House of Lords
Thursday 23 July 2020
The House met in a Hybrid Sitting.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Chichester.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, the Hybrid Sitting of the House will now begin. Some Members are here in the Chamber, respecting social distancing, and others are participating remotely, but all Members will be treated equally. If the capacity of the Chamber is exceeded, I will immediately adjourn the House.
Oral Questions will now commence. Please can those asking supplementary questions keep them short and confined to two points? I ask that Ministers’ answers are also brief.
Healthcare Students: Tuition Fees
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have (1) to reimburse tuition fees, or (2) to forgive any current study-related debt, for any current nursing, midwifery and allied healthcare students who are employed by the National Health Service.
My Lords, the Government are extremely grateful to all students who chose to opt in to a paid clinical placement in the National Health Service during this extremely difficult time. We have ensured that all students who do so are rewarded fairly for their hard work. The students will continue to be required to pay tuition fees and there are no plans for a specific scheme to reimburse tuition fees or to forgive any current debt for them.
My Lords, at the height of the pandemic, Ministers joined the rest of us in applauding nurses and healthcare workers as heroes for their bravery and dedication. Sadly, now at the first opportunity to show their gratitude, they have let down the nurses by refusing them a pay increase and warning them that next year’s may not happen either. By their own action, the Government have shattered morale in the health service and made the recruitment and retention of nurses much more difficult.
My Lords, like many, many others, I joined in the applause for nurses and all those working in the NHS, particularly at this difficult time, not least my aunt, who is a nurse and midwife of 25 years’ standing. As I say, we are extremely grateful to all those have chosen to opt in. They are paid and are entitled to an NHS pension contribution during this period. On nurses’ pay generally, I simply make the point that the starting salary for nurses has increased by over 12% since 2017, so we certainly value those who are working in this rewarding career.
My Lords, are the Government concerned that, in a recent survey by the Royal College of Nurses, 74% of nurses said that they felt valued by the general public but only 18% felt valued by the Government? Surely paying them better, in training and afterwards, is the obvious way to value nurses if the Government are serious in their intention. Will the Minister guarantee to include in any review of pay and conditions those nurses who work in care homes and in the community, as they are so important in ensuring better integration of health and social care, which the pandemic has shown to be vital, though lacking in many places?
My Lords, we certainly value those who work in the nursing profession, which is why, as I say, the starting salary has increased by over 12% since 2017. The money with which those working in nursing are rewarded is just one way in which the appreciation of the country is expressed, particularly at this time.
My Lords, the removal of the nursing bursary had a devastating impact on student nurse numbers, with a 31% reduction in university applications for nursing courses since 2016. Student nurses have become an invaluable part of the workforce at a time when the country needs them most. These brave young students have lost tuition and university life, as have other students, but they responded to the country’s need. Surely the Minister can see how inappropriate it is to charge them tuition fees.
My Lords, the hours of those who have joined the workforce early to help with the crisis count towards the 4,600 hours that they have to complete as part of their training. While they have been working, they have remained under the care of their higher education provider. This is still part of their training, as well as being a valuable contribution to the NHS at this time. From September this year, the new maintenance grant of £5,000, which is not repayable, comes in for all nursing students, to make it easier for people to study and then join the profession.
My Lords, given the immense and appropriate praise that the Prime Minister and the Government have given our nurses during the Covid crisis, why are nurses not receiving a pay increase along with doctors and dentists, as has just been announced? I know that there is a current pay agreement, but I am sure that, as my noble friend will know, the British public would be overwhelmingly in favour of an increase and would back it totally.
My Lords, given the National Audit Office report into the NHS nursing workforce of March this year and this week’s Public Accounts Committee session concerning the report, can the Minister confirm that the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, in this House on 30 January regarding the potential cost-effectiveness to the taxpayer of writing off educational loans for nurses after five or 10 years’ service has been discussed with the Treasury and the Department of Health and Social Care? If so, can further urgent consideration be given to this matter before the expected Autumn Budget?
My Lords, applauding healthcare staff is one thing, but the Minister should take note of the Royal College of Nursing’s report this week, which stated, as others have said, that for the nursing profession to feel valued and to address the current workforce shortage, the Government must provide better financial support for nursing students, including the reimbursement of tuition fees, and forgo all current debts for nursing, midwifery and allied healthcare students impacted by the removal of the bursary. Can the Minister please confirm when this will happen?
My Lords, I have answered the question about reimbursement, which was the one that began this session. On nursing numbers, I would make the point that the number of nurses in our National Health Service is now at a record high and has gone up by 12,000 in the last year alone.
My Lords, many student nurses have to travel considerable distances from where they train to complete different aspects of their course, such as on mental health or learning disability. What support is given to students with their travel and accommodation expenses in these circumstances?
The noble Baroness makes an important point. Part of the new maintenance grant, which comes in in September this year, is in addition to a further £3,000 that is available to help with childcare, other dependant costs and living costs of that sort.
My Lords, that is a good and important point, which I will of course discuss with the department. Some people need to study near to home for childcare and family reasons; others like having the opportunity to travel to another part of the UK and study there, for the benefits that that brings them.
My Lords, I am grateful for the question from the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, which was the one that I was due to ask. I also welcome the announcement from the Government of an additional £5,000 for student nurses from September of this year. However, can my noble friend confirm that the Government will consider whether student loans might not have to be paid back by those nurses who spend more than five years in the NHS? That could assist with the retention of nurses.
My noble friend’s back-up question is just as good. The repayment of tuition fees begins only once people exceed a repayment threshold, which is currently £26,575, but I will certainly discuss the point that she makes more broadly with the department.
My Lords, the dedication of nurses and allied healthcare staff has shone like a bright light in the gloom of the Covid pandemic. Does the Minister agree that the least we can do to encourage those entering the profession is to reimburse tuition fees and write off any student-related debt? The Government should seriously reconsider their position.
The noble Lord is absolutely right: nurses have brought a great deal of comfort not just to those who have received their support directly but to their families and the general public, who have been watching on. However, as I said, those who have chosen to join the NHS early during their studies have been paid for their service and are receiving pension contributions. We are extremely grateful to them for doing so.
My Lords, the time allowed for this Question has elapsed. We now come to the second Oral Question.
My Lords, the development consent order, or DCO, application for a new two-lane dual carriageway for the A303 between Amesbury and Berwick Down is currently with the Secretary of State for determination. Last week, the Government announced a further extension of the decision deadline until 13 November 2020. This is to enable further consultation following a recent archaeological find.
My Lords, as I said, I am very fortunate to be a local resident. We have had more than 20 years of dispute between stakeholders over this project. The costs are rising above £2 billion and they carry on rising. Now there is further delay. Does my noble friend agree that it seems unlikely that any tunnel could be finished much before 2030, by which time semiautonomous electric vehicles will be commonplace—perhaps even compulsory—making the traffic past Stonehenge less intrusive, less polluting and easier to manage? Because of these advances in vehicle technology, is it just possible that by the time any tunnel might be completed it could already be on the verge of becoming a hugely expensive white elephant?
The Government share my noble friend’s ambition for automation with vehicles and we are working at pace to look at how we can bring that in. However, automated vehicles still need road space and further road enhancements will therefore be necessary. I cannot at this stage comment on how long it would take for a tunnel to be built.
Will my noble friend also give us information today about the A303 west of Stonehenge, up to where it joins the A30? I have travelled that road for over 40 years and am aware, as I know my noble friend will be, that there are many single-carriageway pinch-points west of Stonehenge. If it is going to take this long to build the tunnel and to sort out Stonehenge, is that also going to delay the dualling on the A303 to the west?
The Government have ambitious plans for the whole of the link road, the A358-A303, which links the M3 and the M5. My noble friend is right that there are various projects that have to be done not altogether, otherwise the disruption would be enormous. If my noble friend is referring to the Sparkford to Ilchester section, that DCO has also been extended recently and will be decided by 20 November.
My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, that this has been an extremely frustrating 20 years. I, too, drive past Stonehenge a lot. I find it shameful that one of our greatest monuments is regularly passed by a rumble of trucks day and night and that the area for visitors is so cramped. Given the recent findings about how big, extensive and important the whole site is, would it not be worth putting a big ring road right round the site—at least something that we could get on with much quicker? The stones may fall down at this rate, because we have wasted so much time and money.
I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, that this is a complicated and difficult situation. Certainly, when Stonehenge became a world heritage site, one of the commitments was that we would do something about the road. However, Highways England has done an enormous amount of work around the archaeological elements of the area and continues to employ archaeologists to make sure that we could not only build the tunnel, if it is appropriate, but also preserve the site.
My Lords, Stonehenge is our global heritage flagship. In recent years, it has been brilliantly transformed by English Heritage, which has integrated the wider archaeological landscape with the stones and their significance. English Heritage is supportive of a tunnel, but is the Minister aware that all our 32 world heritage sites need urgent help to recover from the impact of Covid-19? If our heritage assets are to help in the rebuilding of Britain, their custodians need sustainable funding to do so. When will they know what share of the DCMS cultural package they will get?
My Lords, there is a clear environmental aspect to this proposal, but in March the Government announced a £28.8 billion national roads fund to be spent over five years. How does the Minister square this with the claim by the COP 26 president, Alok Sharma, that the Government are investing in zero-emission transport in a co-ordinated way? Do the Government not realise that road building on this scale will inevitably lead to more traffic and more emissions?
I am sure that the noble Baroness is aware that zero-emission transport also needs roads, whether zero-emission cars, buses or HGVs. Investing in our road infrastructure is therefore important. The £27.4 billion—the RIS2 funding envelope—goes on enhancements but, as importantly, a significant amount of it goes on maintaining our existing roads.
There is a delay in the Secretary of State making his decision in the light of a recent archaeological find. If the tunnel project does receive the go-ahead from the Secretary of State, what would happen to the project and the construction of the tunnel and its cost if there was a further significant archaeological find on the line of route or close to it, once construction had started?
Highways England uses ground-penetrating radar as part of its geophysical survey strategy and therefore it is confident that the route does not have any further elements in it. As I said, it employs archaeologists and, were anything to come to light, obviously appropriate arrangements could be made.
My Lords, as a Wiltshire native who loves Stonehenge, I have waited 35 years for this new road. Assuming a November decision, when will work start properly and when will the new road open? What are the plans for the existing road, which is very popular with local people such as myself and has several good walks leading off it?
I hope that the noble Baroness will appreciate more good walks if and when this tunnel is actually built. As she will know, the project is currently at the outline business case. When we get to the final business case, if the DCO is approved, further information will be available at that stage about start-of-works and open-for-traffic dates.
My Lords, as an ex-archaeologist, I am absolutely horrified by this whole project. There is absolutely no way of knowing whether there are more potential finds on the current route. It is not a good idea to say that there is nothing more to find. However, as a climate campaigner, I am much more horrified by the fact that the Government are still subsidising road building. We are now in a climate crisis and the Government should be living up to some of their magnificent green claims and trying to cut road traffic. Does the Minister agree?
The noble Baroness has asked me similar questions in the past. Of course, the Government have a huge commitment to electric vehicles. We want to see fewer petrol and diesel cars and other vehicles on our roads and we have a huge commitment to electric buses, but I say again that these vehicles need a road to travel on—they do not fly.
My Lords, now that we have experienced Covid and traffic and travel patterns are going to change dramatically, should not the Government take the opportunity to totally rethink the idea of the tunnel and take the entire space and divert the traffic away from where it is now? That would be a great contribution to the environment and to the beauty of Stonehenge and the newly discovered archaeological spaces.
Traffic on the strategic road network is almost back to pre-Covid levels now. Much of that is important freight and people now going out to visit friends and family and to work. While there is an opportunity, as work practices change, to consider how we look at roads in the future, much of that will be focused on encouraging cycling and walking and more changes to road space allocation, rather than trying to clamp down on traffic per se on other roads.
Covid-19: Debt Collection
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they are taking to reform debt collection processes (1) during, and (2) after, the COVID-19 pandemic in response to (a) the report by the Centre for Social Justice Collecting Dust: A path forward for government debt collection, published on 26 April, and (b) representations from Citizens Advice, the StepChange Debt Charity and the Money Advice Trust.
My Lords, we welcome the Centre for Social Justice report and look forward to advice sector representations. We responded to Covid-19 by pausing outbound debt collection and on 29 June published a call for evidence to inform post-Covid policy in this important area. Central Government have for some time had a debt strategy that advocates the use of the widely welcomed fairness principles. Each local authority, however, is responsible for its own autonomous interpretation of the relevant debt management legislation on, for example, council tax enforcement.
I thank the noble Lord for his positive response. A debt management Bill would establish clear protocols and an independent regulator for bailiffs as proposed by the Centre for Social Justice and others. Does the Minister agree that heavy-handed debt collection processes, principally by some local authorities owed council tax, are costly, ineffective and often ruinous for those concerned? Will the problem not get much worse post Covid, if we do not act now?
My Lords, as the noble Lord will know, action was taken in 2014 in relation to enforcement agents. This is an area under examination. We have recently launched the call for evidence to inform policy, as I mentioned. That will obviously influence the consideration of whether a debt management Bill is a proportionate and reasonable response.
My Lords, over 1.3 million households are estimated to have built up council tax debts because of coronavirus. They will be counting down the days to 23 August, the day that the bailiffs can arrive—or debt D-day, as the coalition charities have called it—with complete dread. The Government can help to avert this disaster by ensuring that local authorities put in place these charities’ proposals to have sensible schedules for repayment of council tax debts in ways that do not resort to sending in bailiffs. Will the Minister commit today to doing so?
My Lords, noting the noble Lord’s title, I congratulate him on last night’s events at Anfield—all we need now is for Notts County to get back into the league, where they belong. He asked an important question. Local authorities should be sensitive. Obviously, with Covid, the ban on enforcement visits was imposed. As the noble Lord says, that is currently due to come to an end in August, but I follow him in urging restraint on all in the current situation.
With his vast experience in local government, does the Minister agree that we need urgently to review the council tax administration and enforcement regulations in the light of the current difficulties? Does he further agree that, post Covid, there is a key role for financial technology—fintech—to help with debt management and enable everyone to have a much greater sense of their finances and how best to manage them?
Yes, a consistent understanding of the problems of debt using such techniques is extremely important. The regulations on council tax were promulgated, I believe, back in 1992—now a sort of Neanderthal age, when I was in No. 10. The Local Government Minister has announced that MCHLG will update its guidance to councils on collection and enforcement of council tax.
I am sure that my noble friend is hearing the strength of view on this issue. I hope that he has seen the letter that 55 cross-party Peers and Members of Parliament wrote to the Government at the end of May to support the CSJ report. Is there more that the Government could do, not just to encourage local authorities to show appropriate sensitivity in relation to these bills, but to require them to do so, given that local authorities themselves are asking the Government for restraint in chasing money that they owe the Government?
My Lords, I am of course hearing what noble Lords are saying and I endorse the principles of the Centre for Social Justice report. I am very proud of having done public service in local government. Local councils are custodians of their whole community and community interests. They should be sympathetic and act proportionately towards anyone in genuine hardship. I will reflect on the points that my noble friend has made and pass them on to colleagues in the department.
Does the Minister agree that government, especially local government, needs to take a leaf out of the commercial sector’s book and adopt more humane and effective methods of collecting debt? Will the Government postpone the reintroduction of bailiff visits until a new government debt management Bill can be introduced?
My Lords, those are two important questions and I have touched on each. The call for evidence that we issued last month will inform policy in these areas. I hear what the noble Baroness and others say in relation to enforcement agents. I can only repeat that local authorities can act responsibly and many councils have responded positively to the challenges and have indeed signed up to the protocol developed by Citizens Advice, which was referred to in the original Question. I hope that more will consider doing so.
My Lords, returning to my noble friend’s Question, is the Minister aware that, last year, councils used court action 2.3 million times and bailiffs 1.4 million times to collect council tax debt? The bailiff fees added £200 million to people’s debts. Given the expiry date of 23 August, to which the noble Lord, Lord Wood, referred, will the Minister bring forward, in advance of the review, a specific examination of pre-action protocols?
My Lords, again, I hear what the noble Lord says. I find myself in the position of answering on behalf of a department that manages the group in relation to government debt. Obviously I will pass on to my colleagues in MHCLG the points that he and noble Lords are making. I repeat that they had announced last year that they would update guidance to councils on collection and enforcement.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a former chair of StepChange, the debt charity. I thank the Minister for his very full replies to these questions today. To follow up my noble friend Lord Wood’s question, recommendation 3 of this excellent report states:
“Council tax debt is the only form of civil debt for which people can be sent to prison in England.”
Will the Government consider repealing Regulation 47 of what he called the “Neanderthal” 1992 council tax regulations, as recommended?
I fear that I referred to “Neanderthal” to mean the age-old days when I was young but, certainly, part of the call for evidence and part of the appropriate and proper management of debt would be reflection on experience since that time. I can only repeat that my colleagues in MHCLG have said that they will update their guidance to councils on collection and enforcement.
What lessons have the Government learned from the progressive reforms that have been made in Scotland on the use of sheriff officers, the equivalent of bailiffs in England, by local authorities for debt collection and, more recently, the Bankruptcy and Debt Advice (Scotland) Act 2014, which have made major strides in restoring dignity and support for people in repaying debt and have proved to be more effective for the public purse? Will the Government make sure that it is not just a call for evidence but a proper review of those other examples from across the United Kingdom?
My Lords, I am sure that all those experiences will inform things going forward. I am a strong proponent of local authorities working together and pooling experience. I would say that this Government have acted consistently over a period in seeking to improve management of debt centrally with a code of practice, government debt standards and fairness principles. It is a constant learning curve from which we can all learn—we all have a duty to govern and manage sensitively and I take the noble Lord’s point on that.
My Lords, the student finance system removes barriers to access to a university for all those with the ability to benefit from higher education, irrespective of their background. The Student Loan Company’s new online repayment service is a welcome improvement to the operation of that system. It will help student loan borrowers to keep track of their balance and manage their loan, and includes clear guidance on how the loan system and repayments work.
My Lords, that is all well and good, but the money saving expert, Martin Lewis, has called the changes made by the Student Loans Company to its website “irresponsible and dangerous”, as it still includes the ability to make “quick payments” without logging in and has the large overall debt figure front and centre. Can the Minister explain why recommendations from MSE, the Russell Group and the Augar review have clearly all been ignored, and what steps the Government intend to take to protect students from what is, frankly, rubbish and second-rate advice?
My Lords, the advice was not ignored. The Department for Education worked with Martin Lewis, the Russell Group and others in advance of the preparation of this website, and there are warnings and caution messages throughout explaining to people the point about making early repayments. Due to an oversight, people could, on one section of the website, click through without seeing these messages but, thanks to Mr Lewis bringing it up, they have now been put there and the problem has been rectified.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, has made a trenchant point about the presentation of these financial statements. The University of Chichester plans to reopen its school of nursing and to recruit locally—to pick up a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Clark, on an earlier Question. For mature and part-time students whom the university seeks to attract, the level of loan debt is as important as the clarity of the information about their loan repayments—perhaps more so. Will the Minister look again at the impact of student loans on recruitment and retention in key public services in the light of their significance to our recovery from the pandemic?
The right reverend Prelate makes an important point, weaving together some of the themes from the first Question and this one. He is absolutely right that we want to encourage people of all ages and backgrounds to take advantage of higher education if that is the course they wish to pursue. Mature students who undertake undergraduate courses can qualify for fee loans to meet the cost of their tuition. Those attending courses at honours degree level also qualify for partially means-tested loans for living costs, and those with adult or child dependants can apply for additional means-tested grants on top of that.
My Lords, as this new system is not compulsory, and as students prefer computers to pieces of paper, does the Minister agree that the criticisms from Mr Lewis, who alleges that the system is dangerous, irresponsible, damaging and demoralising, are, to say the least, rather over the top? The next thing will be that, when members of the public ask their bank manager how much is in their account, he will be obliged to say, “Before I tell you, I must first ask you if you are feeling well and sitting comfortably. If you are, I shall gently begin.”
Mr Lewis certainly has expressed his point colourfully and forcefully, but the department was glad to engage with him before the website launched. He also made his points known to the Augar review, which the Government are considering and to which we will respond alongside the next spending review.
