House of Lords
Tuesday 15 September 2020
The House met in a hybrid proceeding.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Carlisle.
Introduction: Baroness Clark of Kilwinning
Kathryn Sloan Clark, having been created Baroness Clark of Kilwinning, of Kilwinning in the County of Ayrshire, was introduced and made the solemn affirmation, supported by Lord Foulkes of Cumnock and Baroness Chakrabarti, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.
Introduction: Lord Walney
John Zak Woodcock, having been created Baron Walney, of the Isle of Walney in the County of Cumbria, was introduced and took the oath, supported by Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield and Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, the Hybrid Sitting of the House will now begin. Some Members are here in the Chamber, respecting social distancing, others are participating remotely, but all Members will be treated equally. Oral Questions will now commence. Can noble Lords asking supplementary questions please keep them short and confined to two points. I ask that Ministers’ answers are also brief. I call upon the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, to ask the first Oral Question.
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the updated recommendations from the National Infrastructure Commission that the United Kingdom should aim to meet two-thirds of its electricity needs using renewable energy sources by 2030.
My Lords, we welcome the recent NIC report and will consider its recommendations. The Government are committed to reaching net zero through a sustainable, diverse and resilient energy system. This will require significantly increased renewables deployment. Renewables are on track to deliver the majority of electricity by 2030, having reached nearly 50% in the first quarter of this year. The energy White Paper will set out plans to further accelerate renewables deployment.
I declare my interests, as set out in the register. I thank the Minister for that response. Given the NIC’s findings that increased earlier investment in renewables can be delivered at the same overall cost, meeting half only of total demand by 2030, and will not increase costs for consumers, can the Minister give assurances that the Government will prioritise investment in the UK’s world-leading renewables sector in the forthcoming spending review?
The noble Lord will understand that the spending review is of course a matter for the Treasury and that I cannot comment ahead of its decisions. However, we are prioritising investment in the renewables sector. We are accelerating new capacity through the contracts for difference scheme, which gives us certainty to drive private sector investment and has been very successful in driving down costs.
I am grateful to the Minister for that Answer. Do the Government have any plans to go above the 65% renewables target in this NIC report? Secondly—[Inaudible]—the Government not to build any more nuclear power stations. Based on Hinkley Point’s mushrooming costs, which are even higher than HS2’s, they would do better to carry on with more renewables, as the report shows that their costs are coming down significantly.
I think I caught most of that question. The noble Lord is correct that renewables such as wind and solar are now some of the cheapest forms of generation per unit. These technologies are key to meeting net zero but will need to be complemented by other sources of power, including nuclear, which are available when the wind does not blow and the sun does not shine.
My noble friend makes a very good point. The Government recognise nuclear’s potential to support the transition to net zero, as a proven continuous low-carbon energy source. AMRs in particular could support the deep decarbonisation of industry in future.
My Lords, I declare my interests, as in the register. Presumably, the Government accept the NIC’s view that
“renewables alone cannot create a resilient energy system for future decades”.
Following the excellent point made by the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, how many additional nuclear power plants, large or small, are now planned to keep us on the pathway to zero net emissions, prevent power cuts and, I hope, reduce crushing energy bills? Can we have some precision in the plans for this area?
My noble friend speaks with great authority on this point, but it is important to say that renewables will be key to meeting our net-zero targets. However, as I said earlier, they will need to be complemented by sources of power such as nuclear and gas, with carbon capture and storage, and additional flexibility such as batteries and interconnection. We should be prepared to support further new nuclear projects in the years ahead.
Does the Minister agree with the National Infrastructure Commission that hydrogen has a key role to play in meeting our net-zero targets, not least as a storage medium for intermittent renewables? Will the Government therefore ensure that we invest in the hydrogen economy on a similar scale to competitors such as Germany, so that we maintain our leading edge in green hydrogen technologies and do not, once again, miss the bus?
The noble Lord makes a very good point. I hope we will see more hydrogen-powered buses in the front so that we do not miss them. We have an excellent hydrogen strategy. We are investing considerable sums in developing hydrogen. We will have further announcements to make on the subject.
Does the Minister not regret that the recommendations fail to take account of the importance of nuclear power as a reliable, firm, low-carbon baseload element in our energy mix? Should the Government not immediately inform the Japanese Government and Hitachi that they consider it of the utmost importance to revive the Horizon nuclear power station project at Wylfa, Ynys Môn? Will my noble friend also confirm that the Government still intend to contribute to its funding through the construction phase, which would greatly lower the cost of electricity generated? Given the likelihood that Hitachi will cancel the project tomorrow, should the Government not acquire the Horizon site to preserve options for its future?
As I said in previous answers, I agree with my noble friend that new nuclear can play a role as we seek to transition to net zero. It is the only technology that is currently proven, and can be deployed on a sufficiently large scale, to provide continuous low-carbon power. We will be prepared to support further new nuclear projects in the years ahead if they can show that they provide value for money. We continue to engage with all developers.
My Lords, I suggest that the Government might like to encourage small-scale hydrotherapy—sorry, hydroelectric. I have seen a small village in Colombia supported by a mere drop of eight metres, giving 3 kilowatts. There are many hills above our coastline. Should we not be encouraging more people to use water as a source of electricity?
The noble Lord might want to re-ask his question on hydrotherapy to my noble friend Lord Bethell, who is answering the next Question. We acknowledge the valuable contribution of hydropower to the UK energy mix over many decades. Most hydropower capacity was of course installed in Scotland last century, with smaller amounts in Wales and England. Most of these installations are still operating and still successful. They account for almost 2% of total electricity generation.
This important report challenges the Government to raise their ambitions to meet the climate emergency and stimulate a green recovery. As the Minister said, renewables accounted for a record 47% of generation in the first quarter of 2020. What impediments does he foresee to meeting the recommendation that 65% of UK electricity should be delivered using renewable energy sources by 2030? How can they be overcome?
As the noble Lord said, we have a tremendous record in deployment of renewables. Renewable capacity in the UK has gone from less than 9 gigawatts at the start of 2010 to almost 47 gigawatts at the start of 2020. We certainly hope to increase that rapid deployment.
At the moment, solar power provides only 2.2% of our energy needs. What are the Government doing to increase this percentage? In particular, why are they not doing more to encourage householders to install solar panels on their roofs?
The noble and right reverend Lord is right that solar will play a critical role in the mix. A number of projects have already been approved and are ongoing. I am sure we will receive further bids for solar power projects in the contracts for difference auction next year.
My Lords, I will press my noble friend to say whether the figure he very kindly gave the House includes energy from waste, whether he will look to increase the contribution that it makes to renewable forms of energy, and in particular whether its benefits will be shared with local communities.
The figures I gave were on total renewable capacity, but my noble friend makes a good point. A number of waste-to-energy schemes have been highly successful. We of course have to recognise that various communities have some concerns. We will always seek to work with local communities to make sure that any further projects are acceptable to them.
Covid-19: NHS Long-term Plan
My Lords, I pay tribute to the NHS for its remarkable achievements in response to Covid-19, from freeing up an additional 33,000 beds for Covid patients, to maintaining access to primary care by ensuring that 93% of GP surgeries offer video consultations, and swiftly mobilising an additional 65,000 former clinicians to help fight the virus. Learning from the Covid response will naturally inform future service priorities. However, at present, the Government’s focus remains on supporting system recovery and any amendments that may be needed to the NHS long-term plan will be considered in due course.
My Lords, I thank the Minister and echo his tribute to the magnificent efforts of health service staff. I remind the House of my membership of the GMC board. He will know that the NHS entered this crisis underpeopled and under-resourced, and that a huge backlog of work has built up. There have been estimates that as many as 10 million people will be waiting for treatment at the end of the year. There is an issue with cancer patients waiting for tests and treatment. Can he give an indication of the work being done, despite the pandemic, to get the NHS back on track? Surely he agrees that the NHS five-year plan will have to be recalibrated to take account of this.
I thank the noble Lord for his generous comments towards the NHS. Undoubtedly it is true that, after a massive epidemic such as the one we are living through, we will have to rethink some of our priorities and learn from Covid, but I will add a few comments about the restart. The focus on getting patients back into hospital is having a huge impact on cancer waiting lists. Attendance at GP surgeries is increasing all the time, and waiting lists are coming down dramatically. I pay tribute to NHS staff for their hard work on this matter.
My Lords, given that the health protection remit of Public Health England is to be subsumed into the new national institute for health protection, can the Minister tell us what steps Her Majesty’s Government will take to ensure that health inequalities are robustly addressed through programmes of health education and promotion, as envisaged in chapter 2 of the NHS Long Term Plan?
My Lords, the right reverend Prelate is right; health inequalities are a massive priority for the Government. Covid has demonstrated how health inequalities play out when an epidemic such as this one hits the country. That is why we put education and levelling-up on health generally as major government priorities, why we are investing in 50,000 new nurses and 40 new hospitals, and why health remains a number one priority for this Government.
My Lords, my noble friend will be aware that the long-term plan has set an ambitious target for 2028 of 75% of cancers being diagnosed at stages 1 and 2. Does he agree that this must involve GPs, and that GPs having face-to-face consultations with patients is the only way that this target will be achieved?
We are enormously proud of the commitment to early intervention on cancer. This is the absolute core of our life science priorities. It is envisaged that we will have a revolution in the diagnostic capabilities of the NHS in order to hit these targets and, where necessary, face-to-face GP appointments will be made available. However, I am not sure that every single appointment needs to be face to face. One of the learnings of more than half of the 100 million consultations that took place between March and June was that telephone and video appointments can be extremely productive.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that late diagnosis causes many disasters in many health specialties? Does he agree that the respiratory programme is vital and has been highlighted by Covid-19? Should we not be training and employing more doctors, nurses and physiotherapists as respiratory specialists across the country in the long-term NHS plan?
I completely agree. It is a grave shame that too many diagnoses happen late. We are proud of our acute care, but it is this Government’s mission to move to a priority around early intervention which will have a huge impact on the quality and length of people’s lives and make modern healthcare more affordable. The noble Baroness is entirely right that respiratory interventions are an important priority.
My Lords, it is not good enough just to praise NHS staff. Will the Government commit to spending a certain percentage of GDP on health as soon as possible? I suggest that 12% of GDP should be spent on health; then we would not have a repetition of this disaster.
My Lords, the long-term plan cannot be delivered without effective community nursing support. Community nurses get people out of hospital and prevent others from being admitted. Currently, the service is short of several thousand nurses. What changes does the Minister expect to be made to get these nurses recruited, trained and operational?
I am grateful to the noble Baroness for raising the importance of community nursing, and all community-based healthcare, including community diagnostic hubs. The interest in nurse recruitment has risen dramatically—by 138% in recent months—partly because of our massive advertising campaign and the renewed focus of NHS trusts in community nursing, which will be matched by opportunities to provide training for those who step forward for jobs.
My Lords, in light of the experiences of people relying on social care during the current pandemic, might the NHS long-term plan make some adjustments to account for the need for integration between NHS and social care? When can we look forward to the proposals for radical social care reform, to ensure parity of esteem for the NHS?
My noble friend is entirely right to raise the importance of social care. Undoubtably, one of the things that we have learned through Covid is that the NHS and social care sectors must work more closely together. That was always envisaged as one of the pillars of the long-term plan. It is now an increased priority. That has been witnessed through much closer collaboration in recent months between trusts and the social care industry. We continue to invest in social care, providing councils with access to £1.5 billion for adult and social care in 2020-21, as extra support during this difficult time.
Following on from the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, I must try to pin the Minister down. Can he commit to publishing a plan for the future funding and provision of social care by the end of this year, as the Prime Minister promised in January? My honourable friend Liz Kendall MP has today written to the Secretary of State about the need for a clear social care winter plan. What steps are the Government taking to ensure that no one with Covid-19 is discharged from a hospital to a care home, to prevent a repeat of the terrible impact that this had in the first months of this crisis?
My Lords, I cannot commit to a social care plan before the end of the year. It will require a huge amount of political collaboration and I suspect it will take longer than the next few months. I remind the noble Baroness that we have a £600 million infection control fund to help social care through the winter.
My Lords, despite additional Covid funding, many NHS trusts are having to cut back on crucial capital investment programmes because of increased financial pressure. For example, some hospitals are having to replace obsolete and ineffective scanners with slightly newer but far from up-to-date models. Does the Minister agree that when the NHS long-term plan is revised, it will need to include a recovery schedule from these perhaps inevitable but nevertheless damaging short-term responses?
My Lords, the Chancellor has made it clear that catch-up support for the NHS to recover from the impact of Covid is an important part of his financial projections. However, I remind the noble and gallant Lord that we are investing in 40 new hospitals. It is a massive capital investment and the impact on our healthcare service should not be underestimated.
Examinations: A-level and GCSE
My Lords, this Government are committed to ensuring that students taking A-levels and GCSE exams in 2021 receive the qualifications that they deserve. Exams are the fairest way of judging students’ performance and we expect next year’s exams to go ahead. However, we recognise that students have experienced disruption to their education due to Covid-19. We will continue to work with Ofqual, the exam boards and sector representatives to ensure that next year’s exams are fair.
My Lords, the exam fiasco could have been avoided had the DfE been prepared to listen to the teacher associations and other relevant bodies. Can the Minister assure us that this listening has happened in preparation for next summer’s exams? And what contingency plans are in place if an individual school has to be closed down?
My Lords, throughout the period of the pandemic the department has been working closely with sector organisations, local authorities, multi-academy trusts and teaching unions. Of course, we are listening at the moment to all suggestions to ensure that the 2021 examinations go ahead. I would welcome any further contribution from the noble Lord and will ensure that it is taken back as we work through the contingency plans for next year.
My Lords, I declare an interest, as my younger daughter will be taking A-levels next year. There is an extraordinary disconnect between predicted and actual A-level results. This conceals a real mischief being done to disadvantaged children, and it will surely be worse this year. Are officials working on this question? If so, may I and others who have ideas and solutions to propose be put in touch with them?
My Lords, we are particularly concerned to ensure that disadvantaged students, along with other students, have the best opportunity to catch up. In relation to 16 to 19 year-olds, £96 million is available for small-group tutoring. However, I reiterate that I would welcome any contributions and ideas from noble Lords to make sure that we have all that information and so that we, Ofqual and sector representatives can work together to ensure that we run exams properly in 2021.
My Lords, will the scrapping of the spoken element of foreign language GCSE exams in 2021 be temporary? If so, when does the Minister expect it to be reinstated? Has any impact assessment of this measure been made regarding the suitability of this exam for entry into sixth-form or university study, or in the eyes of employers?
My Lords, the alteration to the spoken element of foreign language examinations is only for one year; it has not been scrapped. There will be a change to the assessment, but that will be done during the course of study, rather than in a formal speaking exam, which is similar to how English language is conducted in our schools. That was done to reduce the pressure on students and to free up some teaching time.
My Lords, none of us wants a repeat of the confusions in this year’s exam system, especially young people, who are very articulate about their concerns. What has the department learned from this year’s problems? The Minister said that it wants to consult and to hear suggestions. Here is one: will it consult young people on the fiasco that we have had?
My Lords, in relation to next year’s exams, the department is just about to embark on a whole programme of engagement with stakeholders. I will obviously take back the noble Baroness’s suggestion that we consult the widest possible group of people so that we can learn from what happened last year and ensure the position for 2021.
My Lords, I refer to my entry in the register of interests: I am a university academic. What conversations are the Government having with universities about the possible disparity between the A-levels that students might achieve next year and the academic background that they need for certain subjects such as medicine if they have lost part of the syllabus because of teaching breaks owing to Covid?
My Lords, the Minister for Higher Education, Michelle Donelan, has been meeting, at times daily, with a higher education task force. In relation to A-levels, there have been many fewer changes to the curriculum instructions issued by Ofqual. There have been changes to subjects such as music and drama because we recognise that those students must have the breadth of curriculum to progress to higher or further education. However, we are of course working on contingency plans. That is the stage that we are at at the moment, and I will take back those comments to the department.
My Lords, for exams in 2021 Ofqual is proposing that, in most subjects at GCSE and in all subjects at A-level, students will be expected to have covered the full course content, despite many having suffered significant losses to learning time this year when schools were closed. As a result, qualifications risk being seriously undermined by the fact that some students will have had access to all the content while others will not. Given the chaos of the past two months, I welcome the Minister’s acknowledgment in an answer a few moments ago of the need for a contingency plan. So will the Secretary of State agree to work with teachers and school leaders to develop a robust national system of moderated centre-assessed grades, should exams need to be suspended again nationally or locally next year?
My Lords, the guidance put out by Ofqual outlined that schools should teach the breadth of the curriculum, but there have been changes to certain subjects, particularly at GCSE, where there are choices of topics—for instance, in English literature. There is no full requirement to do geography field trips because that is about saving time, and for public health reasons such trips might not be possible. However, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his suggestion, and it is one that I will formally take back to the department. This is the perfect time for this Question, so I will make sure that all suggestions are taken from the Chamber, and I hope that noble Lords will feel free to send any further suggestions to me.
