to have been studying their craft, and it ought not to matter where and in what pattern they have been doing that, particularly when we are currently urging such institutes of education to offer a much wider variety of ways in which agricultural education can be obtained. We ought not to be stuck in the past in this clause.
My Lords, I echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, and the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, about connectivity. The problem is not just in rural areas; it is here too, in suburban Middlesex. However, I am even more relieved that the noble Baroness spoke to Amendment 222 before I did, because she is much more eloquent than I am, and it is something I support.
With regard to the community infrastructure levy, it is of interest that, since 2009, only one local authority has carried out a viability assessment on whether agricultural buildings can afford to pay the CIL. This assessment concluded that the local authority should pay the farmer to build a new farm building.
At a time when the Government are looking at all sorts of innovative ways to cut out red tape and so forth in the planning area—I may have concerns about them if they impinge on environmental interests—we should make sure that we give those in the agricultural industry a fair deal on these properties. After all, they will not be used for profit in the same way that an extension would be, or in any other ways. I support what the noble Baroness said, and I hope the Minister will take note.
My Lords, I have great joy in very warmly supporting this amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Whitty. The future economic prospects for Britain and the great changes to our way of living and our society that may become necessary only emphasise the urgency of what he is talking about.
I live in rural Cumberland, right up in a valley, where an unwelcome social development is becoming very obvious. Farming, and hill farming in this instance, is increasingly done by elderly people who find it more and more difficult to cope. Consequently, the land gets bought up and concentrated in the ownership of a few people, very often living far away.
Therefore, my noble friend’s amendment has wider implications and challenges beyond what he is specifically talking about. I think it would be nothing but good for British society if more young people who wanted to become involved in farming had that opportunity. Too often, you hear of people who would like to be in farming but cannot afford to get into the system as it has emerged, and who are looking for small, manageable farms.
It is also true that, as we are taking a balanced diet and all the rest so seriously, we may need to concentrate far more on a variety of farming which lends itself to producing varied diets and to the self-sustaining approach to agriculture. For these reasons, I am very glad to support my noble friend.
My Lords, this is a near-perfect group of amendments, and the Government would do well to pick all of them up. It is certainly good luck that your Lordships’ House has so many very talented people who can help the Government to improve the Bill.
Reforming agricultural tenancies and giving greater protection for tenants and their families would help give the security needed to take a long-term view as a guardian of the land, make beneficial investments and work the land to its fullest potential. The county farm amendments are also brilliant and should be encouraged in order to bring more enthusiastic entrants into the agricultural sector. I echo the dismay of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, that county farms are being sold off; I am sure he knows that his adopted county of Dorset has recently sold six county farms.
Alongside smallholdings, I ask the Minister how he sees the provision of allotments in improving our food security, resilience and health. There is a huge underprovision of allotments in this country, with multi-year waiting lists. I confess that I am a very keen allotment holder—I do not think my nails will ever be the same again after this lockdown—so I know how wonderful they are and encourage the Minister to include allotments in Government plans for our food systems. A housing estate should not be built these days without some sort of allotment close by so that people can get out, grow food and get their hands dirty.
My Lords, last week the noble Lord, Lord Judd, was pleased to support what I said about the sequestration of greenhouse gases. This week, I am very pleased to support him on what he said about upland farmers and the concern that a number of them are going bankrupt and their land is becoming part of larger holdings, which is altering the nature of the countryside. It is not just the small upland farms that are under pressure. Small lowland and small family farms are under pressure throughout the UK, and there is now an inevitable drift towards bigger farms, more contracting and fewer tenancies—that is a sad thing.
Amendment 159 in the name of my noble friend Lord Dundee is an interesting proposal. It would be a very good way to start development on green-belt land adjacent to towns, but what happens when the idealistic thoughts of smallholdings do not become viable or the owners cannot cope, and the whole area turns into “horsey culture”? This is not good for biodiversity or the land. One sees an enormous amount of potentially good land being ruined by horses because the land is not properly maintained. It takes a great amount of extra work to keep land where horses are kept, on a small acreage, in good health.
I have put my name to Amendments 237, 238 and 246. I support Amendment 246 because I would like to see longer farm tenancies. This an important part of the structure of farming in the United Kingdom, and in England in particular. That is what the Bill is about, and I would like to see this amendment in the Bill.
I support Amendment 238 because it has the interesting additional wording of “full and efficient farming”. This comes back to our discussions on Clause 1, because there is a push from the Government to turn much of our agricultural land into recreational theme parks, whereas this amendment is geared to making certain that the land is farmed in a proper and efficient manner.
I have spoken before of my concern that tenants sometimes do not get a fair deal: because of their tenancy agreement, woodland, streams and things like that are often excluded, particularly from old Agricultural Holding Act tenancies. This hampers the ability of the tenant to carry out full farm biodiversity and restricts the amount that a tenant can diversify.
Looking to the future, what will happen under ELMS tiers 2 and 3? What happens if a tenant is attracted by a scheme under tier 2, or perhaps is included in the ambit of a tier 3 scheme, which involves inappropriate public access? What is the situation for the landlord in these circumstances? The land might be the landlord’s asset, and he might in due course wish to take that land in hand when the tenancy agreement comes to an end. If the tenant takes part in an ELM scheme which includes public access that depreciates the value of that land in the longer term—undoubtedly the public access will become a common established right over time, if not immediately—is the landlord consulted in a tier 3 scheme? Does the landlord have a right of refusal under the proposals that the Minister has in mind that we do not know about?
There are a lot of questions here that need digging into and explaining. I supported these amendments because the tenant should be not only encouraged but treated fairly when they have a holding.
My Lords, again I declare my interests as a director of a tenant farming enterprise. I support Amendment 237 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh. I was pleased to add my name to Amendments 238 and 243 to 246. I welcome the clear intention to ensure that tenants are not excluded from financial assistance schemes.
Amendment 238 seeks only to ensure that all potential circumstances that could arise for a tenant to need their landlord’s consent are covered. Some schemes, by their nature, require tenants to seek the consent of their landlords, regardless of legislation or their contracts of tenancy. Those individuals would not be able to use the provisions of this legislation to object to a landlord’s refusal, in those circumstances. This amendment merely extends the opportunity for reasonable objection to apply to any and all situations where the landlord’s consent is required. The amendment is not seeking to expand the remit of the legislation beyond what the Government intend, just to ensure that no one is left out of being able to use this provision.
I welcome the provisions of Schedule 3, in particular those allowing tenants to object to a landlord’s refusal to grant consent to enter a financial assistance scheme, but the exclusion of farm business tenants is a mistake. By their short-term nature, restrictive terms and high levels of rent, FBTs deserve the protection of this legislation. Over time, FBTs will become the major way in which non-landowners become farmers, and it is important that the legislative basis for their occupation is secure. As the Government rightly move towards a new mechanism to support farm productivity gains and public goods, it would be tragic if FBTs had no recourse against unreasonable landlords who refuse consent for them to be part of that new direction of travel.
I recognise that there is a balance between ensuring that we do not disincentivise landlords and ensuring that tenants have sufficient opportunities to take part in new schemes. However, given the restrictive terms of many FBTs and the lack of impetus to improve them in the marketplace, the balance should rightly ensure fair scheme access for all tenants.
While it is government policy to ensure long-term FBTs, it is disappointing that the Bill does not contain the provisions to assist with this that were proposed by the Tenancy Reform Industry Group—TRIG— which formed part of the Government’s consultation. Amendment 246 rectifies this. The marketplace does not currently deliver a sufficient number of long-term FBTs and the Government could do more to promote their use. These provisions should provide comfort to landlords who have to deal with tenants who breach the terms of the agreements or when land is required back for non-agricultural use, planning consent for change of use having been obtained. While these new provisions will have direct benefit for landlords, who are prepared to let for longer periods, they will provide indirect benefit to the tenanted sector as a whole, by providing scope for a greater degree of longer-term tenancies.
Finally, on Amendments 243 and 244, many successful businesses are family enterprises, no more so than in agriculture. Tenancy succession provisions ensure the longevity of farming businesses, and it is right that there should be eligibility criteria for who can succeed to a tenancy. Other bits of the Bill speak to that issue. One area that is limiting for many farm businesses with succession rights is the close relative test. Often it is nephews, nieces and grandchildren who are involved in the farm, rather than the children of the retiring or deceased tenant. It is important to recognise that these wider members of a family farm may be the most appropriate individuals to succeed. This issue was considered by TRIG and formed part of the Government’s consultation on agricultural tenancies.
The tenanted sector is responsible for farming at least one-third of the agricultural area of England and Wales. We must ensure that tenant farmers are able to participate fully in schemes to contribute to the future of farming.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Rock, and to echo many of the sentiments she expressed on Amendment 246, to which my noble friend Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb has attached her name. I will speak briefly to Amendments 158 and 159. Amendment 158 is on county farms, which is something that we have heard discussed broadly, its importance stressed by many sides, so I will not detain the Committee on that.
I want particularly to address Amendment 159, in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Dundee. This in many ways addresses the question I put to the Minister after the previous group of amendments. Do we perceive our countryside as a place where we can see a growth of a different kind of business and economy—strong local economies, rich communities of small independent businesses producing food and providing services for those businesses? The vision set out by the noble Earl in this amendment reflects some very exciting work that is being done in Wales. We are seeing exciting experiments and developments in the devolved Administrations that could be transferred to England. That is the idea of One Planet Living: that it is possible to create developments that meet our environmental, social and economic goals and are different from what has gone before, which may not increase the concentration of land ownership, but may create opportunities for small independent landowners, businesses, tenants and people to operate different kinds of businesses, in different ways.
I do not need to tell your Lordships that land ownership in England is incredibly concentrated. We have a situation in which half of England is owned by less than 1% of its population. If we were to share the land of England around the whole population, everyone would get half an acre each. In the light of Covid-19, we may see that people wish to explore different ways of living, different kinds of businesses, different ways to work and support themselves, and different ways to work in communities. This amendment is an exciting possibility and way of doing that. I commend it to the Committee.
My Lords, I draw the attention of the Committee to my farming interests in Suffolk, as in the register. I will speak to Amendment 222 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone. I support what she has said, but will take it wider. The community infrastructure levy was originally introduced in around 2010, when, as she explained, it was intended to be a reasonably small contribution towards any infrastructure implications, primarily of developing housing.
Unfortunately, the levy has recently been seen—inevitably perhaps—as a means for strapped local authorities to raise funds directly. There seems to be little control or constraint on what local authorities can do with CILs. I think the Government should look at this closely, because recently, and certainly in the part of Suffolk I am from, they have increased them as much as 10 times. At the same time, the big housing developers often bargain their way out of making any contribution at all.
What I really want to suggest is that our thinking should move on and be not just about the construction of new agricultural buildings. More relevantly from the point of view of diversification of farming, which is what this Bill is very much about, it should also be about the conversion of redundant farm buildings into dwellings, for example. This is thoroughly desirable. Buildings can be converted economically and attractively, adding to the landscape and providing additional housing at a time when we should want to encourage this very much.
One of the anomalies is that new houses are not subject to VAT whereas the conversion of a redundant farm building to a dwelling is subject to 5% VAT. We should consider exempting the conversion of a redundant farm building for whatever purpose, provided that it remains part of the farming enterprise—even, for example, conversion to a house, regardless of whether it is for someone who is going to work on the land. It is part of diversification. Provided that the building is part of the holding, it should be seen in the context of the raw business unit, a point I made at an earlier stage of this Bill. We should think wider and recognise that anything we can do to encourage farmers to diversify and use their assets for other purposes should be encouraged.
My Lords, as I have not spoken since a week last Thursday, perhaps I should my declare interest as a member of a family farming business in which I worked for over 45 years before coming to the House. The business celebrated its centenary last year but perhaps noble Lords do not know that my interest in this group of amendments stems from the fact that the business was founded by my grandfather, a Londoner returning from World War I, on a Crown colony—a 10-acre smallholding in Holbeach Marsh. We now own and farm 200 times this acreage and, I hope, provide evidence of the important steps on the ladder and the key provision of smallholdings.
This Bill does not pretend to be a wholesale review of the law relating to land ownership and tenancy but, as my noble friend the Minister has said, it makes some pragmatic and uncontroversial changes with which I believe the House will agree. In the meantime, the principle purpose of the Bill and the reason why we need it in good time, is the payment of financial assistance following Brexit through the environmental land management scheme. The thrust of the Bill is the building of a progressive and productive agriculture and horticulture system fit for the post-Covid 19 age. It also seeks to provide the nation with a countryside that is naturally and environmentally sensitive—objectives that are not incompatible or contradictory.
However, there will be changes, and we need to encourage the occupation of land by farmers and growers who can implement them. Making a success of ELM depends very much on the details of the scheme and the uptake by the industry—making sure that the scheme’s incentives work is wrapped up in the ownership and occupation of the land. Can my noble friend say what discussions there have been with interested parties on this matter and what the timetable is for any conclusion?