My Lords, this website is certainly an improvement on the situation when I was paying back my student loan, when it was very difficult to find out the balance and how much still needed to be paid. That led to many people making excessive repayments, which then had to be paid back. It might be helpful to your Lordships if I cite briefly from the message on the new website, which makes it very clear that “there is no obligation” to make a voluntary repayment and that students should
“carefully consider whether it’s appropriate to make voluntary repayments because any outstanding balance is written off at the end of the loan”.
That makes the situation quite clear.
My Lords, the Student Loans Company states that the online repayments service was
“extensively researched and tested prior to launch”,
“We constantly listen to our customers to improve our service”.
Are the Government satisfied that this service is being adequately monitored? How will they ensure that comments are taken on board and changes made where necessary?
My Lords, that is a key example of our taking on board comments and making changes. That is exactly what we have done in response to the representation from Martin Lewis pointing out that, on one section of the website, the message that he was keen to see was not present. It has now been put there.
On the Student Loans Company website, David Wallace, the CEO, has written in his blog:
“It’s vitally important that graduates understand that a student loan works very differently to other types of borrowing”.
That statement is not on the part of the site on extra payments, which I think would be helpful. I do not believe that just mentioning the written-off condition helps, so surely that warning, a statement that extra payments will not reduce monthly or annual payments, and, perhaps, a minimum income threshold before extra payments are permitted without additional checks should all be applied.
My Lords, that message, which was present on other parts of the site, has been present since 17 July on the section for making voluntary repayments as well, but student finance is, in law, a loan, so the Student Loans Company of course has to follow the legislation as it stands.
My Lords, at the outset, I declare that I co-chair the APPG on Islamic Finance. In 2013, David Cameron spoke at the World Islamic Economic Forum and made a promise to introduce a sharia-compliant student loan scheme. In March 2017 and in July 2019, I and other noble Lords spoke on the subject in your Lordships’ House. We were told that the Government were committed to introducing a suitable arrangement; I understand that a comprehensive submission has been made by the advisers to the DfE on the arrangements. There is no mention of sharia-compliant student loans on the SLC website. Can my noble friend say what progress has been made regarding the scheme and what is the timetable for its introduction?
My Lords, my noble friend raises a very important point, particularly for the many Muslim students who study or wish to study in our universities. I do not have that information to hand, but I will find out and write to him with the answer.
My Lords, it must be reassuring to students that the website that is the subject of this Question has now been amended, but does the Minister accept that, in the wake of the severe economic recession that the UK is now passing through, the whole structure, purpose and practice of the Student Loans Company, based as it is on the assumption of very high graduate employment for decades to come, now looks seriously unfit for purpose and, indeed, should be the subject of a root and branch review?
My Lords, through Covid-19 restrictions, many university students have missed tuition and access to libraries, laboratories and other university facilities. Although they are awarded degrees, will the Government reduce the loan repayment liability of final-year students, which would be fair to reflect the curtailment of tuition and facilities that they suffered?
The noble and gallant Lord makes an important point about the provision made for students during this pandemic, but universities have responded very swiftly and have very ably risen to the challenge. They have continued to provide high-quality education to people throughout the crisis, using a variety of means—online as well as in person—and we commend them for doing so.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, a limited number of Members are here in the Chamber, respecting social distancing, and 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 online 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 in Committee on the Agriculture Bill has been published and is in my brief, which Members should have received. I also have lists of Members who have put their names to the amendments, or expressed an interest in speaking, on each group. I will call Members to speak in the order listed. Members’ microphones will be muted by the broadcasters, except when I call a Member to speak. Interventions during speeches or “before the noble Lord sits down” are not permitted and uncalled speakers will not be heard. During debate on each group I will invite Members, including Members in the Chamber, to email the clerk if they wish to speak after the Minister. I will call Members to speak in order of request and call the Minister to reply each time.
The groupings are binding and it will not be possible to degroup an amendment for separate debate. A Member intending to press an amendment already debated to a Division should have given notice in the debate. Leave should be given to withdraw amendments. 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. We will now begin.
Committee (6th Day)
Relevant document: 13th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee
Clause 32: Identification and traceability of animals
Debate on Amendment 209 resumed.
My Lords, as I was about to say before our proceedings were cut short just before midnight on Tuesday evening, I speak in support of Amendment 267, to which I have added my name. I also say at the outset that shortly before the House adjourned on Tuesday, the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, made a compelling contribution in support of his Amendment 291, which makes a strong case for a United Kingdom framework for agriculture. I would readily support that.
In speaking to his Amendment 267, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, put the issue in context. He reminded us that Part 6, of which Clause 40 forms part, relates to the WTO Agreement on Agriculture. As he pointed out, as a matter of international law the United Kingdom Government are responsible for ensuring that UK policies are compliant with the agreement. Clause 40 makes provision for regulations to be made to secure compliance with the UK’s obligations under the WTO Agreement on Agriculture but, as the noble and learned Lord said, as the devolved Administrations see it,
“the starting point for any system of regulation to ensure WTO compliance by the UK as a whole must be that it is the responsibility of each of the devolved Administrations to devise its own system for the support of agriculture with whatever resources may be available”.—[Official Report, 21/7/20; col. 2195.]
What is of concern is that, specifically, regulations can by virtue of Clause 41 impose limits on the amount of domestic assistance available to each of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Those could be at a lower ceiling than exists under the current arrangements. Thus it is self-evident that this is crucial to the operation of the devolved competence of agriculture, yet there is nothing that requires consultation with the devolved Administrations, let alone consent.
Agriculture is prima facie a devolved matter. Although negotiations on the CAP were the responsibility of the UK Government, the devolved Administrations had direct input into the preparations of the UK negotiating position. It is the case that while implementation of the CAP was devolved, as is the management of direct payments to farmers, the allocation of agricultural budgets between the devolved Administrations has been reserved to the United Kingdom Government. However, that allocation invariably involved detailed consultation, even if not always agreement, as the disputes over the allocation of the EU convergence uplift illustrated.
This amendment proposes that there ought to be consultation before any such regulations are brought forward. I would recognise government Amendment 268, which removes the regulation power in respect of requisitioning information from devolved Governments. That is a welcome move and the Government should be given some credit for responding to representations on that matter. But it is because of this apparent overlap between devolved and reserved responsibilities that great sensitivity will be required.
In its recent report on the constitutional issues arising out of the Brexit legislation, the Constitution Committee of your Lordships’ House, of which I am privileged to be a member, said:
“We recommend that powers for UK Ministers to make delegated legislation in devolved areas, including the power to supersede law made by devolved legislatures, should include a requirement either to consult devolved ministers or to seek their consent, depending on the significance of the power in question.”
In its report on the present Bill, the Constitution Committee said in paragraph 22:
“We recommend that the power in clause 40 should require the Secretary of State to consult the relevant devolved administrations prior to regulations being made.”
In the Fisheries Bill, the Government accepted that the consent of the devolved Administrations was required before amending by regulation prohibitions on the licensing of fishing vessels. In moving Amendment 209 to this Bill and speaking to Amendments 261 and 262, the Minister also indicated that the Government were providing for devolved Administration consent in respect of other regulations proposed under the Bill. Again, in the Fisheries Bill, in making regulations under Clauses 38 and 40, there is a statutory requirement for consultation. This amendment seeks a parallel requirement.
Surely the case for consultation is equally compelling here. I have no doubt, because we have heard it all before, that the Minister will seek to reassure us that of course the Government will consult. If that is to be the case in practice, why not let them also give us the assurance of it being buttressed to make that the case in law?
My Lords, I put my name to Amendment 289, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, not only because agriculture remains Northern Ireland’s most important and largest industry, but because of some particular political issues that affect Northern Ireland. I recognise that the Minister has tabled some amendments in this group on the relationship with Ministers in the devolved Administrations and I welcome that. However, as my noble and learned friend Lord Wallace of Tankerness has just emphasised, it is important that Ministers in the devolved institutions are serious decision-makers in their own right and in their representation of the people of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and not just rule-takers from outside.
However, in the case of Northern Ireland, there are two other important issues that I believe this amendment facilitates by encouraging and, indeed, requiring the members of the Northern Ireland Executive to work together to develop bespoke legislation and an approach to agriculture that addresses the particular needs of Northern Ireland and the challenges and opportunities of the island nature of Ireland as a whole.
These agricultural issues are practical matters. I found in the negotiation of the peace process that when they could engage on practical issues, rather than those involving profound constitutional principle, it was often possible to reach a surprising degree of agreement between parties that were otherwise in deep disagreement. Recently, we have seen further evidence of this, as the Northern Ireland Executive have dealt quite well with the Covid-19 crisis in comparison with others. By inserting a sunset clause in this Bill, we would be giving a specific encouragement to Northern Ireland Ministers to engage in practical negotiations on the agricultural industry which, as I say, is not a partisan matter.
It was often noted that the late Lord Bannside, when he was Dr Ian Paisley MEP, was able to work closely with the predecessor of the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, as leader of the SDLP, John Hume, who was also a Member of the European Parliament. Their co-operation was especially notable on questions of agriculture and the common agricultural policy. Our sunset clause would, in my view, encourage just this sort of bipartisanship and cross-community co-operation on agriculture in Northern Ireland.
The second reason for ensuring that the Northern Ireland Executive take up the development of their own legislation is that, in my view, the next few years will see significant changes in the relationships between the north and south in Ireland. It is clear from the protocol with the EU that Northern Ireland will have a special relationship with the rest of the island, which remains within the EU—something quite different from the rest of the UK. Indeed, it will be the only part of the UK with a land border with the EU and, with particular reference to this Bill, it uniquely has farms that straddle the border. In some cases, part of a farm will be inside the EU and part outside it.
It seems to me inconceivable that by 2026, the date in this clause, it will not have become necessary to develop new ways of addressing these issues that will be quite different from the ways that other parts of the United Kingdom—whether devolved or not—relate with the EU. By then, we will be almost 30 years on from the end of the Troubles that so deepened division on the island. A sunset clause will give the Northern Ireland Ministers the encouragement and freedom to address this complex and developing network of relationships. For these two reasons, I strongly support the insertion of this new clause after Clause 45 in the Bill.
My Lords, I associate myself with the amendments in the names of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, and the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, and also with the remarks of the noble and learned Lords, Lord Hope and Lord Wallace. I am proud of the fact that I am a non-practising advocate, so I maintain an interest in matters north of the border.
As I entirely endorse the comments that the noble and learned Lords have made, I want to ask my noble friend a specific question with regard to the consultation that is asked for under these amendments. With regard to Amendment 291, I associate myself with the request from the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, for a UK framework for agriculture. What form will the consultation on these regulations take? Presumably, the regulations must be relatively far advanced, so when would my noble friend expect the consultation to commence? In reply, can he take the opportunity to inform us what developments there have been on the common frameworks? I understand that, originally, there were to be 24; we now hear word that there will be only three. They are absolutely key to this part of the Bill and to ensuring good faith—I know my noble friend likes to use the phrase “bona fides”—between the four parts of the United Kingdom. With those few words, I support the amendments in this group.
My Lords, I am disappointed, like the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, that Amendments 290 and 291 have been regrouped with others in this group. I was looking forward to a full delineation by the Minister of the way forward envisaged by the Government in creating some body in which the four nations could thrash out the common framework of a single market for the United Kingdom. As I have said earlier in Committee, the agricultural systems of the four nations are bound to diverge, not just because the devolved Administrations are governed by different political parties that may have different aims, policies and ideas, but because of the very diverse nature of their landscapes and communities.
Looking at it broadly, there are two main issues: how funding will be distributed between the four nations, and to what degree divergence is compatible with the single market. My concern is that Wales does not lose its current share of UK funding of 16%. Indeed, it should have a greater share. Mr Michael Gove, addressing the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee of the Scottish Parliament on 27 June 2018, said that
“it is in the nature of the landscape and the environment in Scotland—and also in other parts of the United Kingdom—that the preponderance of less-favoured areas and the nature of upland farming impose particular challenges that require a specific level of support … we need to look in the future at how we allocate funding across the United Kingdom in order to reflect that … My aim … is to ensure that, in the future, we allocate funding in a way that is sensitive to the specific needs of each part of the United Kingdom.”
The United Kingdom Government have guaranteed continued funding of Pillar 1 of the CAP until 2022 and, as we discussed the other day, the continuation of rural development programmes under Pillar 2 of the CAP until contracts come to an end, at the latest in 2023. But what happens then? Farming is not an industry in which capital can be quickly switched from one sector to another. It requires long-term planning, which can be achieved only by clarity on future funding. As for divergence, there should be agreed common standards for animal health, traceability, animal welfare, breeding and trading in animals, fertilisers and the like. What divergence of support in specific areas would be compatible with a single UK market?
There is no issue that there must be some forum—a forum for consent, as my noble and learned friend Lord Wallace argued a moment ago—in which these questions can be resolved. It would be quite unacceptable and in breach of the principles of devolution for decisions to be made by some Whitehall diktat. Indeed, the Joint Ministerial Committee (EU Negotiations) already agreed in October 2017 that common frameworks will be established, to
“enable the functioning of the UK internal market … ensure compliance with international obligations … enable the management of common resources”,
“administer and provide access to justice in cases with a cross-border element”.
It also agreed to
“safeguard the security of the UK”—
in this context, I take it that means food security. However, nothing in the framework of the Bill requires or creates any mechanism, whether by secondary legislation or otherwise, for such a body.
Two alternative approaches are set out in Amendments 290 and 291. Each has its advantages but there really is a hole in the Bill, as I said at Second Reading, which the Government ought to fill themselves. It is no longer satisfactory to be told that civil servants are working away at this—I hope we do not hear that today. We need a commitment to the creation of a forum for negotiation and co-operation, as my noble friend Lord Alderdice said, and it needs to be written into the Bill.
I welcome government Amendments 209 and 262, to Clauses 32 and 37, in particular. Agriculture is self-evidently one of the prime examples of where we must get right the legislation and other arrangements for the interrelationship of the powers of the devolved Governments of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and the powers of the Westminster Government, first, in respect of England and, secondly, in respect of the United Kingdom as a whole—I think we frequently fail to make that distinction of the two distinct hats that the Westminster Government wear and it is important to bear them in mind. As a firm supporter of the union, I consider it vital for the strengthening of the union and the removal of the risks to it that we consider these issues most carefully. In this Bill, as agriculture is plainly one of the areas where serious tensions can arise, whether it be in relation to food standards or the extent of subsidies, it is vital that we do so.
It is of course a great pity that we come to this so late in our planning for Brexit, as this has been an obvious area for debate and for reaching decisions long before now. The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, the noble and learned Lords, Lord Hope of Craighead and Lord Wallace of Tankerness, and the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, have already spoken powerfully on issues relating to the devolved Governments. The noble Lords, Lord Hain and Lord Thomas of Gresford, have compellingly explained the need for long-term and fair financial arrangements.
I wish briefly to make three points. The first is the importance of respecting devolved competence in legislation. I welcome the amendments put forward by the Minister, who understands the importance and sensitivity of devolution. It is reassuring to hear him make it clear that the Government remain wholly committed to seeking legislative consent for all the provisions that engage the scope of the convention in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. I just wanted to be sure of the correctness of my understanding of why the devolved Governments requested the amendments and the reasons why Her Majesty’s Government have brought them forward.
Am I correct in understanding that the Bill as introduced did not properly recognise the important principle that legislation by the UK Government to apply in the devolved nations but within the devolved competence should be made only with the consent of the devolved Governments or their legislatures? It is regrettable that, at the time of the decision made on the EU withdrawal agreement, legislative consent was not obtained. That is water under the bridge, but it was made clear then that that was a truly exceptional occasion. In view of the confirmation given by the Minister in introducing the government amendments, I hope that he can confirm the Government’s commitment that they will not in future present legislation to the House that does not respect the principle of requiring the consent of devolved institutions for any UK legislation that could be made by legislation within the devolved Parliaments. It is important to the way in which devolution is to operate and the strength of the union that there be such a commitment.
My second point—and I can be brief about this—is about moving forward on the frameworks. It is clearly highly desirable that there be agreement between the different Governments on matters on which there can be a common approach and an agreement of where there can be differences or divergence of the kind of which the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, spoke. As I understand it, that is the objective of these frameworks. I therefore welcome the statements made on a number of occasions by the Minister that good progress is being made. The matters to be covered will be extensive and it is important to bear in mind that this is not, as I understand it, a consultation exercise by the UK Government but an attempt to reach agreement. I therefore look forward to their publication and hope that the Minister can update us as to when this is to happen.
There is one other reason why publication is important and that is the dispute resolution mechanism that must be inserted into a framework agreement. It is inevitable that there will be disagreements—I hope that they will be small—but the difference between a framework and a consultation, ultimately, is that if there is a framework, there must be a means of resolving differences, whereas, in a consultation, the decision is ultimately made by the person who consults.
Thirdly and finally, there is the need for a coherent constitutional approach. I warmly support the principles behind Amendment 290, in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, and Amendment 291, in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Wigley, Lord Bruce of Bennachie and Lord Thomas of Gresford. An alternative is now being canvassed, which is the provisional views put forward in the paper on the internal market. It will obviously be necessary to turn back to this in the long period between September and Christmas. However, it is important now to point out that the imposition of a policy ultimately determined to be in the interests of by far the biggest and most powerful of the four nations is not the way to ensure the preservation of the union. This constitutional issue will have to be a matter for debate and it will have to be debated in the context of agriculture, as it is so important in that area. I therefore look forward to the development of proposals over the summer, because this urgent matter cannot wait longer. If the union is to be strengthened and preserved, positive steps on this are far more likely to achieve that preservation than other action being taken.
My Lords. I will comment briefly on government Amendments 209, 261, 262 and 268, which I welcome. These amendments cover the areas of outstanding concern to the Welsh Government. They acknowledge their devolved competence and were included at their request.
Amendment 209 deals with an issue that I raised at Second Reading: how the new body created to oversee the identification and traceability of animals would operate in an area of devolved responsibility, particularly if that body was seen to be an English board. That the new body would need to seek the approval of Welsh and other devolved Ministers or institutions is now certainly welcomed.
Amendments 261 and 262 ensure that the consent of the Ministers of the devolved Administrations must be obtained before making cross-border regulations in relation to organic products. I am pleased that the responsibility of the devolved Administrations has again been recognised.
Amendment 268 covers an issue that, again, I raised at Second Reading. By the removal of the powers of the Secretary of State to make regulations in the area of the WTO’s Agreement on Agriculture, this amendment ensures that the rights and responsibilities for implementing international agreements remain with the devolved Administrations.
I welcome all these amendments, as they conclude the process by which the Welsh Government have asserted their competence in these areas. However, I express some disappointment in the fact that there was a need for this process at all. Earlier in this debate, the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, in her powerful and comprehensive speech on these amendments, described the Government as seeking, in effect,
“to strong-arm the devolved Governments into giving up elements of their executive competence”.—[Official Report, 21/7/20; cols. 2193-94.]
I agree with her sentiments and am pleased that that has been avoided by the Government tabling these amendments, and that the competence of the devolved Governments will now be reflected in the Bill.
My Lords, in this group of amendments I will speak to Amendment 209. I refer to the contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, during our debate on Tuesday.
In this debate so far, I have been impressed by the frequent references that the Minister has made to the need to view the Bill in relation to the devolved nations. On Tuesday, the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, spoke powerfully on the importance of that relationship from a Welsh point of view and this afternoon the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, has reminded us of the connection with the problems in Northern Ireland.
So far as that relationship is concerned, the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, reminded the House of the difficulties presented by the period during which the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive did not function. Amendment 209 is influenced by the problems of that period but now, thankfully, the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive are operating fully. However, the importance of the relationship between central government and the devolved Administrations in areas such as agriculture cannot be overemphasised in this debate. This amendment is an attempt to build on that sensitivity so far as one devolved nation is concerned, but it has implications for the others so far as the whole Bill is concerned and cannot be isolated to one devolved nation alone.
As the United Kingdom prepares to leave the EU, none of us can have a complete picture of the problems which will emerge for the farming community throughout the UK. Amendment 209 recognises this reality. For Northern Ireland farmers, the uncertainties of their geographical situation are well documented, with a land border about to become the border between the United Kingdom and the EU. As the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, reminded the House, this is vital to farming communities in Northern Ireland. In addition, there continues to be confusion around the issue of what is normally referred to as a border in the Irish Sea. The implications of that confusion for transporting agricultural produce within the United Kingdom cannot be overstated for Northern Ireland farmers—hence their concerns about the future.