Three independent research bodies have now reported that during lockdown a fifth of students had no access to a computer or had access for less than an hour—that is, 1.7 million students, and they are the disadvantaged. I fail to see how they can catch up on five months’ education in 12 months—it is utterly impossible. We should not count too much on tutoring, as most tutors have never taught disadvantaged children, which is quite a different business. So I very much support the contingency plan. The Minister must plan for the possibility of not having exams next year but, if the exams are to be held, they will have to have a substantially reduced content. That is the only way in which those 1.7 million students can be treated fairly next summer.
My Lords, the Government are of course concerned about catch-up for all students. In relation to disadvantaged students, £350 million is being made available for tutoring, and those mentors will begin to be in schools in the second half of the autumn term. We have provided over 220,000 laptops and another 150,000 will be made available. However, it is pleasing to tell noble Lords that the attendance statistics were announced only 50 minutes ago, and more than 7 million children and young people are back in the classroom. Noble Lords will be aware that one thing that the Secretary of State has asked Ofqual to consider is whether to delay the exams next year to allow more catch-up teaching time.
My Lords, research by the Runnymede Trust and others shows that pupils from BAME communities are still less likely to be accepted by the Russell group universities, even when equally as qualified at A-level as their white counterparts. What are the Government doing to address this issue?
My Lords, as noble Lords will be aware, the universities are autonomous institutions, but they are regulated by the Office for Students. Under that regulatory framework, they have to have access and participation plans. One of the success stories over the last number of years is that black students have been more likely to take up a place in higher education; I will write to the noble Lord with specific statistics to support that statement.
My Lords, I declare my interest as in the register. Members of the National Education Union in independent schools are very concerned that, unless there is a change to assessment, students in state schools will be very much disadvantaged. Without further amendment, the assessment of A-levels and GCSEs will be more a measure of teaching time lost than of students’ abilities and knowledge. This could be remedied in part by introducing greater use of options within subjects—as is already in place in Wales and Northern Ireland—and open-book assessments. Will the Minister consider these suggestions?
When Ofqual consulted on these matters, it considered whether to introduce not just choice of topic but choice at question level; its opinion was actually that that would disadvantage weaker students—so, it has been considered. Of course teaching has now begun, and so it is not an option at present.
Covid-19 Secure Marshals
Local authorities are best placed to determine the model of deployment and responsibilities of marshals in their areas. We do not expect to set national targets for the number of marshals but rather to work with local authorities to encourage them to consider using marshals where appropriate. We will be setting out further details in due course.
My Lords, for the first time since the 1300s, mingling is an offence under English law. The Home Secretary confirmed today that, if two families of four saw each other on the street and stopped to say, “Hello. How are you?” they would be mingling and carrying out an offence. Can the Minister tell us what enforcement—not education—powers the new Covid-secure marshals will have to stop such mingling?
My Lords, this is the latest flight of fantasy from No. 10, designed to distract attention from the manifold failures of the response to the coronavirus: the lockdown that came too late now being lifted too fast; the “world-beating” test system which is not. There is no news on whether these marshals, who will be acting with the Prime Minister’s authority in the community, will be DBS-checked, or whether they will have proper PPE. They may be spat at; they may need stab vests. Is it correct that no money is being provided for this—though the Daily Telegraph tells us that they are going to be paid £30,000 a year—and that these marshals will have no powers to enforce anything? The Minister cannot tell us how many there will be or when they will arrive. Can he tell us how they will differ from phantom armies deployed by a deranged despot from his bunker as everything collapses around him?
My Lords, I note the rhetorical flourish, but marshals have already been deployed throughout the country very successfully to encourage and support compliance and to welcome people back into public areas—places such as Leeds, Bradford, Cornwall, Devon, Peterborough and Crawley. We will continue to work with local areas to come up with approaches to deployment and to the training that is required. An announcement on funding will be made in due course.
My Lords, as the Minister will know from his time as London’s second deputy mayor for policing and crime, encouragement and enforcement of the rule of six would be an ideal role for police community support officers and special constables, who have always been more representative of, and closer to, their local communities than police officers. Since 2010, however, their numbers have fallen by almost 14,000, alongside 14,000 fewer police officers in the same period—but, unlike the modest recent increase in police officer numbers, their numbers continue to decline. What will the Government do to reverse the cuts in police community support officers and special constables, who are best placed to carry out this type of work?
My Lords, the enforcement approach to be adopted by the police involves engagement, explanation and encouragement first—before moving to enforcement. As noble Lords will know, this Government are committed to increasing the number of police officers with enforcement powers on our streets, but we recognise the important contributions that police community support officers make.
My Lords, given that, with the acquiescence of the Government, the application of the European Regional Development Fund specifically prohibited local authorities from recruiting Covid marshals, what financial support will be given to local authorities to cover the cost of hiring, training and equipping these marshals? What mechanisms will be put in place to ensure that marshals are respectful, act with integrity, and uphold human rights as well as, importantly, the rule of law?
My Lords, I point out that the Government have provided local authorities with an unprecedented level of funding—some £3.7 billion in unring-fenced funding—to respond to the pandemic. I have already stated that a further announcement will be made on specific funding for marshals and, of course, we will be working with local authorities on the training required for them.
My Lords, many councils will have been surprised to hear that they have been instructed to employ new marshals without any specific funding from the ministry—but what is new these days? My colleague, Councillor Nick Forbes, the Labour LGA leader, was quite clear in media reports at the weekend that many councils are on the brink of financial collapse, despite the Minister’s previous announcement of the £3.8 billion. They cannot afford these appointments. Can the Minister please confirm that the Government have at least consulted all councils before the announcement? Can he detail what support will be offered to councils in relation to the employment of these marshals?
Many councils across the country already use marshals to keep the public safe. We have worked closely with councils throughout the pandemic and continue to be in close contact with them. We have been clear—and I have been clear—that we will provide more detail on funding in due course.
My Lords, with the Home Secretary saying today that two families meeting in the street cannot even say “Hello” to each other, does the Minister really think that the intervention of marshals will be publicly acceptable? What will the Government do to ensure that they are properly trained to behave appropriately and deal with people who may be very aggressive in response?
We have already seen the successful deployment of marshals to support the public in following the guidelines in a friendly way. Their responsibilities have included directing pedestrians, providing information, cleaning touchpoints, preventing mixing between groups and being a point of contact for information on government guidelines.
My Lords, can the Minister explain to the House whether the Covid marshals will be trained by the police and given powers to issue fixed penalties to those refusing to comply with the rule of six in its various settings? Will their powers extend to wilful refusal to self-isolate—for example, on return from a designated country?
My Lords, the Government are working with local authorities to understand the different levels of training that have been provided to date to inform our work. The deployment and responsibilities of marshals are likely to be tailored to individual areas. As such, local authorities are best placed to determine what training will be appropriate for marshals in that area.
My Lords, if these marshals are to be deployed in the near future, will councils be expected to divert existing parts of the workforce to fulfil the marshal role? If new employees are to be taken on for the role, how will the processing of CRB checks and other requirements fit with the Government’s timetable for implementation? I am sure the public will feel reassured by the marshals’ existence but, as they do not have enforcement powers, how will the public’s expectations be managed?
My noble friend will be reassured to hear that local authorities are best placed to determine the responsibilities and deployment of marshals, and they will tailor that to the local area. In terms of expectations, it is for the police and local authorities to hold enforcement powers and to recognise that these marshals will help to support improved compliance in local areas.
My Lords, I support Covid-19 marshals helping with compliance with the new laws and regulations, as coronavirus is on the increase again. What steps are Her Majesty’s Government taking to give uniform training to Covid marshals so that they can conduct their job efficiently? Secondly, with many councils running short of funds for the marshals, how do the Government plan to support such councils?
My Lords, I think I have already pointed out that training will be developed in consultation with local authorities and worked through locally. Under the new burdens doctrine, we will always look to deal with funding pressures, and more will be announced in due course.
I hope my noble friend will forgive me, but this sounds like a most un-Conservative policy that is potentially a really terrible idea. “Marshals” is a terrible name, to start with. Last Wednesday, the Prime Minister said that these marshals will be appointed to “ensure”—not advise, assist or support—social distancing in our communities. He made it sound like Dodge City. Could my noble friend please calm my racing heart by telling the House what training the marshals will have to ensure that they enforce the regulations? Perhaps most important of all, what is to prevent too many of these largely self-appointed law enforcers becoming busybodies, score-settlers and simply social gunslingers?
My Lords, it is fair to say that in many of the areas where marshals have been used, they have not been called marshals but stewards, wardens or ambassadors, and they welcome people to the local area. This is about improving compliance, as opposed to the existing enforcement arm of the state. We are seeing great successes in a number of diverse places, and we will build on that.
Rule of Law: Law Officers
Private Notice Question
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what role the Law Officers have in ensuring that the rule of law is maintained in (1) the development of domestic legislation and (2) their policies relating to the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from and future relationship with the European Union.
My Lords, the duty of the law officers is to give the Government full and frank legal advice, to advise and to stipulate adherence to the rule of law. Our advice is confidential, and it is fundamentally important that it remains so. As I have said previously, the freedoms and protections that we all enjoy rely on the rule of law. It is an important constitutional principle and, as a responsible Government, we remain committed to it.
My Lords, is it not difficult to retain confidence in the Lord Chancellor and the law officers of the Crown when they acquiesce in the Government’s declaration of willingness to break international law? Are these officers of the Crown not charged with responsibility for ensuring that Ministers respect the rule of law, national and international, in all circumstances—a duty with which permitting threats to break it is hardly compatible.
My Lords, I would find it difficult to disagree with any of the observations made by my noble friend. Of course, we must advise Government—as we would advise others—to temper the rule of law at the level of both domestic and international law. I have to say to this House that, in my opinion, the present Bill does not of itself constitute a breach of international law or of the rule of law.
The key characteristic for law officers is not brains—they can get all the advice they want from the English Bar or the lawyers—but backbone. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland confirmed that a breach of international law would be caused by the passage of the United Kingdom Internal Market Act under Article 4 of the withdrawal agreement.
The Advocate-General produced a load of rubbish to the EU withdrawal committee this morning when he said that Article 16 justified saying that it was not a breach. The party that changes its story on the law—as this Government do—shows it lacks backbone. How does the Advocate-General feel able, consistent with personal honour and professional duty, to remain as Advocate-General?
My Lords, let us be clear that I have satisfied myself as to the correct legal position in this context. As I indicated to the EU Justice Sub-Committee this morning, it is my view that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland essentially answered the wrong question.
I hope that the noble and learned Lord has not become unwell in view of the noises emanating from him—but, if he has, I wish him well for the future.
Let us be clear that we are in a situation where we have rights under an international treaty. Those rights include our response to any breach of obligations by the counterparty, be that a lack of good faith or such action as would fundamentally alter the obligations under the treaty, giving rise to a position—under Article 62 of the Vienna Convention—where we could withhold our operation of the treaty.
It has been suggested to me by no less a legal authority than the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, that we can simply rely on Article 16. This has immense novelty value. The idea the Executive can enter into a treaty at the level of international law and then rely on that to displace primary legislation passed by the domestic Parliament is, I respectfully suggest, extraordinary. That requires these mechanisms in the UKIM Bill to address the contingency of a material breach that we need to address.
My Lords, the noble and learned Lord told the Scottish Public Law Group in Edinburgh in June 2018:
“If the rule of law is disrespected, and falls into disrepute, elected governments will not be able to govern effectively—any government is simply shooting itself in the foot if it undermines the rule of law.”
The contingent powers in this Bill to change the Northern Ireland protocol unilaterally trash the dispute resolution provisions in the treaty that Boris Johnson signed, and on any sensible reading undermine the rule of law, as Brandon Lewis candidly acknowledged. Will the Minister acknowledge that for him to promote their use by introducing a statutory instrument under these provisions in this House would violate his overarching duty under the Ministerial Code to comply with the law, including international law and treaty obligations, as the Court of Appeal found and as the noble and learned Lord is reported by the Guardian correctly to have advised the Prime Minister? Does he acknowledge that it would also violate the law officer’s oath that he took as Advocate-General of Scotland, and would be a gross dereliction of his duty?
My Lords, with great respect, I adhere completely to my previous observations about the importance of the rule of law, and I have no difficulty with those statements. What is contemplated is a contingent situation, one in which we find that the EU has materially breached its treaty obligations and in which we find that it may have acted in such a way as to fundamentally alter our obligations under the treaties. In those circumstances, we have Article 16 of the Northern Ireland protocol. We also have Article 62 of the Vienna convention with regard to withholding our operations. However, we have to look at our dualist system: not only do we have obligations at the level of international law, pursuant to Article 4 of the withdrawal agreement, but we have drawn them down into domestic law by virtue of Section 7A of the withdrawal agreement Act. Article 16 of the international treaty does not confer upon the Executive the power or right to ignore that primary legislation. That is why an instrument and means of dealing with this matter rapidly and effectively needs to be in place lest there should be such a material breach.
Can my noble and learned friend confirm that, if the Government invoke Article 16 to tackle the problems that they foresee, they would still need legislation like the Internal Market Bill to implement it? Do not we need that legislation on the statute book before the end of the transition period to reassure businesses that they will not have to either submit export declarations or pay tariffs on all goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland?
My Lords, I entirely concur with the observations of my noble friend. As I indicated before, it is one thing for the Executive to determine an issue at the level of international law in terms of a treaty, but they cannot utilise that in order to ignore primary legislation of our domestic Parliament. Therefore, a means has to be in place to address the effect of that domestic legislation, and that is the purpose of Part 5 of the UKIM Bill. It will enable us to bring forward regulations that will do that—and, indeed, regulations that will require explanation and the affirmative approval of this House.
In view of the fact that the Minister accepts an obligation on the Attorney-General to protect and safeguard the rule of law, in regard to this matter where there are different views, what action is the Attorney-General taking, along with the other law officers, to show the importance of upholding the rule of law?
My Lords, I sought to explain this morning to the Security and Justice Sub-Committee the position that I adopt with respect to this matter, and why I consider that the provisions of the Bill are entirely limited in their intent and effect and fall within the rule of law and the requirements of international law. I certainly do not anticipate that those provisions would be abused. Indeed, if they were, I cannot foresee that either House would contemplate passing the relevant regulations. If they did, I would certainly have to consider my position as a law officer, because I owe my obligations to Parliament as well as to the Government.
My Lords, can the Minister confirm that the Government recognise that any attempt unilaterally to modify the terms of the withdrawal agreement would adversely affect not only future trade partners but also the confidence that EU citizens resident in this country will place in the commitments that the United Kingdom has made under the agreement? The confidence of British citizens resident in EU countries would also be damaged if they saw that treaty commitments could simply be set aside. Can he offer any reassurance in either regard?
My Lords, I would offer absolute reassurance with respect to the points that have been raised. First, there seems to be a common misconception that somehow we could unilaterally alter the treaty provisions. That is simply not possible and is not being attempted. What we are addressing are circumstances in which, in the face of a material breach or fundamental changes in our obligations due to the conduct of the other party, we need to take preventive measures to maintain the paramount intent of the Northern Ireland protocol, which is the integrity of the Belfast agreement.
My Lords, the Minister has a very distinguished record in the Scots and English Bar. Does he not find it demeaning to stand up and give this lame political justification for what distinguished lawyers outside Parliament consider to be a breach of the law? How can he justify continuing as a law officer, given that situation?
My Lords, I am not seeking to give a political justification for anything; I am providing a legal justification for saying that the UKIM Bill falls within the boundaries of international law, within the boundaries of our treaty obligations and within the boundaries of the rule of law.
My Lords, may I take it from his earlier answers this afternoon that my noble and learned friend agrees that the law officers’ first duty is to the rule of law, their second is to Parliament and their third—and very much their third—is to the Government, and that respect for the rule of law encompasses ministerial obligations under both domestic and international law? The Bill that we are considering disapplies sections of a treaty that we have freely entered into. How does that fit with the rubric that I have just read out?
On the first point, I entirely agree that the role of the law officers requires them to address the rule of law, Parliament and government, and in that order, without any difficulty. As regards the present Bill, it is designed to provide for a contingency, which will operate only in the event of us having to respond to a material breach or fundamental change in obligations, and then only by bringing forward regulations that will require the approval of this House. Unless and until that occurs, there is no breach of the treaty; there is simply a means by which the treaty obligations can be addressed in the event of a breach.
Will the Minister agree that, while the Internal Market Bill is clearly intended as a negotiating tool, it can easily have the opposite effect and lead to a further hardening of attitudes? “I’m not going to play with you” is bad enough in a school playground; in international negotiations, it can lead to a dangerous ripple effect, undermining national and international treaties.
My Lords, the extent to which these provisions might be used in the context of negotiation is for others to determine. What I will say is that I have to accept the factual matrix as set out by those who represent the Government in these negotiations. Where it is suggested that, for example, the United Kingdom would not be listed as a third party country for the purposes of animal and food products, with the result that it would be unlawful to move such food products from the mainland to Northern Ireland, and that is justified on the grounds that they do not know what our standards are when they are their standards, we then have to contemplate that the outcome of these negotiations may not only be adverse to everyone’s interests but, ultimately, amount a breach of obligations that we have to maintain under the terms of the Northern Ireland protocol.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, hybrid proceedings will now resume. Some Members are here in the Chamber, respecting social distancing, while 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.