Perhaps I can be forgiven for also asking about cropping licences, which are very important in areas such as mine. Crop specialisation is part of a local scene and provides much of the impulse of industry locally. Not only do the licences make sense, they provide steps on the ladder for the farmers of tomorrow and enable established companies to work with neighbours for effective rotation. It is not a tenancy but a short-term licence. At the moment, by agreement, the financial assistance is paid to the long-term occupier of the land. This is as it should be. Can my noble friend assure me that the intention under the Bill is that this will continue?
My Lords, when I first saw the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, I was very supportive of the concept of providing a bottom rung for aspiring farmers. After all, who would not want to help young men and women into one of the most noble of professions? Then, I started thinking about it and gradually became more sceptical about its premise and, worried about my scepticism—which is not a normal frame of mind for me—I spoke to various members of the farming community from around the country, including the noble Lord, Lord Curry. I am afraid to say that even after these conversations—or mostly because of them—and in spite of the enthusiasm of the noble Lord, Lord Curry, my scepticism was not entirely removed.
In my experience, and that of others, the smallholder estates have lost their way from their original successful purposes. Their heyday, as the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, just mentioned, was after the First World War when they grew enormously and provided rural sanctuary and livelihoods for soldiers returning from the front. In Somerset, where I used to live, a whole estate near us was given to the nation for this purpose. Since then the farms have continued to provide sanctuary and livelihoods for many aspiring farmers.
More recently, over the past 30 years or so, I have been conscious that the occupants of these farms have been getting older and older. They can almost be described as being trapped on their smallholdings. The old form of tenancy that lasts for ever has resulted in these once-young families turning into grandparents on holdings that are now too small to provide a decent living. Some have survived because the children have been enterprising and converted buildings into workshops, farm shops and even playschools; but most survive by family members going out and getting wages in the wider rural economy, so that the family and the old man who is the tenant can survive on the land. Rarely these days is the tenant a young, aspiring farmer on the first rung of the farming ladder. One of the problems, as other noble Lords have mentioned, is that the next rung on the ladder is almost impossible to find or afford, so the old tenants have simply remained on that bottom rung.
You have to ask yourself, if you were a county council with farming assets of some £40 million, £50 million or more, would you use them just to keep 20 or 30 farmers on the land, often for the rest of their lives, or would you sell that land and invest the money to help a far greater number of your wider constituents? That would be a very unimaginative approach.
I turn to Amendment 159, from the noble Earl, Lord Dundee. Why not use these estates as a model example of what can be done with land and landed assets to make them really work for the people of your county? As his amendment hints, why not create small businesses on them? Create affordable housing or sheltered accommodation. Create allotments. Create environmental havens and biodiversity in a way that the locals can see and appreciate. Create innovative products using food, timber or textiles. Hold competitions for suggestions for new ways to use the land. Yes, also have some farm tenancies—strictly time-limited to, say, 10 to 12 years—that provide that essential bottom rung of the farming ladder for young families.
Having, as noble Lords will see, overcome my scepticism—thank goodness—I am now certain that these county council estates should be kept and survive, but they need a new purpose in life, new blood and new ideas, with more imagination as to how they can truly serve their electorate. I am very supportive of Amendment 159 in the name of the noble Earl.
My Lords, I take great pleasure in following the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, and his words of wisdom. I apologise for the discourtesy of pulling out of the last group because of a meeting of the EU Committee, but I agree with my noble friend the Minister about the invaluable contribution of rural communities and the vital importance of the various strands of work to accelerate digital connectivity on farms and in rural areas.
I wish briefly to express my concern with Amendments 223 and 237 to 246 on landlord-tenant issues. Some are more worrying than others. We need to be clear about how the landlords’ and tenants’ interests will be handled under ELMS and other schemes, but we need to be very careful. Those of us old enough to remember the introduction of hereditary tenancies by the Labour Government in the 1970s—without consultation, I may add—remember the devastating effect on the supply of tenanted land. The apparent attempt in Amendments 243 and 244 to widen this principle to less-close relatives is misguided. It is like trying to keep rents low by fixing them, then being surprised when the supply of housing dries up. I find it amazing that these amendments try to extend the hereditary principle in new areas. I thought the trend was to reduce it in modern Britain. In any case, the associated interference in the laws of property would be unjustified.
Moreover, I am highly dubious about trying to cover the detail in this already gargantuan Bill. Tenancy reform beyond the proposals already in the Bill should be the subject of separate legislation and preferably of parliamentary scrutiny in draft.
My Lords, I am listening in to a fascinating discussion and points in relation to tenant farms and smallholdings. I certainly found the arguments and proposals by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, very convincing.
Amendment 222 tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, and supported by the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, falls exactly within the scope of the intent and purpose of this legislation. It fits in with government changes in relation to the planning regime that attempt to kick-start building and the economy across the country.
Ever since the unwise proposals and legislation of the community infrastructure levy pushed through by George Osborne, it has been bedevilled conceptually by being flawed in its very attempts to put money into local authority infrastructure and has repeatedly led to people withdrawing from potential small-scale developments. In essence, the CIL has shifted the market even more towards the large housebuilder and the large developer. It has had a particularly devastating effect on small businesses and the householder who wishes to do something with either a small business or a small piece of land.
When it comes to agriculture, I echo concerns previously raised that conversion of farm buildings is absurdly hit by CIL money-raking by local authorities. When I first exposed it, in challenging George Osborne in the House of Commons—I got some changes over a period of two years—we had local authorities seeking extraordinary amounts from single properties. The maximum I could evidence was £178,000 in taxation to be paid in advance for a single property development. Even with that lowered to more manageable amounts and a requirement for an affordability test, the CIL prevents the microentrepreneur—the person who wishes to move with small amounts of finance—progressing. The demands by local authorities for the CIL to be paid up front is particularly pernicious. The level of the CIL is particularly anti-entrepreneurial.
When it comes to farmland and farm buildings—both with new agricultural buildings, as in this amendment, and with change of use required for the conversion of derelict former agricultural buildings into more effective use—the CIL is a blight on the rural community. I strongly recommend to the Government that they should grab the detail of this amendment and perhaps even extend it further. That will have a bigger impact on kick-starting building and entrepreneurship in the rural economy than all these changes of simplifying the planning system. Money is what counts when it comes to development, and the CIL takes money away at the beginning of the development. Cash flow-wise, that therefore makes many developments impossible for people. This is an excellent amendment; I hope the Government adopt it.
My Lords, I declare my interests as a farmer and landowner as set out in the register. I support the proposal in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Devon, to remove Clause 34 and Schedule 3 covering agricultural tenancy provisions. I agree wholeheartedly with everything said by the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe.
As drafted, the clause is neither fish nor fowl nor good red herring, in that—despite the important work of the Tenancy Reform Industry Group—the prospective legislative reform is not balanced and reflective of both parties’ interests, and runs the risk of damaging relationships and increasing anxiety and uncertainty. Although I welcome some of the proposals of Schedule 3—such as the removal of the minimum retirement age of 65 from AHA tenants, the widening of the pool of arbitrators and the paragraph to protect both tenant and landlord in new investment—others are more contentious.
In particular, I welcome the introduction of a strengthened condition of suitability for those succeeding to a tenancy, but the detail has not been agreed by the industry and should not be left unclear. Until the regulations are drafted, landowners cannot be certain whether the “improvement” suggested will diminish the effect of the loss of the commercial unit test. Neither is it clear how landowners’ interests are protected in the assessment of reasonableness.
The NFU has welcomed the reforms but also urges that other reforms under discussion at TRIG, such as landlords’ consent on variation of terms under the tenancy Act, are taken forward. Please could the Minister consider separate legislation on tenancy reform, rather than rushing it through as part of the Agriculture Bill? The issues are different, and it is clear from this Bill that what is proposed is only a first step and lacks detail. TRIG has been united on supporting landlord-tenant relationships, and this should be built on.
My Lords, this large group of amendments—and, indeed, large group of speakers—concentrates on new entrants into farming. I have added my name to Amendments 237 and 245. My noble friend Lady Northover has added her name to Amendments 241 and 244 but, due to unforeseen circumstances, is not able to be present this evening.
At Second Reading, many of your Lordships spoke in favour of ensuring that the passage of new entrants is facilitated. The move from direct payments under the CAP to ELMS is likely to see some of our more seasoned farmers deciding to leave the land to retire or to move on to other, less strenuous occupations. The noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, and others have spoken against the community infrastructure levy being applied to new farm buildings, and I support her amendment.
It will be vital to encourage younger, more energetic men and women to enter the profession. Some will be the sons and daughters of existing farmers and able to take on the family farms. Others will be graduates from agricultural colleges who have always had an interest in the land and farming. All will need help, support and encouragement. The supply of those not inheriting farms will be an essential element of success. Without land, you cannot farm.
Given the very short timeframes of the average farm tenancy, as relayed to us by the noble Earl, Lord Devon, do the Government see larger landowners making some of their land available for new entrants?
Many county councils have been forced to sell some of their farms to raise money for other capital projects, and local authority funding is, as ever, problematic. I know from my own county experience that these farms come in a variety of sizes, from very small starter farms to large move-on holdings, but they are rarely very large holdings. For some, the starter units give a flavour of what is involved, but they are not always large enough for them to make a living. The role of the county farm estate is to give a helping hand to those starting out. Some tenants will stay until they need to retire; others will wish to move on to larger farms in other areas. Whatever their wish, the Bill needs to facilitate this.
On Thursday, we heard of the valuable contribution that prosperous landowners with huge holdings are making to the debates in this House. However, I believe that it is the smaller farmers—especially those on the edge, such as hill farmers and those on less productive soil—who need our special consideration. I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Devon, that a three-year tenancy is completely inadequate. Farming is a long-term business, and the noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkharle, made a powerful case for tenancies to be set at 10 years to allow a continuity of supply of starter farms.
Tenant farmers are potentially at the mercy of landlords. It is therefore important for them to be able to access funds and not to be dependent on what the landlord says. For example, there are cases where a landlord hopes to get planning permission and does not want the commitment of a grant attached to the land, especially if it lasts for a particular length of time. Sadly, on some occasions, although not all, they would rather their tenant went under than have a constraint preventing them obtaining planning permission. I support the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, on this amendment. I note that the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, believes that the conversion of redundant farm buildings to homes is good, but we must be sure that the buildings are indeed redundant and that the farmer is not looking to make more money by converting them into dwellings.
It is important that tenants are protected from a landlord’s refusal to consent to enter into financial assistance schemes. It is for the tenant farmer to decide what he or she wishes for their farm. Can the Minister confirm that landlords will be prevented from blocking their tenants’ aspirations? The noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, gave an example of the farming ladder. The ELM schemes need to work. Cropping licences are an important part of the local economy. This is a short-term licence, and I look forward to the Minister’s response.
The terms of inheriting farms are very different from those of other enterprises. Children grow up on farms and it is in their blood. They have developed skills throughout the years. They might not be the sons or daughters of the farmer; they might be the nephews, nieces or grandchildren. Should the farmer die suddenly, as has been the case with three of the farms in the village where I live, members will want to take over the farmer’s tenancy. I note the opposition of the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, to this amendment. Often landlords will be keen for this to happen, with continuity being provided. Immediate family might not be in a position to take on the tenancy, and nor might they wish to do so, but other family members of tenant farmers might absolutely want to carry on the farming tradition, having already invested a large part of their lives in the tenant farm. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, and the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, spoke of the selling off of hill farms to those living away from the land, with it not being farmed in the way intended but often being used as pony paddocks.
As has been said, the average age of a farmer is now over 60, and this is very concerning. We have to make sure that young farmers are able to get started. Given that it is almost impossible for someone without independent means to buy land or to borrow enough from a bank, as predicted profits are so limited, unpredictable and long-term, a tenancy is the only way to provide for young farmers. The noble Lord, Lord Cameron, gave a very powerful example of how elderly farmers are trapped on county farms that are no longer capable of providing a living. Diversification and new ideas are important so that these farms can be taken forward. Therefore, the amendment on widening the inheritance of tenancies seems very important. Can the Minister give an assurance that members of a farmer’s extended family will be able to inherit the farm? This is an important aspect of the Bill and I look forward to the Minister’s reassurance on these issues.
My Lords, I have added my name to Amendment 158 and am very pleased to support it. My noble friend Lord Whitty and others have made an important case for restricting the disposal of county farms and, instead, for making good use of the smallholdings to bring new entrants into the sector, using the assets as exemplars of good environmental practice and providing greater public access. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, that this is not about preserving the status quo; it is about providing a renaissance for the sector and the land that it covers. We would like to see these smaller farms have a direct link with their local communities, providing local fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as meat and dairy produce. This should be what “public money for public goods” is all about.
In the past, smaller farms of less than five hectares have been excluded from receiving direct payments, but I hope that the Minister will confirm that these thresholds will now be scrapped and that what will matter is what the farmer does with the land, rather than the size of it. We also hope that local authorities will be persuaded, through the process of a review, to see the potential of their county farms in the longer term and the potential that they can bring to their communities, rather than being a source of short-term cash on disposal.