I support Amendment 209, for I am well aware of the importance to the Northern Ireland economy of our farming community, but I am equally aware of the contribution of the devolved settlement to the strength of the United Kingdom as a whole. That is why I welcome the Minister’s references to the importance of the relationship between central government and the devolved Administrations, so far as agriculture is concerned. It is surely essential that these reflections are clearly stated in the Bill.
My Lords, I want to speak on a number of these amendments but will make a small technical point at the beginning. Amendment 209 and others in this group refer to Scottish Ministers, Welsh Ministers and a Northern Ireland department. A number of colleagues have asked why this is the case—in fact the noble Lord, Lord Kilclooney, challenged it during one exchange some weeks go. But the Government’s amendment is in fact correct because power in Northern Ireland is not vested in the Minister; it is vested in the department. This goes back to some kind of anomaly in 1921. I have never understood or heard an explanation as to why that is the case, but it is. Amendment 209 is correct but some amendments in this group do not quite follow the same pattern. I think that would need to be addressed. The role of a Minister is to direct and control a department in Northern Ireland so that power is vested in the department, not in the Minister.
With regard to the amendments, my first question to the Minister is: what happens if Whitehall fails to get the agreement of one or other of these devolved institutions? What impact would that have and how would it be addressed in practice?
Members who have spoken so far today and on Tuesday evening have raised the valid question of whether we have a framework for a UK market, but what is not fully appreciated is that Northern Ireland is effectively in the European Union from the point of view of agriculture, and no man can serve two masters. We can have all the frameworks we like, but at the end of the day, the devolved Administration in Belfast may not be able to sign up to them for the simple reason that they are bound under the Northern Ireland protocol to follow EU regulations.
My point to my noble friends on the Front Bench—not getting at them politically—is that there is a huge political issue here. Her Majesty’s Government—and even in the last fortnight, members of the Cabinet—are even denying that there is a border in the Irish Sea. There is and it is there in the protocol. It was in the explanatory note on 2 October 2019 and reinforced in the agreement of 17 October 2019—it is there. You can waffle on or tear things up and throw them in the bin or do whatever you like, but the border is there.
Why else would you have to notify the authorities? If you are Mr Tesco and you send a tin of baked beans to Belfast, you have to notify the authorities that you are sending those beans and tell them what is in them and they may be subject to inspection. That applies to all manufactures and not just to agriculture. Let us at least acknowledge the reality. I support the principle that we should ask for the consent of the devolved Administrations, but from the point of view of the Bill, we are saying to them: “Let us develop a framework”, but one of those component parts is not capable of doing so, because it is bound by international treaty to follow the regulations of the European Union.
We can say whatever we like, but I would like the Minister, on behalf of the Government, to acknowledge the reality that there is a border in the Irish Sea. Our own European Union Committee spelled out in its recent reports exactly the facts of the case. Let us have some clarity and honesty as to where we are. As the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, said, agriculture is our largest industry; it supports many thousands of jobs; and we have some unique problems. Of course, we now have cross-border problems throughout the United Kingdom. I have no doubt there are farms in Wales and Scotland that cross into England. It is not simply a Northern Ireland-only issue, but I appeal to my noble friends on the Front Bench to at least acknowledge this reality.
My final point is that not only is that the case, but every four years the Assembly could be asked whether it accepts and is prepared to continue with these arrangements, with us being left in the European Union regulations. When the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hain, looked for multi-year financial deals, how do you even contemplate that when you have these levels of uncertainty? It is very difficult, and I sincerely hope my noble friend will be able to clarify the matter absolutely so that everybody in Belfast will know where they are.
My Lords, I follow the noble Lord, Lord Empey, and somewhat to my surprise very much agree with his call for honesty, a reality-based politics about the situation of the border down the middle of the Irish Sea and the need to acknowledge and deal with it. However, I disagree that that means there is any sort of argument against Amendment 290 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, or Amendment 291 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Wigley.
Whether it is a co-ordination council or a framework, the particular situation of Northern Ireland and the differences that will happen under each of the devolved Administrations in all our nations demand some kind of co-ordination. I can imagine that the Minister may get up and say, as we hear so often, “Wait for the regulations, we will sort this out later”. Let us focus on the fact that the other place has already gone off on its summer break. Time is moving on and it is surely essential to have a mechanism for co-ordination in the Bill.
I also support Amendment 283 in this group in the name of my noble friend Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. She has done a sterling job throughout this Bill, as I am sure your Lordships’ House has noticed, in ensuring that animal welfare issues remain front and centre of all aspects of the Bill, as they must.
At the special request of the Green Party of Northern Ireland, I have risen chiefly to speak to Amendment 289 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick—in shorthand, the sunset clause for Northern Ireland. Particular circumstances here demand action from the Government to incorporate this into the Bill. Due to the absence of a sitting Assembly from January 2017 to January 2020, there was very little consultation in Northern Ireland on this Bill. The scrutiny that did take place was over one day. The Committee on Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs heard evidence from stakeholders, looking also at the Environment Bill and the Fisheries Bill. Due to the complexity, the committee was unable to explore fully the situation of this Bill, but it indicated in its report that it would endorse a sunset clause similar to that provided by Wales—the provision in Amendment 289.
The committee then recommended a timeframe ending at 2024, but I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, is right: given the practicalities of Covid-19 and the electoral cycle, 2026 is the right timing for this. Without this amendment, Northern Ireland will be stuck with a basic payment system without any end in sight, with all the complexities and complications that the noble Lord, Lord Empey, has just outlined. Northern Ireland needs the opportunity to develop its own agricultural legislation, specific to its context. Here we are talking about geography, climate, soils and the political framework.
I hope that the Government will agree to the amendment. Looking to the future, I do not think that I can do better than to quote the remarkably elegant words of the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, when he said very late on Tuesday evening that we need a system that works for all the nations and respects the rights and wishes of all the nations,
“based on transparent and equitable mechanisms and underpinned by mutual respect”.—[Official Report, 21/7/20; col. 2200.]
My Lords, devolution is the subject of this group of important amendments. The Minister set out the Government’s case on the functions for the devolved Administrations. The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, spoke about the importance of transparency on the consultation and ensuring the agreement of the devolved Administrations. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, also spoke very knowledgeably about the need for consultation on Clause 40 with the devolved Administrations on the WTO Agreement on Agriculture. My noble friend Lady Humphreys spoke on the effects on the Welsh and the inclusion of Amendments 209, 261 and 262, which the Welsh Administration had requested. My noble and learned friend Lord Wallace of Tankerness gave the Scottish perspective from his considerable experience and knowledge.
The devolved Administrations had direct input into the CAP discussions with the EU. The UK Government are now taking this power to themselves as a reserved matter. The noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, spoke to the insertion of a sunset clause for Northern Ireland, which was moved very eloquently by the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick. The noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, believes that agriculture is a practical issue, not a partisan one. The devolved Administration in Northern Ireland should take up their own legislation on agriculture, and the sunset clause will assist this. Other noble Lords have spoken to this amendment along similar lines. I fully support the sunset clause, which brings Northern Ireland into line with the rest of the UK.
The noble Lord, Lord Wigley, spoke to his Amendment 290 very late on Tuesday; it would ensure that the Secretary of State creates a formal agriculture co-ordination council, which would be responsible for monitoring disputes on agriculture and food standards across the different areas of the UK. Other noble Lords have expressed support for this amendment. It is extremely important that this should be done while keeping in mind the relevant common frameworks that already exist. Can the Minister say just how many frameworks there will be? Will there be only three, as the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, has indicated?
I fully support this group of important amendments. The noble Lord, Lord Empey, made a very powerful comment on the implications of the border in the Irish Sea and asked the Minister to acknowledge that. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
Finally, at the start of this group of 11 amendments on Tuesday evening, there were 24 speakers but, due to the lateness of the hour, seven Peers scratched their names from the list. Today, we are debating 41 different amendments in 10 groups, with the possibility of speeches from 137 noble Lords. We are rapidly approaching the point where everything that can be said about the Bill has been said, but not everyone has yet said it—although some have said it more than once. We must get to our target today; we do our reputation no good at all by dragging things out.
My Lords, this is an interesting group of amendments that raises a variety of issues in relation to how future agricultural policy will work in the light of the devolution settlements. It has been a pleasure to hear so many noble—and noble and learned—Lords contribute so widely and wisely to the debate.
I speak primarily to Amendment 290, in the name of my noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch. This is an evolution of an amendment tabled in the Commons and there are clear links with Amendment 291 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Wigley. I agree with the comments made by my noble friend Lord Hain earlier in the debate. We have diverse systems in our four nations’ agricultural businesses that have been developed to match local needs. Wales may be different agriculturally, but the need to agree multiannual funding is indeed a key concern for us all. The Bill is a perfect chance for developing a shared opportunity for resilience in the sector across the UK.
So many noble Lords have spoken in this debate about the uniqueness of the agriculture industry and the way in which nature can impede the best-laid plans of the farmer, who has to deal with so many changing circumstances. Indeed, it is not without regret that I note that this would have been the week of my regular attendance at the Royal Welsh Show at Llanelwedd, where the best of the industry is evident. I therefore stress, again, that multiannual funding would go a great way to help to support farmers with uncertainties.
While there have been positive discussions between Her Majesty’s Government and the Welsh Government on the Bill, as highlighted by the government amendments in this group, there remain tensions with the Scottish Government, who may propose to the Scottish Parliament that legislative consent is withheld. On this point, there are general concerns over the level of specific engagement with the devolved Administrations in our post-Brexit realities. Indeed, this is highlighted by the recent publication of the UK Internal Market White Paper, which had worryingly little input from Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
An agricultural co-ordination council, as proposed in this amendment by my noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch, would allow Her Majesty’s Government and the devolved Administrations to discuss common concerns, map disparities in policy between different parts of the UK and keep common frameworks under review. Such a body would be similar to the joint ministerial committees, a format that still technically exists but whose various incarnations seem to have met very infrequently in recent years, especially during this time of national pandemic.
On Amendment 291, the European Union (Withdrawal) Act included reporting mechanisms for the establishment of common frameworks on all areas where repatriated powers would be ultimately exercised by the devolved Administrations. The transition period ends in December and not all frameworks are in place. To that end, I have several questions for the Minister. Where do we stand on common frameworks relating to agriculture? If frameworks are not agreed, does the Minister believe they will be in place by the time this Bill is on the statute book? Does he agree that there would be merit in a formal structure for discussions, rather than them taking place on an ad hoc basis? Amendment 290 includes the option of certain parts of the UK taking part in a co-ordination council even if others do not. Does the Minister see this as a workable approach? We need serious reassurances that these issues are in hand. Otherwise, we are likely to return to this issue on Report.
Finally, we are grateful to your Lordships’ Constitution Committee for its consideration of these complex matters in its most recent report.
My Lords, what an interesting debate we have had. I am most grateful to all noble Lords who have contributed.
On Amendment 263A, Defra Ministers meet on an almost monthly basis with counterparts from the devolved Administrations as part of the inter-ministerial group for EFRA. Any potential changes to food standards would be discussed here first. I am also pleased with the progress officials have made in developing the food information to consumers, fish labelling and food compositional standards common UK framework. The framework will focus on consensus-based decision-making but will also include dispute prevention and resolution mechanisms.
On Amendment 267, the powers in Part 6 allow for regulations to be made to ensure compliance with the United Kingdom’s obligations under the WTO agreement on agriculture. The regulations therefore set out procedures and arrangements to ensure that the UK as a whole complies with existing obligations under an international treaty. We have a bilateral agreement with the Welsh Government on the making and operation of regulations under Part 6 of the Bill. We have offered to extend this agreement to the Scottish Government and DAERA Ministers in Northern Ireland.
In addition, my honourable friend the Minister for Farming, Victoria Prentis, committed in the other place to consult with the devolved Administrations on the making of regulations under Part 6. I say in particular to my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering that draft regulations have already been shared with devolved Administrations and strong and productive discussions are continuing. Defra officials have been working closely with them; this is another important and positive point.
On Amendment 284, the powers taken by Welsh Ministers through the Bill are intended as a temporary measure while the Welsh Government continue to develop their own legislation. Financial assistance under Clause 1 may be given by the Secretary of State only in relation to England. Welsh Ministers are not taking similar powers in this Bill to operate or introduce new financial assistance schemes. It is the Welsh Government’s intention that these powers will be provided for by a future Senedd Bill.
On Amendment 283, Schedule 5 contains powers requested by the Welsh Government to simplify the existing schemes and improve them for farmers, not to change or reduce standards. The underlying animal welfare standards to which all farmers must adhere are not found in this domestic payments scheme legislation; rather, they are found in underlying domestic and retained EU legislation. Therefore, these underlying protections will continue for all.
I found Amendment 289 an interesting element of our discussions. The Northern Ireland Assembly debated and agreed the legislative consent Motion on 31 March 2020. The DAERA Minister made it clear to the Northern Ireland Assembly in that debate that he did not support a sunset clause at this stage with respect to Northern Ireland provisions in the UK Agriculture Bill. It is the Government’s very strong view—I must say, we have been reminded by all noble Lords who contributed of the importance of this—that we must respect the devolution settlement. I find it difficult to construe how the Government could accept the amendment proposed and respect the desire and wish of the DAERA Minister and, by that token, the Assembly. Therefore, we do not believe that Parliament should seek to override the constitutional view already agreed by the Assembly on 31 March 2020. If we are to be consistent in our respect for the devolution settlement, it is difficult to believe that your Lordships or the Government should seek to impose something on a devolved Administration when they have given their legislative consent Motion to legislation. To be very clear, my noble friend and I are honest brokers for both the Welsh Government and the Northern Ireland Assembly in the schedules before us.
On Amendments 290 and 291, the UK Government have created IMG EFRA, as I have said, and a series of specialist official-level working groups to deliver effective joint working with the devolved Administrations. This has proven a highly successful governance mechanism. The UK Government have collaborated closely with each devolved Administration on a UK-wide framework for agricultural support based on the Joint Ministerial Committee on EU Negotiations principles agreed in 2017. The framework is planned to cover policy areas such as agricultural support spending, crisis measures, public intervention and private storage aid, marketing standards, cross-border farms and data collection and sharing. I think the point about cross-border farms was raised in particular.
Good progress is being made on the framework. The UK Government shared their first draft with officials from the devolved Administrations this February. Since then, there have been continuing discussions with officials in the devolved Administrations on a common framework for agricultural support. In our view, placing additional statutory requirements in this area risks disrupting an ongoing process of what has been described as excellent collaborative working, which is working extremely well. It would also create inconsistency with wider framework discussions.
I think the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, first used the word “sensitivity”. We are all of a view that we must deal with these matters with sensitivity. When I meet fellow Ministers from all parts of the United Kingdom, I see this as an endeavour of equal partnership. We believe that it is inappropriate for the UK Government to seek to legislate on frameworks, certainly without prior discussion and consideration with the devolved Administrations.
I also say to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd—and I repeat this from my opening remarks on Tuesday—that we remain wholly committed to seeking legislative consent for all provisions that engage the convention in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. That is why I was pleased to make those amendments.
The noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox of Newport, and other noble Lords raised the budgets for the devolved Administrations. Intra-UK funding is being discussed as part of current Treasury settlement discussions with Defra. Her Majesty’s Treasury will discuss this directly with the devolved Administrations. I absolutely understand the importance of certainty on funding for all parts of the United Kingdom and, from the visits I have had, am well aware of the importance of farming to all parts of the United Kingdom, and its importance in terms of UK internal markets.
To answer my noble friend Lord Empey on the Northern Ireland border, the Government are working very closely with the Northern Ireland Executive to ensure unfettered market access between Northern Ireland and Great Britain while meeting our obligations under the Northern Ireland protocol. I also say this to my noble friend, because of my biosecurity interest: as an epidemiological unit in itself, the island of Ireland has some advantages. Also, we already have requirements, as does Northern Ireland, as part of that unit. Obviously, we want to make sure that the biosecurity arrangements for the island of Ireland are as strong as they can be, but our working with Northern Ireland will be absolutely imperative for the frameworks. The success of that is where I believe we will find a satisfactory resolution for all parts of the United Kingdom. I say that as a unionist.
The UK Government believe in close collaboration in the coming months to agree and implement administrative frameworks to set out future working and co-ordination on agriculture. The noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox of Newport, asked when that will happen; the answer is, by the end of the transition period. We think that close collaboration is, to pick up on a word used earlier, the respectful way to work. I am conscious that the relationship between all four parts of the United Kingdom needs to be strong and positive. If it is not, it makes things much more difficult.
I want to bring forward the fact that the relationship that all of us as Ministers in Defra have with our colleagues in the devolved Administrations is strong and positive. There is a common endeavour to ensure that we have vibrant agriculture and strong food production, and that we make a success of it all and make a success of the United Kingdom.
My Lords, I have received three requests to speak after the Minister from the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes of Cumnock, and the noble and learned Lords, Lord Wallace of Tankerness and Lord Hope of Craighead.
My Lords, the Minister mentioned his meetings with his counterparts in the devolved Administrations. Do he or any of his colleagues have any such meetings planned between now and Report to discuss and get their views on these amendments, and others, before we come to discuss them on Report? If not, would he consider arranging some meetings? It would be very helpful for the House to get the results of these sorts of discussions.
My Lords, the noble Lord makes a fair point. I am not the Minister having these discussions, but I will make sure that the noble Lord’s point is put to my ministerial colleagues. Again, consideration and discussion of all these matters is the healthy way forward. I will certainly ensure that a record of Hansard is passed on to my ministerial colleagues. It is a good point.
My Lords, in his response to the debate, the Minister indicated that, in another place, Victoria Prentis had committed to consulting on regulations arising from Clauses 40 and 41. If that is the Government’s position, what cogent reason is there for not including this amendment in the Bill?
My Lords, I wanted to make exactly the same point as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness. I listened very carefully to what the Minister had to say. I am afraid that I did not understand why a requirement for consultation should not be in the Bill. I would be grateful if the Minister could take this matter away and reconsider it so that we can possibly come back to it on Report.
Amendment 209 agreed.
Amendment 210 not moved.
Clause 32, as amended, agreed.
Clause 33: Red meat levy: payments between levy bodies in Great Britain
211: Clause 33, page 30, line 32, leave out subsection (1) and insert—
“(1) The red meat levy is to be known as the animal slaughter levy.(1A) A scheme under this section (“the scheme”)—(a) may make provision for amounts of animal slaughter levy collected by the levy body for one country in Great Britain to be paid to the levy body for another such country, or(b) may amend, suspend or revoke an earlier scheme made under this section, and (c) must by regulations make provision so that the levy is applied to all meats and carcasses from animals slaughtered in the United Kingdom.(1B) For the purposes of subsection (1A)(c), regulations are subject to the affirmative resolution procedure.”
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 211 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment 212.
My Lords, here we are, back again with renewed energy and enthusiasm.
My Amendments 211 and 213 to 216 seek to improve Clause 33. I can also see the power and value in Amendment 212 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hain. My amendments would require an animal slaughter levy to be established for all animals slaughtered in the United Kingdom. The funds raised from that levy would then be used to support farms to transition from livestock to plant-based food production.
As many Peers have said, meat consumption in the British diet is, on average, far too high. It is too much meat for our health. If all other countries in the developing world aspired to eat as much meat as we do, we would need dozens more planets to accommodate that meat production. As we have only one planet, reducing meat production and promoting plant-based foods are major steps in creating a fair and sustainable world.
Tucked into Amendment 211 is a requirement that the animal slaughter levy actually be set up, since the current drafting of Clause 33 grants the power to establish a red meat levy but places no duty on the Government to implement it. It is worth noting that creating a red meat levy is a big step for the Government; it is the kind of thing that, until very recently, we Greens have been mocked for even suggesting. Can the Minister be bolder than just red meat and go the whole hog to make this a full animal slaughter levy? I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her comments, specifically those on Amendment 212, standing in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Wigley, which seeks to
“provide for repatriation of the levy collected in the United Kingdom supply chain to the devolved administration of origin.”
The agricultural processing sector in Wales, from whence I am speaking, is relatively small in comparison to the agricultural output of Welsh farms. The red meat sector is the predominant agricultural activity in Wales, and the processing facilities servicing this sector are strategically placed throughout the UK to maximise accessibility in a system that is heavily reliant on roads and HGV transportation for the movement of livestock.