I will call Members to speak in the order listed in the annexe to today’s list. Interventions during speeches or before the noble Lord sits down are not permitted and uncalled speakers will not be heard. Other than the mover of an amendment or the Minister, Members may speak only once on each group. Short questions of elucidation after the Minister’s response are permitted but discouraged. A Member wishing to ask such a question, including Members in the Chamber, must email the clerk.
The groupings are binding, and it will not be possible to degroup an amendment for separate debate. A Member intending to press an amendment already debated to a Division should have given notice in the debate. Leave should be given to withdraw amendments. In putting the question, I will collect voices in the Chamber only. If a Member taking part remotely intends to trigger a Division, they should make this clear when speaking on the group.
Report (1st Day)
Relevant document: 13th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee
Clause 1: Secretary of State’s powers to give financial assistance
1: Clause 1, page 2, line 10, after “supporting” insert “and enhancing”
My Lords, I rise to move Amendment 1 and speak to the amendments in the first group. We come to Report and therefore I repeat my interests, as set out in the register, as vice-president of the Open Spaces Society and my historical involvement with the British Mountaineering Council.
This is the Agriculture Bill, so it is fundamentally about agriculture, farming and farmers. It cannot avoid being about many other things too because agriculture takes up some 70% of the land area of this country. Therefore, the Bill inevitably is also about everything else that happens on that land. We had a thorough discussion in Committee of Part 1, which is all about the permissive powers the Secretary of State will have in future to provide funding for a range of things, starting with farming and farming-related activities, but also those ancillary to or related to rural land.
Like much of Part 1, the small provision allowing funding for the provision of finance and access is permissive and general. The fundamental difficulty we all had with this Bill in Committee is that it is all about what the Government might do, rather than what they will do. We do not know what they are going to do, and they do not know either. We will have to wait to see how the Bill will be put into operation. Then, it will be far too late to discuss it as primary legislation.
All the amendments in this group are about access. Thinking back, huge progress has been made on access in the last 20 years in different parts of the UK. The CROW Act 2000 created access land, rights of way improvement plans, access forums and a great deal more. By and large, despite the horror stories that some people told us at the time, it has been successful. Scotland had the Land Reform Act 2003, which resulted in my political colleague Ross Finnie, who was the Minister in charge of it, being described as,
“Mugabe in a tartan outfit,
by the Scottish Daily Mail, and lots of other things like that. That Act created the right of responsible access to land in Scotland—and it was all land—so long as the access was carried out responsibly. Again, people thought it would be horrific but, in practice, that part of the Act has been pretty successful. However, I emphasise the word “responsible”. It is absolutely true that some people go to the countryside and do not act responsibly, and that matter should be dealt with.
Under CROW, we had English coastal access, which was started by the Labour Government before 2010. In 2010 there was an attempt by some Conservative Ministers, which I can bear witness to, to put a stop to it, but that was one of the things that the Liberal Democrats in the coalition made sure happened. In 2015, Nick Clegg announced that it would be completed in 2020. It has not quite happened, for various reasons, but it is going to be finished—so things have been moving forward.
What is happening now is dangerous in several respects. There is the problem of the potential loss of the ability, under cross-compliance and the environmental requirements on basic farm payments, for access authorities to make sure that farmers do not block access. In Committee, I asked what was happening about that under the new system, but I have not had an answer yet. Will the new ELM tier 1 payments require that farmers and land managers adhere to the law and allow access where it is legal? Will tier 2 take into account rights of way improvement plans, for example? Will they have to do it? Many tier 3 landscape-scale payments will, if I understand them correctly, be made on access land, so they are a wonderful opportunity to develop and improve current access for both people undertaking the access and land managers.
Other issues are being dealt with by amendments in this group in the name of my noble friend Lord Addington, to which I have added my name. However, Amendment 1 puts in a specific requirement for consideration to be given to funding for access improvements as well as maintaining and supporting existing access. This is a really good opportunity to do this. Improvements would be voluntary, so it does not force anything on anybody, but it does put into the Bill the possibility of providing money to strengthen existing access. In some areas, access on farmland is very good; in others, it is pretty poor. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Mann, and my noble friend Lord Addington for adding their support to this amendment.
We want to see enhancements to the path network and, importantly, improved maintenance of existing public access. This is very important. If the existing facilities—the gates, stiles and paths—are clear and well signposted, that is a route to good management and is in the interests of everybody. It is not to anybody’s advantage if they are all falling down and you have to climb over walls and barge your way through to get access, or if you cannot find where you are going and get lost. Maintaining access is, therefore, in everybody’s interest, whether you are managing the land or going there for recreational purposes.
We also want to see enhancements and maintenance of access on water—my noble friend will speak to that—and a strategic approach to enhanced access through rights of way improvement plans, which need a boost. This is a good opportunity to achieve that.
During the Covid lockdown in the early summer, access to the countryside was of huge benefit to a lot of people. It also caused a lot of problems and difficulties. Landowners, parish councils and other people put up signs saying, “No access. This area is closed due to Covid”—which was, of course, unlawful. Nevertheless, it showed the importance for people’s health and well-being of being able to walk in the countryside. Responsible public access is absolutely vital, and that is why the Bill is so important. The money ought to be able to contribute to education and information projects, as well as to farmers. Good provision and responsible use of the countryside for recreational exercise are vital for health and well-being and mental health, and I hope that this part of the Bill will play a vital part in this. I just wish that we knew rather more about the details of what the Government are proposing. I beg to move.
My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Greaves. I agree with much of what he said about public access and the health and well-being benefits thereof. I will speak specifically to my Amendment 2, which changes the ELMS targets in Clause 1(1)(b) from “enjoyment of” to “health and well-being benefits from” the countryside. This goes to the heart of the Bill and what the countryside is for. Is it for our enjoyment or for our benefit?
I apologise for not being present in person, particularly on a day when I have tabled a number of amendments. I am currently in quarantine following a fortnight in California, where it was 116 degrees last week. California is parched by drought. It is ravaged by wildfire and overrun by Covid, exacerbated by a food production system that maximises profit and productivity. There is no doubt that the Californians “enjoy” that remarkable land, but that enjoyment patently does not inure to the benefit of their health, well-being or environment.
This amendment was debated in Committee and many noble Lords supported the inclusion of health and well-being benefits, so I will not repeat myself, but I note that this provision remains unchanged from the original 2018 version of the Bill. This is despite the onset of the worst public health crisis in a century, during which the public health and well-being benefits of our natural environment, and our domestic food supply, have never been more important. It is disappointing that the Government have not seen fit to put the crucial goals of health and well-being on the face of the Bill. However, I am equally concerned at the use of the word “enjoyment”. This is either a wholly subjective term that is inappropriate for legislation, or it has a specific meaning as a property right—the right to quiet enjoyment—which simply cannot be a public good.
I declare my interest, now and for the rest of this Report stage, as a Devon farmer and the holder of certain long-standing feudal rights. I originally trained as a property law barrister and I am very aware that enjoyment of land is a basic freehold right that may be granted to tenants or exercised by bringing a tort claim in nuisance. Is the granting of public property rights what the Government intend to reference in Clause 1(1)(b)? If so, I would not be wholly opposed to that, but it needs to be stated explicitly and would deserve considerably more debate than is available today. I would also question whether that amounts to a public good, given that there is an all-too-vibrant property market at work in this country at the moment.
Equally, if this is merely the dictionary definition of enjoyment—“the taking of pleasure in something”—it is overbroad. As the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, referenced, we have heard much in the news lately of public access and enjoyment, including raves taking place in contravention of lockdown guidance. The participants at those events are undoubtedly gaining public access to, and considerable enjoyment from, the land in question—but it may not be to the good of their health or well-being.
As I stated in Committee, I am a champion of responsible public access to the countryside, but not to the detriment of the environment, the well-being of the public or the private rights of property owners. This provision, as drafted, potentially damages all three. I hope the Minister can provide much-needed clarification on this important issue.
My Lords, first, I thank the Minister and all those in Defra who have worked so hard between Committee and now to provide us with letters and briefings. The time they have given it is very much appreciated and will hopefully speed up this process.
I will speak primarily to Amendment 5 standing in my name, which seeks to ensure that public access is “granted voluntarily” in the ELM scheme
“by the recipient of that assistance.”
The Minister confirmed this during a virtual session we had the other day, and it is important that he puts it on the record, because there has been some confusion as to whether Defra would be able to impose any of the conditions in Clause 1(1)(a) to (j) as part of giving a grant. If the Minister could assure me that each and every one of them is voluntary, that would be a help.
I support what the noble Earl, Lord Devon, has just said. His wording in Amendment 2 is better than that in the Bill. I also support what the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, said about irresponsible behaviour. It is important to remember that irresponsible behaviour is both ways—both by those who come to the countryside to take exercise and walk along a footpath, and also by the farmer who prevents that for various reasons.
Your Lordships will recall that, in Committee, I went on at some length about litter, which is the blight of Covid-19. I got an email from somebody who said, “You’re absolutely right but don’t forget the farmers, who leave an awful lot of litter around, from their black plastic sacks and other things”—and that is absolutely right. I wrote back to him and said I totally agreed with him. The responsibility has to act both ways, and I hope that the Minister will ensure that it does when the Bill becomes an Act.
I would also like to ask my noble friend about the status of access. If it is a voluntary agreement as part of an ELM scheme, what is the status when that part of the ELM scheme comes to an end? If it is a five-year agreement and there is voluntary access at the end of five years, does that access become statutory or just fade away?
A final thought: when we are talking about access, one of the great things that Covid has shown is that if you give animals and birds a bit of peace, they will come out and show themselves and they will prosper more than when they have humans around. There are certain times of year when the use of footpaths is not helpful to breeding animals and birds, and I hope that there will be a bit of flexibility on both sides to ensure that these rights benefit animals and birds as well as human beings.
My Lords, I support the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, which encourage public access and improved accessibility. Equally, I am in favour of Amendment 5 in the name of my noble friend Lord Caithness. Public access should not be forced on farmers just because they have been given financial help. That would be inconsistent with the purposes of the Bill. What should happen instead, as proposed by my noble friend, is that, where relevant, access would be
“granted voluntarily by the recipient of … assistance.”
I have a suspicion that the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, had not quite finished, but we will return to him if he indicates he had not completed his remarks.
Would the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, please finish his remarks?
I beg your pardon: they were worth waiting for. The next speaker will therefore be the noble Lord, Lord Addington.
My Lords, the access part of the Bill immediately caught my eye in terms of improving people’s health and enjoyment of the countryside. “Enjoyment” may be a term that is challenged, but it surely includes healthy exercise in the country, in a controlled environment with support. The amendment of the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, is not necessary, because I was assuming it was a voluntary interaction to get support; you get some funding to do support in a constructive, sensible way. I understand why he tabled it, because it is a useful piece of clarification, and we probe in Committee but clarify on Report. Hopefully, it will remove some of the, shall we say, more lurid stories we had over the summer—a quiet summer with the press.
I discovered on certain occasions that I was in favour of an unlimited right to roam over everybody’s gardens. It started with the BBC and carried on. I have to give praise to the Telegraph, which did not put anything like this out, possibly because it spoke to me first.
Anyway, as we go through this, the amendments I have down in my name are all about clarifying and, when they make reference to existing Acts of Parliament, trying to put this in context. I refer to the 2000 Act and the 1980 Act: we have something solid, so let us pin it down and find out what we are trying to do.
In the current environment, one thing we have discovered is that if your heart and cardiovascular system are in good condition, you are less likely to be a vulnerable person who is collapsing the NHS. Exercise is the wonder drug, and the best introduction to exercise if you are away from it is walking, after which you may start running or anything else. Taking exercise easily in a pleasant way is the thinking behind most of my approach. It is a pleasant experience to be outside walking.
My amendments also make it possible that the Government will fund those people who have entered into this to make sure or attempt to make sure there are paths that are useful for just about anybody, not just the convinced rambler who, armed with the right clothing and heavy boots, marches across a muddy field. They are for the person in a wheelchair or pushing a wheelchair or pushing a buggy. Can they get support to make sure that they have a hard surface that does not turn to mud at the first drop of rain? That was some of the thinking behind linking this to other Acts.
Farmers should get to it. This is very important for the simple reason that people stick to a hard path, by and large, but not to many other paths, including great paths such as the Pennine Way and the Ridgeway that get muddy. People avoid the mud and expand the path. Any biodiversity around that path is immediately destroyed by people’s size 6 and up shoes. It ruins the ground and the diversity. So the aim of my amendments that refer to other Acts is to try and make sure you can maintain a path that is usable under most circumstances.
I also agree that on certain occasions, certain paths might have to be curtailed. That could be for wildlife reasons; it could even be because a path that is not fenced off goes through a field of cows with calves. How to get a dog killed: let one loose among cattle. I think I saw a small nod from the noble Lord there; we do hear about such cases. Horses are another example. “Oh, the horsey would like to be patted.” Not if the horse in the field is a jumpy one year-old racehorse. As has already been said, there has to be a degree of common sense.
Under the Bill there is the potential for farmers to be rewarded for giving something that the general public will be able to use. I hope that the Minister will be able to give us some clarification of that. Okay, this is a framework Bill—but if we can get some idea of where we are trying to get to, we will have a better idea about this potential benefit.
On the water aspect, we again find ourselves going into new territory. As for my amendment with the list of what constitutes water, I am afraid that the noble Earl, Lord Devon, must take the blame for it, because when we tabled it, he said, “Yes, great! Something we can refer to.” I am sorry that he is not now in his place to defend himself. The purpose is to give some idea of what we might do.
The use of water outside has grown in popularity, and it involves potential conflict if we do not provide some facility for it. If we do that, there is potential benefit for farmers, either directly or indirectly. We do not want canoeists clambering down a path and possibly destroying a natural environment. We want them to have some point at which they can get in and out of the water safely and easily—and if the farmer is rewarded for providing that, great.
I had little time for someone who determinedly said, “I should be allowed to paddle everywhere.” I said, “What about a trout stream in mid-season?” He said, “Oh, yes, there as well,” and I had to suppress an expletive-laden outburst hoping that he might drown in it, because of his sheer stupidity. We have to share such facilities, and some clarity is required on that.
The same applies to wild swimming, although to a lesser extent. Someone may want to turn a pond into a swimming pond. There is a heath in London that has been doing very well for years out of something like that. Why should we not have a few rural examples? Clarification of what the Government are driving at here would help, because there is potential for great public benefit—and indeed state benefit, if society becomes a bit healthier. That ties in with everything else that has been said.
I refer to Acts in some of my amendments because the many strategies that might be touched on simply are not solid enough to have that effect. We need something that has the force of law. I hope that the Minister can give a series of positive answers, so that people know what they will be entitled to, and who will benefit from it. It will be a combination whereby the farmer, or other land user or manager, gets a benefit from giving something good to society: public money for a public good. Can we have a definition here? The Government started this: they said “access”. What do they mean by it?
My Lords, I shall not detain the House long. I have added my name to those of my noble friends Lord Caithness and Lord Dundee on Amendment 5, because, as has been said, it is important that we get clarification. We must also ensure that farmers and other land managers realise that the access provisions are voluntary and will not be imposed. We need to take everybody along with the new framework, and the new way of looking at how we finance our agricultural system. If land managers fear that this will be compulsory they may not take part in it. Obviously, there is a good reason why we want more access—but it must be voluntary.
I echo the thoughts of the noble Lord, Lord Addington, about making paths, if possible, accessible to all, not just to what he called the hardened rambler. I also concur that there are occasions when paths and access must be curbed, for various reasons. Even nature reserves have to close paths because a bird—or some other creature, but it is normally a bird—has decided to nest right by them, and the last thing it needs is a lot of people walking past. I hope that the Minister can give us the clarification that we desire.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge. I offer the Green group’s support for Amendment 2 in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Devon. My noble friend Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb will speak on other amendments, so I shall confine myself to this one. Amendment 2 has multiple benefits. As the noble Earl explained, it would improve the clarity of the Bill, with “health and wellbeing” being measurable and quantifiable terms rather than the—if I may say so—rather woolly drafting of “enjoyment”.
This also helps us to come to terms with the rest of the debate and to set out clearly what the Bill is trying to achieve. We need our countryside to provide multiple services for us. In terms of our health and well-being, we need a great improvement from our present diet, to one packed with fruit and vegetables. We also need widespread broadly available leisure opportunities, and we need to look after the health and well-being of the natural world so that it can maintain biodiversity and bio-abundance, store carbon, prevent flooding, provide clean water, et cetera.
The economy is a complete sub-set of the environment, and ours is in a parlous state, as the RSPB reminded us this week with its reflections on our “lost decade for nature”. There is a context to the Bill involving contesting views, summed up as “sparing versus sharing”. The idea behind sparing is that we trash much of the land—the soils, the biodiversity and the waters—but we leave some of it, in its still surviving or restored state, as pristine as possible. Spare some, and the devil—or the agrochemical companies—take the rest.
Sharing involves looking after all our land—the soils, the wildlife, the air and the water. Those are things that everybody needs around them all the time for health and well-being—rural and town residents, visitors, and those who eat the food that comes from them. That is, as the noble Earl’s amendment says, for their health and well-being. An occasional visit to a specially protected treasured area will not deliver health and well-being if the rest of our countryside is trashed.