I also have a great deal of sympathy with the concerns expressed by my noble friend Lady Young of Old Scone about the applications of the community infrastructure levy. I agree that it is in danger of inhibiting innovation and the encouragement of a range of activities in the sector.
I listened to the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, talk about creating smallholdings and work spaces. I agree with a number of noble Lords who have been excited about that prospect. I can see the potential, but I also think that it would depend very much on where the land and activities were sited. I have a feeling that the noble Earl mentioned that it might happen on the green belt, and I would certainly have concerns if he did say that. However, with good planning and good organisation, I can see that that could be a real asset among the range of options in the farming community.
The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, has a series of amendments about tenancy reform. We agree that such reform is long overdue. A number of noble Lords have, rightly, made the point that short-term tenancies inhibit long-term investment in farm quality and development, and this is one of the many reforms that needs to be addressed.
We welcome the first steps made in Schedule 3, but clearly they do not go far enough. Having listened to the noble Earl, Lord Devon, it may well be that the scale of the reform that is needed is not well served by being set out in a schedule to the Bill. This is a matter to which we need to pay full attention. For example, we believe that there needs to be a greater rebalancing of the power between the landlord and the tenant.
As the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, rightly says, it is not right that the tenant should require the landlord’s consent when accessing public money for public goods, and that the dispute mechanisms in the Bill do not seem to apply appropriately as they are written. She also seeks to broaden the criteria for close relatives of a deceased tenant, which much better describes modern family arrangements, which are not based simply on the nuclear family, with tenancies passed down as they traditionally have been from father to son, but which should be available to a much wider range of family members.
The noble Earl, Lord Devon, the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, and other noble Lords are right to push for further reforms way beyond those covered in Schedule 3. I hope that the Minister takes this away and returns with proposals for a more radical set of reforms which take on board the TRIG proposals and can be scheduled at an appropriate point.
Finally, we also agree with the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, which picks up the issue of many training courses, particularly those relating to agriculture and horticulture, being sandwich courses or part-time courses, and therefore a longer period of time needs to be allowed when assessing the right to tenancy. It is a small but important point, which I hope that the Minister takes on board.
We welcome the initial steps being taken in this Bill but would like to see a much more central role for reform of smallholding and tenant farmers in the future of UK farming. I hope that in his response, the Minister can persuade us that he has heard this message and that the Government have a much broader reform agenda in mind, and I hope that he can bring back those proposals in the near future. I look forward to his response.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have participated in this debate. At its heart is our consideration about how we ensure that there is a vibrant farming sector in the future, with young people coming into a very important industry and way of life. I agree with what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Curry, about new skills.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, for Amendment 158, which I will address alongside Amendment 159. For a successful long-term future, agriculture relies on attracting new talent and bringing new skills and innovation into the sector. For many years, local authority smallholding estates and council farms have provided opportunities for entrant farmers. While Amendment 158 is aimed at preventing further disposal of smallholdings and council farms by local authorities, such intervention may conflict with the Local Government Act, which gives local authorities the power to manage and dispose of their land according to local priorities and the principle of delivering best value.
Rather than adding regulatory burdens, the Government want to work collaboratively with local authorities, supporting them to retain and invest in the rejuvenation—the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, may have used the word regeneration—and development of their smallholdings and council farms. As stated in Defra’s Farming for the Future: Policy and Progress Update, published in February, this Government intend to use the powers under Clause 1 to offer funding to councils, landowners and other organisations to invest in creating more opportunities for new entrants to access land, delivering the kinds of outcomes that my noble friend is seeking through Amendment 159.
Local authorities can take advantage of rural exception sites to help the delivery of affordable housing, and the revised National Planning Policy Framework includes new policies to support the building of homes in isolated locations where this supports farm businesses with succession. We will work with local authorities, community land organisations and other landowners as we develop this funding scheme, and further details will be set out in the Government’s multiannual financial assistance plan. Working collaboratively with local authorities in this way and supporting them to manage their estates to provide important fresh opportunities for new farmers will be more effective than adding regulatory burdens.
My noble friend Lord Marlesford may know—I am sure he does—that in April 2018 the Government amended a national permitted development right to support rural housing and agricultural productivity, meaning that up to five new homes can be created from existing agricultural buildings on a farm, rather than the previous maximum of three. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, regarding allotments, that these are matters for local authorities. The decision to increase local provision is taken at a local level.
On Amendment 222, the community infrastructure levy is a matter for local authorities and the MHCLG. It is an important tool to help them deliver the infrastructure needed to support development in their areas. In setting rates, local authorities must strike an appropriate balance between using CIL to fund the infrastructure required to support the development and the potential effects of imposing CIL on the economic viability of development across the area, including agricultural developments. Although it is a matter of education and therefore within another department’s remit, out of considerable interest I will take what was said by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and see what further I can make of it.
On tenancies, in relation to the stand part debate and Amendment 223, measures in Clause 34 and Schedule 3 are designed to make pragmatic modifications to tenancy legislation. This package of reforms received broad support from respondents to our public consultations in England and Wales last year, and they deliver on many of the recommendations from the Tenancy Reform Industry Group. The provisions have been carefully drafted to balance the interests of tenants and owners. I agree that agricultural tenancy legislation is complex. Any further changes impacting on landlord and tenant property rights must be very carefully considered in a timely way and not rushed.
Some of the proposals that we consulted on last year are not included in Schedule 3 because they did not have broad support, or because responses showed that they needed more detailed development work before the proposed changes could work effectively, and alternative ways of achieving the policy aim should be explored. The UK and Welsh Governments are very willing to engage in further discussions about those proposals and to review the need for further tenancy reform with members of the Tenancy Reform Industry Group, which includes representative of owners and tenants.
In Amendment 237 my noble friend Lady McIntosh is seeking assurance that the Government will make these regulations; I can give that assurance. The Government intend to start discussions with members of the Tenancy Reform Industry Group to develop the details of these regulations over the next few months, to ensure that the interests of tenants and owners are taken into account.
On Amendments 238 to 240, 245 and 246, many owners and tenants come to practical agreements on such issues without the need for dispute resolution. To encourage this approach further, the Tenancy Reform Industry Group is working on updated guidance to support tenants and owners in discussions about diversification and environmental schemes highlighting the benefits for both parties. This dispute provision has been carefully constructed, after consultation, to be used in limited circumstances, balancing the interests of both tenants and owners, so that market confidence in the benefits of agricultural tenancy agreements is not undermined. Broadening the provision to cover a much wider range of circumstances, such as for diversified activities, may result in lasting changes to land use and the value of the owner’s assets. As such, it is more appropriate that such requests are negotiated between the parties.
Regarding tiers 2 and 3, and landlord issues relating to public access, I say to my noble friend Lord Caithness that we are currently finalising eligibility requirements for ELMS, including whether landlord consent or consultation would be required for tenants to join ELMS, including for tier 2 and tier 3 projects. As I said, our tests and trials are designed to include tenant farmers in the schemes. We are actively considering this as part of the codesign with all stakeholders, and I do not want to pre-empt the process but, as I have said, we are very clear that the tests and trials will include tenant farmers.
Responses to our public consultation show that there is not the same need for dispute provisions for farm business tenancies as there is for Agricultural Holdings Act tenancies. Agricultural Holdings Act agreements were negotiated sometimes 30 or 40 years ago in a very different policy and commercial environment, and often contain outdated restrictions that have not been reviewed for many years. Farm business tenancies are more modern commercial agreements negotiated more recently in the context of environmental schemes being available. They are reviewed more regularly, giving tenants the opportunity to renegotiate the contract’s terms if they deem it necessary, for example, to enable diversifications or to enter future financial assistance schemes.
Respondents to the consultation also noted that there is a risk that providing tenants with opportunities to challenge the terms of recently negotiated agreements could undermine owner confidence in letting land through farm business tenancies, reducing opportunities for tenants in future. Because I have no interest to declare in this matter, I will respond to the point that my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe made. In all our desire to ensure that there is a vibrant farming sector with both owners and tenants—as well as other sectors—all of which make a great contribution, we need to be mindful of getting the right system in place, one that does not have the consequences of many owners of properties with a small amount of land deciding that this tenancy route may not be for them.
We have sometimes conceptualised this discussion as being about large landowners and small tenants. Very often, the modern arrangements are for owners with a small acreage deciding they might have a farm business tenancy. It is unfortunate that we sometimes characterise these matters in this way. It is often about someone with a smallish acreage wanting a farm business tenancy with an incoming tenant.
I agree that there can be benefits from tenants and owners entering into longer-term tenancy agreements. The Government consulted widely on this last year. The feedback gathered indicates that introducing shorter notices to quit in certain circumstances is unlikely significantly to affect owners’ decisions about the length of tenancy to offer. Other factors, such as the size, quality and location of the land and personal motivations for owning land have a much greater influence on decisions about the length of the tenancy term to offer.
It is also important to recognise that, while there are benefits to longer-term tenancy agreements, shorter-term tenancies can be more suitable for different business models. For example, short-term lets can be more appropriate for new entrants looking to rent land on a flexible basis to gain experience. Short-term lets can also be more suitable for some seasonal horticulture businesses.
I turn to Amendments 243 and 244. The Government consulted on proposals to expand the list of relatives eligible to succeed a tenancy agreement. Concerns were raised that doing so could disproportionately affect owners’ rights to their property because the changes could extend a tenant’s occupation of the holding for many years beyond the timescale an owner has been expecting, particularly in the case of succession by the grandchildren of current tenants.
There are examples of owners being willing to negotiate solutions to family succession, such as offering long-term tenancy agreements to grandchildren of the tenant where they are the most suitable future tenant with the best knowledge and skills to continue the farm successfully. We believe that this is the sensible way forward. The Government will continue to engage in discussions with the Tenancy Reform Industry Group —which represents both tenants and owners—to encourage this process.
My noble friend Lord Taylor of Holbeach referred to cropping licences—they are not tenancies and they are part of the farming scene now. ELMS will provide funding to those who are carrying out the management of the land or water to deliver the environmental public goods being funded.
On Amendment 241, the Welsh Government acknowledge the importance of ensuring that tenant farmers are able to access any new scheme. Their view is that a Senedd Bill would provide a more appropriate legislative vehicle for this purpose. Further consideration will be given to what provision is needed in due course.
On Amendment 242, I reassure my noble friend Lord Lucas that where the practical year of a sandwich course is spent working on the family holding—which is often the case—that year will already count under the current livelihood test provisions.
The Government will continue to work with industry on these important issues. This includes ongoing engagement with the Tenancy Reform Industry Group, which we think is the right way forward. We have brought this schedule and the clause forward because these were parts of the consideration that came from the Tenancy Reform Industry Group that we thought were pragmatic and widely accepted. Of course, it would have been possible not to have had them at all, but they address some important elements of modernising a very important feature of the agricultural landscape: a vibrant and successful tenant farming sector, operating alongside an owner sector. Both have important roles to fulfil and will be an enormously important part of the agricultural food production of this country as well as environmental enhancement.
Going back to the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, we believe that there is an important future, particularly for new entrants, and we must consider how to ensure that new entrants come along. I am mindful of what the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, said, but that new entry route is very important and is continuing work. On that basis, I hope the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, this has been a fantastically interesting debate and I very much support the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, and many others to do with county farms and the length of tenancies, especially what the Minister was just saying about the variety of agriculture.
However, there is a gap here: urban agriculture. When I ran the London Food Board, which I began in 2008, we started a scheme called Capital Growth to create community gardens in London. The plan was to create 2,012 by 2012, which we did and, in fact, today —I have just checked on the website, where you can type in your postcode to find your nearest garden—we have 2,553 community gardens covering about 250 acres of London and producing £288,000 worth of produce every year.
The thing about urban agriculture is that, for a kid growing up in an urban school on an estate in a poor area, the idea of ever being a farmer is as remote as me thinking I could go to the moon. It is not just that they would not be a farmer; there would be nobody who had a father who was a farmer. Therefore, the introduction of community gardening is vital, not only in educating people but in helping them take the first step on the way to becoming growers and custodians of the land and setting up small businesses. Because I visited so many, I know that many supply restaurants and supermarkets. There are wonderful places where they grow hops and make their own beer, which becomes an industry. Even in these tiny spaces, you can do this.
The social benefits are dramatic—the police, doctors and community leaders all favour this—but it is also extremely cheap, and it means that people get an education about growing. I have listened to almost all of this debate and, all the way through, we have talked about agriculture as though it can happen only in the country. That is not so; it is a fact that it can happen in cities. You see it towns such as Incredible Edible Todmorden, and in schools. I have a proposal in with the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith, who is very enthusiastic. I would very much like the Minister’s support for us to take this project countrywide. It is good for your health, it teaches you to grow food and it is fantastic for the environment.