With levy funding allocated according to place of cull rather than an animal’s point of origin, the centralised processing system disadvantages farmers in Wales. Furthermore, key products such as Welsh lamb and beef, which benefit from the protected geographical indication status—PGI—and derive a greater market share due to this status, are culled in other areas of the UK. It is these locations, not Wales, that receive the levy funds. This imbalance, driven by the streamlining and consolidation of the red meat processing and supply chain sector, is causing additional stress on a red meat sector already under significant financial strain in Wales. Levy Boards, with their increasingly important role in promoting the food products of Wales and working with the agricultural sector to improve efficiency and profitability through knowledge and best practice, should receive an equitable share of levy funds that allow them to work effectively in their respective areas of the UK.
As the UK seeks to negotiate new trade deals with other nations, it is the successful marketing and promotion of our flagship products in Wales, such as Welsh lamb, 92% of which is currently exported to the European Union, that could deliver transformational change for farmers there. It would be unfortunate if these opportunities could not be delivered due to a poorly structured levy funding mechanism.
The issue of fair levy funding dispersal is also an important consideration when looking at the delivery of sustainable food production in the UK, a point referred to in passing by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones. A proportionately funded levy body could look beyond helping farmers and the supply chain with economic performance towards a focus on environmental and social considerations, especially sustainability.
Looking further ahead, we would all like to see a food supply chain based around local production, processing and consumption; that would provide potential benefits not only for the farmer but for the climate change mitigation agenda, which is so crucial. That is the long-term goal. In the meantime, having resources allocated fairly to the levy bodies will enable them better to support our agricultural producers as they move towards economic and environmental sustainability. I hope the Minister will accept this amendment and indicate that when he comes to reply.
My Lords, I am happy to support the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, and I agree with her comments. I also agree particularly with the noble Lord, Lord Hain, about the sectoral challenges in Wales and the importance of the facilities being available and of directing, as far as possible, resources towards sustaining them.
Slaughter being located close to the point of production is important from the environmental point of view and indeed to sustaining employment in rural areas. This has been challenged in recent years by a number of economic factors which have tended to favour moves towards centralisation. The question of the resources available from the levy has been a burning issue in Wales. I am convinced that Ministers are aware of that; indeed, the Government have acknowledged it. It is therefore important that a guarantee be put into the Bill regarding the availability of such a levy to Wales, as well as to other locations where beef slaughter takes place. For these reasons, I strongly support the amendment.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Wigley. I shall speak only briefly on this group of amendments in order to probe my noble friend the Minister on when we will have the Government’s response to the recent consultation on the activities of the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board. There was overwhelming support for keeping the existing levy, and I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, that I do not think that farmers would welcome another levy in addition to the existing one. Support for the levy is fairly overwhelming at 66%, but it is important that we review the purposes for which it is used.
I want to place on the record the difficulties that abattoirs and auction marts are experiencing at this time because of Covid-19. I hope that we appreciate those difficulties and sympathise with farmers who, as sellers, are still not allowed to enter the auction mart because, as I understand it, the restrictions are still in place. Only the buyers are allowed to do so and if I was a livestock owner, I would find not being there very worrying. I would be interested to see the Government’s response to the consultation. I do not think that I have missed it—the website sets out only the responses that were submitted to the consultation.
Looking ahead to when we discuss other amendments to the Bill, I hope that part of the levy will be used for marketing and for export. I am sorry to raise my Danish connections again, but I have been hugely impressed by how the Danes use their levy, which is raised from livestock and other producers and then quite substantially matched by funding from the Government, to run marketing centres. I think that we are learning from that because we opened a marketing centre in Beijing and saw an immediate incremental rise in our exports of those parts of the pig that we do not like to eat. With those few words, I shall wait to hear my noble friend’s response.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, given her historic links to Yorkshire. It is not surprising that she has advocated a kind of danegeld in terms of this levy.
I am intervening in this debate because my name was not on the speakers’ list for the debate that took place earlier in Committee in which my noble friend Lady Mallalieu drew attention to the plight of small and niche abattoirs, many of which have gone out of business. This issue was flagged in the long-standing Radio 4 series “The Archers” when people engaged in a dialogue on it. I had been thinking mischievously of moving an amendment to try to get dialogue back into “The Archers” via this Bill. However, I take note of the stricture of the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, that many people have spoken at great length in these debates and so we are moving slowly through the Committee stage. For example, I spoke in the Chamber on 7 July and again at 11.05 pm on Tuesday night.
The point is that we need to coalesce the debates that have taken place. On Tuesday, I said that I have learned a great deal by following the debates and listening to those who have a great deal more knowledge than I do. My early time in politics was mainly informed by listening to my predecessor in the Sheffield Brightside constituency. His home and roots were in north Yorkshire, and his campaign to protect the rights of tenure of farm workers was successful. I come at this as a novice, but I believe that unless we get some clarity, both today and on Tuesday, on how we are going to take the Bill forward on Report, it is unlikely to see the light of day for a very long time.
I say to the mover of the amendment, the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, that I hope that in debating this levy, we take into account an earlier debate in Committee that revealed, to my surprise, the very small amount of land in the UK that can be described as being of grade one quality. Be careful what you do when allocating a levy, given the impact it could have on the different nations and geographic regions of the UK, as well as avoiding proselytising for vegetarianism.
My Lords, I am pleased to follow the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, and I can assure him that my wife would be delighted if there were some means of restoring dialogue to “The Archers”. I want to speak briefly in support of Amendment 212, tabled in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Hain and Lord Wigley. Clause 33 is a welcome step forward in making provision for a scheme which will address the long-running issue of a levy on livestock produced in one part of the UK but slaughtered in another being retained in that other part of the UK. This has long appeared to me to be unfair and has been the source of some contention, so the Government are to be commended for their initiative in this clause.
I support the amendment because it puts further flesh on the scheme to be devised by providing for the levy to be repatriated to the devolved Administration of origin, thus making it clearer what a key objective of that scheme should be. Quality Meat Scotland estimates that over £1.5 million of levy on Scottish animals is lost each year due to the fact that some cattle, sheep and pigs produced in Scotland are slaughtered elsewhere in the UK. I rather suspect that little goes in the opposite direction. If such a sum were repatriated, it could be applied to the promotion of quality Scottish beef, lamb and pig products. I therefore support the amendment and I hope that it commends itself to the Minister.
I strongly oppose Amendments 211, 213, 214, 215 and 216 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. These amendments seek to rename the red meat levy “the animal slaughter levy”, which seems to me completely unnecessary. Worse, she proposes that the money raised by the levy should go towards assisting farmers to transition from livestock farming to plant-based farming. As long as there is demand for meat in this country, her amendment would simply result in an increase in meat imports from overseas.
Does the Minister agree that these amendments have no place in this Bill and represent a misguided attempt to use taxpayers’ money to interfere with citizens’ freedom to eat meat if they want to? As well as creating the impression that eating meat is somehow bad or less good than eating vegetables, they cast aspersions on our excellent livestock farms and our meat-production industry. Besides, has the noble Baroness not seen the recent research that shows that vegetarians need to eat much greater quantities of food than meat- eaters to absorb enough protein to prevent muscle wastage as people age?
I understand the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hain, in Amendment 212. There is an argument that the levy should logically be applied at the point of slaughter. The argument supporting this amendment seems to derive from the fact that there are not so many abattoirs in the other three nations, and I would like to hear the Minister’s view on this point.
My Lords, I am delighted to follow my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, who always speaks with wonderful, robust, basic common sense. He spoke for my wife when he talked of “The Archers”, and he spoke for me when he referred to the beguiling speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, who is a very popular Member of your Lordships’ House, and deservedly so. But I would say to her this: just watch it when it comes to pushing the vegetarian agenda. I am entirely happy for people to be vegetarian—I have a daughter-in-law, to whom I am devoted, who is a vegan—but that is by choice, and we should not use surreptitious means.
I am wholly in favour of the spirit of the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, and seconded by the noble Lord, Lord Hain. There is a great deal of basic common sense in that, and I hope it will commend itself to my noble friend, if not in its precise form, then in a similar one.
We should be enormously proud of the quality of British meat. Welsh lamb was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Hain, on a number of occasions—I love it, as well as Welsh and Scottish beef, and the wonderful lamb we produce in Lincolnshire. From all over the country comes marvellous produce. I think the favourite day of the month for my wife and me is going to the farmers’ market in Lincoln and buying quantities of good, home-produced meat, as well as other things.
I love vegetables; I have my five a day religiously. But we should not use legislation to try to undermine a great industry. We should take great pride not only in the quality of the meat produced in this country but in what can be done in this Bill to safeguard the lives of the farmers who produce it. Producing lamb in Wales is not the easiest of things, and there can be hardly anyone in your Lordships’ House who does not remember the terrible years after Chernobyl, when the Welsh farmers had such a very difficult time.
To my noble friend I say this. By all means, give strong support to Amendment 212, but beware of the wonderfully beguiling talents of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb.
My Lords, the red meat levy has been debated earlier in our deliberations on this Bill. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, wishes to rename the red meat levy “the animal slaughter levy”. Essentially, the rest of Clause 33(1) remains the same, with the levy going to help farmers move from livestock to plant-based food production. This amendment is not trying to introduce something by subterfuge, since here we are debating it on television. There is no compulsion here.
The noble Lords, Lord Hain and Lord Wigley, and my noble and learned friend Lord Wallace of Tankerness, have spoken in favour of the repatriation of the red meat levy to the country of origin. Livestock often travels across the border from the farm where it was raised to the slaughterhouse, and we have previously debated the long journeys that some animals have to make. The levy is currently collected at the point of slaughter, and this may not be the country of origin. I support the repatriation of this levy to the relevant devolved Administration where the livestock was reared. This is where the majority of the cost of rearing occurred, so the levy should be used in that area. That is the most sensible and equitable way of dealing with this levy, and I hope the Minister will agree.
My Lords, I shall speak briefly. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, and my noble friend Lord Hain for raising these issues. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, has made an interesting point about extending the levy, but I would like far more detail about the economic and perhaps unforeseen animal welfare consequences of broadening the levy via some kind of impact assessment. I would also like to see the proposal underscored by a commitment to consult on the proposals in advance.
We have touched on the benefits of diets based more on plants and less on meat on several occasions. I believe that measures like this should be introduced as part of a wider national food strategy, rather than in isolation. To the noble Viscount, Lord, Trenchard, I say that there are plenty of sources of vegetable protein; we do not have to rely on eating meat.
My noble friend Lord Hain is right to raise the issue of the repatriation of levies raised to the point of slaughter, rather than where the animals were raised. This is particularly concerning in the case of Welsh lamb, as he very eloquently pointed out, and it will become more of an issue as smaller slaughterhouses close down and animals are forced to travel greater distances for slaughter. This point was made well by my noble friend Lord Blunkett.
It has been good to have this short debate. A number of useful issues were raised, but if we are serious about it, a great deal more work would need to be done. In the meantime, I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, for Amendments 211, 213, 214 and 216. Perhaps I could tell her at the outset that we have the red meat levy; it was established in 1967 under the Agriculture Act.
The term “red meat”, or “cig coch”, is written into Welsh legislation to describe the cattle, sheep and pig industries and has been used regarding the levy for those sectors for many years. Changing the name of the red meat levy in the Bill would necessitate amendments to related legislation across the UK and risk confusion and complications with the existing provisions. A further levy extending to all meats and carcasses of animals slaughtered in the UK would probably require a new levy body to be established, or the scope of the existing levy bodies to be broadened, to cover the additional species, such as goats and deer, that do not fall within the remit of the existing levy bodies. Consultation to determine the need for, and the benefit of, such a levy would also be required. This is set out in the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006. More importantly, agriculture is a devolved matter, as are these industry levies. It would therefore be for the devolved Administrations to choose to take forward their own regulations in this area, should they wish to do so.
Turning to Amendment 215, plant-based food production already benefits significantly from the UK levy system. The Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board collects levies that are used to fund activities in this area, valued at approximately £27 million. Legislation providing for our levy bodies clearly sets out the collection of these levies and that they are to be spent to benefit the industry from which they are collected.
My noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering also asked some questions about how they are collected, and I should say that the red meat levy collected in one country can be spent only to benefit the contributing industry in that country. For example, any pig levy that is collected in England must be spent to the benefit of the pigmeat industry in England. Currently, levy cannot be spent for the sole benefit of producers in another jurisdiction.
Clause 33 addresses an acknowledged unfairness in the GB red-meat levy system that has existed for a number of years. It is not intended to change the way these levies are collected or spent. The Government wish simply to right the wrong that has been identified in the red-meat levy system. My noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering also asked when we would have the government response to the AHDB consultation. The government response to the request for views on this was published in April 2020.
Turning to Amendment 212, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Hain, Clause 33 was introduced to provide for a scheme that allows for the redistribution of red-meat levy between the levy bodies of Great Britain. It will provide a fair approach to resolving an inequity that has been acknowledged by the Governments of these Administrations for several years. The provision in this amendment is based purely on the origin of the animal, rather than where it has gained economic value. It will allow for the repatriation of levy to the devolved Administrations themselves, whereas the scheme established using the provisions in Clause 33 would allow for the redistribution of levy between levy bodies in the three Administrations. By widening the provision of the scheme from that of Great Britain to that of the United Kingdom, the amendment extends the repatriation of red-meat levy to Northern Ireland. However, the scheme is to be made jointly by Ministers of England, Scotland and Wales, and is not needed by Northern Ireland.
In addition, the repatriation of levy is restricted by this amendment to the devolved Administrations. This could create a disparity between the devolved Administrations and England, as the devolved Administrations will be allowed to repatriate levy dependent upon origin, but England will not.
The noble Lords, Lord Blunkett and Lord Wigley, also brought up the question of small abattoirs, and the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, made the point that slaughtering animals close to the point of production is an important consideration in animal welfare. I am delighted to say, since they may not have heard my earlier response to this issue, that they are included in Clause 1(5) of the Bill, which provides for small abattoirs, under “preparing” and “processing”.
With this reassurance, I ask that the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate, which I have very much enjoyed. I spent almost the whole time smiling. I note the comments from the noble Lords, Lord Hain and Lord Wigley, about Wales, and their other comments. As I have said, there is a lot of value in that. I will say to the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, that I am proselytising not for vegetarianism but for the future of the planet and the health of the people who still survive. I am happy to debate that with him.
The noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, seems to have misunderstood my amendment, because I am not doing anything about his citizen’s freedom to eat meat—first, because we do not have citizens in this country but subjects, and secondly, I am a meat eater myself and, were I standing for election anywhere, that would probably lose me a lot of green votes. I was a vegetarian for 20 years and I have stopped. I now eat a minimal amount of healthy organic meat.
The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, made some kind comments. No one has ever accused me of surreptitious means—in fact, quite the opposite usually—so I feel very flattered. I also note that the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, made comments about an impact assessment, which would obviously be a very valuable addition. I note that the Minister has pointed out all the difficulties that this would cause with legislation, but it would surely be just a tidying-up exercise, just like her Brexit Bill, and should not take long at all.
With all those comments in mind, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 211 withdrawn.
Amendments 212 to 216 not moved.
Clause 33 agreed.
Clause 34 agreed.
Amendment 217 not moved.
My Lords, we now come to the group beginning with Amendment 218. 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.
218: After Clause 34, insert the following new Clause—
“Duty to sustain the UK agricultural industry workforce
(1) The Secretary of State must, before the end of the period of 6 months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed, lay before Parliament a strategy outlining the steps that Her Majesty’s Government proposes to take to—(a) ensure an appropriate supply of seasonal agricultural workers,(b) increase the number of people undertaking—(i) practical training, and(ii) formal qualificationsrelating to agricultural work,(c) ensure agricultural workers have sufficient access to—(i) financial advice,(ii) mental health support, and(iii) any other support the Secretary of State deems appropriate, and(d) ensure agricultural workers are subject to fair sectoral terms and conditions.(2) In preparing the strategy under subsection (2), the Secretary of State must consult—(a) other relevant UK Ministers,(b) the Scottish Ministers,(c) the Welsh Ministers,(d) the Northern Ireland department, and(e) bodies that appear to the Secretary of State to represent the interests of the UK agricultural industry.”
My Lords, my Amendment 218 is on the issue of a duty to sustain the agricultural industry workforce. I also welcome Amendment 219, tabled by my noble friend Lord Judd. Our amendments would require the Government to draw up and consult on proposals to put employment in the farming sector on a more secure and better-rewarded footing.
It is clear at the outset that the workforce will be fundamental to delivering the changes that we are envisaging in this Bill. For example, in 2017, there were 474,000 people working in agriculture across the UK—about half a million people—with about 80,000 seasonal workers in that mix. However, the recent Covid-19 crisis has highlighted what we have known for some time: the sector relies too much on casual workers from the EU, the temporary and permanent opportunities are currently unattractive to most UK workers, there are few opportunities for training and career advancement and the pay and conditions have not kept pace with comparable employment opportunities in other sectors. So far, the temporary fixes put in place by the Government, such as the Pick for Britain scheme, have not provided a permanent solution to a problem that is symptomatic of a more fundamental lack of good training and career prospects in this sector.
Of course, there are good employers, with good employment practices and workers who are valued and well trained. I pay tribute to them. They know that investment and support for their staff bring rewards for the individuals and for the prosperity of their farm. However, many other workers, particularly those living in small, isolated communities, have local employment as farm labourers but are not in a position to bargain over their work conditions, and for them, exploitation is all too common. The fact that we had to introduce gangmasters legislation, in part to protect casual agricultural workers, is an indication of how lowly this work is, and how much exploitation there can be.
We also know that, sadly, this sector is characterised by low mental health and an indefensible safety record. The abolition of the Agricultural Wages Board in England has compounded the problem. Predictably, surveys show that, since the board’s abolition, there has been a reduction in pay awards and increased working hours. There is also evidence of increased wage theft, illegal clawbacks and non-compliance with employment law. England is now the only country in the UK without an effective collective bargaining body for agricultural workers, and it is time that we addressed that gap.
My noble friend’s amendment also talks about affordable housing; he is right to raise this issue. Many farm workers are provided with accommodation tied to their jobs. It can be a blessing but also a burden. Mobility is curtailed and alternative housing options are rare. It is also a major barrier to new entrants wanting to work in agriculture, who simply cannot find affordable homes anywhere near where they would like to work. So we are a long way from where we ought to be in terms of training and employment in this sector.
The world of farming is changing. It will require far greater technical skills in the future. The outcome of all the exciting agritech research will need practical applications, such as robotics, IT and scientific measurement. It will require a much greater knowledge of land management and biodiversity. It will also need—dare I say it?—some understanding of the record-keeping and bureaucracy needed to ensure that farmers can make claims successfully under the new ELMS. All this will require a structured training programme, with progression and rewards. I was pleased to hear the noble Lord, Lord Curry, talk about the skills leadership group in a previous debate and I hope that he will say more about that today.
Although I fully acknowledge that Michael Gove was a good Environment Secretary, he was a disastrous Education Secretary. During his tenure, many of the practical agricultural and horticultural courses were abolished. However, we have to start from where we are now and face that reality, rather than going back and rehearsing old arguments.
This sector faces one of the biggest transformations of any in the UK, moving very rapidly from low skilled to high-tech, and we will need the training courses to deliver that change. This could make employment in the agricultural sector a really exciting proposition, provided it is accompanied by pay and conditions that will encourage people to stay. Therefore, I hope that noble Lords will support this amendment as a serious contribution to making the rest of the ambitions set out in the Bill a practical reality. I beg to move.
Amendment 219 (to Amendment 218)
219: After Clause 34, after subsection (1)(c)(i) insert—
“(ia) affordable housing,”
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for the very warm reception that she given to my amendment. I strongly support what she is putting before the Committee. It seems to me vital and very sensible.
The word “crisis” is overused these days, but we really do have a crisis in rural areas. What used to be thriving communities based on agriculture have become very dependent on people from other parts of the country who, like me—I plead guilty—have settled in those areas. We have now reached the stage where communities in rural areas have real difficulty in getting even the basic services that they need, such as social workers, health workers and the rest, because they simply cannot afford to live in the area. That goes for farmers, people who want to farm and those who have come from generations of farmers and want to continue that tradition.
On Tuesday, we debated the measures to help people who want to farm to prepare to do so, and my noble friend Lord Whitty put forward a very important amendment in that context. However, we must recognise that, if that intention is to be fulfilled, it is essential that they have the facilities and support that they need to establish themselves. My noble friend’s Amendment 218 talks about ensuring that
“agricultural workers have sufficient access to … financial advice … mental health support, and … any other support the Secretary of State deems appropriate”.