When we reach Amendment 78 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, and consider the damage done by pesticide application, this will all come into acute focus. Amendment 2 gives us a chance, in the early stages of the Bill, at the start of today’s debates, to set out a crucial understanding of how our health and well-being, and our future, depend on looking after every inch of our environment. If we live in a healthy land, we will have a healthy society.
I too thank the Minister for the timeliness and succinctness of the brief we have received. As we will be on this subject for a while, I had better declare an interest, in that I own woodland, which is managed by a professional and with the agreement of the Forestry Commission. And if anything comes up about horticulture, Bedfordshire is part of the heart of the horticultural world, so I will be interested in that.
We should pay tribute to the noble Earl, Lord Devon. I too worried about “enjoyment” for a while and wrestled with it but could not think of anything better at the time. Then I found that he had produced something very helpful, which gives precision. In law, precision is very important, so I hope the Minister will consider it.
I say that particularly because I happen to have some footpaths close to where I live and, as my noble friend will be aware, there is a new hobby of flying drones, which is not necessarily for the enjoyment of anybody other than the person flying the drone. Certainly, if people are walking along a footpath and find somebody else in the middle of the path flying a drone—which is allegedly, but not actually, flying within sight—that is not to the enjoyment of anyone at all.
On Amendment 4, which is the other one that caught my eye, there is no doubt that “accessibility” is vital. There cannot be a Member of your Lordships’ House who has not taken a walk along a footpath and found either a stile broken, something overgrown or another hazard that has appeared, so it is vital. I am slightly worried, though, in that some years ago I experienced that a section of the “rambling community” had gone back to the original maps showing where the closed footpaths were. Those had been closed whenever it was, legally et cetera, but there was then a move to open them up again. There may be a case for opening some of them, but it seems to me that that campaign does not fit with what we require today. However, I come back to the point that accessibility is vital. New public access is much more difficult in today’s world, and I think one has to tread very carefully in that area.
I declare my interests as a farmer and landowner as set out in the register. Briefly, I support Amendment 5, in the names of the noble Earls, Lord Caithness and Lord Dundee, and the noble Lord, Lord Randall, if the intention is to make public access a precondition of eligibility to obtain financial assistance for the purposes set out in Clause 1. Many farmers welcome public access and understand that, in many instances, it is most helpful to their businesses, leaving aside any altruistic intent. However, there will always be circumstances in which, for one reason or another, it is inappropriate. Reasons may range from it being environmentally detrimental to safety concerns and privacy reasons. While encouraging public access, surely it should be granted voluntarily by a willing and perhaps enthusiastic farmer, rather than being imposed. Public access may well devalue the farmer’s property and might lead to a reluctance by the farmer or landowner, as the noble Lord, Lord Randall, has said, to make an application to the relevant ELMS.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to be back discussing the Bill on Report. I declare my interests in the register, particularly that I sit on the rural affairs group of the Church of England and that I am an associate fellow, I think, of the British Veterinary Association. I have one comment and a question for the Minister. I do not think that these amendments are necessary, as we discussed in Committee. It would be most helpful if the Minister in summing up could refer to the figures on current public access and rights of way, both in numbers and in miles, that are currently available but not being used and may lapse as a result, before we go on to create any new ones.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 27. The consultation with the dairy industry highlighted a need to define how the codes of conduct will be enforced and how that enforcement will be financed. The dairy industry must be given a chance to provide views about enforcement. A range of options are possible. Arbitration or an ombudsman model are suggested. In either of these models, the cost must be considered. Legal advice and litigation costs will have to be considered. All such costs will ultimately fall on consumers. In this pandemic era, consumers must be considered. Families of lower income and those facing homelessness must be protected. Does the Minister agree that all such extra legal costs must not fall on consumers?
My Lords, I shall speak very briefly to two amendments: Amendment 2, in the names of the noble Earl, Lord Devon, and the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and Amendment 5, in the name of my noble friends Lord Caithness, Lord Dundee and Lord Randall of Uxbridge. I agree entirely about the beneficial effects of being able to enjoy the beauties of our countryside; that should go without saying. But I also very much agree with my noble friend Lord Caithness and, indeed, the noble Earl, Lord Devon, about the position of the landowners and farmers in question.
As we begin what I hope will not be quite such a marathon stage of the Bill, I very much hope that we will never, at any stage of our deliberations, lose sight of the fact that this is the Agriculture Bill, and its prime purpose is to protect and enhance British farming and those who earn their living from it. It is to underline their duties to be custodians of the countryside; it is to underline their responsibility to enable people to enjoy the countryside.
But we have only to reflect briefly on some of the ghastly things that have happened since Committee to realise how important it is that not only are farmers and landowners responsible but that those who enjoy the countryside are responsible. We have witnessed some, frankly, despicable scenes over the last two or three months—people going into the countryside and not enjoying it but pillaging it, defacing it, neglecting what it truly is and creating horror and squalor where there is, and always should be, beauty. I hope we can bear all those things in mind as we go through Report.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, who has been exceptionally kind to me in previous debates. It deeply saddens me that I do not quite agree with him: I think there will always be a tension between town and country, and some of that comes down simply to a lack of information available to those who despoil the countryside, and that is something we should think about.
It gives me great pleasure, even joy, to be speaking on Report on this Bill, with such a broad consensus on shaping a greener future for British farming and land management. The sheer volume of amendments on the Marshalled List is testament to the scale of ambition shared by noble Lords across the House, and it is unfortunate that your Lordships may not be able to divide on as many amendments as we might have liked.
I was going to speak only to Amendment 4, because I thought it was the most radical, in terms of opening up new paths and new opportunities for people to walk, but now that my noble friend Lady Bennett of Manor Castle has given me the opportunity to range wider, I shall speak to some of the others.
I am pleased by the cross-party, non-partisan way in which the House has come together to focus on some of the most important issues, so that the Bill addresses some of the most pressing issues facing the health of our people and our planet. I felt that the noble Earl, Lord Devon, was very brave in going to California. I have watched with horror the pictures and the testimonies from a California that is clearly suffering and will clearly have a problem feeding and nurturing its own residents in the near future.
The amendments in this first group can be broadly categorised as improving public access to the benefits and beauty of British land, and anything that can be done to expand the public’s access and use of the land is a positive step. The Bill already makes broad overtures in that regard. Despite having a great respect and liking for the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, I am not quite sure about the word “voluntarily”. On a path that I regularly walk, the farmer puts all sorts of impediments in the way, and that footpath has been there for many centuries. For example, one often finds wire fencing, flocks of geese or cows that are about to be milked—it makes it quite difficult for the average walker.
Some of the other amendments are simply common sense. It would be perfectly logical for the Minister to go back to the Government, and when the shadow, the spectre, of Dominic Cummings looms over him, I think he should say “Dom, you know nothing about this—go away, and let us improve the Bill.”
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to be able to contribute to this Bill, and I declare my interests as a farmer in Scotland and a member of NFU Scotland. Even so, Part 1, to which most of these amendments apply, only affects England and Wales.
I add my support for Amendment 2 in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Devon. This is one of a number of amendments noble Lords have referred to which are aimed at bringing the benefits of agriculture to health and well-being. It will be important if this Bill gives official recognition to this element.
I have been listening with much interest to the proposals surrounding Amendments 3 and 24, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Addington, particularly his extensive list of what constitutes “water”. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, asked that financial assistance be sought for access—it is a bit of a longer shot to diagnose what assistance is actually needed for the water itself. It might be necessary to define the context in which the words listed should be taken, as they are likely to have different meanings in different parts of the country.
The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, drew your Lordships’ attention to the legislation in Scotland, which gives unlimited right of access to land and water, but allows access only by foot, horseback or bicycle. Motor-driven transport can go only where there is an appropriate right of way, unless the occupant is disabled. We have yet to learn if this distinction will apply to water, but this needs to be thought about. This helps to ensure that the countryside is accessed in a way that provides the most benefit. Even so, there are already examples of the approach of different users conflicting, in spite of the fact that, with one-tenth of the population of England, one might expect there should be less of a risk.
Something which deserves consideration when talking of extending access is that historically, Scotland had a more general right of access before our current legislation was introduced, whereas in the majority of England any access is limited to defined rights of way. During the Bill’s passage, it has been only proper that we give these proposals some consideration. However, the extent and location of acceptable access has not been discussed.
The changes envisaged in these amendments are a complete departure from the current situation. My noble friend Lord Caithness pointed out the way in which they extend the present position. The subject should be introduced with more care than we can readily give in the context of this Bill. I would not be prepared to support the amendments at this time.
My Lords, it has been a fascinating debate. A number of noble Lords have made the point that this is an Agriculture Bill—of course it is—but we cannot get away from the fact that the principle which underpins it is public money for public goods, and the Government are quite right to make that the principle. The link between citizens as taxpayers and the farming industry is now going to be clearer and more direct than at any time in the last half-century. Therefore, anything which helps public understanding of farming and agriculture is actually in the best interests of farmers and landowners.
Many noble Lords have highlighted the importance of public access and recreation in the fresh air and countryside as part of a broad strategy for improved health, well-being and mental well-being, and I agree absolutely with that. I have observed in this debate and in Committee some conflation of the public rights of way network—which is often historic and enshrined in law—and public access more generally. I am not going to give a lecture on that, your Lordships will be pleased to hear. However, it is important that we understand that these are two separate things.
This comes across very clearly in the Bill, in understanding the extent to which compliance with the law on the part of landowners will be taken into account in assessing eligibility. The other issue is public access: opening up not new public rights of way but new voluntary access. My view—perhaps the Minister can confirm this—is that nothing in the Bill or in any of the amendments would create a new public good or in any way force landowners to do something they do not want to do.
A number of noble Lords have talked about the problems of vandalism, fly-tipping and so on. I understand that: I live in a small village, and the lane out of here is often full of litter. Nobody suggests banning cars, even though people are chucking McDonald’s boxes out of car windows; we do not do that. We try to educate, to enforce, and that is the approach we should be taking with public access, not trying to ban the many for the misdeeds of the few.
I would really like the Minister to make it clear whether financial assistance will be available where landowners voluntarily decide to provide new access opportunities or to improve existing ones. I would also appreciate the Minister’s saying whether any of the ELM tests and trials have been related to water and public access to waterways.
Finally, there is the question of what used to be called cross-compliance, to which my noble friend Lord Greaves referred: whether a landowner who blocks a footpath or a public right of way will still be eligible for grants, or whether that will be taken into account. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s answers.
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken in the debate. As we are talking about access, I should declare an interest as a member of the South Downs National Park Authority.
I do not intend to speak at length as we have a great deal to get through today. We had a good debate on these issues in Committee, and I think we all acknowledged the important health benefits from being in the open air and walking in the countryside. Noble Lords have raised many of these important issues again today and, of course, we concur with many of the arguments that have been put forward.
There is clearly a great deal more that can be done to open up the countryside and provide safe and secure footpaths, particularly for those with disabilities. We also recognise the importance of enhancing public understanding of farming and nature. As we know, the Bill already spells out a commitment to provide financial assistance for public access to the countryside and for greater public understanding.
The noble Lord, Lord Addington, again raised the issue of access to water—to canals, lakes and the other things listed in his amendment. As I said in Committee, this Bill is about farming and the environment; extending its remit to the recreational enjoyment of waterways is perhaps pushing its boundaries too far.
On reflection, since Committee, I have had a more fundamental issue with these amendments. We believe that the purposes set out in Clause 1(1) have the right balance of interests between the farming community and the environment. It is a delicate balance, which is nevertheless broadly accepted by those whose livelihoods depend on it. This is why we have refrained from putting amendments to this clause, and it is why, even now, I urge the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
All of the amendments in this group are worthy in their own way. The issues that they raise are important and we will happily work with noble Lords to pursue them elsewhere—but not in this Bill or at this time, when there is so much else at stake and the future funding of farming is so fragile.
I hope that, despite the good debate that we have had, the noble Lord will reflect on this and feel able to withdraw his amendment. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I thank noble Lords for contributing to what has been a thoughtful debate. I declare my farming interests as set out in the register. I very much look forward to these days spent on Report, building on our consideration in Committee.
In addressing Amendment 1, I will also address Amendments 25, 3, 4 and 24. I am a great advocate of the benefits that access to the countryside and the natural world can bring. Clause 1(1)(b) will allow financial assistance to be given to support public access to and enjoyment of the countryside, farmland and woodland.
The Government are supporting and enhancing access to the countryside in a number of different ways. We are working to complete the England Coast Path and to support our network of national trails, and we intend to create a new national trail across the north of England. We are ensuring that rights of way are recorded and protected, as well as developing ways to support access through the ELM scheme. I say to my noble friend Lady McIntosh that it is estimated that there is around 140,000 miles of rights of way in England and Wales. The ELM scheme will reward land managers for the public goods that they deliver, including beauty, heritage and engagement with the environment. Public access is a key way that people can engage with the environment. Supporting access is therefore an important aspect of achieving this goal.
In her point about balance, the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, reminded us of the clear essence of this—in fact, it is the way in which the countryside is generally successful. How do we balance the many demands on the countryside? Her point was made well and succinctly.
We are looking at how the ELM scheme could fund the creation of new paths, such as footpaths and bridleways, which provide access for cyclists, riders and pedestrians where appropriate. This will be in addition to current local authorities’ rights of way arrangements. The scheme could also support wider access opportunities to, and on, water and waterways, such as lakes and rivers, for canoeists, anglers and swimmers where appropriate. Again, this is about balance. We all know—this is so often the case, in my view—that when this is done through interested parties meeting together, some of the hostility evaporates: they all get round what is perhaps in these times the proverbial table and work through the issues to everyone’s mutual interest.
We will determine in more detail what ELM will pay for as we develop further the scheme; importantly, we are engaging with stakeholders to inform this. The current wording of the Bill allows us to develop, in close collaboration with stakeholders, the best ways of making further enhancements to our exceptional access network, including waterways.
Turning to Amendment 2, I am absolutely seized of the health and well-being benefits that access can bring. All of us have experienced them—many of us throughout our lives—but I think that the nation has particularly found this during the current circumstances. I assure the noble Earl that these benefits can be supported by public access to the countryside. Access provides a huge range of benefits, including improving physical and mental health, but also supports local communities and economies.
I thank the noble Earl for highlighting the importance of access as a public good, which this scheme can support. As drafted, Clause 1(1)(b) will allow for a more permissive approach to meeting the aims of providing greater and more varied access. A broad range of access improvements will be aimed at promoting the benefits of enhancing health and well-being through enjoyment—in the fullest sense of the word, rather than that pertaining to property rights—and understanding of the countryside. I should say that the noble Earl and I discussed this issue with lawyers. The current scope of Clause 1(1)(b) is broader than that proposed by the noble Earl and provides options to develop the best ways of making further enhancements to our impressive access network, including waterways.
Turning to Amendments 19 and 27, rights of way are managed by local authorities and the rights of way improvement plans set out the needs at local levels. When developing schemes such as the ELM scheme, understanding and addressing local needs will be of paramount importance. This is why the Government have proposed that the design of tiers 2 and 3 of the ELM scheme may require spatial prioritisation; in other words, a targeting process to ensure that priority environmental outcomes are delivered in the right places. The Government are exploring the best approach to spatial prioritisation for ELM, including how to ensure that local stakeholders can be involved in determining local priorities. Rights of way improvement plans will already be considered as part of this process.
Clear arrangements are already in place through the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 to allow for the establishment, recording and appeal of rights of way to agreed standards, and local authorities hold responsibility for their maintenance. Indeed, a national stakeholder group is being reconvened, enabling historic claims to be negotiated and resolved while the consideration of other initiatives, such as a coast-to-coast national trail, is also progressing. The ELM scheme is separate from these aspects of rights of way and thus may offer new and different opportunities, such as the creation of new access, easier physical access and clearer information to enable greater public access.
A number of noble Lords mentioned access. Having have had the privilege of seeing some of the new coastal paths and the opportunities for those of varying abilities and disabilities, I am absolutely seized of the importance of access. As we seek to enhance greater opportunities, wherever possible we should be in a position to help those who do not have the ability that noble Lords here have to enjoy access to the countryside.
Turning to Amendment 5, I again stress to all noble Lords that ELM is a voluntary scheme; I put that on record. Therefore, no farmer will be forced to sign up to the scheme, although they will of course be required to meet their obligations under the law. Ultimately, ELM is a policy delivered by land managers on the ground who know best what their land is capable of delivering. I agree with my noble friend Lord Caithness and the many noble Lords who raised this issue, but again, balance comes into it. There must be balance between food production, the environment, conservation, and the well-being and health of people who want access to the countryside; all these things are the essence of balance.
I understand that, at times, providing such public access can bring about some extra costs or risks for land managers. We will therefore work closely with stakeholders on the full costs of providing access, to make sure that the system works for and is attractive to land managers. My noble friend Lord Randall of Uxbridge and the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, made that point. We want this scheme to work because it is a positive for those who are custodians of the land. It will not work if it is an imposition. Permissive routes—that is, routes agreed for a certain period of time—cannot be claimed as permanent rights of way. Again, this is important in the climate in which we are seeking to do something of strong public benefit by seeking this element of financial assistance for land managers.
I will look at Hansard to see whether there are any further issues. The noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, referred to tests and trials. All this—whether it is access or the range of financial assistance—is going to work only if we have the tests and trials with interested parties, so that there is confidence that when all of these financial assistance schemes are applied for, they will be attractive.