I will share one small detail. There are hives all over London. At one point, we had more hives than we could supply with flowers, but then we balanced that up. A study was done in Paris about the honey that is produced there—96 different flowers went into the taste of that honey. We held annual honey competitions, and we had honey that went from almost clear, or almost white, through to something that looked like treacle. You could tell the honey that had come from the lime trees in particular parks. It gave people an enormous sense of belonging, and put people on the first step to agriculture. My noble friend Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb said that councils should have allotments. We realised a year and a half in that an allotment was an impossibility because, when you get an allotment, you are saying that the land must be there in perpetuity. We had “meanwhile leases”, which means they can be taken back; that would be a great way forward.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lords, Lord Curry and Lord Judd, and my noble friend Lady Jones, and others, who supported the general approach of Amendment 158. I thought that I would fall out with the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, but I essentially agree with him that, if we are to have a revival of county farms, we will have to redefine the mission. What is clear from all speakers is that, in this brave new world of post-CAP agricultural policy, we will need people to come into farming who have not traditionally been there and who are unlikely to be able to buy their way into it. We need their talents, their skills, their entrepreneurship, their enthusiasm and their recognition that the provision of public goods, which this Bill is all about, is an important part of farming. Regrettably, when it comes to county farms, neither the structure of ownership of agricultural land in this country, nor, in some respects, the provisions of tenancy law, nor the withdrawal of the local state from this area—none of these things—are particularly conducive to bringing new talent, new blood and new ideas into farming; we need to make a new start.
My amendment is quite limited. It asks the counties involved to review their estates, not to sell any for the moment, and then to define a new strategy along with Defra and the farming organisations. That is an important part of the rejuvenation of agriculture. It must be recognised that this Bill should be paralleled with a means of more people coming in with new skills and new backgrounds. I understand the issue of urban agriculture and community gardens and so on as one potential way in, but the traditional way in through county farms is rapidly disappearing. We need to continue to make positive use of what is there, and to ask the counties, effectively, to look at the situation again and do so in this new strategic sense.
The schemes coming through ELMs and through the other provisions of this Bill will need the next generation to seize the opportunities that they present. That means that we need new ways in. I hope that county farms will be a significant provider of those ways in. I will not press my amendment for the moment, but I hope that the Minister will recognise that even the present level of county farms may well deserve some special recognition within this Bill in respect of government support for the public good. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 158 withdrawn.
Amendment 159 not moved.
We now come to the group consisting of Amendment 159A. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate. Anyone wishing to press this amendment to a Division should make that clear in debate.
159A: After Clause 16, insert the following new Clause—
“Support in relation to common land, etc
(1) The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision for the circumstances in which financial support is given in relation to registered common land, other land subject to rights of common, and land subject to shared grazing right.(2) In this section, “financial support” means—(a) financial assistance under section 1,(b) relevant payments under Chapter 2, or(c) other financial support under this Chapter.(3) Regulations under this section may include—(a) the circumstances in which financial support may be allocated among two or more persons having an interest in such land;(b) the method and terms on which any financial support may be allocated amongst those persons;(c) the conditions that may be attached to such financial support.(4) In this section, “registered common land” means land registered as common land in a register of common land kept under Part 1 of the Commons Act 2006 or the Commons Registration Act 1965.(5) Regulations under this section are subject to negative resolution procedure.”
Amendment 159A, which I rise to move, covers a very specific and important question: the treatment of commons, and their commoners and owners, under the new system of agricultural support. I hope that by getting a full and clear response at this stage I will not have to bring the matter back at Report. This amendment has been put together with the assistance of the Foundation for Common Land and the Open Spaces Society. I remind the House that I am a vice-president of the latter group, and I thank both for their help. A number of noble Lords are knowledgeable about commons, and indeed several survivors of our discussions on the Commons Act back in 2006 are in the House. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, for adding his name to this amendment, and to the Public Bill Office for its help with phrasing it.
The noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, apologises for not being able to take part in this debate: he has been called to the hills, the lucky man. He has asked me to make the point that where there is common land, which is so prevalent in the uplands, in the event of ELMS the arrangement will have to be multilateral, not bilateral. Hence, every commoner will have to agree, and there is always a difficult so-and-so who could veto the arrangement. There is a need, therefore, for a mechanism to prevent a generally agreed plan being vetoed in this way. This echoes an earlier debate about the resolution of disputes under the new system of environmental and agricultural support.
Clause 2 makes no specific provision for how financial assistance is given in relation to registered common land. The amendment therefore confers powers on the Secretary of State to make regulations to specify or vary the scheme in relation to common land and any lands subject to shared grazing rights, in order to make allowance for the special circumstances inherent in managing common land.
What, in any case, is common land? On one level, it is land registered as common land in a registry kept under Part 1 of the Commons Act 2006 or the Commons Registration Act 1965. In real world terms, it is land owned by one person but subject to the rights of other people—the commoners—to take some product of the land. These rights of commons nowadays typically relate to the grazing of animals, but may also include the right to take wood, peat, bracken, furs or fish. I remember that in our discussions on the commons Bill 14 years ago, noble Lords enjoyed learning words such as estovers, turbary, piscary and, indeed, pannage. Commons are a survival from the medieval period—land that escaped enclosure. They are, however, of huge present-day importance in historical, biological, cultural, landscape and recreational terms.
In England, common land occupies no more than about 3% of the total land area, but it is key to the viability of many upland farms, comprising 37% of all land above the moorland line and over one-fifth of the area of SSSIs in England. Common land delivers many public benefits. Compared with enclosed land it is seven times more likely to be designated for nature and four times more likely to have a scheduled ancient monument on it.
Back in 2000, the Countryside and Rights of Way Act designated all common land as access land; now almost two-fifths of access land in England consists of common land, including large areas of the Lake District. Why is this question important in the Bill? Over 90% of common land was under an environmental stewardship scheme. Stewardship income has been crucial for upland commoners. On average, it comprises 17% of an upland commoner’s gross income and no less than 70% of their net income—their wage, if you like. It is vital for public benefits and hill farm incomes that the new ELMS function effectively on common land where it is clear that commoners and owners are keen to enter into the new schemes.
Of course, not all commons are on hills. We talked in Committee last week, and earlier today, about the needs of hill farming in general. The question here is: how are ELMS projects and payments going to work within the often quite complicated structures of commons management? For instance, it may be appropriate to offer assistance to two or more commoners—often many more—acting jointly to deliver public goods. It may also be necessary in particular circumstances to allow financial assistance to be shared among several persons, whether commoners, the landowner or owners, or other people. Will the Minister confirm whether the Government have already turned their mind to the administration of agreements in relation to commons, and the particular difficulties that can arise in negotiating, administering and delivering them in these cases?
There is a long history of agri-environmental and other agreements administered on commons over the last 20 or more years. Will the Government adopt best practice from what has been learned over that time and, in particular, make specific legislative provision for commons to underpin what is required? I beg to move.
My Lords, I must apologise for missing the first couple of moments of my noble friend’s speech. That is what comes when you have your back to the Chamber due to social distancing while you have supper, but I apologise.
I add that the land which has the commons is not exclusively in the north or the uplands. I have a little, vaguely second-hand interest, as I usually catch a train from Hungerford in the mornings and get off one there in the evenings. Hungerford has a very picturesque common; it has lots of dog walkers and cattle on it. It goes back a long way and is one of the surviving things from the Inclosure Acts. The Thames Valley has other areas of common land as well. Small agricultural units or smallholdings are usually allowed on them because there is some land you can get to. Sometimes you have tenancies going on them as well, but they change. It is a complicated system down there, from what I have been able to establish with a little research.
These commons are an historic part of our landscape. They allow for different types of activity. We had a long debate about smallholdings and entrants there but the commons allow certain types of entrants into the agriculture system at a lower level, which would not otherwise be allowed. It would be interesting to hear whether the Government have taken on board how these small but interesting and historic parts of our agricultural system are to be accommodated under this new system.
I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, for bringing this amendment forward. I am sorry that I did not have an opportunity to sign it; I hope that he will forgive me for that. They say that when two Scots meet, they form a committee, so I do not know what happens when a Lancastrian and a Yorkshireman meet.
I will let you off, then. What is interesting about our debate so far is how little understanding there is of what constitutes common land and what activities are undertaken on it. My experience of the different activities undertaken on common land in North Yorkshire was not an entirely happy one. My noble friend Lord Inglewood absolutely hit the nail on the head in his advice to the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, that the approach to it should be multilateral, not bilateral.
I support Amendment 159A and thank the noble Lord for moving it—with the support of my noble friend Lord Inglewood and the noble Lord, Lord Addington—because I am particularly concerned about how the new schemes under ELM will take place where there is a dispute, which there inevitably will be. In summing up, can the Minister say what the dispute resolution mechanism will be? Is it not better to have a blanket one that covers all common land rather than leaving it to the parties of each individual agreement to agree it?
I grew up near to the most successful grouse shooting moors in England, on the upper parts of Teesdale. Grouse shooting was a small activity and did not create a lot of income; now, it has almost overtaken the income from the land. There is great concern that shooting and this obsession with tick control for sheep, as I discovered with one particular agreement, will negate many of the schemes that we hope will benefit under the ELM.
With those two questions, I hope that we will hear some encouraging words from the Minister on the use of common land and ELMS.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Greaves spoke to his amendment on providing support for common land, supported by the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering. During the 20 years when I was a county councillor, two of the parishes in my ward had common land. It was jealously guarded and protected from incursions of all forms. Sheep were often grazed on the common, but fencing to ensure that the sheep did not wander was frowned on by some villagers. As for parking on the common, this was a very serious misdemeanour. Some people have an idyllic picture of what common land looks like. In my experience, it is not a flat area around the local duck pond, with weeping willows dipping their branches in the water. As my noble friend said, it is often on sloping and unpromising land. Nevertheless, it is an important element of rural life in parts of England. It is important that it is preserved. I look forward to the Minister’s response on just how he sees it fitting into the Bill and whether it will qualify for financial assistance under the ELM scheme.
My Lords, I will also speak briefly. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, for raising this issue. I had not considered it before so I am grateful to him for drawing our attention to it. I agree that we need provisions in force in the special circumstances of the use of common land; he made a very good case for the need for a multilateral approach to it. On that basis, I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Greaves for his amendment. He is absolutely right: our commons frequently provide some of the richest opportunities for the provision of environmental public goods and they are an important part of our cultural landscape. The Government are designing future financial assistance schemes to be accessible to as many farmers and land managers as possible. This includes tenant farmers and those who work on common land.
As part of the planned three-year pilot for ELM, the Government will be ensuring that it tests how best to enable commoners to participate and to provide those environmental benefits. To support the development of ELM, we are undertaking a number of tests and trials, working with farmers and land managers to co-design the new schemes. They will help us understand how the scheme could work in a real-life environment. Two of our tests and trials, on Dartmoor and in Cumbria, are looking at issues concerning common land.
The noble Lord, Lord Greaves was correct to identify the particular difficulties that can arise when administering payment schemes on common land. The general powers given by the Bill in Clause 1(1) and (2) will enable us to develop agreement terms which work for common land. I can add a bit more detail. The Federation of Cumbria Commoners, and partners, aims to develop and trial a delivery model for creating common-specific land management plans. These plans will support the pastoral economy and maintain the balance of the delicate ecosystems found on commons. The delivery model will encompass a commons toolkit, including baseline data gathering, producing maps, health checks for agreeing and enabling public good delivery, developing commons management plans and commons-proof recommendations for ELM.
If I can add any more detail to that brief answer, I will write to the noble Lord and put a copy in the Library. With that, I ask him to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her helpful reply. I look forward to getting as much extra detail as possible, particularly from the two trials that are taking place. I remind the Minister that, because of the sort of places they are, commons are all inherently different. What might be right for the large, upland commons in the Lake District, which cover most of the fells in many valleys, may not be right for what looks like just a field on the edge of a village. I look forward to hearing from the Minister again and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 159A withdrawn.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 160. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate. Anyone wishing to press this, or any other amendment in this group to a Division should make that clear in debate. I should inform the Committee that if Amendment 160 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendments 161 or 162.
Clause 17: Duty to report to Parliament on UK food security
160: Clause 17, page 14, line 20, leave out “at least once every five years” and insert “within 12 months of the passing of this Act, and every three years thereafter”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would require the Secretary of State to lay the first report on UK food security within 12 months of the Act being passed and publish further reports every three years thereafter.
My Lords, there are two amendments in this group in my name, Amendments 160 and 173. Amendment 160 chimes with the amendments of several other noble Lords in calling for the food security report to Parliament, set out in the Bill, to be published within 12 months and every three years thereafter. We welcome the fact that the need for such a report has been acknowledged by the Government, but we want it to be more urgent and ambitious.