That is right, but I feel that no single provision is more important than ensuring that they have the housing they need to be able to maintain family life and do not have to travel great distances so they can to play a full part in the community, as well as performing in agriculture.
As I have said, I am grateful to my noble friend for being so friendly towards my amendment. I just hope that her amendment, and my amendment to it, will commend themselves to the Committee. I beg to move.
My Lords, I declare my interest as a farmer and landowner, as set out in the register. I have added my name to this important amendment—Amendment 218—tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, because I believe that without a duty to sustain the UK agricultural industry workforce, the aims of the Bill, and in particular the continuation and development of sustainable farming, cannot happen.
Currently, farming is characterised by one-third of farmers being over 65 and only 3% being under 35 and by a very unattractive career image in terms of earnings. With this Bill and its aim of encouraging the retirement of older farmers and intention of bringing younger people into the industry, it is vital that education and training are raised up the agenda, and that means improving formal qualifications.
At the same time as encouraging our own young into the industry, we need to make sure that, as envisaged in subsection (1)(a) of the proposed new clause, where necessary we can supply seasonal workers, even if that means bringing them in from abroad. A vegetable or fruit grower in Lincolnshire, or wherever, will soon give up his labour-intensive operation if he cannot get the pickers. The result will be that production moves overseas, with the associated negative consequences for the environment and food security.
After a 185% growth in UK soft fruit production over the past 20 years, this is a very dangerous situation. The National Farmers’ Union estimates that we require around 70,000 seasonal workers, with the bulk being required between April and September. The ONS estimates that 99% come from the EU. Up until March—the slow season—the shortage was estimated at around 5%. The Pick for Britain campaign has been very welcome but the results have been somewhat patchy, and, as the economy recovers, furloughed workers will return to their jobs, which will exacerbate the problem. The Government’s seasonal workers pilot scheme, although expanded from 2,500 to 10,000 overseas workers, is woefully inadequate and is scheduled to end this year. Can the Minister tell us what is likely to replace this scheme?
In his letter of 29 June, the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner, drew attention to government activity in the area of training and skills—in particular, the apprenticeship programme and technical education—together with the increasing funding that is available, all of which is most encouraging. This is the purpose of proposed new subsection (1)(b). We should all welcome the development of a new farming qualification to attract teenagers into the business by increasing the support of T-level courses. The Government’s Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education is currently looking at the content of courses. Currently listed are crop production, forestry, habitat management, land-based engineering, livestock production, ornamental and environmental horticulture, and trees and woodland management and maintenance. All that is ongoing. I believe it is of such overall importance that it needs to be specifically contained in the Bill and thereby protected from future attempts to pare back this crucial element of both agriculture and the wider skills of the environmental land management scheme.
As part of the agenda to improve skills in agriculture, we all look forward to the work being done by the agriculture skills leadership group chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Curry, who will shortly be speaking, and welcome the message of support received from the Government. The establishment of an industry professional body to lay down, monitor, measure and advise on common standards is crucial for the industry, and it will require funding to ensure its role and the enforcement of standards. This funding will need to come from both member organisations and government, as is the case for similar industry bodies. The advantage to the Government is enormous as they could consult with one representative group for the industry and be assured of the integrity of its advice and its qualifications.
The two other duties outlined in proposed new subsections (1)(c) and (d) involve the care, treatment and support of the workforce, and are basically to confirm the accepted rights, responsibilities and norms of employment in this country.
My Lords, I enthusiastically added my name to the amendment proposed so ably by the noble Lord, Lord Judd. I also enthusiastically support the whole amendment proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, who is an expert in this subject.
What the noble Lord, Lord Judd, is really talking about is not just agricultural workers, but the future health and prosperity of villages. In much of south-eastern England, villages have effectively been turned into dormitory settlements for some time. The same process, particularly together with people retiring, is happening in the rest of England. If we really want viable, thriving, multigenerational communities that can support schools, shops and so on in villages throughout England then we have to have housing that ordinary young people can occupy when they get together, get married and so on, otherwise they will be forced out into the towns and lost for ever, and the villages will become older and older. We see that process happening all over the place.
Not everything that Baroness Thatcher’s Government did was a disaster, but one of their great disasters was the right to buy in rural areas. Every village used to have its own little council estate, as well as little cottages that provided for young people and what I call ordinary people—working-class rural folk. They have almost all gone; a few places were lucky and were allowed to except themselves.
Some 46 years ago I became the chairman of the housing committee in Pendle. In one village there was a little settlement of two rows of cottages owned by the water board, which had let them go derelict. It was going to demolish them because they were of no use to it anymore. I managed to get the council to buy and renovate them. By working with the parish council and the WI in that village, we made sure that they were available to rent for local people. Then came the right to buy. I am still proud of the fact that, as a result of what I did, that wonderful little settlement still exists and was not knocked down but, unfortunately, it is all now owner-occupied and selling for extraordinarily high prices by east Lancashire standards.
Something has to be done about this. I believe that a new generation of rural housing to rent at affordable prices should be an absolute priority for a Government. Having said that, this issue is not for this Bill, but for other action by the Government, but Governments of all kinds have not taken this seriously for years.
The only other thing I will say on this is that the amendment by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, refers to seasonal workers. There are a lot of people going around now saying it is dreadful that people in this country are too lazy, too fat or whatever it is to pick strawberries, plant cabbages or whatever they might be required to do. I do not think that is the problem at all. The problem is that, for young people setting off and making their lives, seasonal work by its very nature is not attractive. They want qualifications and training, as in this amendment, and jobs—not jobs for life, because they have gone, but nevertheless skills and qualifications that will lead them to a secure career and the ability to get jobs throughout their lives. Going to pick potatoes in potato-picking season simply does not do that.
I believe that the future for seasonal work is to reduce a large amount of it by introducing far more robots and mechanisation into the countryside. That may be what the parts of the Bill concerning productivity are all about, I do not know; perhaps the Minister can tell us. I also believe that if that happens, it may be possible to turn some of that seasonal labour—I say some of it; perhaps not a very high proportion—into permanent full-time jobs. Perhaps that would be not for the farmers themselves, but for the contracting companies providing the labour and the machinery to do different things at different times of the year. That is the kind of strategic approach that we want.
I do not know whether the noble Baroness’s strategy thinks along those lines, nor whether the Government are thinking about a strategy for this, or whether they are just panicking about the fact that fruit will go unpicked this year, next year or whenever, but that kind of strategic view is what is required. It is a very good reason to pass the amendment so ably moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones.
My Lords, I can be reasonably brief because my noble friend Lady Jones introduced her amendment so comprehensively. I also support the amendment from my noble friend Lord Judd.
A new British agricultural policy requires a new sort of agricultural and horticultural workforce that is more highly skilled, with differential skills but nevertheless better skills and qualifications recognised, and with a more permanent existence. We certainly do not require a reliance on gangmasters and seasonal workers imported temporarily from overseas.
It has been a mistake to rely so heavily on overseas labour for our agricultural workforce. It has been a mistake to cut back on agricultural and horticultural training. It has been a mistake to abolish the Agricultural Wages Board, which I strongly opposed at the time. It has been a mistake not to use the powers introduced in legislation in my time at Defra to enforce proper standards where there are gangmasters. There are some decent gangmasters, but the Covid episode has shown that many workers in this sector, both agriculture and the processing industries, are treated appallingly and housed in terrible conditions, which in some cases has thrown up problems with the spread of Covid. There have been a number of mistakes and we are not starting from a good position.
The new form of agricultural policy throws up a lot of new challenges that will need flexibility, higher skills and better management, but we have a chance to rectify this. The terms of the amendment set out a framework for a much more substantial strategy to recognise and update the skills of the workforce that we will require. Without it, we will not deliver a brave new world of English agriculture or a better impact by agriculture on our environment and our countryside. I strongly support the amendment; indeed, I regard it as an essential part of the Bill and of our future strategy.
My Lords, I rise to support Amendment 218 and Amendment 219 in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and the noble Lord, Lord Judd, respectively.
The Bill provides us with an opportunity to change and update agricultural policy. As part of this, we must have the infrastructure on the ground to deliver the services, the product and the food. We had a long debate on Tuesday about food security, and this involves having the agricultural workers to do the picking and harvesting. If we want to professionalise the operation, we need agricultural workers who are trained, given incentives and have access to affordable housing—all of that is required. Therefore, I believe a duty must be placed in the legislation to sustain the employment of agricultural workers and put it on a very permanent footing.
On 20 July, the Minister very kindly provided a detailed Written Answer to my Parliamentary Question on the supply of labour on farms in England and Northern Ireland. He mentioned the seasonal workers pilot, which seems to have been impacted upon by the effect of Covid-19 on the allocation of visas, particularly in Ukraine and Belarus. I understand that those restrictions were lifted on 1 June. Could the Minister update your Lordships’ House on the number of additional workers who have come in?
Secondly, there is no doubt that farming and agriculture face many challenges, notwithstanding Brexit and Covid. Workers have to ensure they and those working for them are protected from the pandemic; hence the need for this strategy and for the duty to be placed in legislation. I have no hesitation in supporting Amendment 218, of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and Amendment 219, of the noble Lord, Lord Judd.
My Lords, I view Amendment 218—and Amendment 219, which seeks to amend it—as one of the most important amendments we have had the privilege of debating across the House. It is not party political at all, other than the odd swipe that the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, found necessary to give. Being serious, agriculture is a major industry in this country, and we have a unique opportunity now to get a grip on how we take it forward.
Yesterday, a number of us took part in the Second Reading of the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill. Among the issues debated was the question of the arrangements for importing seasonal workers, particularly for places like Lincolnshire. I am sorry to say to the Minister that it was none too clear to me, on our Benches, nor on the other Benches, what the way forward was.
I live in an agricultural county, in Bedfordshire, and agriculture does not wait. I walked round my kitchen garden only this morning, and due to the amount of talking we have done on these screens, there are a fair number of jobs that need doing. Agriculture does not wait, and it is not the same every season. I used to do a lot of work for the Mars Corporation, and with certain areas of its work you knew exactly when the season would hit—but you do not know with agriculture, so you need a flexible system.
Looking at the details of this amendment, it mentions “practical training”. The Minister knows, as well as I do, that, it does not matter what industry you look at, we have been told many times that practical training in this country is nowhere near as good as it is in Germany. We must find a way forward.
We have here in Bedfordshire a first-class agricultural college—Shuttleworth College—and there was one just outside my constituency in Northampton. I do not know how many there are in the country, but they have got to be brought into this discussion on how we can move forward on formal qualifications and practical training. There has to be a linkage.
When I read economics at Cambridge, many of the most stimulating lectures that we received in those days came from lecturers and professors from elsewhere in the world, who came for two terms and were creative thinkers. With the type of products we are dealing with, I suggest that our students need the same.
I have spoken before about horticulture. It is true that part of the answer lies—as I believe the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, said—in ensuring that we have got robots in that area. That is beginning to happen with strawberries and raspberries, and it has obviously been around with apples for much longer. However, is there an incentive for that industry? I do not know, I am not a specialist here—but I need and want to see leadership as we move forward. I listened with care to the noble Lord, Lord Carrington. He had some wise words about monitoring and measuring performance. This proposed clause, on which I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, is really vital.
On Amendment 219, some of your Lordships will know that I was chair of the housing committee in the London Borough of Islington some years ago. Others may know that I have been a fervent advocate of the mutual movement across the House, and one or two of you may remember the Mutuals’ Deferred Shares Act 2015, which went through your Lordships’ House with support across the Chamber. My personal view is that this is a wonderful opportunity to bring in the mutual movement, so that we can have affordable housing in the relevant areas allied to the needs of agricultural work. I believe the Government are keen on mutuality, and it is important that we see some real progress in this area, and some provision through housing associations, the friendly society movement and other groups for affordable housing. We need to get something on the statute book if that is what is required. I personally would like to see them as charities, so that they would not be sold off.
I say as an aside to the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, that there was nothing wrong with right to buy, because there was council housing being neglected—as I know only too well from my experience in Islington—and we did not have the resources to keep it up to scratch. The money from right to buy should have gone back into social housing, but of course it did not; that is what should have happened, and I admit there was an error there.
I do not need to speak any further on these two amendments. I think they are exciting; they may need some tweaking and may need to be looked at again, but I thank the noble Baroness for triggering one of the most exciting and important debates we have had on the Bill.
My Lords, I offer the Green group’s support for Amendments 218 and 219. I associate myself particularly with the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, as she moved Amendment 218, referring to the lack of collective bargaining for agricultural workers in England as exceptionally damaging. As the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, commented, the loss of the Agricultural Wages Board was a disaster and something that I also opposed at the time.
Where I perhaps have cause for some pause is on
“an appropriate supply of seasonal agricultural workers”.
As a number of noble Lords have reflected, a heavy reliance on seasonal workers is not necessarily a way to produce fair, decent jobs, a well-populated countryside and strong communities in it. We want people who are resident year-round to have good, solid, reliable jobs. We should still think of agricultural labour as something that fits in with the desire of many people for part-time and flexible working that suits their needs. Back in 2013, I was at a Fruit Focus horticultural field day and spoke to a grower there who talked about how, back in the 1970s, housewives—as they were then described—students home from the holidays and people coming from the towns into surrounding orchards would work as and when they could. That of course requires a very different sort of agriculture and food supply system that supermarkets would have great difficulty with, but it would be a way of ensuring that people had the opportunity to earn money. Labour is available.
I contrast that with a report in the Times newspaper a couple of weeks ago reflecting, as many noble Lords have done, on how the lack of workers from the European Union and beyond this year has caused difficulties. An asparagus grower was quoted as saying, “Well, you know, British workers just won’t do 12 hours a day of back-breaking work.” Well, I do not believe that we should have a food system that relies on anybody doing 12 hours a day of back-breaking work. We need to ensure that there are jobs that a reasonable range of people can do over a reasonable range of their lifetime, and that needs to fit in with people’s capabilities and capacities, and the skills, as the amendment alludes to, very much need to be developed through far more education and training.
I want to reflect also on what the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, just said about mutuals being involved in supplying housing for workers. We also need to look at encouraging, supporting and assisting in the growth of co-operative models of food production and food growing. Your Lordships might be interested in looking at OrganicLea, not very far from where those of you who are in the Chamber are sitting. It is a co-operative growing good, healthy fruit and vegetables and ensuring that its workers are part of a whole team.
I want also to commend the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, on her reference to mental health. An issue that I have been raising elsewhere in your Lordships’ House is the epidemic and truly awful levels of mental ill-health in the building industry. We have been talking a lot about key workers recently; builders and farm workers are clearly key workers. They need to have good, stable, secure jobs that can last through a working life, that fit within their practical capabilities and that give them a decent life and decent wages. So I commend both amendments to the Committee.
My Lords, I acknowledge the expertise in this area of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, but am sceptical that her Amendment 218 would achieve the purposes she envisages and believe that it is unnecessary and indeed could be counterproductive. As my noble friend Lord Naseby mentioned, we already have excellent agricultural colleges, such as Shuttleworth and Cirencester.
The amendment represents an attempt to interfere with the supply of workers in ways which the market may or may not support. It presumes that there is likely to remain a shortage of trained agricultural workers. Is it not likely that further mechanisation will reduce the demand for agricultural workers? Is it not also true that much agricultural work does not require much training and is seasonal in nature? I ask the Minister to confirm that our future immigration policy will recognise the need and provide that foreign workers may be admitted to the UK for limited periods to carry out fruit picking and related jobs.
My Lords, I declare my interests as recorded in the register. I want to speak to Amendment 218 in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Whitchurch and Lady Parminter, and the noble Lords, Lord Grantchester and Lord Carrington, and express my appreciation to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, for her introduction of the amendment and for her comments.
The Minister kindly referred in his response to Amendment 12 two weeks ago—was it just two weeks ago?—to work on agricultural and horticultural skills that I have been involved with during the past two years or so. Of course, the coronavirus lockdown earlier this year highlighted how vulnerable we are to disruption when we depend so heavily on a seasonal labour supply from overseas. So I agree wholeheartedly on the need for a strategy to address this vulnerability. However, such a strategy should encompass all labour markets in agriculture and horticulture, not just those of seasonal workers. We are lagging well behind other professions in projecting our sector as an attractive career choice, with no clear signposting, no accurate labour market information, a fragmented and confusing landscape of skills delivery, very few nationally recognised qualifications and no record of individual achievements, including CPD.
A comprehensive skills strategy which includes engaging with schools, FE and HE institutions, the apprenticeship scheme and training and lifelong learning is long overdue. All of us who are involved with the agriculture and horticulture sectors are regularly impressed by the range of skills required to farm successfully, as listed by my noble friend Lord Carrington in an earlier debate and referred to again today. As has been stated, the digital age and robotics will extend the range of skills required to embrace the many challenges we face in a fast-moving world, whether improving productivity or delivering the multiple potential outcomes through the ELM scheme, as well as adding value in exploring markets for our produce.
As indicated earlier by both the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, and my noble friend Lord Carrington, I have been engaged in a cross-industry skills leadership group which has the widespread support of all key industry organisations. This is not an appropriate time to do a sales job, but the group has recommended the establishment of a professional body to raise the profile of the sector and the exciting opportunities that exist in it, to recognise national qualifications and standards, to establish a single national data source of information, and to provide signposting for both employers and employees to encourage career development and CPD.
I once again thank the Minister for his personal support in trying to achieve these objectives and for the constructive discussions with and advice received from his officials within the department. I have to say that I do not agree with the comments made by the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, a few moments ago.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkharle. I pay tribute to the work that he has done and continues to do on the skills and leadership group.
In passing, I commend Amendment 219 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Judd, because I think there is a problem of affordable housing in this sector, particularly when it comes to migrant workers. We saw an outbreak of Covid recently at a facility where the facilities that were available were less than desirable.
I will also speak in favour of Amendment 218 in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, her noble friend Lord Grantchester, the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter. Is it the intention of the noble Baroness to extend to migrant workers the part of the amendment relating to training, or to boost the training of national workers, as we are told we have to do now?
Subsection (1)(a) of the proposed new clause would ensure an appropriate supply of seasonal agricultural workers. I raised this at Second Reading of the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill yesterday and was disappointed not to get a reply. I realise that this is not my noble friend the Minister’s department, but it is essential to recognise that the points system under the new regime must be flexible enough to permit so-called low-skilled workers to enter and continue to do the work. I was reminded of one of the United States which recently determined that it would not have any outside migrant workers; they would pick all the fruit and crops themselves. As a result, all the fruit and vegetables in that state rotted in the ground. I am sure that the Deputy Chairman of Committees would be appalled at the consequences if that happened in Scotland. I seek an early commitment on this issue, which I am sure noble Lords will wish to look at in the immigration and social security Bill. We have got to look at agricultural policy in the round and take every opportunity, whether in that Bill, the Trade Bill or the Environment Bill, to make sure that we obtain what we seek.
I regret to introduce an element of discord, but I too find it hard to support the comments of my noble friend Lord Trenchard. I believe that there is cause to have training for this country’s local workers but I would extend that to migrant workers, to encourage them to stay and feel part of the wider agricultural family. I do not entirely agree with noble Lords who regret the abolition of the Agricultural Wages Board. I will stand corrected if my noble friend says otherwise in his reply, but I understand that we are all now covered by the living wage, so there is no need for it. I would be interested to see how the themes of these amendments can be progressed.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, who has done so much work on the Bill. She is an excellent contributor to the Select Committee that I chair, which deals with some of these areas. I declare a non-financial interest as an honorary associate of the British Veterinary Association.
The proposed new clause relates to a duty to sustain the UK’s agricultural industry workforce. Part of that workforce that has not yet been mentioned is the veterinary surgeons and operatives, who are so essential to the agricultural sector. We know what they do with domestic animals and in their normal work with farm animals, but they also certify and supervise the import and export of animals and animal products. As official veterinarians, they sign and countersign export health certificates and they control much of the sanitary and phytosanitary processes at our ports. They are essential to the United Kingdom’s biosecurity strategies. Approximately 25% of our veterinarians are EU or EEA citizens, and in the industrial and food supply chain sector, it is a much larger percentage: some 95% of our vets in abattoirs are from EU and EEA states. They perform essential roles in dealing with food fraud, animal welfare, public health and biosecurity.