I hope I have answered noble Lords’ questions and concerns with the references I have made, through consideration of these matters between Committee and Report and by taking the advice of lawyers as to the drafting. I hope that this will sufficiently reassure the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, in particular, and I ask him whether he would feel able to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for what he said. He elucidated the point on which I wanted to question him but, by that stage, I had already sent in my request to speak. He also mentioned consultation on the ELMS. How many farmers are involved in this? Is he convinced that it covers enough respondents to give an overall picture for the country? It is crucial that we get this right.
I am grateful to my noble friend. I can confirm that the tests and trials will be across all sorts of land tenure in all parts of the country. This is a venture between government with responsibility to the taxpayer and land managers who are doing—and will continue to do—a considerable amount of work for which, currently, they are not rewarded. I can confirm to my noble friend that we will be working very strongly across the country on access and other matters, so that when the design of the scheme is rolled out, we know that it will be attractive to land managers.
My Lords, on the Minister’s last point, I am not in touch with a huge number of tests and trials. There are complaints that the ones with which I am in touch—which deal with things in which I am interested—are not getting on fast enough. We understand that there are problems with Covid et cetera. The people I talk to have no complaints at all about how they are being conducted; they are being involved. In terms of new rights of way, the tests and trials in parts of Somerset—I think they are in the Quantocks—in which the Trails Trust is heavily involved are certainly finding a lot of lost bridleways which are likely to be turned, in modern terms, into new access. The people there are quite pleased with what is happening.
I am very grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in this discussion. I am also grateful for the considerable discussions and consultations which the Minister and his department have taken part in during the summer. I believe that the words “health” and “being” in the amendment from the noble Earl, Lord Devon, belong in Part 1 of the Bill. They ought to be there somewhere. I would have hoped that this was something the Government might accept, if not necessarily in the exact form in which the noble Earl put it forward. I know that this is a Government in the early gung-ho stages of “We know everything, everything we do is right and we are not going to change anything”. It will change as the years go by; it always does. This is something to which the Minister should and could give further consideration. I would like the words “outdoor recreation” to be there, but I am not going to press this.
The noble Lord, Lord Naseby, talked about drones. On the Sunday before last, our little family bubble went up to a place called Trawden Rec, as in the Red Rec. It is a recreation ground and playing fields on top of a hill. After a 10-year campaign, we finally got model aircraft banned. People were coming from all around the region to fly their model aircraft on Sunday afternoons and it was an absolute nightmare. I do not know whether those by-laws now apply to drones, but the sign saying “No model aircraft” is still there. I very much sympathise with that.
There is a fundamental thing about what is voluntary and what is not voluntary. As I understand it, ELMS will be voluntary. If I am wrong, the Minister will tell me. Tier 1 ELMS will be a matter of negotiation with a particular farmer or landowner and the appropriate authority. He or she will be paid an amount of money for carrying out the environmental land management scheme on his or her farm. That will replace the existing agricultural subsidies. So it is simply not true to say that this Bill is just about farming and agriculture. It is fundamentally about this, as I said in my opening remarks, but it is about other things as well. It is about using the money that farmers are paid to provide public goods. It is not about using that money to provide food and agriculture. Providing public goods is what it is all about—and if access is not a public good, frankly I do not know what is.
I am not going to press this to a Division because I think there has been a huge amount of agreement. A lot of us do not start off from the same place on these issues, but we can come together to agree on sensible schemes. When I go back and they say, “What have you done this week?” I will say, “I was proposing amendments about access”. They will say, “Oh, were there lots of right-wing Tories opposing them?” I will reply, “No, I was followed by three Earls and we were basically all agreeing with each other”. They will accuse me of selling out, but never mind. We are having to trust the Government enormously on this Bill. On the basis of what our nice Ministers here have said, I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 1.
Amendment 1 withdrawn.
Amendments 2 to 5 not moved.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 6. I remind noble Lords that Members other than the mover and the Minister may speak only once. Short questions for elucidation are discouraged. Anyone wishing to press this, or anything else in this group, to a Division should make this clear in debate.
6: Clause 1, page 2, line 25, at end insert—
“( ) protecting or improving the food security of citizens and access to food that promotes good health and wellbeing.”
My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendment 48 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves. I will listen with great interest to what the authors of the other amendments say in relation to theirs.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans and the noble Lord, Lord Judd, for their support. Despite what has changed since Committee—which I have now lost—I am persisting with this amendment because of part 1 of the report on the National Food Strategy in the name of Henry Dimbleby. I will refer to this in later amendments as well. His conclusion in Chapter 5 is very telling. Although we “got away with it” in relation to the Covid crisis, we came perilously close to food security issues, particularly food shortages in shops during the early stages. Obviously that is something we wish to prevent going forward.
I believe that this is a genuine omission on the part of the Government. I am sure it is purely an oversight, rather than anything mischievous, but if we refer to the later Clause 17, it is extremely important to have a reference in Clause 1. The new subsection we are proposing would insert
“protecting or improving the food security of citizens and access to food that promotes good health and wellbeing”
and that is extremely important. As the National Food Strategy: Part One so rightly identifies, there are many reasons why we may be presented with such shortages and shocks to food security in the future. That is why it is important to write this into the Bill as a recognised public good, and therefore qualifying for public assistance.
I mentioned the reference to Covid; it seemed that we got away with it this time. However, Clause 17 refers to
“global food availability … supply sources for food … the resilience of the supply chain for food … household expenditure on food … food safety and consumer confidence in food”.
Climate change is obviously a key theme running through a number of amendments which follow later, while future pandemics could give greater cause for concern. I know that other amendments seek to address national food shortages, caused potentially by not growing enough of our own—the level of self-sufficiency is low, as we have discussed previously—and potential household shortages. My main concern is a potential major shock flowing from the lack of a deal and the difficulties of trying to negotiate under World Trade Organization terms of reference, which could lead to major trading deficiencies. That is why I believe that Amendment 6 needs to be written into the clause.
I will listen carefully to what my noble friend the Minister says in summing up, but, without a shadow of a doubt, food security should qualify as a public good and thereby be eligible for financial assistance. If he is able to point us in the direction of how, in other circumstances, financial assistance would kick in, that may go some distance in allaying my concerns. This goes further than a probing amendment, but I do not necessarily wish to test the will of the House on it. I hope that my noble friend will take seriously what we propose in this amendment and what his own adviser, Henry Dimbleby, has said.
The House owes the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, a great debt for bringing forward Amendment 48, and I congratulate him on doing so. There is major cause for concern about how common land will be administered under the terms of the Bill. The danger is that if we leave the discussions at this stage, we will rely on the regulations that will follow, which I know will be manifold. I thank my noble friend for his rather lengthy telephone call. I do not think he realised it would be quite such a long call, but I am so grateful to him and his team in this regard. However, I support the sentiments that lie behind Amendment 48 and, in this regard, would like to know exactly how the regulations which flow from the Bill will apply. I know that, in other circumstances, departments have been willing to give advance notice of how the regulations will apply. That would be most helpful indeed.
I know the reason why common land is so vexatious. I may no longer be MP for Thirsk and Malton but, having stood there, I know that common land is generally not widely understood because it exists only in certain parts of the country. However, there are multiple interests at play there, so I hope that my noble friend the Minister will take this opportunity to put our minds at rest. Graziers and others may be few in number, but the current financial assistance they enjoy can make the difference between them putting bread on the table or otherwise. That will be of great interest to the House this afternoon.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering. I was pleased to add my name to her Amendment 6 because, for me, food security is very much about the public good. Putting this amendment into the Bill, as we would like to see, would try to ensure that the Secretary of State is given powers to give financial assistance to underpin food security, health and well-being. This is a laudable objective, which should be placed in statute and recognised by government as such. It should therefore be placed in the Bill. Particularly at the time of this pandemic, people should be able to access not only cheap food but the food that they need to stay healthy, with the food system acting in relation to policy areas such as health, welfare and food production.
During Committee, many of us referred to the report published by our Select Committee on Food, Poverty, Health and the Environment. The report, Hungry for Change, was particularly comprehensive and found barriers at all levels of the food system that make it harder for people, particularly those living in poverty, to access a healthy and sustainable diet. The lack of a unifying government ambition and strategy on food has prevented interrelated issues such as hunger, health and sustainability being considered in parallel, meaning that opportunities have been missed to develop coherent policies that could bring about widespread change. Everyone should have access to a healthy and sustainable diet, hence the need to ensure that financial assistance will be given for adhering to this objective as a public good, and therefore get public money for public goods.
It is interesting what the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, said about the National Food Strategy: Part One by Henry Dimbleby. He gave evidence to our committee some months ago. Basically, I suppose he is saying that we were lucky that we did not face further challenges in relation to the pandemic. However, there is no doubt that we have all seen the problems and challenges in food supply chains over the past months. It is important that food security—and, yes, food insecurity—should be recognised as a qualification for future funding in the Bill. I am happy to support this amendment.
My Lords, I declare my interest as president of the Rural Coalition. I speak in support of Amendment 6, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, and to which the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, the noble Lord, Lord Judd, and I have added our names. Incidentally, I also support Amendments 12, 13 and 17 in this group, but do not intend to speak to them. Let me be brief, as a number of the main points that I had planned to raise have already been made by my colleagues. This amendment touches on two areas: food security and the food which brings good health and well-being. Both areas are about public goods.
I am planning to say something more about food security when we reach a later amendment, so I will confine myself to just one thing about good health and well-being. The results of poor diets are well documented. We know that poor diets lead to worse health outcomes, early onset of diseases and indeed, in the case of Covid, a greater likelihood of a slower recovery or death. At a time when the NHS is under considerable pressure, we need to do all we can to join up our legislation so that we can revolutionise diet in this country and make access to good food the best we possibly can.
The reason I am happy to support this modest amendment is that it strengthens this Bill to keep before us the need to improve the quality of food and diet and good access.
My Lords, I hope that even at this late stage in our proceedings, the Minister and Government will be able to take this group of amendments seriously and give them serious consideration, with a view to making necessary adjustments to what they finally bring forward. In supporting this interesting group, I emphasise my support for Amendments 7, 16 and 48.
On Amendment 7, I simply say this as a former president of Friends of the Lake District and a vice-president of the Campaign for National Parks. I cannot speak for those organisations, but all my experience with them and with my own family and friends is that, in many parts of our national parks and beautiful parts of the country, livestock are an important part of the scenic setting. I and my family—I speak subjectively—always feel a sense of contentment when we see cattle grazing, but one big condition of all that is that I cannot allow my enjoyment to mask my anxiety lest the farming is not of the highest quality. From that standpoint, this amendment is very valuable indeed.
What is put forward in Amendment 16 is just straightforward sense. I hope that my colleagues agree and that the Government can take it on board. We constantly talk about the relationships between landscape and climate change, countryside and climate change and agriculture and climate change, but this enables the Minister to take practical action to provide support in that context.
We also worry very much about what is happening to the condition of our soil; this is dealt with in the amendment. I have just spoken about landscapes. To encourage members of the farming community to see their role as trustees of our national inheritance in this sense is very important indeed.
How can I—living in Cumbria, five miles from Cockermouth—possibly overlook the importance of flood protection measures? What happened at the time of the great floods in Cockermouth was that the valley up where I live was filling up with water. I was stuck in London at the House and was ringing my neighbours, asking, “What’s happening? How’s it going?” A very great friend of mine, a hill farmer, said to me on the phone: “Well, Frank, all I can say is that I have never seen the valley fuller of water, and it’s got to go somewhere.” That is quite a dramatic illustration of what happened. It went somewhere. The bridge broke at the bottom of our section of the valley and the water poured through and down, out of control, towards Cockermouth.
Wildlife and the environment are concerns we frequently speak about, but we must not just sentimentalise. Here we are giving power—authority—to the Minister to take appropriate action, but it must be appropriate action. I hope the Government will feel able to make some adjustments to meet those points.
On Amendment 48, I have become deeply concerned about the neglect of common land. We may sentimentalise about it and some people may find it controversial, but for any of us who have an ongoing and lasting relationship with and deep commitment to the countryside, common land and the encouragement of a community approach to agriculture are tremendously important. Again, what is envisaged here is underlining the authority of the Minister to take necessary supporting action.
This is a thoughtful group of amendments and I hope the Government will take them seriously.
My Lords, for those of us who have spent decades advocating for human society to work with instead of against nature, the specific references to agroecology in these amendments represent a great success. These amendments would each expand the principles of agroecology and ensure that ecological outcomes were delivered.
In particular, I have attached my name to Amendment 7 from the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, which would specifically support pasture-fed livestock systems and the improvement of landscapes and biodiversity linked to pastureland. This is all about a farming and ecosystem format that can help to move us towards some sort of food security.
Food security will be an absolutely huge challenge. Anybody who watched David Attenborough’s programme on Sunday will be aware that he mentioned several times that biodiversity is falling. We need biodiversity drastically. If we do not have it, growing food will become harder and harder. We are at a point in the world where some of it is burning, some is melting and neither of those things is good for the human race.
In addition, the world has not even fully met any of the 20 biodiversity targets set a decade ago by Governments globally. Nature protection efforts have been ineffective. We already have 1 degree of warming and are heading towards 3 degrees of warming. It will be a world that we simply will not recognise.
I am delighted to support Amendment 16 from the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, and Amendment 11 from the noble Earl, Lord Dundee. Amendment 16 would ensure that agroecology was truly nature friendly. Amendment 11 would support farming opportunities for new entrants and young farmers, ensuring a healthy supply of innovative and motivated farmers ready to take on the challenges and opportunities of greening our farming and land management.
I hope that in his response the Minister will set out specific and deliverable plans for each of these issues.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendments 8, 21 and 23. I say again that I am very pleased that the Government have added a definition of the word “agroecology” to the Bill. That is a great step forward. I not only thank the Government but congratulate them on recognising this type of agriculture as something that is not just from the past—although it looks to the past for many of its methods and ethics—but is an important way to move forward. The motive of the amendments I have put forward—and I thank the noble Earls, Lord Dundee and Lord Caithness, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, for their support—is to reinforce that message within the Bill.
The area that is not mentioned is agroforestry, which is equivalent. This is not the forestry that the Forestry Commission is into—not that I have anything against that generally—but is around integrating forestry into whole-farm management. Benefits from water management include biodiversity, crops from those trees, silviculture and even energy. So the motive of these amendments is to encourage a style of whole-farm management that looks to the future and entirely fulfils the reason for having ELMS and this new funding structure. I very much hope that the Government, having taken this one step forward, will be able to take it further forward as well.
My Amendment 21 adds to the word “agroecology” at the top of page 3 of the Bill, which states that
“‘better understanding of the environment’ includes better understanding of agroecology”.
I am just suggesting that we add “and agroforestry” to the Bill. I am sure that that is something the Government would wish to promote in the new financing structures and I can see no reason why it would change the meaning of the Bill in any way. If the Minister could do that, I would be hugely grateful to him, knowing of his commitment to the future of farming and ways of farming that promote biodiversity.
That biodiversity and quantum of nature, which the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, just mentioned, are crucial to how ELMS rolls out. I will be talking about this later, so I will not say more about it now, but biodiversity is something that agroecology and agroforestry can promote to achieve what the Government want.
My Lords, I support a number of themes and their corresponding amendments in this group. They suggest that more should be done in the Bill to promote them. The first is consistency between encouragement of production and of ancillary activities. However, Clause 1(2) almost implies a division between them, because the Bill implies that, although the Secretary of State might support both, equally he might choose to give a great deal of help to one and nothing much to the other. To that extent, Amendment 10 in the name of my noble friend Lord Northbrook usefully deals with this anomaly. It is also addressed by my Amendment 20, which also seeks backing for primary production and ancillary activities on peri-urban farms supplying food.
Secondly, as indicated by my Amendment 13, the allocation of rural development funding to local food infrastructures would enable the Secretary of State to continue and enhance rural development funding, previously available from the European Union, to invest in local food infrastructures. Clearly, investment in local food will improve the financial viability of all farm businesses, create many jobs, strengthen our domestic food system and decrease carbon emissions by reducing food miles, while facilitating access to fresh and nutritious food, to the advantage of all.
Thirdly, farming opportunities for new entrants are advocated by my Amendment 11. We must invest in the next generation of farmers, growers and land-based workers to ensure our future food security. A survey of new entrants conducted this year by the Landworkers’ Alliance shows that a diverse, creative, skilled and passionate new generation of farmers is ready to start farms. Very often, they are refreshingly innovative as well, integrating food production with public goods such as biodiversity or public engagement. We need them to succeed, but they are often held back by lack of capital, the insufficiency of affordable land, a lack of relevant training and planning issues. Defra figures reveal that, in 2017, a third of all farm holders in the United Kingdom were over 65. The Bill as it stands does not do quite enough to encourage new farmers. This amendment would ensure that new farmers are given the support that they need.
Fourthly, Amendment 21 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, is on how agroforestry is both separate from, yet allied to, agroecology, by integrating trees into productive farming. As it stands, reference to public goods in the Bill risks being interpreted in a basic and minimal way, missing the full opportunity presented by transition. It would be a great shame if some of the fundamental reforms needed to make the most of this changeover to a more sustainable future were omitted even from mention within the Bill.