There was an excellent debate on this issue in May, initiated by the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, which highlighted the challenges within our food supply, and food security, all too clearly. The Covid-19 pandemic has brought the shortcomings in our current system even more to the fore. While most farmers, food manufacturers and retailers responded magnificently to the challenge of feeding the nation in a lockdown, the incidence of empty shelves, combined with the economic impact, resulting in many being unable to feed their families, was all too stark. The recent report from the Food Foundation evidenced nearly 5 million people experiencing food insecurity, including 2 million children being forced to skip meals.
The crisis identified the personal and economic hardship of food insecurity, but it also highlighted the fundamental problems with our national supply chain. The UK is currently only 53% self-sufficient in food and drink, and the figure is dropping year on year. Nearly half our food is imported, mainly from the EU. During the pandemic, we were forced to rely on fruit and vegetable trucks continuing to make the journey across Europe. Those UK farmers producing fresh fruit and vegetables faced a crisis of seasonal workers, and it is still not clear whether sufficient UK workers have been recruited and retained to harvest our local produce, or whether some of the crops will have to be left to rot in the fields.
We believe there is an urgent need to drive up the percentage of locally grown food in the UK. We believe we should take steps to make that supply more resilient and reliable, particularly as we face the consequences of leaving the EU. This will not happen without a government strategy driving the policy forward. That is why our amendment would bring the date of publication forward, so that more ambitious change can occur and be reviewed on a timely basis.
The timing of our amendment also coincided with the publication of the excellent Lords Select Committee report Hungry for Change: Fixing the Failures in Food. This is a well-evidenced piece of work that addresses the relationship between poor diet, ill health and food insecurity. It identifies the commercial pressures that lead to unhealthy food choices, it highlights the role that better public procurement could play, and it recommends a fundamental shift in national consumption patterns towards a more plant-based, balanced diet. I know that some members of that committee may want to speak on this group and say more about the breadth and depth of its recommendations, but all these recommendations require serious attention, and some of them can be addressed by these amendments.
This leads on to our other amendment in this group, Amendment 173. This calls for the establishment of a national food plan within six months. It would build on the work being carried out by Henry Dimbleby for the Government on a national food strategy. His food strategy will encompass being based on a sustainable agricultural sector, delivering safe, healthy, affordable food through a more robust supply chain, contributing to the natural environment, and supporting innovation among producers and manufacturers. It will set out a vision for the future. He is due to publish the first part of his report later this month. His work on a national food strategy is complemented by the Lords committee report, which says:
“It provides a much-needed opportunity to initiate a strategic, joined-up approach to food policy … We recommend the establishment of an independent body, analogous to the Committee on Climate Change, with responsibility for strategic oversight of the implementation of the National Food Strategy … This independent body should have the power to advise the Government and report to Parliament on progress.”
Although our Amendment 173 was drafted before the Lords report was published, I believe we are saying the same thing. It picks up on the themes of the Lords report and the Dimbleby report and sets out a series of steps that the Government must take to deliver the national food plan. I hope noble Lords will consider this proposal seriously and recognise the importance of linking agriculture and food production with our wider health and food security goals. I beg to move.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 161 in my name. It is supported, I understand, by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, to whom I am very grateful. This is a simpler version of Amendment 160, with which I find myself largely in agreement—I might have put my name to that had there been any space. The amendment seeks, as does Amendment 160, to ensure that the report to Parliament on food security occurs every three years, not every five years. As with multiannual financial assistance plans, I think it is important to delink the cycle from the political cycle; however, whereas I thought multiannual financial assistance plans should take place every seven years, I think the opposite should apply to the food security reports, and they should be provided to Parliament at least every three years. As we have seen recently, food security circumstances change very fast, and doubtless they will change faster in the future.
At Second Reading, I quoted the words of Dieter Helm, who was obviously a prophet in the area of the ELMS, but may have got things wrong with respect to food security. He suggested that
“food security is largely an empty slogan of lobbyists … It should not be taken seriously.”
Coronavirus has clearly shown those words to be incorrect.
From January 2021 onwards, we will lose the relative support of the common market for food and will become subject to the vagaries of the global markets. Couple this with the impacts of global warming, droughts, floods and harvest failures, and the likelihood of food insecurity growing over the coming years will only increase. We should therefore not underestimate the importance of food security and the need to monitor it regularly.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendments 162 and 171. I am delighted to thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb and Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, and my noble friend Lord Caithness for their support.
I believe that it is essential to have a report on progress on food security more frequently—I would suggest every year. Amendment 162 therefore seeks to increase the frequency of publication by the Government of their proposed reports on food security. While I welcome the fact that the Government have indicated their willingness to produce an early report, a five-year interval between reports is much too long for such an important and sensitive issue. Every 10 years we have an issue of food security or animal health—pest, pestilence and, currently, pandemic. We had BSE; we had foot and mouth disease; and we had the horsegate scandal, which could have been much worse, rather than just a fraud.
The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has, if anything, highlighted even more the strains and stresses within the food supply system. There is no doubt that some of these issues will continue to be a problem for a long time to come. This is the first time in my living memory that we have experienced empty supermarket shelves and people having to queue to shop for food and having restricted choice within food retail outlets. The loss of the food service sector through the government lockdown measures was also a major shock that caused many consumers to consider issues around food security for perhaps the very first time.
We have become complacent over time about our ability, as a relatively rich nation, to secure our necessary food both domestically and internationally, but this could become a much more difficult proposition in the future. One of the most important objectives of a Government is to ensure that their people are well fed and it is therefore imperative that issues around food security are given much greater pre-eminence than envisaged by the Bill, which provides only for five-yearly reports.
Currently, the UK is only around 60% self-sufficient in food and we are reliant upon imports for our remaining food need. If anything, it has become apparent that more and more nations around the world are becoming increasingly nationalistic in terms of their trading policy. There is a risk that a tightening of supplies globally could cause issues for food supply. However, food supply is not just about quantity but quality. The issues of food security go the heart of ensuring that we are not offshoring our environmental and animal welfare problems by the food that we are importing into the UK. We want, surely, to promote, protect and enhance these high standards both at home and internationally and, therefore, our trading policies must reflect that. An annual report from government is a good basis on which to start and a good discipline to ensure that matters are kept in sharp focus.
Turning to Amendment 171, I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville and Lady Jones of Whitchurch, for their support. Again, while I welcome the Government’s commitment to produce a regular report on food security, it is vital that this is a means through which the Government express their policy targets and mechanisms to address issues around food security.
Currently, the provisions in the Bill envisage a fairly static output that merely reports on the current food security situation. I would prefer to see a more dynamic report that seeks to set out an agenda for change, where change is required. There seems little point in the Government merely producing a report of which Parliament is required to take note rather than for it to be a platform for evaluation, repurposing and informing future actions. At the very least, it will be essential to ensure that food security targets are both met and monitored. Where the report indicates that there are issues with aspects of our food and environmental security, the Government must come forward with their plans and policy for addressing these shortcomings.
Amendment 171 will provide the necessary architecture for the Government to take this forward. It will be a failure if, having taken the time to consider the importance of having a food security report, the Government did not also ensure that this report was used to inform changes in policy and procedures. A statutory requirement for the Government to address these issues is surely the sensible thing to include in this Bill.
My Lords, I have two amendments in this group, 163 and 172, and I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, for having put his name to them. Since this is the first time I have spoken in Committee on this Bill, I probably need to draw your Lordships’ attention to my entry on the register of interests. More significantly for my noble friend, he will be glad to hear that, though this is the first time I have spoken, it will also be the last time I am going to speak. Bearing in mind the stately progress that is being made, I shall not be holding up proceedings any further.
The amendments in this group discussed so far are about the frequency of reports. I have no particular dog in that fight, but I offer one word of caution, which is that if these reports are going to mean something, they need to be relatively infrequent. If they are too frequent, they lose their impact. I suggest to those who are seeking too frequent reports that these may pass by too easily and quickly. A report wants to be an event when it happens.
My amendments go to another part of this clause and try to give it some teeth. Clause 17, as drafted, could result in some pretty anodyne, platitudinous reports—general statements of principle without any detail. When we talk about food security, detail will be very important. My noble friend on the Front Bench will say, “Absolutely, I understand that, and I will ensure there is going to be detail, and the reports will have plenty of focus.” But we have been here before, and we have been here recently. A Green Future contained similarly impressive objectives and an impressive monitoring procedure. This was to be under the Natural Capital Committee chaired by Professor Dieter Helm, who was the subject of some adverse comments by the noble Earl, Lord Devon, about five minutes ago. Professor Helm was to monitor performance under the green future proposals. The last annual report from Professor Helm’s committee, which was in September last year, read as follows:
“Unfortunately, the Progress Report does not in fact tell us very much about whether and to what extent there has been progress. On the contrary, the Progress Report provides a long list of actions, and presents very little evidence of improvements in the state of our natural capital.”
If we do not strengthen the wording in this clause, we will get a long list of actions and very little evidence of improvement. We need to build in some specific teeth.
The second weakness of the clause, as presently drafted, is that it could be a snapshot, whereas what we should be looking for is a continuous look—a cine film in the old-fashioned way—at the process of our food security. Perhaps I could explain further by analogy. When you go to your annual medical, the doctor looks at your heart and lungs, he sees whether your weight has gone up or down, and he tells you what the results are. That is, of course, very important. If you have a poorly performing heart, you want it treated quickly. But what is really important is how you compare with the previous year. Are you getting heavier? Are you getting lighter? Are you losing weight? Has a new mole emerged? Has your blood pressure gone up? All those sorts of things give you an idea, over a period of time, of how your health and physiology are changing. From that, the doctor can prescribe more exercise, less food, pills or whatever.
That is what we should try to do with this report. It needs to look at the continuum and see where we have come from, where we are now and where we should be going. Unless we get that, this will not really be any use for informing the public and making important policy decisions.
That is why, in Amendments 163 and 172, I introduce the terms “anticipated strategic developments”, defined as major changes over the subsequent 10 years—that is the period I think we should look at—and, secondly, “consequent policy changes”. That is the doctors advising you to have some pills or exercise more in the way we look at food security. That sets the framework for examining our food security in a way that I argue would be more focused, give greater clarity and lead to a more informed public discussion and understanding of the challenges involved.
What about the specific teeth? Let me deal briefly with the four mentioned in Amendment 172. The first is availability of water. We always think of the UK as being a rainy country, but we each use an average of 140 litres of water a day to wash, wash our clothes in, drink, cook in and no doubt also water the garden and wash the car—and there are a lot of us. Surprisingly, London receives less average rainfall than Barcelona, Rome, Miami or Sydney, and on a per capita basis London is drier than Morocco or Turkey. That is before we have to find the water to support our agricultural production.
Sir James Bevan, the chief executive of the Environment Agency, depicts the existing water policy in pretty stark terms. He describes the water situation as entering “the jaws of death”, as within 20 years Britain will not have sufficient water supplies. Various scenarios suggest that, by 2050, some regions of the UK will have a demand for water one and a half times higher than available supplies.
When my noble friend comes to reply, he will no doubt say that the Government are aware of this and are trying to start a programme of development of reservoirs and better storage facilities. That is true, but they are exceptionally unpopular. A large row is going on in South Oxfordshire over the construction of a reservoir at Abingdon—and, of course, the more reservoirs we build, the more agricultural land to grow our food on we lose.
The second key issue is the loss of land to urban development. We must expect to have to build 2 million to 3 million houses over the next 20 years. Of course, it is not just the land for the houses but the roads and railways to connect them, the factories and offices, the shops and restaurants, the schools and hospitals and the support network that goes to make up our modern society. This is continuing a trend. Danny Dorling, professor of geography at Oxford, has said about the last decade:
“In absolute terms this is very likely to be the largest increase in the number of square miles that have been tarmacked or paved over in any decade in British history.”
The best estimate for the next 20 years is that we will build over an area the size of Bedfordshire. If, as seems likely, quite a high proportion of this will be in the south of England, we need to remember that that is where some of our most fertile agricultural land is located.
The third element is the percentage of food consumed in this country that will be grown here. At this point, I note that Clause 17 as drafted goes some way to meet these points. I am also picking up on some of the points made by my noble friend Lady McIntosh. We have heard a lot about the 50% level of food self-sufficiency, but I argue that this is not good enough. We need to be a great deal more granular than that and to see what our self-sufficiency is—or our vulnerability, if you look at it the other way around—analysed by major food categories. That is because of developments on the world scene.
It is not just that the world population will go up by 1.9 billion between now and 2055—a 25% increase—or that it is increasing by 200,000 a day. More importantly, it is that there are more people already on the planet who want to be fed better. Therefore, in order to avoid the scarcities, malnutrition and all the other things that disfigure our planet, we will need better food for the people who are already here. The World Resources Institute suggests that we will need an extra 7,400 trillion more calories by 2050—more than 50% above the 2010 figure of 13,100 trillion calories. It will therefore be important for this food security report to look ahead and see what types of food are likely to make up this large increase in demand across the world. If they seem likely to be in areas where we are weak and vulnerable, we need to take steps to improve our domestic production of those categories.