At present, there is an estimated 10% shortage of people in the profession as a whole, so there is already a great challenge. However, at the end of this year, as we finish the transition stage of our exit from the European Union, there will be an even greater demand for this profession. They have to be at ports to check phytosanitary and sanitary procedures, not just at the borders between the UK and EU but, now, for imports into Northern Ireland as well. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner, has done a lot of work on this, and on biosecurity. What are the Government doing to make sure that there is a suitable supply of veterinarians, given the risk that a number will go back to EU and EEA countries? It will be more difficult, thanks to bureaucracy and red tape, for veterinary practices and companies to bring vets into the country. Although I welcome the fact that vets are now on the shortage occupation list, when will the details of how that system will work be available to the sector?
My Lords, I support Amendment 218, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and other noble Lords. I declare my interests as a landowner and arable farmer.
At the time of the Second Reading of the Bill, there was a double-page government advert in the Mail on Sunday headlined: “Why there’s never been a better time to support our farmers and fishermen”.
“By buying local … you’ll be guaranteed to get the very best produce”.
However, the advert also said, revealingly:
“Another challenge for farmers has been getting enough people to harvest”
the vegetable and fruit crop. This can be fairly blamed, this year, on Covid-19, but the campaign to get local people to pick crops, to take the place of the EU pickers who normally do the job, does not seem to have gone very well. The Government have sensibly allowed foreign workers in this sector to be exempted from the quarantine rules. The fact remains that, as I understand it, from next year only 20,000 overseas workers will be allowed in the UK to do this work. The NFU says that 80,000 are needed.
My noble friend Lord Trenchard said that extra workers should be allowed in in the short term, but that automation will then solve the problem at the flick of a switch. I am far from being an expert on this subject, but I wonder whether automation could take place that quickly. It will certainly require time and a considerable amount of capital investment, which I hope will be aided by the ELM scheme. I therefore completely agree that Her Majesty’s Government should, as Amendment 218 states,
“lay before Parliament a strategy to ensure an appropriate supply of seasonal agricultural workers”.
My Lords, my noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch is absolutely right to move this amendment. She spoke eloquently at the beginning of this group and I do not need to repeat any of her persuasive arguments. I am delighted that my noble friend Lord Judd has moved his amendment, because affordable housing in rural and agricultural areas is vital and has been under threat for a long time. The availability of affordable housing for the agricultural and countryside workforce should be a vital component of the strategy demanded by the amendment.
There have been many excellent speeches, and I hope that the Minister and the Government are persuaded, but I shall add one more point that I do not think has been made by any other Members of your Lordships’ House during the debate. As someone who, as I have said before, grew up on a farmstead and was never very good at agricultural work—never mind ever wanting to be an agricultural worker—and who therefore got away quickly when I had the opportunity, at the age of 17, I have always been struck by the increasing development, over the decades, of a split between those who live in the town and those who live in the country.
One of the reasons for that is that it is so difficult for people who did not grow up in the countryside to become engaged with the opportunities for agricultural and other countryside work, or even to visualise themselves in that situation and see what it might entail. We have often discussed in your Lordships’ Chamber the lack of knowledge among children and young people who live in towns and cities about what goes on in the countryside. It is a contributory factor to their inability to see themselves in that line of work in the future. Among the many barriers to our having a good, secure agricultural workforce that my noble friend Lady Jones mentioned in introducing the debate, is the need to encourage new people to see that as an appropriate choice for their future.
I was struck by a scheme set up by Project Scotland, our national youth volunteering scheme, which was established when I was First Minister. One of its early projects was to take young people who were at risk of offending and who were in difficulties in the school environment away from school into full-time volunteering in agricultural and forestry work in Dumfries and Galloway. The life chances of those young people were transformed by finding something new and interesting, out of the town and out of their normal environment, that used their labour productively and suddenly gave them a real sense of purpose in life.
That is a model that could help with a lot of our social problems with certain kinds of young lads in different parts of the country, giving them a different kind of opportunity that maybe they have never seen before. If the Minister is minded to accept the amendment, or a form of it, during our debates on the Bill, and to have such a strategy in the future, one element of that strategy should be to see the opportunities that exist in agriculture and countryside work for those who may never have visualised themselves in that position, but who could find really productive careers and futures in it.
My Lords, encouraging and supporting the agricultural workforce is essential. Farming can be a dangerous occupation, and accidents often happen on farms. Ensuring that the workforce is properly trained, with formal relevant qualifications, and is properly paid, with their mental and physical health properly catered for, will ensure that agriculture as a sector goes from strength to strength. The right skills are not an optional extra. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, supported the amendment passionately, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick.
During the lockdown we have seen how important it is to have a sufficient supply of seasonal workers to pick the crops and work on the farms during their busiest period. It is estimated that over a 12-month period, some 17,000 additional migrant workers will be needed on our farms throughout the UK—although the noble Lord, Lord Northbrook, gave a slightly different figure. It is essential that the Government ensure that workers are available to harvest crops, and the success in recent years in the expansion of soft fruit growing will be adversely affected by the proposed regulations.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, fully made the case for her amendment, and I support her comments about the need to direct and have a proper employed workforce. The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, gave some statistics about the age of current farmers: less than 35% of them are classified as what we would call “young”. The noble Lord, Lord Northbrook, made the same speech and the same points as I did on yesterday’s immigration Second Reading, so there is political agreement across the House on this issue.
My noble friend Lord Teverson raised the issue of the recruitment and supply of vets. It is essential that we have sufficient vets for the agriculture sector to function properly. As he said, 95% of commercial sector vets come from the EU 27 countries, and that affects our country’s biosecurity strategy. Can the Minister say what steps the Government are taking to ensure that vets, who are on the shortage occupation list, can continue to come to this country after Brexit?
The noble Lord, Lord Naseby, spoke from his own experience about the need for qualifications and practical training. He and the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, also spoke about the introduction of robotics. That is not the complete answer, but it will go some way towards meeting the labour shortage. The noble Lords, Lord Judd and Lord Greaves, spoke in favour of Amendment 219, which would require the Government to ensure a sufficient supply of housing for agricultural workers. This is dear to my heart and has been the subject of speeches in the past in a number of debates on different Bills. This matter will not go away by being ignored. Many of your Lordships have spoken of the need to ensure that there is decent affordable housing for those who work not only on the land but in the fishing and other coastal villages around our shores. Given the pressure on this subject, can the Minister reassure us that it is a priority for the Government?
This is a short group of amendments, which could ensure the success of agriculture into the future. So far, the Minister has not been persuaded to accept any of the reasonable and well-argued amendments put forward by noble Lords; I hope that this group will be the exception.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for a thought-provoking debate. In thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and all noble Lords who have participated, I can say that the Government take all that has been said extremely seriously. I shall spend a little time, but not too long, explaining the work that is going on. As this is the first of these debates, I should start by declaring my farming interests as set out in the register.
The noble Baroness is right to highlight so many of the significant issues to which the agricultural sector is currently responding. This year, more than any in recent memory, has shown how important those who work across agriculture and horticulture are, and the need to ensure that this workforce is robust and resilient.
On seasonal labour, the importance for the sector of securing the labour it needs is well understood. In 2019, around 300,000 people were employed permanently in the agriculture sector, of whom around 18,000 were EEA nationals. Horticulture relies heavily on seasonal labour and, while the number of workers needed varies throughout and between years, Defra estimates that around 30,000 to 40,000 seasonal workers harvest fruit and vegetables at peak periods.
We have heard about innovation, and my visit to Harper Adams, among other places and institutions, of which there are a number, shows the direction of travel, and the fact that this is increasingly going to be a skilled area of advance and innovation.
As I know from my own experience, agriculture, horticulture and fisheries involve long hours. I can tell the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, that we will remain out there harvesting if we think there is a storm coming the next day. As long as the moisture level does not go too high, we—the owner, the worker, all of us—will carry on through the night, because we have a common endeavour to get the crops in. And I have to say also that for the livestock farmer, it is not 12 hours a day but 24 hours a day—so let us get a bit more realistic about the demands on all of us, particularly on the workers who work so hard in the agricultural sector. There is also a sense of purpose for so many who work on the land.
This year has been exceptional in terms of the collaboration there has had to be between industry and government, through the highly successful Pick for Britain campaign, to raise awareness of the roles available on fruit and vegetable farms and to link jobseekers with farms looking for seasonal workers. The expanded seasonal worker pilot in 2020 will enable us to carry out a more extensive evaluation ahead of any decisions being taken on how the future needs of the sector will be addressed. The noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, asked how many workers have come in. The Home Office reports that 4,488 visas have been granted this year. Some workers have yet to travel to the UK, and we estimate that approximately 3,000 seasonal pilot workers are currently in the UK.
I say to the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and my noble friends Lord Trenchard and Lady McIntosh that the importance of this pilot is that it will enable us to carry on that more extensive evaluation of the systems and processes in place to access labour from non-EEA countries ahead of any decisions being taken on the future needs of the sector and how that would best be addressed. At the same time, the Government are continuing to implement that pilot this year and to support migrant workers who wish to travel to work.
The noble Baroness raised the really important issue of training and qualifications. Under the auspices of the Food and Drink Sector Council, the Agricultural Productivity Working Group, headed by Sir Peter Kendall, produced a report in February this year. It included recommendations to enhance access to and recognition of training and formal qualifications in the agriculture and horticulture sector. The Government are heavily involved in developing that work and are working with industry, via the skills leadership group, of which the noble Lord, Lord Curry, is an ambassador, to progress these recommendations. I think we are all extremely fortunate that the noble Lord, with his immense experience across the rural world and agriculture, is an ambassador of this group.
We are also very supportive of the work undertaken by the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board —AHDB—to create a new range of training materials to help growers recruit, train and motivate new seasonal workers. They will receive tailored training for their particular workplace, which will, of course, vary depending on the crop and activity involved at each farm. The Government recognise the importance of business advice and, indeed, mental health support. We recently awarded £1 million to nine projects as part of the initial phase of the future farming resilience funding. This will go towards projects that provide support for farmers, including through information sessions, workshops, one-to-one advice and on-farm and business reviews. This initial phase will be thoroughly evaluated to inform future decisions about expanding the future farming resilience funding so that more farmers have access to advice and guidance about future changes in the sector.
Amendment 218 refers to fair terms and conditions. It is a key priority of this Government to ensure that not only is there a successful and effective agricultural sector but one in which workers are treated fairly. All workers, permanent and seasonal, come under the auspices of the National Minimum Wage Act, the Employment Rights Act and the Equality Act. I think my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering referred to that, and I emphasise that the Government place great importance on ensuring that farmers and producers understand that they have responsibilities to their workforce. I am very conscious in my discussions with the NFU, for instance, and its deputy president, Stuart Roberts, of safety on farms. The farming industry is very well aware that the need to improve safety is imperative.
The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, mentioned vets. I therefore have to say that two members of my family are veterinary surgeons. Defra is working closely with the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, the British Veterinary Association and other key stakeholders to develop a flexible and skilled workforce which meets the UK’s long-term future veterinary needs. For instance, we have legislated to recognise a new veterinary degree from the University of Surrey, with the first 40 students graduating last July, and a new joint vet school at Harper Adams University and Keele University is due to accept its first entry this year. I have experience of the importance of vets in both in the private and state sectors. Many in the state sector come from the European Union, and I have said many times at this Dispatch Box that I very much hope that they will feel at home here and will stay. They are very much respected and needed. I work very closely with many of them, and it is a great privilege to do so.
Turning to Amendment 219, I am very aware of rural housing issues. I should perhaps say that I facilitated a rural housing scheme at Kimble many years ago because I am very conscious of the need to ensure that families can remain in their villages. I have no interest to declare, but I endorse the work of the Hastoe Housing Association and many other rural housing associations. It is really important that we have multigenerational villages across rural Britain. In referring to affordable housing, seasonal workers often live on the farms on which they work. If they choose to do so, they must be charged reasonable rents in line with the national accommodation offset rates. More than 165,000 affordable homes have been provided in rural local authorities in England between April 2010 and March 2019. I place great importance on this. It is an area in which I have been working hard with Ministers in MHCLG to ensure that there is a very strong rural housing chapter in our national housing proposals.
I am very grateful to the noble Baroness for raising this matter because we clearly need to advance the matters raised in the amendment. The Government are already working on them, as I have outlined. This is a continuing piece of work, rather than a one-off strategy. Defra is working closely with the Home Office, MHCLG, BEIS and others to address these issues, as well as with the devolved Administrations, of course. I emphasise that I am grateful to the noble Baroness for raising these issues, and I have spent a little longer than perhaps I might explaining the work the Government are undertaking on all these matters. If she or other noble Lords felt it would be helpful, we could have discussions so that they can see that this is an area of work on which the Government wish to make advances in the ways I have outlined. With that, I very much hope that she will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
I have received a request to speak after the Minister, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Adonis.
My Lords, the Minister has given a very full response, but may I check that we have the numbers right in respect of the seasonal workers pilot? This is clearly crucial in how we recruit workers from overseas to meet our vital seasonal needs. Did I take the Minister to say that 4,486 visas had been granted, of which 3,000—so about two-thirds—have actually come to the country? Have I correctly understood that that number is out of the 10,000 visas that the Government said, some months ago, they would make available to seasonal workers? If that is correct, is it the case that less than one-third of the visas that the Government said would be available for seasonal workers from outside the EU have actually been taken up? If that number is as low as it seems—3,000 out of 10,000—does the Minister have a view as to why the take-up has been so low?
I did not say that they are absolutely correct; I said that the Home Office reports that 4,488 visas have been granted. Some workers are yet to travel to the UK, and we estimate—this is an approximate figure—that 3,000 seasonal pilot workers are currently in the UK. I think it is the case that, due to the coronavirus situation, the route was closed for some time for Ukraine and Belarus, and therefore the numbers are lower than what would have been in the pilot.
I am constantly asking farmers about this situation, and my understanding is that farmers and growers, through many of their local contacts, have been getting support and help from local people, coming forward either through Pick For Britain or through the contacts and tentacles that many farmers have across their communities. However, those are the figures I have been given. If the noble Lord would like any further assistance outside the Chamber, I am very happy to have a further discussion with him.
I most warmly thank all those who have participated in this debate; it has been a good debate. I also thank the Minister; I find that it is important to the quality of our whole proceedings that we have a Minister who is rooted in the issues with which we are involved. He speaks with great understanding and sympathy, and a good deal of enlightenment. His remarks have been encouraging, particularly his offer to continue talking with those of us who have concerns in this area.
I also take this opportunity to thank my noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch for the warm welcome she gave to my amendment. Everything that has happened in the debate demonstrates how right she was to bring her amendment. I hope, therefore, that what I have proposed is helpful and that when—it probably will be “when”—we pursue this on Report, we will simply take a belt-and-braces approach to ensure that the Minister’s good intentions and undertakings to us are entrenched in the legislation and incorporate the two amendments together. I think that would be a sensible thing to do. In this context, at this stage, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 219 (to Amendment 218) withdrawn.
My Lords, since we strayed quite a lot into innovation, robotics and so on, I thought that, in retrospect, I should declare an interest regarding my involvement with Rothamsted Enterprises, which is on the record.
I thank all noble Lords for the pretty fulsome support for my amendment from around the Chamber. I emphasise that this is not a prescriptive amendment; it simply asks the Government to pull together all the strands that we have talked about this afternoon—and the issues the Minister has flagged up in the work that is already ongoing—into one coherent strategy, which I feel we would all find useful. So often when we have these debates, the problem is that we find that there is some work going on in the Department for Education over here and other work going on in BEIS over there, but this is a fundamental part of how we are going to deliver the new agricultural programme that we are all enthusiastic about and aspire to. It is so much at the heart of it that bringing the strands together in one document that we can all see, sign off on and understand would be a really welcome step.
As I and many noble Lords have said, training and skills are absolutely key to this, and we cannot afford to be behind the curve—it is moving so quickly. I was very pleased to hear the noble Lord, Lord Curry, talk about his recommendation of a professional body, which I would like to see in the strategy. I was interested in the Minister’s comments about the Peter Kendall recommendations. Again, it would be good to see some of that spelled out in the strategy. All of this information and these recommendations are great, but they need to be brought to fruition and this is the Bill in which to do that. I am not saying that the current wording of my amendment is perfect, but something like it needs to be on the face of the Bill.
I will pick out a few questions. I was asked about seasonal workers. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, that not all seasonal work needs to be 12 hours long and back-breaking—I know that the Minister has a different view on this, and I understand that some seasonal work has to go with the weather. However, it does not all have to be back-breaking, 12-hour shifts. One of the problems we have is that a lot of UK workers do not come forward, precisely because of the length of the shifts; personally, I do not understand why there cannot be shorter shifts running in parallel.
The Minister talked about all workers having a buy-in and working 24 hours a day if needs be. For longer-term workers, I can see that that is the case, but casual workers maybe do not have the same buy-in to the outcome. This is what we are trying to find: we are trying to build longer-term relationships where, year after year, people care about the produce and outcomes, and feel that they have a say, a buy-in and some ownership of the profitability of the companies they are employed by.
The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, asked whether migrant workers should be covered. I thought that that was implied by what I said, but I am happy to say that of course that is the case. I will go one step further: if you are going to have training courses, it is absolutely vital that migrant workers and UK workers have the same training courses, particularly when it comes to safety issues or the use of machinery. You cannot afford to have one person who is less well trained and could let the side down by not knowing how to use the equipment. All of that training should be available to migrant workers and other workers alike.
I also agree with the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, that issues around vets very much underpin this issue. We absolutely need to have a system where everybody is treated equally and where the proper pay and conditions apply equally to UK workers and those from the EU.
A comment was made about the minimum wage. If this sector has a future, I do not see it being a minimum-wage sector. Of course, there will always be entry-level jobs that will be minimum-wage, but there needs to be career progression and extra pay for the extra skills that you develop. One of the things that is lacking at the moment is that when people upgrade their skills, they do not necessarily see that they will automatically get a higher rate of pay for doing so, which is what would happen in many other sectors.
At the outset of the Bill in the other place, evidence was taken from the agricultural workers’ unions. That evidence was that even people on the minimum wage were having part of it docked for clothing, food and all sorts of other charges. I am not saying whether or not these were legitimate, but there is no standard scheme to say that if your clothing is provided, you can have your wages docked by a certain percentage. All the evidence they gave was that wages have gone down since the Agricultural Wages Board was abolished. I am not saying that it should be brought back in its old form, but something is needed to bring all of these collective bargaining bodies together. As I think I said in my opening, they already have such bodies in the other UK countries of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland; it is only in England where we do not have a means of providing advice on wages and conditions.
I reiterate that change is coming fast in this sector. If we are to deliver the Bill, we need the subsidies, the finance that goes with that and all the advice and expertise we can bring into this sector, but we also need the labour force and the skills. That is the third leg of the stool that will prop this whole enterprise up. Unless this is an essential part of the Bill, I do not think the Bill will be sustainable.
I was pleased that the Minister said there is work going on—that is great. I really feel we need to pull those themes together, and this is the time to do it. I am grateful for his offer of discussions and would like to take him up. If not our amendment, something akin to it should be in the Bill. I really hope the Minister will not close his mind to the idea that the Government could put down their own amendment to deliver that; maybe that is an issue for another day. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw.
Amendment 218 withdrawn.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 220. 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.
220: After Clause 34, insert the following new Clause—
“Export of farmed animals for slaughter or fattening
(1) A person commits an offence if the person exports to any country outside the United Kingdom a farmed animal for slaughter or fattening.(2) A person commits an offence if the person arranges or facilitates the export to any country outside the United Kingdom of a farmed animal for slaughter or fattening.(3) Subsections (1) and (2) do not apply to the export of a farmed animal from Northern Ireland to the European Union.(4) A person guilty of an offence under subsection (1) or (2) is liable on summary conviction—(a) in England and Wales, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 51 weeks, to a fine or to both;(b) in Scotland, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months, to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale, or to both;(c) in Northern Ireland, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months, to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale or to both.(5) In relation to an offence committed before section 281(5) of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 comes into force, subsection (4)(a) has effect as if for “51 weeks” there were substituted “6 months”.(6) This section extends to England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.(7) This section shall come into force on “IP completion day”, where “IP completion day” has the meaning given in section 39 of the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020.”Member’s explanatory statement
This Clause prohibits the export from the UK of farm animals for slaughter or fattening. It includes an exception for exports from Northern Ireland to the EU as the Withdrawal Agreement prohibits restrictions on exports from Northern Ireland to the EU.