A clear example of that is agroforestry, which often falls foul of current guidance, frameworks and systems put forward by Defra. The process of agroforestry, integrating trees into productive farming landscapes, including silvopasture, hedgerows, with standard and coppiced orchards and farmed woodlands, is central to our tree-planting targets, as well as diversifying farming and making farm businesses more profitable. As such, it needs to be seen alongside agroecology, which is already well mentioned in the Bill.
The further Amendment 23 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, usefully defines agroecological and agroforestry systems to the advantage of everybody who wants to be aware of their relative merits for funding.
Finally, in terms of achieving consistency in the Bill, Amendment 16 in the name of my noble friend Lord Caithness is on nature-friendly farming. The Bill’s core principle is that of public money for public goods, which will create an effective landscape model for future food production. These goods will include measures designed to improve the quality of our land and reverse damaging declines in our environment. Nature-friendly farming is central to that vision for our farming future.
The shift towards a nature-friendly farming approach is not just good for wildlife but key to the long-term survival of farming, delivering broader benefits to the public, including flood protection, climate change mitigation, water and air quality, and access to thriving natural landscapes—all listed in my noble friend’s amendment. Public money for public goods will support farmers to deliver all these benefits and produce sustainable food into the future. This Amendment 16 will put nature-friendly farming front and centre in the Bill, providing clear support for nature-friendly farmers and encouraging others to take up the mantle of these new methods of farming.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow my noble friend Lord Dundee. I thank him for introducing my Amendment 16 so eloquently. He has done a brilliant job and it reduces much of what I have to say.
It is quite clear that when nature suffers, we all suffer. That is why I believe that nature-friendly farming should be front and centre of the Bill. When anybody coming into farming picks up such a Bill and reads it—as I did when I started way back in the late 1960s, when I read the 1947 Act—it should say that nature-friendly farming is the route forward. It is the only way that agriculture will survive in the long term.
I hope all your Lordships have read the recent Living Planet Report, which is pretty horrific reading. It says that the populations of mammals, birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles have declined by an alarming 68% since 1970. That is not all farming’s fault, but farming has been a contributor to that decline. For that reason I welcome subsections (a) to (j), but nature-friendly farming should also be in the Bill. I chose to insert it at this point because of its importance. In Committee it was an amendment after (j), but I thought it deserved a paragraph of its own.
I will correct one myth that seems to perpetuate in some quarters: that you cannot farm successfully and profitably if you also farm for nature. Many farmers have signed up to the Nature Friendly Farming Network, but I also draw the House’s attention to the amazing work of the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust’s Allerton Project, which I know my noble friend the Minister knows about. It has done years of research on this subject and proved time and again that farmers can improve yields, output and productivity at the same time as improving biodiversity and wildlife on farms.
I will take one example in conclusion: the grey partridge, which is mentioned in the Living Planet Report. There has been a huge decline in this country, of some 85%, in the grey partridge population since 1970. The work of the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust has proven that farmers can get the grey partridge back in large numbers, as well as being successful and profitable. I commend that template to all farmers and to the House. I hope that when my noble friend the Minister implements ELMS, he will bear that very much in mind.
My Lords, my noble friend Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb has already addressed the Green group’s support for a number of amendments in this group. I will not repeat that, but I will address a number to which I have attached my name, starting with Amendment 8, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, which focuses on the whole-farm agroecological and agroforestry systems. I thank him for tabling it, and the noble Earls, Lord Dundee and Lord Caithness, for supporting it.
It is clear that the age of industrial monoculture has given us the dreadful condition of our countryside that the noble Earl addressed in his speech. Its waters are polluted and its soil degraded, and biodiversity is in collapse. Yet, at the same time, we have a public with an awful diet and poor health. We need a whole new approach. Actually, agroecological farming is the only kind of farming we should see, with whole-farm systems. Agroforestry is a crucial part of that: trees sheltering animals, holding water, storing carbon, supporting biodiversity, and producing healthier food, including fruits and nuts, and healthier and more varied fodder for livestock. We need the Government to support this transformation, although ultimately that needs to be how all our land is managed.
We have already seen a significant move across most of the farming sector in its approach to soils. It has been a rediscovery of the understanding that the natural facility of soils depends on a flourishing ecosystem of microscopic animals, plants and fungi. I hope the Minister will think about this: I continue to hope that the Government will sort out the Bill’s description of fungi to make it scientifically literate—it currently is not—following the issues I raised in Committee, which are in no way political. They merely seek to ensure technical accuracy. When we focus on agroecology and, indeed, agroforestry, we need to move towards crop diversity. That is part of whole-farm varied systems. It means a system that works with nature, rather than trying to cosh it into submission.
I move to Amendment 9, to which I have also attached my name, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and backed by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves. We have almost lost track of the fact that this is the Agriculture Bill. We are talking about environmental elements, but agriculture is also about food. We need joined-up thinking and systems thinking. There is really no point in producing more sugar, which the world has and consumes far too much of and does massive damage to rich and valuable soils. By contrast, growing fruit and vegetables is a super-policy—the kind of thing the Government should support and which they will have to, if they are to have regard to health and well-being policies.
Amendment 20, in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, and signed by the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, focuses on peri-urban land. I have probably done this myself: in the Bill we talk about the countryside, but fringe areas and patches of land in cities, towns and villages that might be quite small are crucial for environmental benefits and healthy food production. I am sure the Minister is aware of an excellent article from 2019 published in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution, which found that allotments and gardens often had 10 times more bees and other pollinators than even the rich environments, as we regard them, of parks, cemeteries and urban nature reserves. Increasing allotment use and food growing can be a positive sign for nature and, of course, for people.
I also express support for Amendment 6 on food security, to which Amendment 20 relates. Relying on the market to supply us with food has given us a dreadfully unhealthy diet, as the impact of Covid-19 has sadly demonstrated—one more weakness the pandemic has exposed rather than caused. However, it is also an insecure approach to rely on the market to supply food. Hundreds of millions of people in the world go hungry now not because there is a lack of food, but because of a lack of access to it. There is enormous waste in the system, particularly factory farming, feeding what could be perfectly good human food to animals.
However, we are in the age of shocks. We have just seen harvests in the US in particular be hit hard by extreme weather. Sadly, a lot more like that is on the way. The state of soils is parlous. To assume we can just buy what we need is dangerously uncertain. There is also a moral question: why should we take food out of the mouths of people in other countries when we could and should be growing our own? Those are two powerful reasons for the Government to provide direct, clear support for food security. There can be few more foundational roles for a Government than ensuring that people do not starve.
Finally, I support Amendment 48. I note the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, and I agree with them.
My Lords, I thank everybody who put their names to Amendment 9. I have a little confession: the original intention was to discuss it in the context of the part of the Bill dealing with access, because of the idea of tying health and well-being into public legislation. It is clear, as I have already said—and nobody has argued otherwise—that if you are fit and active, you tend to have better health. However, does the amendment fit in its allocated group? Having thought about it, those organising the Bill have got it right. It fits because it ties in with the general thrust of what we are saying.
What are we doing to try to improve life for the whole planet and for ourselves together? I am afraid it sounds rather meaningless when I put it like that. The idea is that it is a whole, so we are taking something on board and relating it to other activities. If one thing is done under this Bill, it should be to ensure that we look at the whole of what we are doing. The amendment sits better in this group because we have to consider people’s health and well-being and the public good when we are putting money in. I hope that, when the Minister replies, he will not totally dismiss the idea that we should have better access to public spaces in order to undertake physical activity. However, that does not fit in with some of the other concerns being raised here about better diet and so on, because it is part of that whole.
I shall briefly turn my attention to the amendment, which I hope will be spoken to in some depth by my noble friend Lord Greaves, about common land. Common land survives for a variety of historical reasons, primarily because people did not think it was worth partitioning off for economic uses in the past. It survives in some very odd places, such as the tops of hills and—the ones that I am more familiar with—marshland at the bottom of river valleys. Common land fulfils a purpose and allows an access point for diverse types of agriculture. Unless we can get places protected and ensure that they are supported by a new direction of government activity, such as granting graziers rights, we are missing a trick. I catch a train from Hungerford most mornings. Hungerford has a large developed common; there are little patches of common land going down the Kennet Valley. If it survives and allows the type of agriculture, predominantly grazing, that could not happen without that common land, surely that is worth protecting, not only for agricultural and diversity reasons but for historical ones. Surely we should look at that and do something to protect it.
My Lords, I declare my interest as a landowner, arable farmer and NFU member. I am speaking to and, subject to the Minister’s response, planning to move Amendment 12, as well as speaking to Amendment 17. These amendments support domestic agriculture to ensure that food security and the stability of food supply are included in the purposes to which financial assistance can be directed under Clause 1.
According to the NFU, 21 August was the notional day on the calendar that would see the UK run out of food if it relied solely on UK produce. It states:
“The nation is only 18% self-sufficient in fruit, 55% in fresh vegetables and 71% in potatoes. For both veg and potatoes, this has fallen by 16% in the past 20 years.”
As I understand the figures, 30% of our food comes from the EU. Supermarkets are fine at the moment, but just imagine a scenario if the UK fails to get a trade deal with the EU so that nothing is agreed on fishing rights, and then French fishermen decide to blockade Calais. That could leave the UK really struggling in obtaining particular food items.
The coronavirus crisis has shown how important it is to have a domestic supply of food. The view of farmers as food producers has never resonated more with the public than at this time, with the need to keep our shelves stocked the highest of priorities. I welcome the fact that the Government recognised that food production role by granting farmers key worker status during the countrywide lockdown. However, I believe that, unless the Government change their post-Brexit immigration policy, there may not be enough workers to gather UK fruit and vegetables in particular, already in short supply, as mentioned.
Given the increased significance of food security in the UK, Amendment 12 in particular would enable the Government to give financial assistance for the explicit purpose of supporting the domestic production of food. After the original Bill barely mentioned food, there is a considerable improvement in this new one. In Clause 1 at present, in developing new forms of financial assistance, the Bill states that the Government
“must have regard to the need to encourage the production of food by producers in England and its production by them in an environmentally sustainable way.”
However, in my view that wording needs strengthening, as the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, has said, hence particularly my Amendment 12.
In reply to Amendment 12 in Committee, the Minister stated, if I understood him correctly, that food production does not need financial support because that comes to the farmer by way of profit from the sale of his produce. While that will be the case in some areas, that argument does not cover the situations where dairy farmers have been selling their milk at a loss; where hill and lowland farmers could suffer hugely from the loss of their BPS and a delay in introducing ELMS; or where farmers would like financial support to develop new crops or new processes for growing crops, particularly when these take some years to come into profit.
On Amendment 17, the Minister stated in her reply that
“Clause 4 already places a requirement on the Secretary of State to consider in as much detail as considered appropriate each financial assistance scheme that is in or will be in operation during the plan period. If deemed appropriate, this could include how the scheme is to give regard to the production of food in an environmentally sustainable way.”—[Official Report, 16/7/20; col. 1848.]
I accept that explanation and will not be moving Amendment 17.
Some Peers have said that this amendment is trying to do the same thing as Amendment 58. Amendment 58, while totally valid in its own right, is about a national food strategy, which is a perfectly valid plan, but my Amendment 12 is about the provision of financial assistance in order to promote the domestic production of food. It would give the Secretary of State total flexibility on how that was done; it could be through the findings of the food security report in Clause 17.
In summary, I do not think this is a particularly controversial amendment; it is non-party-political, it is supported by the NFU and it need not affect support for environmental measures. I will listen carefully to the Minister’s reply to Amendment 12, but I am strongly minded to move it to a vote.
My Lords, I am happy to be part of the debate on this group. I agree with almost all the sentiments that have been expressed, especially by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, and the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, as well as by the Green Party.
I am speaking today particularly to support the noble Earl, Lord Dundee. One thing that has not been talked about enough is the role of farmers. If the Bill is to do what I think everyone sitting in the Chamber and who is part of this debate at the moment wants to do, which is to ensure that healthy, affordable food is grown on our land and that our land becomes environmentally sustainable and healthy again, then we need a new generation of farmers, but the facts are pointing in a different direction.
The noble Earl, Lord Dundee, mentioned briefly that in 2017 one-third of all UK farmers were over 65. Almost more worrying than that is that, since 2005, those in the 35 to 44 age group have decreased. However, evidence from surveys points to people wanting to farm and to be involved in growing at a local level, on a big level and on a small level. But how are they going to do it? Land is too expensive and they struggle to scale finance and cover the high start-up costs. Responses to the Landworkers’ Alliance survey indicated that 61% of people responding to surveys wanted to access land, 46% needed finance and 54% struggled to access training. All believed that an average grant of around £20,000, which is not a fortune, would really set them on the road.
Another route for the young farmer is also being closed because of poor funding to local councils. Recent investigations have shown that county farms in England have halved in the last 40 years. This is a crisis. If we do not have farmers, particularly young farmers, then everything that we are talking about is not going to happen. When Michael Gove was Secretary of State for the Environment, he talked lavishly about equipping a new generation of farmers, but I am afraid the facts are now pointing in the other direction. You cannot be a farmer if you have nowhere to farm. If we value our farmers then we have to make some changes. With the right kind of investment and the right help, a lot of people could join our cause.
The other big issue is food security and local food. I mention briefly that for 10 years I ran the London Food Board. We instigated a scheme called Capital Growth, which enabled up to 100,000 people to have access to community gardens. In the process, we turned over 200 acres of London into small community farms where people could join in. We are now looking to take that scheme countrywide, but we need grants for that and land needs to be made available.
My final point is covered by the amendment in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, and concerns training. In my years in London, I spent a lot of time in schools. It strikes me that, unless you are at a public school and the idea of a farm, as something possible, is somehow in your blood, you do not even think about it. I spent seven days, as many of us did, watching the debates on the first stages of the Agriculture Bill. I am absolutely guilty of this myself, but it was quite noticeable that the people who feel invested in the Agriculture Bill tend to be white and middle-aged, and an awful lot of us own land and are quite well off. It seems to me that we are missing a great trick in terms of diversity.
This Agriculture Bill belongs to all of us. It is about our land, our food, our health and our environment. Unless we take some steps to try to change the lack of diversity, we will head towards a greater separation between town and countryside. People have talked about litter being dropped, and there will be more of that because people do not feel that the countryside is theirs and that it belongs to all of us. Schemes that enable people in inner cities to grow vegetables on rooftops, under pylons and in sneaky little corners can really start to change attitudes. It is fantastically cost-effective, and I urge the Minister to look at this as the Government move forward.
In the meantime, I am very pleased to be part of this debate and to see agroecology and food security registering so high up among people’s concerns.
My Lords, once again, I declare my interests, as set out in the register, as a farmer and landowner. I am very pleased to follow my noble friend Lady Boycott, as many of the points that I will make are complementary to hers.
My support for Amendment 11, tabled by the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, is wholehearted. It involves the whole essence of the Bill, the aim of which is to take an important and profitable industry into a new era of post-CAP farming in this country on a sustainable and environmentally friendly basis.
The encouragement and support for commercial farming through productivity grants and the funding of ancillary activities are clearly stated, alongside the development of attractive environmental land management schemes—although I fear that the details are still unavailable, so we must put our trust in the Government delivering this. However, what is largely missing is support for new entrants into the industry, other than through encouraging some perhaps more elderly farmers to retire by offering them the balance of their basic payments. Although this will free up some land for new entrants, it is in itself not wholly positive, in that the land so freed up will go to the next farmer with no basic payment to cover the transition period. I fear that the most likely home for this land will be with neighbouring farmers or investors who enter farm contracting arrangements with large farm operations. The small farmer and the new entrant is likely to be squeezed, particularly as he is unlikely to have the financial backing that is available to established farmers and the outside investor.
That is why this amendment is so important. It enables the Bill to provide finance for young farmers and new entrants, who are very important to the industry if it is to grow and develop. These people will, unless extraordinarily fortunate, not have easy access to finance, as they will not have the assets and other security to offer banks and other lenders. Buildings, machinery, equipment and livestock are all expensive. As the land may well be held through a tenancy or other time-limited arrangement, obtaining a loan on acceptable terms will be difficult—hence the need to make it attractive for landowners to let land to such new entrants.
In addition, access to training is key if we are to encourage and help develop new entrants into the industry. The addition of this small paragraph in the purposes for providing financial assistance will help the industry to offer an attractive farming business proposition to those aspiring to a career in it, independent of established farm businesses that might not be able to offer them the same prospects. It also has substantial application to the tech-savvy who see a future in small, capital-intensive farming but who lack land and buildings.
I also support Amendment 12, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Northbrook, as it clearly sets out the very purpose and essence of the Bill.
Finally, I support Amendment 20, in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, as it recognises that with changing circumstances, such as limits on movement caused by disease and of course new technology, peri-urban land becomes increasingly relevant to agriculture, horticulture and sometimes trees.
I shall speak specifically to my Amendment 48, which concerns commons. I am not sure how it ended up in this group, but it does not matter. In Committee, we had a longer discussion and I put it in a group on its own, so as to talk about quite a lot of the issues connected with commons. On this occasion, in order to save time, I did not mind in which group it ended up, as I can talk about it in any event.