As noble Lords have already said, it is not just about growing the food but transporting it to the UK. Food logisticians have a concept called choke points: areas of congestion for transhipment. The South China Seas, the Malacca Strait, the Red Sea, the Suez Canal—noble Lords can go around the globe and pick out the geographical points for themselves. Climatic conditions, which we know are getting worse, will have an impact; political action, with an aggressive China in the South China Sea; military action, such as a flare-up in the Middle East, which would affect the Red Sea and the Suez Canal—all these could mean that our ability to tranship food here is very much reduced. Therefore, into that report will need to go a pattern of how the food is getting here and what are our vulnerabilities on the various routes that bring it here.
That takes me to the very last point: the requirement to look ahead to the number of mouths that we will have to provide food and water for. I congratulate my noble friend on his honesty, and I am sincere: for the very first time, a government Minister was prepared to write and say, “We expect the population of the country to be 6 million higher in 2041”. Admittedly, he said, “It is nothing to do with us; it is to do with the ONS projection”, but he said that on the record as a government Minister. A Green Future said:
“Population growth and economic development will mean more demand for housing and this Government is committed to building many more homes.”
That was all it said about the impact of population on the environment. What does 6 million people look like? The population of Manchester is 2.5 million, so we are looking at building two to two and a half Manchesters by 2040. Some people would argue that the projections the ONS have are on a fairly heroic basis, and the number could be closer to 8 million, but that, as they say, is a story for another day.
In conclusion, the concerns and issues that underlie Clause 17 need to be put squarely and candidly before the British people. The first duty of the state is to protect its citizens, and that certainly includes providing them with food and water. General statements of good intent are simply not good enough, hence my tabling these amendments to give greater rigour and focus to future reports on our food security.
There is nothing controversial about these amendments, because if future reports on food security are to have any value, they will inevitably include detailed figures on water, loss of agricultural land, urban development, expected changes in domestic population levels, and on shifts in world food consumption and transportation. I accept that my drafting is unlikely to be good enough, so I invite my noble friend to take these amendments away and bring them back in a redrafted form for debate on Report. I hope that it may be possible for me and other interested parties to meet my noble friend and his officials for a moment to discuss these matters in depth.
My Lords, I echo the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, who spoke with such authority. I wish to speak to my Amendments 164, 167 and 170, to Amendment 160 in the name of my noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and to Amendment 166 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, and others. They seek to ensure that food security is properly recognised in the Bill, in a way that takes full and explicit account of the legitimate interests of all the devolved Administrations. I am grateful for the support of colleagues who have put their names to my amendments.
The tragedy of the Covid pandemic has demonstrated the links between access to nutritious food and public health. Conditions such as obesity and diabetes, which are linked to poor nutritional standards, have been associated with a higher risk of severe illness, hospitalisation and death from Covid-19.
The panic buying we saw in anticipation of lockdown reminded many of us of the importance of the sustainability, resilience and security of our food supply. However, for many people panic buying is not an option, as poverty means that a secure and nutritious food supply is an everyday challenge. A decade of austerity has widened the gap between the haves and the have-nots in our society, and the recent loss of earnings due to Covid-19 has added massively to the numbers struggling with food insecurity.
The pressures on food banks have increased, and it is estimated by the Food Foundation that over 8 million people, including 2 million children, in the UK have faced food insecurity of some kind during the pandemic. Recently, it took the intervention of Premier League footballer Marcus Rashford to elicit a response from this Government on the need to continue free school meal vouchers over the school holidays. However, as the Children’s Society pointed out, the Government should make the extension of free school meal vouchers over the holiday permanent, whether or not there is a pandemic. The Government need to take much more responsibility for ensuring that all UK citizens have access to adequate supplies of nutritious food.
In a nation where 50% of food is currently imported—30% from the European Union—the importance of protecting high standards of nutritional value, and of the security and quality of both our domestic production and the high-quality fresh produce we import from the EU, cannot be overestimated. The subsector is very dependent on imports, as only 16% of the fruit and 53% of the vegetables we consume are grown in the UK. In this situation, retailers will face potential shortages of supplies if trade barriers are introduced because of a hard Brexit.
Our reliance on fruit and vegetable trucks coming across from Europe reminds us of the importance of securing an extension to the Brexit transition period to allow time to recover from the impacts of the pandemic and for the negotiators to strike the right Brexit deal. However, on the contrary, the Government appear to be prioritising trade deals with countries far beyond Europe, such as the United States, with its inferior food production and unsafe animal welfare standards. If such trade deals are allowed, with no requirement to preserve the high standards that Britain and the European Union have maintained, they will undercut our farmers with poorer-quality cheap food.
For agriculture and the food industry, and for both imports and exports, the continuation of European Union trade, where we have a level playing field, is vital. We need to ensure that Brexit does not mean that supply lines of fresh food from the EU are interrupted because of tariff barriers, or that our farmers lose their important export markets in the EU. In the post-Covid world, to meet nutritional and environmental goals, we need to trade more, not less, with our nearest neighbours.
A legal guarantee of future food, animal welfare and environmental standards would safeguard all UK consumers from unhealthy and unsafe food, while also protecting British farmers at risk of being undercut by poor-quality imports. However, so far, the Government have failed to support calls for such amendments to the Bill. The Bill is an opportunity to protect all British consumers and farmers from food imports of dubious quality, and to maintain current nutritional, environmental and animal welfare standards for vital imports of fresh food.
Shocking food insecurity has been shown by the UN and others to exist in this supposedly first-world nation of ours. This has undoubtedly had an adverse impact on health and, as I said, contributed in turn to the tragically high death toll of Covid-19 in the UK. We need to take steps to ensure that Brexit does not make the situation even worse. That is why it is vital that the Government support the principle in these amendments to Clause 17 on household food security. If we are to deliver a resilient, integrated food supply chain throughout the UK, it is imperative that all four nations have access to shared data relating to food security in order to take evidence-based decisions that deliver co-ordinated action.
Our agricultural businesses, processing sectors, food supply chains and retail outlets are tightly integrated across the UK. A lamb born and raised on a small family farm in Pembrokeshire can travel the length and breadth of Britain as it progresses from farmer to fork. With a macroeconomic sector like food, which so intimately affects the health and well-being of every citizen of the UK, it is essential that any and all data about the security of this most important resource—food—is made available to all Administrations within the UK. I trust, therefore, that the Minister will accept as non-controversial Amendment 164 on data-sharing.
As the Covid-19 crisis has demonstrated, the need to ensure that the UK as a whole has access to nutritious and good-quality food is essential. We are also facing the global challenge of climate change, which will increasingly impact on the geography and structure of our farming industry. Shared data will be critical to improving the sustainable management of our land and sustainable production of our food to address this challenge. No one can dispute the overwhelming evidence of the last several decades that diet is intimately linked to our health and well-being: one has only to look at the Covid-19 research demonstrating the links between poverty, obesity and vulnerability to the virus.
Access to quality food, rather than quantity, should be actively sought as a strategic objective by all Governments in the UK. Food security does not simply mean volume; it should look further and encompass access to a nutritional, balanced diet for every citizen in the United Kingdom. In addition, a core objective of this Bill, and the subsequent agriculture and land management policy that it aims to introduce, is the delivery of environmental outcomes through land management that complements, and evolves out of, existing agricultural practices. If we are to address the challenge of climate change, deliver on our decarbonisation goals and work to reverse the degradation of our nature and natural habitats, we must reflect these issues in how we deliver food security and food quality.
Improving our food security at the expense of our natural resources and environment is not acceptable and is certainly not a sustainable option. Reporting against both these objectives, diet and the impact on the environment, should be considered essential so that we can ensure that our need to deliver food security is met in an integrated and sustainable manner. I would therefore be grateful if, when replying, the Minister accepted the essential need for consultation with all the devolved Administrations as absolutely integral to this Bill.
My Lords, I rise to support the general principle in this group of amendments of more regular reports on food security, although I am not sure whether they should be yearly or three-yearly.
I wish to speak to my Amendment 165 to Clause 17, concerning the
“Duty to report to Parliament on UK food security”.
My amendment fine-tunes the wording of subsection (2), stating that the data analysed in the report “must”—rather than the vague word “may”—include the matters covered in paragraphs (a) to (e). A number of amendments already tabled relate to reporting on food security. Given the period of uncertainty ahead for farmers as we leave the single market and customs union and strike up new trade deals, this reporting should be much more frequent than once every five years. Given the importance of a domestic food supply, it is paramount that the Government re-examine this aspect of the Bill through the lens of the coronavirus crisis. This amendment is an important addition, ensuring that all the matters listed in subsection (2) are included in that food security report when it is produced.
My Lords, I shall speak to my Amendment 166. In doing so, I thank its supporters, the noble Baronesses, Lady Meacher, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle and Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville. I also support everything just said by the noble Lord, Lord Hain. I was lucky enough to sit on the House of Lords committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, which found many cracks and flaws in the food system.
My amendment looks not just at food security, as I want to consider household food security. Sufficient food nationally does not mean that individual households can access it in sufficient quantity, let alone that it is sufficiently healthy food, as pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Hain. Since April 2019, the Government have been measuring food insecurity as part of their Family Resources Survey. This data will be available early next year. The Food Standards Agency also collects data on household food insecurity, as part of the Food and You survey. Both surveys are internationally recognised and peer reviewed.
In essence, the Government are already doing this; they are collecting the data on which this amendment would have them report. So, this is not an onerous amendment—it is very simple and cost-neutral. The Government are already doing the work. My amendment simply asks that the information be regularly laid before Parliament. If we do not accept this amendment, the Government will be sending a clear message to the millions who struggle to access healthy food that their hunger and problems are not a priority.
We know that more that 2,000 food banks have become embedded in our welfare system. Even before the pandemic, millions in the UK were food insecure. Now, millions more have joined them. Covid-19 has seen food insecurity levels more than double. Refusing to report to Parliament on food insecurity at a household level lets that problem remain hidden. It is only by knowing the true scale of UK hunger that we can start to mitigate it. We should do this annually because unless you measure something, you cannot change it. In a country as rich as ours, no one should go to bed hungry. Accepting this amendment, which is cost-neutral and simple, would demonstrate that the Government are willing to treat the systemic and worsening problem of food insecurity—in a family, every night, in their kitchen—with the seriousness that it deserves.
My Lords, I am delighted to be speaking between the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, and the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, with whom I sat on the House of Lords committee that produced the report Hungry for Change, about which the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and other noble Lords have been so complimentary.
I speak in support of my Amendment 169 in this group. I am grateful for the support of other noble Lords who have added their names to it. It addresses how, if we are to be food secure in this country, we need to ensure that the minimum amount of food is wasted—yet, in the list of data that will be provided in the food security report to inform policy thinking on our future resilience and food security, there is no mention of food waste.
There are currently significant levels of on-farm food waste in this country. In 2019, WRAP estimated that about 3.6 million tonnes of food is surplus, and waste occurs on farm every year. That is equivalent to about 7% of the total annual UK food harvest. There is huge potential to reduce the amount of surplus and waste by promoting best practice, with new insights being good for growers, businesses, the climate and feeding our people.
One of the priority areas in Clause 1 of the Government’s Environment Bill is resource efficiency and waste reduction. We need better synergy between the Environment Bill and the Agriculture Bill, and a way to achieve that is for us to see where the main problems with food waste are in the supply chain. To do that, we need the data to cover each part of the supply chain. My amendment would provide for that, so that we have a food security report that does the job that we need it to do.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 173, so excellently introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch. Many of my comments will echo hers.
As an aside, it is perhaps worth clearing up a point of definition. In the debate so far, we have heard the terms “food security” and “food insecurity” used in two distinct ways. First, we have heard “food security” as it applies to the nation as a whole: do we have a system that can guarantee a supply of food for the country as a whole? Secondly, as referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, we have heard “food insecurity” as it applies to the individual or household that cannot afford enough to eat.
The chief executive of one of the UK’s food companies told me a couple of years ago that when he asked at No. 10 what the Government’s food strategy was, he received a blank look. The question had simply not occurred to the people in No. 10. Fortunately, things have moved on since then with the establishment of Henry Dimbleby’s national food strategy, of which we have already heard quite a lot. I have no doubt that the Dimbleby report, and its interim report due out in the next week or two, will be an excellent piece of work and will have much to say about the issues covered in this amendment,
I would also like to mention the recently published report Hungry for Change: Fixing the Failures in Food from the Select Committee on Food, Poverty, Health and the Environment, which I had the privilege of chairing. This report has already been referred to in this debate by the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, Lady Parminter and Lady Boycott. The latter two sat on the committee with me. I would like to highlight just three points from our report.
First, as we have heard, food insecurity—that is, worrying about not having enough to eat—is a big problem in this country. We do not yet have official figures, although, as the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, said, we should soon have them. However, the UN has estimated that the number of people suffering food insecurity is at least 2.2 million. As the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, said, the Food Foundation estimates that more than 5 million people worry about not having enough to eat. This is shocking but not surprising, given that one in five people in Britain live in poverty, according to the Government’s own figures. Furthermore, as we have already heard from the noble Lord, Lord Hain, and the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, Covid-19 is almost certainly making things worse.