My Lords, in moving the amendment standing in my name, I declare a non-financial interest as set out in the register. I am delighted to be supported on this amendment by my noble friend Lady Hodgson of Abinger, the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb.
It is a perfectly straightforward amendment. I seek to ban the exports of farmed animals for slaughter and fattening. It excludes a ban on trade between Northern Ireland and the EU, simply because the withdrawal agreement between the UK and the EU makes it difficult to do otherwise. There is also a set of suitable penalties for people who do not abide by the ban.
I have a strong sense of déjà vu, because I remember, as a youngish MP in the 1970s and into the 1980s, drawing attention to the scandal of animals being exported live for slaughter and further fattening. In particular, I recall the time in 1973 when we were debating whether a temporary ban on the export of these animals should be extended or withdrawn. I was angry with the Minister, because I thought he was vacillating and weak in his approach. I said then that
“nothing will induce me to sanction the export of live animals”.—[Official Report, Commons, 14/12/1973; col. 833.]
I felt it strongly then and feel equally strongly about it 47 years later.
At that time I was a member of the council of the RSPCA, which gave me the opportunity to discuss first-hand with RSPCA inspectors their experience of that live trade. At that time they had an undercover agents operation and followed the consignments from the beginning to the end. The stories they told me were utterly horrific; I shall never forget them. Not only did these poor animals endure excessively long journeys—very often in wholly unsuitable vehicles and with little attention paid to rest—but they often went short of food and water and ended up deep in their own waste. The RSPCA inspectors themselves often endured considerable hardships, not least from the drivers of vehicles who did not want this kind of vigilant oversight of their activities.
I fear that great suffering is still endured by animals in the present day. Fortunately, it is not the large numbers I recall from those days—but even so, according to official figures in 2019, 3,500 calves were exported, very often from Scotland, going via England and France into Spain. That would be bad enough for mature animals, but for very young animals totally unsuited to such journeys I find that totally unacceptable. Worse still, if they stay there for further fattening, they are likely to be put in conditions that in this country would be illegal, frankly.
Far more sheep go. In 2019, 31,000-odd went on quite long journeys to the continent, even as far as Bulgaria. Again, the conditions at their destination are probably far from satisfactory. We do not even know whether some might be destined for slaughter without pre-stunning.
Of course, it is said that we have European Union regulations—but, frankly, they are wholly inadequate. They allow for a maximum journey time, but after 24 hours the whole miserable cycle can begin again, so that is scarcely adequate. Worse still, in 2011 the European Commission admitted that the enforcement of these regulations was a major problem. In other words, nobody was doing anything much at all, so we cannot rely even on that as minimal welfare for our animals going abroad.
My amendment does not deal with the travel of animals within the United Kingdom, which has been the subject of previous discussions on the Bill. I strongly agree with the British Veterinary Association, which says that animals should be slaughtered as near as possible to where they were reared. That is certainly the gold standard, and I hope we can work towards that with a will.
Some disturbing information was sent to me only yesterday about animals not in very good condition even before they left our shores. I want to look into this further, but if I find that there is a real problem, I shall want to take this to the Ministers, apart from the passage of this Bill.
I feel I should be kicking at a door already pretty well open. In 2019 the manifesto of the Conservative Party—now in government—indicated that it wanted to end what it described as the “cruel” treatment of animals having to go abroad. It also said it wished to “end excessively long journeys” suffered by many animals. I gather that the Prime Minister endorsed this approach during Questions on 10 June this year. Interestingly, his father and fiancée are patrons of the Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation. One of its key aspects is the requirement that animal exports should be stopped. It makes me wonder why the Government have not included a similar amendment to mine in their own Agriculture Bill. I look forward with great interest to the contributions of other Members in this debate, in particular my noble friend’s reply. In the meantime, I beg to move.
My Lords, I speak to this amendment in my name, so ably led by my noble friend Lady Fookes. It enables us to put an end to much suffering incurred by thousands of animals over the years when they are exported for slaughter.
Animals have to endure many hours of transport to meet their end. While I understand that the EU has comparable slaughter regulations, not all countries oversee these with the rigour they should. A report in September 2016 by a committee of inquiry of the French Assemblée Nationale confirmed that there were serious welfare problems and breaches of EU law on welfare at slaughter in French abattoirs.
Exporting animals for slaughter is simply a welfare insult. As we have heard, the long journeys are stressful for the animals and in some cases result in enormous suffering due, for example, to overcrowding, high summer temperatures and animals receiving injury en route. As mentioned in debates on other amendments, animals should be slaughtered at the closest possible point to production. In this day and age, there is no reason why they cannot travel on the hook, rather than on the hoof.
Figures provided by the Animal and Plant Health Agency show that around 40,000 animals were exported last year. Of these, I understand that around 30,000 were sheep, with just over half going to the continent. These animals are mostly going to France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany, but some are going to Hungary and Bulgaria, which have a large onward trade to the Middle East, where slaughter conditions can be simply terrible.
The proposed new clause also bans export for fattening. APHA figures show that 3,446 calves were sent from Scotland on long journeys to Spain and Italy in 2017, to be fattened for beef and veal. I gather that a number of English calves have also been sent. Not only does scientific evidence indicate that young calves are not well adapted to cope with transport; they may end up being kept in systems that are illegal in the UK on welfare grounds. It is therefore important that the ban includes fattening as well as slaughter. Otherwise, animals will be exported for fattening that will then result in slaughter.
There will be limited impact from this clause on British farming, because the numbers are small when compared with the UK herd size. As my noble friend has mentioned, banning exports for slaughter was in our Conservative manifesto. The Bill is the perfect place to bring in this provision. While I understand that there may be some work to make this happen, that is no reason to delay the legislation. This trade is cruel, and if the UK wishes to consider itself to be a country leading in animal welfare, it needs to act to stop such practices now. I therefore hope that the Government will use this opportunity to back a ban on live exports for slaughter and fattening, due to the extensive suffering that it causes, and accept the amendment or undertake to work to bring something similar forward at the next stage of the Bill.
My Lords, I added my name to that of my noble friends Lady Fookes and Lady Hodgson of Abinger. I did so slightly warily because I was not convinced that the Bill is the measure in which we should be adding this provision, but I do not doubt the need for it. As we have heard, it was a commitment in the Conservative manifesto at the last election, and I admire the doggedness of my noble friend Lady Fookes in keeping on this subject for a long time. She has been incredibly patient, and it is time that we looked at this matter seriously. It is incredibly complex to legislate for this and is not quite as simple as it might seem, for a variety of reasons that I am sure the Minister will tell us.
However, as regards travel within the UK, I can remember—not as far back as 1973 but in 1979—travelling on the “Good Shepherd” between Shetland and Fair Isle, where sheep were being transported. It was stormy, and I remember that sheep are not good sailors on small boats. I will not go into the result, but it is not easy to transport animals.
Our worry is, as has been said, that while we are told that inspections take place once animals leave our shores, we have great doubts that that has been done properly. Onward transport, not just across the channel, but to Bulgaria and elsewhere, and then on to the Middle East is of concern. I should like the Minister in his reply to say exactly where we are with this.
I should also add that I cannot support Amendment 277 in this group. However appalling the production of foie gras is—I am no great fan— criminalising people who might have some in their luggage as they come across the channel is not the way forward. It should be more about education.
My Lords, I support both amendments in the group. On the first, it was a pleasure to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, and her long, noble and sincere fight to protect animals that are exported.
Amendment 277, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, is about foie gras. I strongly disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Randall, that we should not penalise people who import it. We would not like it if people brought back bits of dead dog in their luggage. We hate the thought that, in some countries, dogs are eaten; yet, somehow, it is okay with ducks and geese. Foie gras is a brutal and horrific system of animal abuse. The practice is illegal in this country, but it can be circumvented by allowing people to import it from elsewhere. The simple point is that it does not matter if the animal abuse happens here or abroad; it is still animal abuse. A duck or goose is harmed just as badly in another country as it would be here.
I echo the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, in asking why both these provisions are not already in law. Why will the Government not commit to amending the Bill on Report on these issues? It would get a lot of public approval, which the Government are probably in need of at the moment. Banning live animal exports was always a given by Brexiteers, who gave it as an example to lure green-minded people to support Brexit. It is time for the Government to make good on that and give us what we voted for.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, for this important amendment, Amendment 220, and for her continuing commitment to animal welfare. I realise that the Government are committed to reducing livestock journey times for slaughter and fattening, and that a consultation is expected. I sincerely hope that the amendment will hasten action in that aim.
Since the basic tenet of the EU is free movement of people, capital and goods—and goods include animals—it has been impossible to act decisively with regard to export limitation. However, post Brexit, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, indicated, there is now that opportunity. There are also nuances and complexities, as the noble Lord, Lord Randall, stated.
With regard to the transport of animals and their welfare, as a recent report of the Animal Welfare Committee emphasised, the aim should be to reduce as much as possible the length of travel. However, other factors such as the health of animals at the time of travel, the quality of the travel vehicle and the conditions, and the frequency of loading and unloading are important elements. Transport is physically stressful. There are rules, and for export they are somewhat stricter than for in-country movement. But as has been said, there can be failure to enforce those rules. Whatever maximum time is set for a journey, if it is suspended before that, it can resume after a short rest.
The export of sheep to the continent can involve journeys of 18 to 29 hours or more, with the longest uninterrupted period of travel between stops of up to 14 hours. Therefore, because we cannot control what goes on outside the UK, there is justification to restrict the export of live animals that originate in the UK at least to an absolute minimum, as may be required for breeding. We also need to be mindful to minimise journey times and the number of journeys in each animal’s life within the UK, because some animals also undergo long journeys here. Although that is without the terms of the amendment, there needs to be a consistent approach to animal transport in general.
Returning to the issue of exports as covered by the amendment, we need to ask why we make live animals cover these distances. Data shows that, in 2018, nearly 25,000 live cattle were exported to Spain for “production”. Is there clear justification for this? Was this number necessary for breeding purposes? With cattle, we can now export frozen embryos and semen. Why are any live animals exported for slaughter? In recent years, thousands of sheep have been exported to France, ostensibly for slaughter. Why are they not killed in the UK and exported on the hook, not on the hoof, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, argued? I strongly support the amendment and look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I too support Amendment 220. I remind the House of my farming interests as set out in the register.
Like the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, I have wanted to see an end to live export for slaughter for many years. The majority of the animals exported in recent years appear to be sheep. The figures are not clear, but it looks as if the numbers have come down dramatically. However, I am very worried that we may see them rise because we are looking for new trade agreements and deals abroad and there is without question a demand in some places for live animals for slaughter.
The majority of the sheep that currently go are cull ewes going to France for non-stun slaughter for religious festivals. English sheep are cheaper than French ones, and every sheep farmer here knows that the best time to sell your old ewes, if you have the stomach for it, is just before the end of Ramadan. As has been said, the calves that go now come mainly from Scotland and are destined for the continent. They are dairy bull calves, which are a by-product of the milk industry, and are destined either to be killed at about eight months old or to be re-exported to north Africa as adults for non-stun slaughter there.
As we have heard, those animals face very long journey times. The Scottish ones used to go via Ireland, then on a ferry all the way round to the continent, where they were distributed to the countries where they had been purchased. In the abattoir inquiry chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Trees, which produced a recent report, we heard that the most distressing part of the journey is loading and unloading. On these long journeys, particularly with very young calves, that happens repeatedly—many, many times—to comply with the regulations when they are observed.
I understand that the English trade for such calves has largely ended because they are now finding a market in England for further rearing. Rose veal was heavily publicised and marketed, and people are now rearing them on contract for some of our main supermarkets and food outlets. One wonders whether the animal welfare, financial and environmental costs of sending some 3,500 Scottish calves to Europe every year could not be better avoided by good marketing and better provision in the Scottish abattoir system.
There are potential markets for all these animals at home and on the hook overseas. The campaign to sell rose veal was successful. Mutton was once highly prized but became unfashionable, despite the fact that, slow cooked, it has a great deal more flavour than highly prized new season spring lamb. With better marketing and promotion, it could be prized again. You never see it advertised in a butcher’s shop, yet I, as a sheep farmer, am often asked for it. I believe that the latent demand is there.
We are just about to embark on a number of important trade deals. As a livestock-producing nation, our products are likely to be in increasing demand, particularly in the Middle East and elsewhere where grass does not grow as ours does. We can, and must, expand our overseas markets, but, as the Government and their advisers say we should, slaughter the animals here, close the point of production, and export them dead, not alive.
We have heard a number of times during the long course of this Committee that we have wonderful, high animal welfare standards. In many areas, we do, of course, but we cannot simply shut our eyes and look the other way once we ship the animals that we have produced over national borders. I share the frustration of the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, and look to the Government to keep a promise at last.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 220. There is absolutely no question that we must maintain the highest standards of animal welfare. In the farming sector, we are proud of our standards and reputation for such standards, so we must not tolerate or condone bad practice. We must stamp it out and ensure that the regulations are enforced.
However, I am concerned about the amendment. The export of live animals for slaughter is without question an emotional issue and generates lots of public concern, as it has for a long time. When I chaired the Meat and Livestock Commission it invested in widespread research into the impact of transport on stress levels in sheep, cattle and pigs. As the noble Lord, Lord Trees, said, we should slaughter animals as close to home as possible and add value wherever possible so that we benefit from the marketing of those products in local, mainstream or export markets. We absolutely should do what we can to achieve that, but, as has been said, the reality is that animals suffer the most stress when being loaded on to and unloaded from lorries, not during transport, provided that the lorries comply with EU legislation, such as on journey times, and have the correct facilities on board.
I have always found it rather odd that crossing the 22 miles of water of the channel is such a major problem. It is misleading to believe, as has been stated, that all animals are likely to be mistreated as soon as they arrive. The reality does not support this belief. All the EU abattoirs that I have visited—and I have visited a lot—were of the highest standard, although I confess that I have not been to abattoirs in central Europe. Finished sheep and cattle travel much further than 22 miles from islands around the United Kingdom, including Shetland and Orkney, to the UK mainland for further finishing and for slaughter. Many lorries transporting animals for further fattening or slaughter in the UK travel 220 miles, never mind 22 miles across the channel. As the noble Lord, Lord Trees, mentioned, it is also often difficult to determine whether animals are being moved for slaughter, further fattening or breeding purposes, so it would be extremely difficult—almost impossible—to police the reason for movement.
My Lords, I have every sympathy for the sentiments behind Amendment 220, but I query the basis on which it is drafted. I experienced early on the concerns that people rightly have about the trade of live animals for export. It first came home to me when I was an MEP back in the mid-1990s and represented the port of Brightlingsea in north-east Essex. The trade was closed over Dover and moved to Brightlingsea so, mindful of the concern, I boarded the ferry and saw the movement of the animals from the truck on to the ferry. I must say, they were transported in much more comfort than any North Sea passenger, from my experience of ferries at the time.
I urge the authors of the amendment to go back to the RSPCA and, I am sure, Compassion in World Farming, to check the veracity of the allegations. It is true that 20, 30 or 40 years ago—I pay tribute to the work that my noble friend Lady Fookes has done in this regard —there were horrendous tales of the live trade in animals but, when you got to the basis of them, many were not in this country or even on this continent. I was appalled at that time to see that videos were being made and shown in schools in north Essex and south Suffolk to try to drum up support for banning the live trade.
As the noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkharle, just said, you have to be very careful to differentiate between animals that are being exported for fattening and slaughter and those that are being exported for breeding, showing and other purposes; as he rightly said, it is difficult to differentiate between the two.
I would like to see the live trade as it currently exists, certainly between here and mainland Europe, which I understand most of it is—that is, for every live animal that is exported, only six or seven are carried in carcass form. It is a very limited trade, it is highly regulated, and no farmer in their right mind would like to see an animal stressed by transport because the meat would be worthless and there would be no market for it at all.
There is a scenario that we seem to have lost sight of in this amendment: new subsection (6) cannot possibly apply to Northern Ireland because of the Northern Ireland protocol. I hope my noble friend will set out that it is simply not going to happen there.
I also hope my noble friend will take the opportunity to say—and I take great comfort from this fact—that if it is true that we are leaving the European Union and the transition period will end at the end of this year, the rules of the World Trade Organization will apply. I think the RSPCA is well aware of that fact. Under the “most favoured nation” clause and non-discrimination treatment, the likelihood is that the WTO would rule to prevent any such ban on the import or export of live animals under that principle.
With these few remarks, I hope my noble friend will continue to reassure us that this minimum, highly regulated level of trade can continue, but there are implications from the protocol and the WTO that I am sure he would wish to have regard to.
My Lords, 20-odd years ago, when we formed the Government in 1997, this was new to me and not something that I had given any thought to. I was responsible for animal health and Elliot Morley was responsible for animal welfare. We toughened up the regulations and we thought they were working, but over the years I have come to share the view of the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, so I wholeheartedly support the view that she has put forward today.
There are some caveats that need to be dealt with, which I will raise, but I cannot see any excuse for the export of live animals for slaughter or for fattening. Frankly, I am not an expert, but I well understand how I could distinguish between the export of animals for breeding and the export of those for fattening and slaughter; I do not think it is that difficult. We have—or, probably, had—quite a big export trade in pigs with China. They wanted to vastly improve their stock, and it was done with breeding expertise from the UK.
It is a fact that we have far fewer live exports than we used to. If memory serves me correctly, 20 or 25 years ago the figures were probably nearer to 250,000 or 300,000. I remember the rows at Brightlingsea that the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, has just referred to. I also remember the tragedy there of at least one person being killed under the wheels of a lorry while campaigning to try to stop the export of live animals.
We have to be careful of certain things. There is a Northern Ireland route to France. Slipping animals across the land border and then on into France is certainly a method that would have to stop. The noble Lord, Lord Trees, and someone else raised the issue of France. As I understand it, the reason why the French want our sheep is that if they are slaughtered in France, they can legitimately put “French lamb” on the menu. It is as simple as that. They do not have to declare it as British. It is slaughtered in France and therefore it is French lamb, so it is a selling point in French restaurants. That is what I have always understood the position to be.
In a way, the central issue is that if we could trust the transport industry to operate the transport regulations, we would not have a problem. I do not think there is a shred of evidence that this industry can be trusted with the export of live animals, however it might look as if it is regulated. I think there is enough evidence from the past, let alone the present, that corners will be cut where they can be in that particular industry.
By the way, although I do not want to upset anyone, I would also be careful and watch that the Isle of Man does not become a stopping point. It is not generally known that during the beef ban, cattle from the Isle of Man were freely exported to Europe—the beef ban did not apply there—and they travelled through England to get there, strange though it seems. That is a possible backdoor route for those who wish to preserve a live trade. So, there are some issues.
It is good that the marketing of red veal and bobby calves is better than it was, because it was non-existent 20 years ago. We had a scheme at MAFF which was very unfairly nicknamed the Herod scheme: if a farmer disposed of a bobby calf within 21 days, we paid them a subsidy, since it was a by-product of the milk industry, as my noble friend Lady Mallalieu said, and had no commercial value whatsoever. However, there is a commercial value, and it has been shown that if red veal is marketed properly there is a possibility of creating a market.
The trade deals are the Achilles heel. When we leave the EU, we simply have to put our foot down and say that we are not going to get involved, however much pressure comes from the industry, in trade deals involving live animals for slaughter and fattening for food production. I have no idea of the current figures, but in the past we have had massive exports of animals on the hook, hung in a special way to fulfil market conditions in some European countries. That can be done in terms of a quality approach, but to be honest I take the view of the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes: there has to be a complete block to address any of the potential loopholes that I have raised, and no doubt there are others. I do not see any justification for this trade at all.
My Lords, it is a real delight to follow the noble Lord, Lord Rooker—I want to call him my noble friend because he certainly is one—but he has rather stolen my thunder, in the sense that he and I share a capacity for looking at loopholes. I wish I were able to support the amendment that my noble friend Lady Fookes has tabled, because she has laid out a very strong case for banning both slaughtered animals and animals for fattening through third-party countries.
However, I would not want to see an exporter consign all live animal export via Northern Ireland in order to re-consign to a third country or even, as the noble Lord pointed out, the Isle of Man. I would expect such abuse to happen should the amendment be accepted, because Northern Ireland is especially excluded for exports to European countries under the withdrawal Act.
There may be other loopholes, and I hope the Minister can confirm what they are, along with the consequences of the amendment as it stands, although I am sure he will want to support the general thrust of what my noble friend Lady Fookes has been saying.