Again, I am grateful for the help and advice that I have had from the Foundation for Common Land and the Open Spaces Society. It is interesting that they come from different angles. One comes from a management of the commons angle and the other starts from an access angle, but they come together and work together because it is necessary to do so.
I need to go through again briefly what common land is. It is land registered as common land in a register kept under Part 1 of the Commons Act 2006 or the Commons Registration Act 1965. It is land owned by one person or a number of people which is subject to the rights of other people—the commoners—to use and take some product from it. Nowadays, typically that is the grazing of animals.
Common land is only 3% of the total land area in England but it is 37% of the land above the moorland line. It is therefore used by hill farmers, who depend on the rough grazing, natural grasslands and other sorts of moorland. It accounts for a fifth of the area of the SSSIs in England—not a fifth of the number of SSSIs but a fifth of the SSSI land, as a lot of the moorland SSSIs are quite large. It delivers many public benefits and includes two-fifths of the access land in England. It is often designated in different ways for nature, and, not surprisingly, over 90% of common land was under an environmental stewardship scheme under the CAP. Importantly, these sorts of schemes can continue on the upland commons. However, there are also lots of small, local commons, such as the ones referred to by my noble friend Lord Addington, many of them vital for informal local recreation, such as the village common where people play rounders or whatever. They are also often environmentally important for the reasons given by noble friend.
The problem is the management of the commons under the ELMS. How does a system designed to provide financial support for all these different purposes to traditional owners cope with a number of different interests—owners, commoners and perhaps others? They may be competing interests, and individual commoners may have different views on what should happen. In Committee, I asked the Minister whether the Government had already turned their mind to the administration of agreements in relation to commons, with the particular difficulties that can arise in negotiating, administering and delivering them. The noble Baroness, Lady Bloomfield, said among other things that the Government were working in the trials to create commons-specific land management plans and systems. There are two tests and trials which I understand include substantial amounts of common, one in Cumbria and one in Dartmoor.
Since then, I was very grateful to have a meeting with civil servants and lawyers, and I was astonished how many people in and around Defra had an interest in commons. It was an extremely interesting meeting, and I was very grateful indeed. I am sorry that the Minister could not come, but I understand. I asked about the two specific local tests and what the Government were doing in relation to small, lowland commons, to find systems for them. I understand that there will be some small, lowland commons in the tests and trials once the national system is brought in next year. I was told—this is where it got interesting—that they were developing toolkits to understand the issues; everybody develops toolkits nowadays. These are toolkits not for what should happen but to understand the issues. One very interesting comment by one of the people in the meeting was that we need to focus on what we need to learn. This all gave me to understand—and it was extremely useful for this, if nothing else—that, as had been suggested to me by some of the people from the Cumbria test and trial, working out what to do with commons is really in the early days. In particular, I asked about disputes and was told that they were still working out a way forward. This was all very honest, and I was grateful to be given that time.
It really comes back to what I said before about the Bill—that we really have to treat the Government as though they are on trust on these matters; we have to trust them to do it properly and do it right. As far as commons are concerned, as the months go by following the passage of this Bill, I shall certainly be on the Government’s back. Indeed, I got some promises in relation to the tests and trials taking place and so on, that people would keep in touch with me—and I shall keep in touch with other noble Lords, such as the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, who are interested in this issue. I hope that together we can form a little group and follow it through with the Government.
It was confirmed that the details of the ELMS with regard to commons would, along with lots of others, be outside legislation. I tabled this amendment saying that that should not be the case simply because it was the amendment that I had tabled in Committee, and I had not had time to think of a new one, but I am not going to push it to a vote when we get to it in order. A lot of work is taking place, but it is at a very early stage, and it will be very important that a lot more work takes place much more quickly. This whole thing is going to come rushing up on people, and we really do not want the commons missed out.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, and his very interesting thoughts on commons. That is a very useful debate to have and one we must take seriously. I echo the words of those who have been talking about the need to get new entrants into agriculture and develop diversity.
I have added my name to Amendment 16 in the name of my noble friends Lord Caithness and Lord Dundee, who have already spoken about it adequately. I am delighted to see that climate change mitigation is in the list, because we have to take it seriously. I know that the NFU has set an ambitious target with regard to being net zero, so that is something that the agriculture sector is taking very seriously.
I congratulate my noble friend Lord Caithness on his myth busting around the fact that farming can be eminently profitable and nature friendly. As we have all been hearing, nature-friendly farming is the way forward. I also send my congratulations on his words about the Allerton project of the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust. I visited it a few years ago and was incredibly impressed by the work there. He mentioned the grey partridge. In conjunction with the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, National England and others, there is also the Peppering Partridge Project, which shows that not only can farming be very beneficial to wildlife but game shooting can be very beneficial to wildlife. That might seem slightly counterintuitive, and I speak not as a shooter myself, but it shows how all those different aspects can work together.
The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, talked about trust. I have immense trust in the entire ministerial Defra team. We are very fortunate in this House to have my noble friends Lord Gardiner and Lord Goldsmith, and in the other place we have other very committed people who take the environment and farming interests very seriously. There is always the case of not knowing what is going to happen later but, at the moment, I have immense trust in them and wait to hear what they have to say.
My Lords, this has been a fascinating and thoughtful debate, and I would like to make a few remarks about three amendments. My noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering set us off to a good start. However, I want to talk not about Amendment 6 but rather about Amendment 7, and really for the reasons mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, who referred to those very important words “pasture fed.”
The only thing that really terrifies me about farming is the increasing move in certain places, particularly across the Atlantic, towards what can only be called factory farming, with vast sheds occupied by living creatures who never see the light of day. The glory of farming is, in many ways, pasture farming. Anything that we can do we should do to encourage our farmers to pasture their cattle, have their sheep on the hills and, indeed, to have their pigs eating their mast in the woods —and, of course, to make sure that we move away from that ghastly poultry farming which so polluted one of the loveliest stretches of the Wye earlier this year, when it seeped out from massive chicken battery farms. Anything we can do to emphasise the importance of pasture farming should be done.
Of the other two amendments which I wish to mention, Amendment 11 has been talked about by several noble Lords. The noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, made a very eloquent plea to encourage and help more young people into farming, and this was endorsed and amplified by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, in a very well-chosen speech just a few minutes ago. The future depends on coming generations. We must be innovative in the schemes we have that provide them with the wherewithal to go into farming. The noble Baroness referred to a grant of £20,000 being very significant in this context, and the noble Lord talked about encouraging larger landowners to make land available for young people. I very much hope that, as we move forward with global Britain, we will ensure that our farmers are not all over the age of 60.
Finally, I will touch on Amendment 16, which again has been talked about by several colleagues and was spoken to very forcefully and eloquently by my noble friend Lord Caithness. Last week there was a splendid edition of one of my favourite magazines, Country Life, featuring farmland birds. On the cover was a wonderful picture of my favourite bird, the barn owl. Many of the farmland birds were featured in a very depressing way, because of how they have declined over the years. It is very good that my noble friend has highlighted the importance of nature-friendly farming. If we are to have a countryside which people want to visit, and farming and agriculture of which we can all be proud, there must be nature-friendly farming. I very much hope that when the Minister winds up this constructive, thoughtful debate, he will reflect on some of those points.
My Lords, I support many of the worthy aims of this group of amendments, but my focus is on Amendment 22 in my name, which once more focuses on the clarity and implications of the language used.
Are uplands more important than wetlands? A wise parliamentarian recently told me, when we were discussing the addition of an individual word to this Bill, that considerable care must be taken. The addition of a single word will suggest the exclusion of others. In this clause, the inclusion of “uplands” could well suggest the exclusion of other types of land. The clause seeks to remedy this by including the catch-all language “and all other landscapes”, but this begs the question of why uplands deserve special mention. At the least, it will ensure that all future readers of this legislation will consider the promotion of uplands as more important than the promotion of those other landscapes. Consider the public servant tasked with committing funds to the protection of cultural heritage who is faced with the choice of two projects, one for uplands, one for wetlands. He or she will read this provision and undoubtedly choose the former, which would be a mistake.
Undoubtedly uplands are important, and the cultural and natural heritage therein is vital, but uplands can be no more important than wetlands; indeed, stating my interests as an estuary dweller, I argue that wetlands are considerably more important than uplands. Wetlands harbour considerably greater biodiversity than typically monocultured uplands, and 90% of wetlands have been lost since 1700. Being often near to urban centres and easily accessible, wetlands offer ready public access. Being found on or near the coast, wetlands are much more susceptible to the ravages of climate change and are at the forefront of our battle with rising sea levels. Wetland farmers, often pasture farmers, are as marginal as upland farmers and will struggle with a loss of BPS and export markets due to Brexit, and wetlands are often created and maintained by a remarkable physical heritage in the form of levees, embankments and drains.
I note by way of example the Exminster marshes. Created by Dutch engineers in medieval times, they are the site of a civil war battlefield, England’s oldest lock canal, Brunel’s amazing atmospheric railway—the great western railway—and the M5. They host the university’s playing fields, a major RSPB nature reserve and many small farms that traditionally raise England’s earliest spring lamb; this is ancient pasture-fed farming of the most carbon-neutral variety. To their west is Marsh Barton, with Europe’s largest collection of car showrooms, all of which they protect from the ever-rising sea levels. No area of landscape can be more important yet, without this amendment, they may lose out on ELMS funding to possibly less-deserving grouse moors in Yorkshire.
I trust that the Minister will clarify this issue. I am highly supportive of many of the other amendments, particularly that of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, with its focus on common land. This is such an important element of ancient land tenure in Devon on uplands and wetlands. It is undoubtedly deserving of special protection.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady McIntosh for tabling this amendment. When I first read it, I thought the key words were
“protecting… the food security of citizens”.
I am of the generation who went through the war. We had extensive food rationing, even after the war ended in 1945; it was nearly 10 years before we got rid of all food rationing. Did we not have a reminder in the first few days of the coronavirus lockdown of just how important food supply is? I pay tribute to our supermarkets and the supply chain, particularly those suddenly putting on extra production and extra harvesting in a magnificent way.
I very much support Amendment 12, tabled by my noble friend Lord Northbrook, and Amendment 11, spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and the very wise words of the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott. The Minister has told us in his briefing notes that he is aware that agriculture is going through a major transition stage. As we move to this new subsidy arrangement, I am confident that the Minister is aware of the challenges and is alert to them. At the end of the day, food security is vital and absolutely fundamental to this country.
My Lords, I repeat what I said in Committee about this part of the Bill. It is a bit like a Christmas tree that everybody wants to hang their favourite bauble on. Indeed, many of these baubles are very admirable, but we risk getting to the point where the list of the purposes for which the Government can give support becomes so long and detailed that the Bill threatens to collapse under its own weight, and, as noble Lords have said, give undue prominence to those elements that just happen to have had a handy pair willing to put them on to the list.
However, I must give myself a moment of indulgence on this one—while I am ticking everybody else off—and say that, if I was asked which one candidate bauble I would favour, it would certainly be the agroecology- and agroforestry-related Amendments 8, 21 and 23, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, which he very eloquently introduced. However, to be honest, the environmentally sound practices included in several of the amendments in this group, including my favourite bauble, can already—and hopefully will be—supported by the new ELM scheme and the list of purposes already listed in Clause 1(1), and I am sure that is what the Minister will say.
I am afraid I cannot support Amendment 12, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Northbrook. Food security is important, but an amendment here is not the way to secure it. Even in the interests of food security, food production is already supported by markets, as the Minister said in Committee, and we must not erode the already skinny funding needed for the environmental and other public goods that are already supported by public funding and would simply be diminished if funding for food security were to be added to that list.
First of all, I declare my interests as a farmer in Suffolk. The lesson I draw from the seven days we had in Committee on this Bill is that we—and the Government—need to widen our attitude and approach to this whole subject. With the final departure from the EU, we have a tremendous opportunity in being able to redesign the CAP, which had become very narrow and bureaucratic, into something that covers a much wider aspect—I am talking about the rural economy. This is a crucial part of the British economy and, therefore, it is crucial to the national interest. We have heard from a number of noble Lords about the importance of food security.
I am really trying to say that, in this group of amendments, we have had many examples of the way we can expand and change the uses of the money that previously went through the CAP, which was really based on that original trade deal between Germany and France—the French were going to import from German manufacturers, and the Germans would look after French farmers. Now, we can look much more widely, and one of the things that all these amendments do is encourage different forms of support, endeavour and action within agriculture.
I very much agree with my noble friend Lord Cormack when he says that we do not want to focus on the mega factory-farming approach. It must be much more about smaller and more intensive farms. For example, the Dutch produce an enormous amount of food on their very much more limited land but in a very sustainable and environmentally friendly way. There are many lessons to learn, and I hope very much that our further discussion on this Bill will enable the Government to widen the final output of this Agriculture Bill. Thank you.
My Lords, I begin by saying how pleased I am to be following my noble friend Lord Marlesford who, while his experience of farming is at the opposite end of England to mine, shares many of my concerns, interests and priorities. I also declare my own interests as a farmer and landowner in Cumbria.
I approach these amendments from the perspective that the scope of the financial powers in the Bill should, so long as they are discretionary, be drawn as widely as possible. I understand the strictures of the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, but at this stage, when we really do not know how the future is going to evolve, we must keep our options open.
I spent some of the summer looking at farm accounts, and one of the things that struck me is that most of the money that comes into farming in rural Britain comes from the food sector. If this is to change rapidly and significantly, some huge bills are going to have to be picked up by somebody somewhere and, certainly, in the middle of the current financial predicament in which the nation finds itself, we have not got unlimited resources to do that even if we wanted to. In the short term, I cannot see that this form of income into the agricultural sector can be found either by cutting costs or by another form of payments if there is a dramatic reduction in income from food production. Therefore, it seems to me that this has got to be at the core of rural land use businesses, and policies for them, in the immediate future.
What we are all talking about in the discussion on this Bill—and everybody is doing this but from slightly different perspectives—is trying to find ways of balancing the various conflicting uses, and the implications of those uses, for rural Britain. While food quality and food security may not, in an economist’s strict sense, be public goods, I believe that, using those words in a lay man’s sense, they must be at the heart of rural policy. Hence, they are within the scope of the financial provisions of the Bill, which, as I said, are discretionary and not mandatory.
For example, if we talk about carbon contributions made by emissions from grazing and other livestock, it is very appropriate to think about how we can find ways in which those emissions might be reduced by changing the way those animals are looked after. Of course, this may well mean that the cost to the consumer of the products will have to go up. While we say this, we must not overlook the fact that, although food prices may be at a historically low level, for many people this still represents a very substantial part of their family’s expenditure.
Finally, I will throw my weight behind Amendment 48, of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, in respect of common land. I declare that I am president of the Uplands Alliance. It seems to me that common land has been elbowed out of agricultural politics for far too long. In my view, farming common land is as much a mainstream form of farming as growing wheat in Lincolnshire, and it should be recognised as such by policymakers and politicians.
As I said in my opening remarks, I believe that the powers of financial assistance in this Bill should be drawn as widely as is reasonably possible, but they must be discretionary and not mandatory because we are all of us feeling our way towards a different rural future—one that I would like to think is better than the one we have now. However, we do not know in detail how this will evolve.
The reason that I put my name to this group was a single amendment—so I will resist pontificating on the others—and that was Amendment 11. Looking down the notes of the points I was going to raise, every single one can be ticked off in the speeches of the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, and the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, so I do not propose to repeat them. What I will do is give them my 100% support.
One point I will raise concerns the point of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, about younger people being tech savvy. I remember that, in my last session at Defra from 2006 to 2008, the noble Lord, Lord Curry, organised a seminar for young farmers. There were about a dozen or 15, as I recall. I remember being absolutely gobsmacked and overwhelmed by the technical language they were using, which was way above my pay grade. That gave me considerable confidence that the future was in good hands because technology was going to be used, and that reinforces the point the noble Lord made about the change in attitude and culture.
The fact of the matter is that those two speeches encapsulate all the points I want to make, and I say to the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, that, if you push this, I will vote for it.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Rooker. This is an extremely important group of amendments. The House spent a long time debating financial assistance in Committee and there was a thorough airing of all the issues, some of which have come back in this group.
The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, has raised the issue of food security, a subject which concerns us all. Access to healthy, affordable food is the right of every child and promotes good health and well-being. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans raised the issue of food poverty, which is also extremely important. The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, raised biodiversity and the role that pasture-fed grazing stock can play in promoting it. It was clear from watching David Attenborough’s programme “Extinction” on Sunday that biodiversity has come into sharp prominence —a point also raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. I shall be listening to the Minister’s response on this amendment.
My noble friend Lord Teverson raised whole-farm agroecology and agroforestry systems—a subject he is, quite rightly, passionate about. Trees are the green lungs of any country and we destroy them at our peril. It is therefore vital that we encourage agroforestry and tree planting, and that the financial rewards match the level of investment and management required. My noble friends Lord Addington and Lord Greaves are pressing the case for joint health and well-being strategies to be included in the financial assistance provision. Given the current health situation of the nation, I would hope that they are pushing at an open door.