Secondly, poor people tend to have less healthy diets, not through any fault of their own but because the way in which food is manufactured, marketed and priced conspires against healthy eating. Without the time, resources or emotional bandwidth, the least well-off people find it hardest to swim against the tide of cheap, accessible, tasty, heavily marketed and unhealthy junk food.
Thirdly, we know what kinds of measures would be effective in changing our food system for the better. We know that it will not happen by voluntary industry action or by public information campaigns. It will need a more interventionist approach from government on promotion, advertising, reformulation and perhaps taxation on less healthy food. The soft drinks industry levy shows how successful strong government intervention can be, but up till now the Government have been unwilling to do more. This inaction is inexcusable because it condemns the poorest, most disadvantaged children in Britain to a life of ill health followed by an early death.
We are all placing a lot of hope on the Dimbleby report, but there is a risk that it will make excellent recommendations only to gather dust in a corner, following the fate of many other earlier reports of the same kind. Our Select Committee report suggests how this might be prevented. The Government are already committed to publishing a White Paper on the food strategy, but the delivery of the strategy should, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, said, be monitored by an independent body, analogous to the Committee on Climate Change, reporting regularly to Parliament on progress.
Furthermore, the problem of food and poverty covers several different government departments. Therefore, there is a need for a high-level ministerial co-ordination group to ensure that actions are properly joined up across Government.
This amendment provides an opportunity for the Government to make a radical shift in their approach to food policy. Let us not waste the opportunity in the way that we waste a lot of our food.
My Lords, I am very glad to follow the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and the wise words that he has given us. I hope the Government will take heed of what he has to say and the need for action. I support and endorse everything that has been said about food poverty and the difficulty of finding affordable and nutritious food for many people on low incomes.
I will speak in support of Amendments 164 and 167, which I have signed, as well as Amendments 160, 170 and 171, and will take a slightly different approach. The first two amendments are aimed at securing co-ordination on food security across the UK. This is essential if we are not to risk disruption in the supply chain and unfair terms of access to affordable and nutritious food in all parts of the UK. Looking at the devolved regions, one can see that Scottish food exports are about £3.6 billion per annum to the rest of the UK and about £1.6 billion internationally. Northern Ireland exports £3.5 billion, of which £1.26 billion goes out of the UK, and Wales exports around £337 million, most of which goes to the EU. Therefore, agriculture is important to the economies of the devolved Administrations in terms of value and employment, proportionally more so than across England, although the north and the south-west of England also have significant agricultural sectors.
Of course, all parts of the UK are dependent on food imports. We are a long way short of self-sufficiency, as many people have reminded us. Therefore, it is not hard to see the potential tensions that could arise. In reality, the south of England is the main domestic market for the devolved Administrations’ food production. In normal times, this is a good example of our internal market, and I am very proud that we in Scotland produce extremely good-quality food that I think people in London and the south-east appreciate and are often prepared to pay a premium to receive.
However, if there was a crisis of supply that left home-grown food for domestic consumption in short supply in the devolved Administrations while maintaining supply in the south, this could cause problems. Alternatively—in reverse—if the south was kept short by diversion into local markets, the same problems would arise. By the same token, if there was disruption to imports of key food that led to the supplies being diverted to the larger markets at the expense of the periphery—meaning people in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland would face shortages or higher prices, or both—the same difficulties would arise.
Therefore, for something as critical as food, the market cannot be the sole recourse at times of crisis. The noble Lord, Lord Hain, has quite starkly pointed out that the market puts nutritious food beyond the reach of many people. Co-ordination among all the tiers of government is required to ensure a fair and equitable distribution of affordable and nutritious food. There is a problem now, but it could be considerably worse if we take the combined threats that we can see ahead.
The other amendments that I support are aimed at anticipating the possibility of potential shortages in good time so that appropriate UK-wide action can be taken. It is quite likely that, when we leave the EU on 31 December, we could face disruption to our food supplies; I have pointed this out before. There will be delays for inspection of foods, cost and additional bureaucracy, all of which could lead to a loss of supply and a diversion of supply away from the UK. I have made the point that it may not be due to a lack of willingness to supply the UK or any kind of boycott; it may just be that bureaucracy and cost make other markets more attractive and profitable, leaving us at a disadvantage. Indeed, if trucks or fresh food transport is sufficiently delayed, then food will perish or be damaged, and lose quality.
Even if we manage to avoid a spike that causes that to happen, readjustments will take place in UK and EU agriculture and food production to take account of Brexit arrangements that we do not yet know about. These other amendments, therefore, require the Government to set targets, anticipate adverse changes, take action and report—in the first place within 12 months, and then every three years.
In the post-pandemic, post-Brexit world, with looming climate change and other problems potentially disrupting harvests and yields, the UK cannot rely on the global marketplace and must have a domestic strategy. The Government have not been good at planning for crises or disasters. Accepting these amendments might show that they are willing to learn.
My Lords, this amendment has been very important in enabling a wider debate. As we have been hearing, food security is fundamental to the welfare of the nation, in terms of health, diet, fitness for work and the ability to live life fully, but it also has implications for what our agricultural production does that accelerates climate change. It relates also to all the other impacts of climate change on our agriculture—a terrific and complex range of impacts.
In view of this, it seems simple and clear that we cannot afford to have a laid-back approach to reporting and accountability. There needs to be vigour and frequent reporting, as far as is reasonable. The Bill is currently too relaxed and complacent, and the debate has emphasised the importance of the first amendment in this group, which demands more frequent reporting. From that standpoint I am very glad that my noble friend has moved this amendment and am only too pleased to support it.
My Lords, I support the amendments in this group, particularly those to which I have added my name. This is probably one of the most important debates in Committee, because it deals with food security and insecurity, which is key to the development of a new agricultural policy in the UK, in the context of both Westminster and the various devolved regions. That is the opportunity afforded by the new dispensation in a post-Brexit relationship, notwithstanding the fact that I would have preferred to remain in the European Union.
In relation to the amendment, there is a need, as has been pointed out by the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Whitchurch and Lady McIntosh of Pickering, for a greater level and frequency of reporting, and I have added my name to Amendment 162, which deals with reporting on an annual basis: it should be mandatory and it should be in the Bill.
I have also signed Amendment 167, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hain, which addresses food insecurity. This really goes back to the issue of individual food insecurity, the issues around resources and the need to improve general health and well-being. That should also be explicit in the Bill.
Looking at the issues of food security and insecurity, there is a clear need for those food security targets to be met and monitored. If we are serious about underpinning food security, the legislation needs to be toughened and strengthened, as stated in Amendment 171. We therefore need a dynamic report, on an annual basis, with a food plan in place.
I was also a member of the Select Committee, under the very able chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, which produced the report entitled Hungry for Change: Fixing the Failures in Food. As outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, the report dealt with issues to do with resources, and the nature of the current welfare system that prohibits people having proper access to the money to buy good-quality, nutritious foods. It dealt with: the lack of availability of nutritious food for certain groups of people; the impact of marketing; the impact of having to go to food banks on people who rely on benefits—raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott; and the need to deal with reformulation.
Another issue is trade deals. We have to ensure that we have better-quality food and that we are not forced to deal with food from other countries that is poorly produced in inhumane conditions, or food that may be infused with hormones or chlorine. Our report asked that the Government commit to detailed and routine monitoring of the levels of food insecurity. That data should be published transparently and be subject to scrutiny, to ensure that trends in food insecurity can be linked to wider socioeconomic reforms and can inform policy in other areas, such as public health and welfare, so that efforts to tackle food insecurity can be targeted effectively.
In summary, it is vital that the Minister is willing to accept these amendments, which strengthen the Bill. Our report has been mentioned in previous sessions. Has the Minister had time to peruse it? Does he have any initial thoughts, in advance of Mr Dimbleby’s report on the whole area of food? I support the amendments in this group, particularly Amendments 160, 162, 167, 171 and 173, in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch.
My Lords, I am the fifth member of the Select Committee which, under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, produced Hungry for Change, to speak on this group of amendments so far. I commend to the Minister the speech by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, which covered so many points.
This part of the Bill is headed “Food Security”. As the noble Lord said, there are two meanings of that. The first is the household food security so well described by the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott. I support what she said; she is renowned for her expertise in this area. The second area of food security concerns food coming into this country. That was part of the argument of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, who quoted a figure on how self-sufficient we are. Again, there is a dichotomy here. There is our total self-sufficiency in food and the self-sufficiency in food produced by the UK for consumption or use in the UK. Instead of the rather low figure of about 60% for total food, we are 75% self-sufficient in homegrown food.
We need to be very careful about trying to be totally self-sufficient in homegrown food. That would be a total disaster. I draw your Lordships’ attention to paragraph 458 of our report, which I quote:
“Another point that was raised by Henry Dimbleby was that trading is crucial for ensuring resilience in the food system ‘because it protects us from bad harvests’. The Government also argued that many products cannot be produced in the UK, and that supply would fail to meet demand for year-round access to certain foods.”
That is absolutely right. We have a problem: we eat a lot of foods that we cannot produce in this country. We can grow some more vegetables—the amount will be limited, given our soil and our climate—and a limited amount of more fruit but, under present traditional farming methods, we will never grow enough to be self-sufficient.
My noble friend Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts talked about the problem of the future water supply. What he said leads me to be convinced that I am right to support Amendment 162. He mentioned the dire situation in 20 years’ time—I think that it was described as the “jaws of death”—with regard to the water supply. Under the Bill, that is only four reports away. That is an inadequate response to the crisis that we face. Amendment 162 says that we ought to produce a report annually. I would prefer that, although I would be equally happy to support three years, but five years is far too long.
The situation is changing and technology in agriculture is improving so rapidly that what we are used to today will not be the same in a few years’ time. In a few years, we will all be used to vertical farming and meat-free protein, and what we know as traditional farming will have suffered a revolution because so much can be produced in cities and laboratories that will be healthier, cleaner, more environmentally friendly and just as delicious, we are told, as what we are eating now. Given all the changes that are coming and the pressures at the moment, the Government need to produce a report more frequently than every five years.
My Lords, it is a real privilege to take part in the debate on this group of amendments, which has produced some of the most interesting and outstanding speeches in the whole of this Committee stage; the Government may think that some of them were a little long but I think that people can be excused if they are really good.
I signed the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts. I must say, when I did so, I did not have a clue about what he was going to make of his amendment and what he was going to say. His speech is one of those that I want to go back to and read carefully tomorrow. It was quite outstanding and put some of the problems that we have been talking about in a wider geographical and longer-term context. I am pleased that I signed that amendment.
I am also pleased that I signed the amendment tabled by my long-standing friend, the noble Lord, Lord Hain, who, along with the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, introduced the concept of food insecurity as opposed to food security. It is an absolute scandal, as I have already said in Committee, that we are arguably the fifth or sixth-richest country in the world—one of the richest countries ever in the world—and we have food banks. Something is seriously wrong. I remember that, when I was quite young, in the working class district I grew up in, it was well known that, in the households, the wife would go without food to feed the husband, who was the wage-earner. The vital thing was that that wage continued. Nowadays, even in the town I live in, Colne—near where I represent on the council—we know that young women are going without enough food in order to feed their children. This is 2020. This country has never been as rich as it is now, yet this is going on. Something is seriously wrong. I would say that something has to be done about it, but that is a cliché, I know.
I was very pleased to sign the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lady Parminter about food waste. The noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, had, I think, four apocalyptic subheadings in his speech, and one was shortage of food. The amount of food wasted in this country—in all the developed world—is absolutely shocking. It happens on the farm; in production, to some extent; in the supermarkets, which are getting a bit better but it still happens there; and in the hospitality industry. People are buying too much food and throwing appalling amounts away without even putting it on a plate, and people are putting too much on their plates and throwing half away. The amount of food wasted in households is a disgrace. I was a war baby and it is hard-wired inside my head that if the food is on the plate, you damn well eat it. Sending food back on a plate, even if I hate it and it is horrible, is something I find very difficult to do, because that was hard-wired into me in the first 10 years of my life. Nowadays, people do it all the time and do not think anything about it. We have to get back to the idea that you buy food, you cook food, you eat that food, and you do not eat too much—you cook the appropriate amount. This is very important. If we are talking about government propaganda exercises, which they seem to be heavily into at the moment, that is one that they might take on in a big way.