My Lords, Amendment 220 relates to animals being exported from the UK for the purposes of slaughter or fattening prior to slaughter. The sanctions imposed on those found guilty are severe and will, I hope, act as sufficient deterrent to prevent it happening.
Moving animals long distances causes extreme distress and is unnecessary. The noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, spoke passionately against the export of live animals for fattening, especially young animals. The noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson of Abinger, and the noble Lords, Lord Randall of Uxbridge and Lord Trees, made compelling arguments against exporting live animals, which I fully support. Does the Minister agree that the export of animals should be stopped? I know that he is passionate about animal welfare and I look forward to his support.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, spoke to Amendment 277—as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, will shortly—on banning the import of foie gras from 31 December 2021. This is plenty of time for regulations to be put in place for producers of foie gras to adjust and find other markets. I note that the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, intends the ban to extend to individual tourists returning from a holiday in a country where it is possible to buy foie gras. I support the whole impact of the foie gras ban but not penalising individual tourists.
The vast majority of the experienced and knowledgeable noble Lords who spoke on this amendment support it, except the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, and the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach. While the loading and unloading of trucks may have improved in some cases, the length and nature of the transportation in many cases has not. The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, drew attention to that and confirmed that this is the case. I ask the Minister to support this amendment and look forward to his comments on the contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes.
My Lords, I will speak to my Amendment 277 but also in support of Amendment 220, which would ban the export of farmed animals for slaughter or fattening. The noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, and many other noble Lords set out the case for this extremely well.
My amendment has a very specific intent: to ban the import of foie gras into the UK and to introduce fines for those found guilty of the offence after 31 December 2021. This is an issue of blatant animal cruelty, which has been widely recognised. Foie gras is created by force-feeding ducks and geese massive amounts of food to make their livers swell to 10 times their natural size. It causes enormous suffering. The birds are kept in tiny cages with wire mesh floors and no bedding or rest area. The process of jamming food down their throats several times a day causes disease and inflammation of the oesophagus. There is no higher-welfare alternative for making foie gras. It is intrinsically cruel.
The production of foie gras on UK soil has rightly been banned since 2000. However, imports have sadly not been banned, with the result that the UK continues to import around 200 tonnes of foie gras each year, mostly from mainland Europe. It is time to put a stop to this. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Randall, that it is not about the odd tin of foie gras in someone’s luggage; it is about commercial profit from animal suffering.
When a similar amendment was considered in the Commons, the Minister, Victoria Prentis, agreed that it raised serious welfare issues but that we should consider the matter after the transition from the EU. However, noble Lords will have spotted that the implementation date in my amendment is a year after we have left the EU, so there is plenty of time to bring this law into effect. Noble Lords might also like to know that force-feeding animals is already prohibited in a number of other European countries, including Germany, Italy and Poland.
We need to join the international movement against this cruel activity and implement a ban on imports of foie gras here as soon as we can. Let us hope that if enough countries take a stand on this, it will make foie gras production uneconomical and end this cruel practice for good.
My Lords, I am most grateful to all noble Lords for participating in this debate. I particularly thank my noble friend Lady Fookes —the word “tenacity” comes to mind. I think everyone agrees that animals should be slaughtered as close as possible to where they have spent their productive lives. I understand, and indeed share, the sentiments behind this amendment.
Over the last 30 years, EU free trade rules have prevented previous Administrations from taking meaningful action on live exports. Having left the EU, the Government are clear that we want to tackle this issue. However, any restriction on trade must of course be in accordance with WTO rules. We are giving careful consideration to the animal health and public morals exceptions in the design of our policy. My noble friend Lord Randall of Uxbridge used the word “complex”, which is apposite.
The Government committed in their manifesto to end excessively long journeys of animals going for slaughter or fattening. In 2018, along with the devolved Administrations, we tasked the independent Farm Animal Welfare Committee, or FAWC—now actually called AWC—to look into controlling live exports and at what improvements should be made to animal welfare in transport. FAWC produced a report that provides a good basis for future reforms to control live exports and improve animal welfare in transport more broadly, which is also very important.
My noble friend Lord Taylor of Holbeach and others referred to Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland will continue to apply the current EU rules as a result of the Northern Ireland protocol, and so cannot prevent the export of live animals to the EU and beyond. While the amendment recognises that fact, it would regrettably create a loophole which would be detrimental to animal welfare. Animals could be transported from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, rested for a short time in accordance with EU law, and then transported to the EU or a third country. There is also a risk that, to ensure enforcement was possible, we would need to introduce greater restrictions on animal movements from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.
I say to all noble Lords that the Government are actively considering how they will take forward their manifesto pledge. The noble Lord, Lord Trees, asked whether the amendment would hasten this; as I have said, the Government are actively considering how they will bring forward their manifesto pledge to end long journeys to slaughter and fattening, using the FAWC report as a basis for future proposals.
I turn to Amendment 277. While allowed under EU law, the production of foie gras from ducks or geese by using force-feeding raises serious welfare concerns. The domestic production of foie gras by force-feeding is not compatible with our animal welfare legislation. However, this amendment would penalise someone for bringing foie gras into the country for their personal consumption. The individual British consumer or retailer currently has the choice to engage with the product or not. I understand the strength of feeling on the issue, but in the Government’s view the Bill is about reforming domestic agriculture, not introducing penalties to consumers.
As I ask my noble friend Lady Fookes to withdraw her amendment, I hope that she will not suggest that I am weak or vacillating. We are seeking to plot a course through a complex issue to adhere to and achieve our manifesto commitment. With that, I hope my noble friend will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, I have received no requests from noble Lords to speak after the Minister, so I call the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes.
My Lords, I am grateful for what has been a very interesting debate with a lot of very good points made—not all of which, of course, I agree with. However, it has certainly aired the whole subject again, for which I am grateful.
I appreciate that my noble friend the Minister has difficulties afforded him. I take it that he is genuine in his wish to bring about an end to the export of animals for slaughter and fattening. He mentioned the WTO rules, but I understand that a good exemption is possible under Article XX, to which he referred briefly, and I am quite sure that, if a good case could be made, there should be no great problems on that subject. I remind him that certain bans on the export of animals are already in existence and appear to be unchallenged, particularly the ban on the export of horses and ponies under a certain value.
I obviously want to think very carefully about my amendment, because of the possible—or perhaps certain —loophole of animals going from England to Northern Ireland and then perhaps to the Republic and on through other countries, which is exactly what we do not want. I therefore want to give further consideration to whether I should pursue my amendment on Report. I would like to have further discussions with my noble friend to see in more detail what the Government have in mind to fulfil their manifesto commitment. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 220 withdrawn.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 221. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate, and that anyone wishing to press this or any other amendment in this group to a Division should make that clear in the debate.
221: After Clause 34, insert the following new Clause—
“Application of pesticides: limitations on use to protect human health
(1) The Secretary of State must by regulations make provision for prohibiting the application of any pesticide for the purposes of agriculture near—(a) any building used for human habitation;(b) any building or open space used for work or recreation; or(c) any public or private building where members of the public may be present including, but not limited to—(i) schools and childcare nurseries, and(ii) hospitals.(2) Regulations under this section must specify a minimum distance between any of the locations listed under subsection (1)(a) to (c) to be maintained during the application of any pesticide, and list any category of building or location.(3) For the purposes of this section “public building” includes any building used for the purposes of education.(4) Regulations under this section are subject to affirmative resolution procedure.”Member’s explanatory statement
This new clause would have the effect of protecting members of the public from hazardous health impacts from the application of chemical pesticides near buildings and spaces used by residents and members of the public.
My Lords, earlier in this Committee stage, a number of noble Lords—I remember, in particular, speeches by the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay—spoke movingly about the impact of pesticides on human beings and the distress that it had caused. I thank them for that. I also thank my noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch, the noble Lord, Lord Randall, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, for co-signing what is clearly a multiparty amendment.
The amendment is a vital but limited attempt to protect residents in rural areas from exposure to the spraying of pesticides and herbicides by requiring spraying to be carried out well away from homes and public buildings and from spaces where the public congregate. I am well aware that there is a wider background to this, which I will partially comment on, and it can be quite controversial, but this amendment is straightforward and, as such, I hope that it will be adopted by the Government at the end of this debate.
Much of the Bill is about the protection of wildlife, the health and welfare of farm animals, biodiversity, plant conservation, and water and air quality, but there is little recognition of the terrible damage to humans of ingesting chemical pesticides directly into their lungs, eyes and bloodstream. Many chemicals used in agriculture, including on UK farms and elsewhere, can, on their own or in combination, cause the breakdown of parts of the human immune system. They can poison the nervous system and cause cancer, mutations and birth defects. Rural residents are well aware of the problems. Campaigners on this have dossiers on rural families who have suffered, and I shall give your Lordships a couple of examples of the testimonies.
One is from a woman in the countryside in the north of England:
“I have brought up my family of three next to a frequently sprayed arable field. On many occasions, the spray has gone over the children as they’ve played. It has covered our washing and gone through our windows. We are long-term tenants on this land, yet we are treated as if this has nothing to do with us. We do not know what these chemicals are, only that the farmer, when mixing them and pouring them into his tank, wears full protective clothing and then sits in a protected cab.”
“I live in a rural area and have done all my life. The spraying of crops has been carried out almost daily. I suffer from two chronic diseases, one of which is likely to be fatal.”
Another resident says:
“My neighbour sprays so close we can sometimes feel the drops on our faces and there is nothing we can do. My children are at risk.”
However, there is something that we can do. At the moment, manufacturers, rightly, attempt to label their pesticide, insecticide and herbicide products with warnings. These comes in various forms, with labels saying “Very toxic by inhalation”; “Do not breathe spray, fumes or vapour”; “Risk of serious damage to the eyes”; or “Harmful: possible risk of irreversible effects through inhalation”.
Farm workers are covered under health and safety laws and by manufacturers’ advice to wear protective clothing, and most do so, but residents are not so covered. Guidance has been given to users that they should inform residents in advance of spraying and that the chemicals used should be clearly identified and communicated to residents. That advice is normally ignored and pretty well never enforced.
Ministers and others have, in debate on this Bill and elsewhere, lauded the UK pesticide regime as one of the best in the world. Frankly, that is not a great accolade given the exposure of whole populations in much of the world to pesticide damage, as recent reports by the United Nations have emphasised. It is wrong to claim that the EU or UK systems are safe. In particular, they do not protect those who live close by.
When I more or less did the Minister’s job 20 years ago, I inherited the responsibility for pesticides, and I was concerned then about the degree to which the pesticide industry influenced the regulatory structures, and particularly enforcement. There was a degree of producer capture, and that anxiety has not gone away. Now that we are so-called free of EU regulations, there is a danger that that influence will grow further and that the lives of residents in the UK will be less safe. There have been occasions when the UK has been the country least keen on EU regulation in these areas. Whereas in most of the Bill, and in most of the Government’s vision for the future of agriculture, we are trying to go further than the CAP straitjacket in order to protect the environment and animal health, there is a danger that we will relax the pesticide regulations. However, we should be adopting strategies that enhance protection.
The amendment would at least have the effect of protecting residents and the public from the hazardous health impacts of spraying near buildings and spaces used by the public. As I said, it is in a sense a relatively small step, but it is absolutely vital for those families and populations. Ultimately, we need to see a longer-term strategy to develop non-chemical methods of crop protection, but this is an improvement that we can impose now, and one which should be part of the Bill.
Crucially, it establishes the principle that there must be minimum distances between pesticide spraying and occupied buildings. The details would be subject to wide consultation and to secondary legislation. A number of noble Lords have asked me why we do not specify the distance in this primary legislation. As we know, there will be some discussion about that and it would be normal for the details to come in regulations. However, there will be differences of opinion between farmers, manufacturers and campaigners for rural residents, and it is best that the precise distance is left for consultation and scientific measures. I myself would be inclined towards a substantial distance, but there will be other views about the practicality of that.
Tonight, let us establish, as part of the Bill, the very basic principle that human life and human health are protected and need to be protected. In the longer run, we need a proper strategy to reduce and eventually eliminate chemical pesticides, or at least the wholesale use of them, and to replace them with non-chemical forms of plant protection. However, that is a wider issue. Immediately, we need to protect the rural residents who are at risk. My amendment is a very small but vital part of the journey and I hope that the Government will be prepared to accept it, either this evening or on Report, for the sake of those rural residents who feel, and are, unsafe, and the many who have been distressed by the impact of pesticides on them and potentially on others. I beg to move.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. I have signed his amendment, which he has explained extremely eloquently. I also support—although I have not signed—the other amendment in this group, because both recognise the harmful effects of pesticides on human health and the health of our wildlife and countryside. This comes just days after Monsanto/Bayer agreed an out-of-court settlement of $10 billion in compensation to farmers who claim that Roundup caused their cancers.
Agricultural chemicals is a huge industry, and big agri-businesses are spending billions of dollars to avoid a court finding that their products cause cancer and other health problems. These two amendments are common sense when it comes to protecting our health and that of our countryside from these dangerous chemicals. Banning the application of pesticides in areas of human habitation, work and education will directly protect people from their toxic consequences.
Amendment 226 would help us shift more broadly from pesticide use towards alternative farming practices. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response, and I would be very happy to work with noble Lords to bring these amendments back on Report, because they need to be included in the Bill.
My Lords, I thoroughly support these two amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. He and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, have expressed everything I wanted to say. We have talked about the need to look after biodiversity and the environment, but what could be more important than the health of fellow human beings? I support these amendments.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 221, to which I have also put my name. This is my first contribution in Committee, and I have listened and learned an awful lot from the debates thus far. I have long-held concerns about the pollution and contamination caused by the widespread use of pesticides and chemical treatments across increasingly large parts of our agricultural land.
I am no expert on the effects of pesticides on human health and our wildlife, but the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, and the noble Lord, Lord Patel, most definitely are. The House heard them talk in detail on a previous group of amendments about how exposure to agricultural pesticides is linked with many diseases and conditions. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, emphasised that in moving the amendment. It is obvious that those living near crop fields are particularly vulnerable to exposure.
The Government have had in place a national action plan looking into this problem since 2013, but little seems to have resulted and, unsurprisingly, it has been described as “woefully weak”. I read the Minister’s letters to Peers after Second Reading, in which he said that the Government will develop their policy in a revised national action plan on the sustainable use of pesticides, and that they will consult in coming months. This is not an adequate response to what is a serious, well-documented and ongoing health hazard.
We have all agreed that the Agriculture Bill is a landmark piece of legislation. It is going to provide the foundation for our agricultural and environmental policies for decades to come. The Minister in the other place described it as an ambitious Bill. But it is not ambitious in this area. What is our strategy regarding the use of pesticides? Are we going to have a target to reduce their use to, say, half, as the EU has adopted? Or, is our strategy to aim to remove them completely from our food and farming system, as at least one Chief Scientific Adviser has advocated? We need to hear about more concrete action and a clearer strategy than that revealed thus far.
The problem with pesticides is that their effects are cumulative and take time to reveal themselves. There is often a considerable time lag between the adoption of new chemical substances and the full effects of their continued use. As time goes by, it is clearer than ever that the intensive use of pesticides and chemicals causes a wide range of adverse health impacts, with often irreversible and permanent chronic effects. Those living in rural areas, particularly children, are most at risk, hence the provisions of Amendment 221, but I also support the other amendment in this group.
Science is advancing at a great pace and finding alternatives and solutions to the problems our present pesticide and chemical use causes. That is welcome, but it is no reason not to take measures now to deal with what we know are the considerable health hazards facing those living nearby and downwind, as my noble friend Lord Whitty so graphically described. It is those people, and particularly the children in those areas, on whose behalf we need to take action.
We have watched with increasing concern the decimation of our insect population, and we have to take action and adopt a clear strategy to protect those in most danger as a matter of urgency, while work continues on longer-term solutions.
My Lords, I rise to support Amendments 221 and 226. As a rural resident in Northern Ireland, I am fully aware of the use of pesticides and their harmful impact on the many people who live close by. So, I am fully equipped with knowledge of the deployment of pesticides and their impact on humanity, animals and the wider environment. I support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, and I know that, as a former Agriculture Minister, he made strenuous efforts in this respect.
There is no doubt that highly toxic agrochemicals remain the biggest contributor of pollution, contaminating the air, soil, water and the overall agricultural environment, as well damaging human health. We are all aware of the damage caused by sheep dip and its impact on the human population; other types of human illnesses are also associated with farm husbandry and pesticides generally.
For the sake of humanity, and for agriculture to be profitable, this issue needs to be addressed in a symbiotic, healthy way. The best way to achieve that is through the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, in which he suggests minimum distances to ensure that human life is protected. I support both amendments and commend them to the Committee.
My Lords, I have a different point of view. I was brought up in Bedfordshire for much of my life. At one point I was a consultant to Fison’s Agrochemicals. We are not just talking about the generic term “pesticide”, which conjures up images of locusts doing this, that and the other, we are talking about insecticides, fungicides, herbicides or weed killers, and we need to differentiate between them.
I want to make two points to the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. First, nobody should be spraying in windy conditions so that children in a back garden are somehow drenched. That particular farmer is way outside the code of conduct and he would not be doing any good for his employer because the spray would not be going on to the crops it was designed for. Secondly, if you live in a village—I live on the edge of one—you know that most people have gardens and use some form of pesticide for the various problems in a garden. Ordinary consumers are reasonably well briefed. They read the instructions on the container. They know they may or may not have to mix, and it is fairly rare to mix two chemicals. In most cases, you pour 20 millilitres, or whatever it may be, into 2 litres of water. You make sure that the container is clean and that the sprayer is working properly. Quite frankly, the idea that people living in rural villages have no idea about pesticides is a myth.
We have only to go back to the 1960s when the British Agricultural Association had a code of conduct; I have the old booklet here somewhere. Over time, that code has been improved immeasurably. Furthermore, the scientific work that is done on agrochemicals is every bit as thorough as that done on medicines, medical trials and so on. If there is a failure in the use of spraying somewhere in the UK, that farmer should be jumped on, but most of the farmers I know are careful.
I live next door to the RSPB. It and others have done a wonderful job of restoring birds in the countryside in co-operation with British farmers. Spraying is altered to suit particular bird species. Along with my granddaughter I have been to RSPB briefings recently and you cannot help but be impressed by the way the industry is working with those who are trying to look after our wild birds. I say to my noble friend that this is all very nice. If pesticides are used properly, I do not think that people are dying. I do not think that any harm is being done to them. Further, let us not forget that this is not the year in which to make dramatic changes to any sector of agriculture. This is the year of transition. It is a year where we need to move forward smoothly to ensure that our dear farmers can take on board changes that are being forced on them without having to muck about with whether less herbicide x or fungicide y should be used here or there.
I shall say to my noble friend on the Front Bench that he may not be 100% popular but, for my money, he should strongly resist both these amendments.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow my noble friend Lord Naseby, especially since I agree with so much of what he has said. On this occasion, however, I regret that I have to disagree with my noble friend Lord Randall of Uxbridge. I shall be brief because I am conscious that I must leave time for those colleagues who wish to speak on every single amendment. Where I take issue with my noble friend Lord Randall is on the words, “application” and “any pesticide”. I have made this point previously so I need not go into the detail, but we must not demonise all pesticides if they are no threat to humans, animals and wildlife, and if they are applied properly, as my noble friend Lord Naseby has just said. I agree with my noble friend Lord Randall that I do not want to see clouds of aerosol spray wafting across fields and settling on people, animals and buildings outside the intended zone, even if that spray is just soapy water, and I agree completely with what the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said in his moving introduction to this amendment. It is just not acceptable for people anywhere to be sprayed with any substance, no matter how harmless, from agricultural activities.
As a former MP for a rural constituency with lots of villages, I deplored incomers who would complain about cowpats on the road, but everyone is entitled to a pesticide spray-free environment. However, we are now getting the technology that can permit the micro-application of tiny amounts of pesticide. The chemical is not sprayed over everything, but is applied to the individual weed. I used to use Roundup in the garden because it was an excellent pesticide, but latterly I applied it by touching just one leaf of the weed with a tiny bit of it on a sponge attached to the end of a cane. That is the poor man’s garden method of micro-application. Farmers cannot do that over vast acreages, but I do not want to see a blanket ban on all pesticides, however safe and however applied, as the amendment suggests. The technology is coming onstream to permit the safe application of small amounts of pesticide directly on to weeds. They are of crucial importance and they cause no harm to people, food or the environment.