We have been told that we are leaving the European Union—the common market, the single market and the trade area—to have control over our own borders. Then we get this Bill, which is about providing farmers with sufficient income and providing sufficient food and food security and so on. The Bill gives the Government all these powers but, as the noble Lords, Lord Adonis and Lord Whitty, and many others keep saying, we do not know what the Government’s policy is for using these new powers that they will have. We do not know if, as far as trade is concerned, they will go for open borders and cheaper food. If that happens, how will they support the farmers? We do not know whether they will encourage more expensive and higher-quality food and keep the imports out. We have no idea. We know that some members of the Conservative Party are very pro-farmer and very worried, but we know that lots of others want us to be a buccaneering, free-trading country and want us to go back to the repeal of the Corn Laws and so on. Until we know the answers to those questions, we do not really know how this Agriculture Bill will pan out. It is very unsatisfactory that we are providing the Government with the framework, but it is in a vacuum.
My Lords, I begin by referring to Amendment 168, which appears under my name on the Marshalled List, and I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, for her support for it. I have already referred to the many environmental and health advantages of plant-based foods, but this amendment refers specifically to the issue of food security.
I refer noble Lords to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations 2019 report, The State of the World’s Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture. It points out that nine species are responsible for two-thirds of the world’s crops, and 40 types of livestock produce nearly all the meat, milk and eggs. We suffer from a similar lack of diversity in the UK. A handful of crops dominate our land, as you see when you travel around the country. Not having crop diversity also means that you do not have the variety of insects and microbes—the suite of ecosystems that would accompany different crops. There is also the huge risk of one disease or bad season for a particular crop having a huge impact. But moving more into plant-based foods—perennial crops, tree crops, nuts and fruits—creates a more diverse and secure system, in terms of the first sort of food security identified by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs. Moving towards plant-based foods gives you a more diverse and secure food supply.
I refer also to Amendment 169, which appears under the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, and which I was pleased to sign. It refers to the issue of food waste, which many noble Lords have already referred to, and demands a report from the Government on food waste and surplus. It would be a crucial step forward that I hope the Government will be prepared to accept. We have a situation where many sides of the House and many parts of the country agree that food waste is a problem, but action has chiefly come from independent charities and community groups. FareShare, for example, rescues huge quantities—but still a tiny percentage—of the food from supermarkets that is largely going to waste, and reaches 11,000 charities and community groups around the country.
That brings me to the crucial way in which waste interrelates with food security in the second sense referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, which is people being able to afford the food. A shocking figure from FareShare is that half of the people accessing its food have recently gone a day without food before being able to access that food that has been rescued. I will also mention the Real Junk Food Project, which started just up the road from me in Leeds and has spread to 120 projects in seven countries. We cannot keep relying on such groups to act on food waste; this needs to happen at a government level.
I also refer to Amendment 171 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, signed by my noble friend Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. There is a crucial point to be made about this: it says that the Government must have targets for food security. We have addressed, in many different contexts, the fact that the Government cannot just have powers; they need to have duties. As the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, said, this is possibly one of the most important areas of the Bill. This has to be a duty, not just a power to act.
This brings me to Amendment 162 on annual reports. I shall refer noble Lords to what is now an old report, from 2008, but still worth looking at: Nine Meals from Anarchy from the New Economics Foundation. Noble Lords may recall the fuel blockade, another occasion on which our shelves suddenly emptied. We have no idea when challenges, risks and sudden changes in the world situation will occur. Many noble Lords have talked about the climate emergency, but they could be natural, political or economic, and all of those things are risks that arise very quickly, so I think annual reports are the way to go.
Finally, I was delighted to add my name to Amendment 173, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, which calls for a national food plan. We found in 2008, and again while struggling with Covid-19, that leaving food security to the market is a profoundly insecure thing to do. The responsibility of companies is to make a profit. They want to be as “efficient as possible”, with maximum profits, and if that means that at some point it is no longer economical to supply the food, they can just shut their doors. As we have so often seen with privatised services, eventually responsibility will fall on the Government, so they must have a plan, in terms of the food insecurity at a household level that this debate has canvassed so well, the national food security and the health of the food supply. The Government need a plan and they must have a foundational role.
This is a crucial set of amendments. I very much hope that the Government acknowledge that this must be part of the Agriculture Bill. This is what agriculture is about, as well as those crucial aspects of land management and public goods. Food security is a public good. Food health is a public good. I hope that we see this Bill become an Act that incorporates those elements.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 160 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and Amendments 164 and 167 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hain. Along with farmers’ leaders in Wales and many noble Lords who have spoken today, I very much welcome the inclusion of Clause 17. The duty upon the Secretary of State to prepare a report on the UK’s food security is welcome. However, I share their concerns about the frequency of the reporting requirement and have questions about the purpose of the report. I am sure that when the Government initially drafted this clause, they did not dream of the situation we are now in and the challenges to our food security that we face in the short and the longer term.
The Covid-19 pandemic has thrown into sharp focus the fragility of our supply chains and their susceptibility to disruption, and we face the challenge of preparing for a possible second wave of the virus. The increasing inevitability of the negotiations around our future trading relationship with the EU coming to an abrupt halt without a favourable trade deal at the end of the transition period raises real concerns over the possible disruption of food supply chains at our borders. Also, the impact of climate change on global food availability will increasingly demand our attention. These three challenges and others could present the Government with problems. They need to demonstrate that they have responses to events such as these and can deal with them with confidence and agility, but I am afraid that on two counts, Clause 17 fails to allow for that.
As I highlighted at Second Reading, there is merely a requirement for the Secretary of State to lay a report before Parliament
“containing an analysis of statistical data”.
But what then? There is nothing in this clause to require the UK Government or the Welsh Government to publish a report and to act in response to its findings. We will have data, of course, but how will it be used?
The second weakness in this clause lies, of course, in the inadequacy of the reporting frequency, and I support those who have their names to Amendment 160 in their call for the first report to be prepared within 12 months of the Act passing, to be followed every three years thereafter by similar reports.
The Government’s intention to lay a report every five years appears to border on complacency, when we are still learning lessons from the present pandemic; we are still waiting for the Government to show how they will avoid chaos at our borders and the climate change crisis moves ever closer. But perhaps I am being unfair in accusing the Government of complacency. As I said earlier, this clause was written before the pandemic struck, and I am conscious that I speak with the benefit of hindsight, but I hope it illustrates the need for agility when emergencies arise, the need for up-to-date information to aid decision-making and—as the Prime Minister said at the weekend—the need to prepare for the worst. It would be interesting to hear the Minister outline the Government’s view of how they envisage the information the report would contain would be used to improve food security.
I turn briefly to the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hain—Amendment 164, to which I have added my name, and Amendment 167. I support both of them. They highlight the need for co-operation and consultation between the UK Government and the devolved Administrations in the production of a food security report. The suggestion was made to the Senedd’s scrutiny committee that the Welsh Government should be
“included in the methodology planning for the report so that Welsh (and other Devolved Administrations) are able to extrapolate their own data to inform future policy making”.
I welcome the co-operative approach taken by the Minister and the Welsh Minister in securing the recognition of devolved competence throughout this Bill, and hope the noble Lord will assure me that the role and responsibility of the Welsh Government, in the production of a food security report, will be recognised as well.
My Lords, I will keep my remarks short. I have signed only two of the amendments in this group, 162 and 171. In fact, they all improve the Government’s reporting and planning provisions. A regular comprehensive food report setting out targets and action plans would help the country move towards a resilient, flourishing and sustainable food system.
I am not sure I can be quite that brief, my Lords, but I will give it a go. I have added my name to the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, about food waste. To deal with that first, identifying and removing waste is the easiest way to improve any supply chain. I hope that the Government give serious consideration to this.
I hope they also start to address the marketing chain. The just-in-time delivery system, which produces something that we are perceived to want at the right point, without any capacity for things going wrong, has been exposed for not taking many bumps to be put off course. The fuel crisis did it, as did a pandemic. As pandemics go, this is not as frightening as some that we have been threatened with before—the bird flu crisis and others. Covid-19 is a very unpleasant disease that kills people; it is not the Black Death. The scientists tell us that worse is out there. How good would any supply chain be when put under even greater pressure? Other noble Lords have talked about war and political decisions. A few natural disasters and a breakdown in the food chain is a good way to start a war or political crisis.
Can we have greater frequency of checking? Three years is about right. Can we also take a good long look at waste in the chain? If we can manage to identify the waste, we will suddenly have spare capacity and our supply will look a little more secure.
My Lords, this has been a fascinating debate, with some memorable contributions, including that from my noble friend Lord Krebs.
I fully support Amendment 162, as moved by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, and supported by other noble Lords, which says that food security reporting should take place every year. Clause 17 is an important inclusion, and I am delighted that the Government added it. I cannot understand why, once the data capture systems have been identified and established, an analysis cannot be carried out and published each year. It is hugely important to be able to identify trends quickly and to react accordingly. There is a fundamental risk in waiting five or even three years, as proposed in Amendments 160 and 161, in that a major global event or some macroeconomic activity could distort the analysis within a single year. A major weather event can result in crop failure and disproportionately impact on commodity markets.
I agree with almost all the impressive comments made in the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, and I support his Amendment 172 other than on the frequency of the analysis. I believe that an annual report would reduce the risk of distortion by a global event and clearly identify trends. That was highlighted by the contribution from the noble Baroness, Lady Humphreys. Harold Wilson said that a week is a long time in politics, and five years is a long time to wait to calculate the impact of climate change on global food production. As has been stated a number of times this evening, the proportion of home-produced food continues to decline—depending on which metric is used, it is around 60%. With a projected population increase in the UK to 70 million or more within the next decade, unless we actively encourage home-produced food, that proportion will decline even further.
I hesitate to contradict the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, but there are opportunities to increase food production. We already import a significant proportion of our fresh produce from water-scarce areas of the world, particularly Africa, where very often people do not have enough food to alleviate hunger within their own countries and communities. We not only have to find better ways to provide economic support for developing countries but should put in place strategic plans to wean ourselves off our dependence on fragile sources of imported food.
I agree with other Peers who have spoken in these debates that it is very unfortunate that we do not have the report from Henry Dimbleby to inform these debates—I hope we will have an indication of his recommendations later this month and before Report. We had an excellent debate last week on whether food security is a public good. It clearly is a public good, and I would be surprised if Henry Dimbleby does not endorse the importance of that fact. So the process of analysis must inform the response.
I therefore regard a five-year analysis of the data suggested in Clause 17 to be inadequate, and even a three year period, as proposed in Amendment 160 and 161. It is really important to inform both government policy and provide industry with information and data on which to develop strategic plans. We need annual reports. I hope that the Minister will accept this amendment.
My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Greaves—and that does not happen too frequently. I have listened to some truly informed and insightful comments during this discussion, even if the noble Lord almost came round to the idea, as I suggest, that some of them have been a little too long. Earlier in Committee, I said that I thought that interventions should be as brief as common sense and responsibility allow, so I intend to maintain that.
I would have liked to explore what we really mean by food security. It has a vague meaning and a lack of clear definition in many hands, and it seems to mean too many things to too many people. It needs more rigour if it is to be truly helpful in legislation. The term, like many of the amendments, I fear, suggests a scatter-gun approach, when good legislation requires rigour and precision. However, some of these points have already been made, not just in this group but in earlier ones. We dealt earlier today in the first group with the issues of appropriate timing, and the balance that sound government policy needs to find—that is balance, not rush.
I therefore feel that at this hour of the evening, after such an excellent discussion, I should heed my own advice and avoid any hint of repetition or self-indulgence and allow others to continue so that we can get this vital piece of legislation on to the statute book.
It is always a great pleasure to follow my noble friend Lord Dobbs, a Wiltshire neighbour; my maiden speech in this House was in a debate led by him.
I support the Government’s proposal, added in response to widespread concern in the countryside and the other place, for a report on food security, underlining the importance of UK food supply and farmers’ role in feeding the nation. Covid-19 has underlined the importance of this, as the noble Earl, Lord Devon, said. However, the supermarkets and the food supply chain did a great job. The empty shelves referred to by my noble friend Lady McIntosh reflected an initial lack of confidence by consumers, but they soon realised that this reflected a surge in demand, not a real shortage of supply.
Today there are a number of amendments trying to make the food security report more frequent—for example, once a year in Amendment 162—and to broaden its scope; for example, to bring in specific reference to household food security, which I disagree with, or waste in the supply chain, to which I am more sympathetic because of the personal interest I take in waste minimisation and recycling but with which I also disagree in this context. We should keep the review’s remit as simple and focused as possible so that it can be adapted to the needs and concerns of the day.
As a farmer’s daughter and a businesswoman involved in most aspects of the food supply chain in my time—I refer again to my interests in the register—I am strongly against a review more often than every five years. I cannot think of anything more likely to generate constant tinkering with the regulations that affect farmers and the countryside and continued uncertainty in a sector that faces huge change, economic difficulty and fragility —as we have heard during the passage of this Bill. By all means collect and publish data every year and have the first review in 2021 or 2022, but the major review proposed in Clause 17 should not take place more often than once every five years. As my noble friend Lord Hodgson said in a fine and wide-ranging speech, frequent reports would also lose their impact.
I call the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Aberavon. No? We will move on. I call the noble Baroness, Lady Chisholm of Owlpen.