Domestic production of food and agricultural products to ensure sufficient food security is a key element of the Bill. Nearly every sitting day we have a question about the impact of Covid-19 on the population, both elderly and young. The longer the pandemic goes on, the more the scientists learn about its impact, how to treat it and who are the most vulnerable of our residents. We know that exercise and a healthy weight and diet, while not a total fail-safe protection against infection, make a tremendous difference to our ability to survive and make a full recovery. As we enter a possible second peak, it is therefore paramount that the Secretary of State should have available to them sufficient information to ensure that food supply is stable and sufficient, and that food is produced in an environmentally friendly way. The whole thrust of ELMS is to move agriculture on to a more environmental footing. However, ELMS is not exactly just around the corner, and it is necessary to act now to protect both food supply and the environment. Can the Minister give the noble Lord, Lord Northbrook, and the Chamber the reassurance that we are seeking?
I have added my name to Amendment 11 from the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, on new entrants. Many of our long-standing farmers are considering whether now is the time for them to retire—as the noble Earl said, a third of our farmers are over 65 years of age. As we move from CAP to ELMS, it is vital that everything possible is done to encourage new entrants and young farmers to take up the reins. Entering farming is a very expensive venture; buying land is likely to be well beyond the reach of many young entrants, even if there is land available. Encouraging existing landowners to make land available will be vital to allow new entrants. Start-up capital will be needed to make a success of the new venture, alongside training and qualifications. Just talking of the list is intimidating and could put off some would-be hopefuls. The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, set out the case eloquently and was well supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott. Like the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, I am looking for answers from the Minister as to how the Government intend to deliver on this vital element of continuing successful land management on behalf of the rest of the country.
The Minister made it clear in Committee that he was keen to limit the list of activities attracting financial assistance, and he is supported in this by the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone. However, I fully support the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, in his quest to gain support for nature-friendly farming. The activities listed in his amendment are all vital and inextricably linked. We cannot have biodiversity if we do not have good soil health and good water and air quality. We cannot protect species if we do not have sufficient flood-protection measures and climate change mitigation. If the Minister is not minded to accept this amendment, can he tell us just how the Government intend the activities in the list to be achieved and protected?
Similarly, I support the noble Earl, Lord Devon, in including wetlands as well as uplands. The different types of species that can be raised on the various types of farmlands all add to the rich cultural and natural heritage of our countryside. Not all farmers will be blessed with grade 1 agricultural land, but all types add to the variety of produce and the rich diversity of our land. I thank the noble Earl for raising the issue of the wetlands in Somerset.
Lastly, my noble friend Lord Greaves has made a thorough case for the inclusion of common land, supported by the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood. I look forward to the Minister’s comments on this important element of land management, as well as on the rest of the amendments.
My Lords, at the start of my remarks on Report on amendments to the Agriculture Bill, I declare my interests as recorded on the register, including as being in receipt of funds from the CAP under the present system. As with the first group of amendments, I thank noble Lords for tabling their further thoughts after Committee with these amendments today. Once again, they highlight the very broad nature of agriculture, which, in many ways, interacts with economic activity from many sectors and interests in the rural economy. This in turn has a bearing on many government departments.
Several of the amendments focus on matters related to food security and, indeed, insecurity. We agree that these are important matters that we will come to later in the Bill. In relation to the Minister’s concessions—which are very much welcomed—and to Amendment 58 on the national food strategy commissioned by the Government, I can add that I too was very impressed with the initial report recently published by Henry Dimbleby.
We consider that the Government have a very clear focus on the issue without requiring the specific Amendment 12 so eloquently spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Northbrook, which we are unable to support from the Labour Benches. However, we have regard to Amendment 11 in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, and others, which overlaps with Amendment 70 in the name of my colleague and noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch on the Front Bench. Ensuring opportunities for young farmers and new entrants is incredibly important and underlines the future prosperity of the sector.
In outlining the purposes for which financial assistance can be given, we consider that Clause 1 gives a fair balance and appreciation of the many options that may be developed over time. It provides a good way forward, rewarding the production of food while protecting the environment. I am sure that the Minister will be able to provide the extra information and assurances that we are all looking for, and that he has taken due note of all the important points raised for sustainable agriculture into the future.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for contributing to what I think has been an extensive and very interesting debate. I turn to Amendment 6, which I shall address along with Amendments 9, 10, 12, 17,13 and 20. I will say—particularly to my noble friend Lord Northbrook and as a fellow member of the NFU, but to all noble Lords—that the Government agree absolutely that the production of food is of critical importance and that this will not be overlooked in the designing of our future schemes. Indeed, this is precisely why the Bill includes a duty for the Secretary of State to have regard to the need to encourage food production and for food to be produced in an environmentally sustainable way. So I say, in particular to my noble friends Lady McIntosh of Pickering and Lord Northbrook, that Clause 1(4) as drafted recognises the strong interdependence of farming and the environment.
Regarding the points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, the reforms in the Bill will ensure that food production today does not come at the expense of food security tomorrow. It will do this by incentivising farmers to secure the foundations of food security, namely our natural resources essential for food production: clean air, clean and plentiful water, wildlife—including pollinators—and soil. The Bill is designed to ensure our farmers and growers receive the important support they deserve to provide healthy, homegrown food made to high environmental and animal welfare standards.
Clause 1(1) sets out the purposes for which the Secretary of State may provide financial assistance, which contribute to underpinning sustainable food production. In practice, this means the Secretary of State may reward land management practices, such as those that support pollinators, which are essential for some food crop, or which help to improve soil health—thus ensuring farming can be sustainable for future generations.
Clause 1(2)(a) of the Bill will help in this respect by giving powers to provide financial assistance for the purposes of starting, or improving the productivity of, a horticultural activity, and supporting the adoption of new technologies. This could lead to greater resource efficiency. The Government are currently considering the best way to support, for instance, the horticulture sector and will be working closely with the industry to design a replacement for the EU fruit and vegetable aid scheme.
In response to my noble friend Lord Northbrook, let me say that new schemes will offer a variety of ways for farmers to receive an income under Clauses 1(1) and 1(2). The Bill contains many provisions to help food producers better engage with the market, including measures to support investment in technology and research to improve productivity. Part 3 of the Bill will improve transparency in the supply chain and help food producers strengthen their position at the farm gate and seek a fairer return for their produce.
To my noble friends Lady McIntosh and Lord Northbrook, regarding the powers to pay for food production in pandemics, I should also say—and this is a point that I make to all noble Lords—please look at Clauses 18 and 19. This will allow us to pay farmers, should there be, for instance, another pandemic such as the one we are enduring; it would qualify as “exceptional market conditions”. We are confident that we could have used these powers, had we had them, for Covid-19.
The Government will also support the adoption of new technologies to help producers increase both the quality and quantity of the fruit and vegetables they grow. These interventions could see the extension of our domestic growing seasons, enabling more healthy homegrown food to come to market.
In recent years, new developments such as vertical farming have revealed the potential for how peri-urban locations could make an important contribution to the sustainability objectives at the heart of the Government’s new approach and better connect people with the food they eat through local supply chains. Clause 1(2)(a) covers peri-urban areas.
Tackling public health and food issues properly requires a joined-up and practical approach across government departments, which goes beyond this Bill. Defra is working with the Department of Health and Social Care and others to ensure that improving public health is a core priority of government policy. I am grateful to noble Lords for acknowledging the work of Henry Dimbleby and the National Food Strategy. We look forward to the conclusion of his report and further work on that, because I believe it will furnish much of the future work on how we—if I may use this word—cure the country and improve the health and well-being of many of our citizens.
As I said in Committee, we believe the best place to encourage healthy eating is later on in the supply chain. It is on the processing of food that we need to target efforts across government and in society. For example, government may support the production of fruit and vegetables, but some could still be used in unhealthy products if not taken in moderation.
Amendment 9 requires Ministers to consider the health needs and well-being strategies which relate to local communities when giving financial assistance under Clause 1. We are concerned that this may not represent the most effective way to connect farming policy and health policy. For example, if Ministers and officials are considering the question of productivity grants to farmers in Cumbria, the local health and well-being plan for people living there may not be the most relevant consideration, since much of the food produced by farmers may not be consumed in that area. As I noted earlier, the best way to encourage health and well-being through food policy is at the other end of the process.
We all agree that there is more to be done. Covid-19 has brought the risks of obesity, for instance, into sharp focus. It is more important than ever that people achieve a healthier lifestyle. Consequently, the Government launched their new obesity strategy on 27 July to set out practical measures to get the nation fit and healthy, protect people against Covid-19 and protect the NHS. A coalition of partners is supporting delivery of the strategy through the Better Health campaign, which is encouraging adults to introduce changes to help them work towards a healthier weight.
On Amendment 7, the new ELM scheme, which is based on a public money for public goods approach, seeks to reward farmers across a diverse range of land types for the delivery of these environmental public goods. The Bill has been drafted to allow environmental public goods to be delivered in different ways. This could include funding livestock management actions, such as pasture-fed grazing livestock systems, where such systems deliver environmental benefits, improving feed efficiency of livestock through targeted breeding to reduce ammonia emissions, or limiting grazing where appropriate to avoid compaction and run-off. To my noble friend Lady McIntosh, and the noble Lord, Lord Judd, let me say that I am absolutely clear in my mind that the UNESCO designation in the Lake District is because of, not in spite of, pastoral farming.
The Government remain focused on providing public money for public goods and are committed to supporting animal husbandry methods that help to deliver these. Many farmers who employ such farming practices, including upland farmers, will therefore be well placed to benefit from the ELM scheme.
On Amendments 8, 21, and 23, the Government recognise that agroecology and agroforestry can contribute to the delivery of many environmental public goods. For example, organic farming methods can help tackle water pollution, improve habitats for wildlife, reduce flood risk and improve soil quality. Other agroecological farming techniques, such as integrated pest management, agroforestry and mixed livestock and arable farming, can also provide environmental benefits. I should say—I hope that I am going to please the noble Lord, Lord Teverson —that the definition of “better understanding of the environment” is non-exhaustive. I note the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, about putting all these references in, but financial assistance could already be given for this under Clause 1(2)(a), which lists agriculture and forestry, which include agroforestry activities.
On Amendment 11, the Government recognise the importance of attracting skilled talent into farming, which is important for a sustainable and productive agriculture sector over the long term. Clause 1(2) already allows for financial assistance to be given for the purposes proposed by this amendment. In the Farming for the Future policy update, published in February, the Government gave a commitment to offer funding to councils, landowners and organisations to help them invest in creating more opportunities for new-entrant farmers. We are working towards offering this funding early during the agricultural transition period. I echo the words from the noble Lord, Lord Rooker. Spending a day at Harper Adams University, you see how technology is used by, and grasped by, the students. It is remarkable and absolutely the way forward. We will encourage the development of innovative and collaborative bids that deliver the outcomes my noble friend has highlighted, including facilitating access to land for talented new entrants and providing them with training and business mentoring advice to help them thrive. I know these are points made by many noble Lords, on which I also place great importance.
Turning to Amendment 16, the Government are committed to providing financial assistance for nature-friendly farming under the Bill. ELM will pay farmers and other land managers to deliver environmental public goods as set out in the 25-year environment plan: clean air; clean and plentiful water; thriving plants and wildlife; reduction in and protection from environmental hazards such as flooding; adaptation to and mitigation of climate change; and beauty, heritage and engagement with the environment. I say to my noble friends Lord Randall and Lord Caithness that I have spent a day at Arundel seeing the success of the revival of the grey partridge; it is indeed impressive. Picking up on a point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, I said in Committee:
“Clause 1(5)(b) already includes the conservation of fungi as conserving can relate to the restoring or enhancement of a habitat.”—[Official Report, 16/7/20; col. 1818.]
Fungi are also referred to in other parts of the Bill.
In their policy discussion document, published in February this year, the Government proposed that tier 1 of the new ELM scheme should focus on supporting environmentally sustainable farming. For example, this tier could fund nutrient, pest, soil, and livestock management, field margins and cover, and water storage and/or use. I give my noble friend Lord Caithness the strongest assurance I can muster that the powers in Clause 1(1) already enable the Government to support nature-friendly farming in the way he has outlined.
Turning to Amendment 22, the Government recognise the value of wetlands, the habitats and other environmental benefits they can provide and the way in which they enhance our landscapes. Clause 1 allows financial assistance to be provided for managing land or water in a way that maintains, restores or enhances cultural or natural heritage. Cultural or natural heritage includes wetlands; therefore, the management of our wetlands is already included within the scope of Clause 1. We also know that wetlands may be managed in such a way as to contribute to other environmental objectives already listed under Clause 1 as being eligible for financial assistance. The Government are committed to providing financial assistance to a wide range of land types through the new ELM scheme, including wetlands, where these land types can deliver our environmental public good objectives.
I turn to Amendment 48. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, has pioneered much of this and I was glad that he was able to have that meeting. I left it to the professionals because I thought it much better for the officials if they were with the noble Lord in that context. I confirm, and endorse, the Government’s view that commons are some of the most diverse and environmentally rich land in the country and provide excellent opportunities to provide even greater public goods. The Government recognise this and are designing future financial assistance schemes to be accessible to as many farmers and land managers as possible, including tenant farmers and those with common land rights. As part of the planned three-year ELM pilot, the Government will ensure that it tests how best to enable commoners to participate in ELM and provide those environmental benefits. Clause 1 already enables the unique circumstances of common land to be taken into account when designing payment systems. The Government recognise the particular circumstances of commons, and Defra is working closely with stakeholders representing commoners to ensure that these are fully taken into account in the ELM scheme design.
My noble friend Lord Northbrook has suggested that he might be minded to move his amendment and test the opinion of the House. I hope that he will look at the provisions in the Bill. I have outlined Clause 1(2), Clause 1(4), among others, and the Bill’s fair provisions clauses. All of these entrench our shared quest: that the Secretary of State must have regard to food production. But surely, what we are seeking to do, and which our farmers and land managers are very capable of securing, is to enhance the environment, as we must. By the environment, I mean the very ingredients that will make the farmers of the future—the many young entrants whom noble Lords have referred to this afternoon. We will not be doing them well if the soil structure is not remedied. They will not be able to feed the nation as we all want if we do not attend to these environmental imperatives.
I hope that I have reassured my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering that the intent of her amendment is already well addressed, and I hope that she will feel able to withdraw it.
My Lords, I am grateful for all the contributions to this debate and the support for Amendments 6, 7 and 48. I am delighted that my noble friend the Minister has met me half way, but he has not gone quite as far as I would have liked. I am concerned about Clause 17, which sets out what the specific circumstances of food security might be. There would fall within Clause 1, but I would like confirmation. For example, if there is a shock to the trade system, would that be considered? I am sure there will be opportunities to discuss those later.
I am grateful to noble Lords who spoke in support of Amendment 7, in particular the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb and Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick. For the reasons given by my noble friend Lord Cormack, it is important that we have the opportunity for what my noble friend Lord Northbrook would call nature-friendly farming: the pasture-fed grazing livestock systems and the more extensive, less intensive form of farming that this country has come to know and love, particularly in the north of England. I am delighted that there has been such a good, positive discussion on common land. I will leave the Minister with one question; I do not expect him to reply today. Will the registration of common land be complete before the pilots are finished and the new ELM schemes come into effect? Perhaps that can be banked for later.
I fulsomely thank all those who have contributed to the debate on all the amendments in this group. I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 6.
Amendment 6 withdrawn.
Amendments 7 to 11 not moved.
12: Clause 1, page 2, line 31, at end insert—
“(c) supporting the domestic production of food and other agricultural products to the extent the Secretary of State considers necessary to ensure a sufficient level of food security in the United Kingdom, having regard to the outcomes in the most recent report produced under section 17.”
My Lords, I have listened very carefully to the Minister’s winding-up speech. He has been doing a magnificent job so far in navigating this Bill. I much appreciated his detailed arguments justifying no change and pointing out other supporting clauses of the Bill. However, after a lot of consideration, I still find too vague the phrase that the Government
“must have regard to the need to encourage the production of food by producers in England and its production by them in an environmentally sustainable way.”
As my noble friend Lord Dundee said, this may result in food production support being ignored completely. I also prefer the wording on food security in my amendment. This is too important an issue to pass by. It is not a party-political amendment, or particularly controversial, but I would like to test the opinion of the House.
Amendment 13 not moved.
My Lords, we now come to the group consisting of Amendment 14. I remind noble Lords that Members other than the mover and the Minister may speak only once, and that short questions of elucidation are discouraged. Anyone wishing to press this amendment to a Division should make that clear in debate.
14: Clause 1, page 2, line 31, at end insert—
“( ) The Secretary of State may only give financial assistance under this section for or in connection with environmental land management if all those standards for good agricultural and environmental condition set out in paragraphs 3 to 6 of Schedule 2 to the Common Agricultural Policy (Control and Enforcement, Cross-Compliance, Scrutiny of Transactions and Appeals) Regulations 2014 (S.I. 2014/3263) as are applicable are met for the relevant land.”
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 14, in my name and those of the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, the noble Lord, Lord Randall, and the noble Earl, Lord Devon. I am very grateful for their support. Currently, all farmers in receipt of common agricultural policy payments have to deliver, under the cross-compliance regime, a range of standards described as “good agricultural and environmental conditions”—a snappy little title. Some of the standards have now been enshrined in UK law but some have not, and would disappear when the good agricultural and environmental conditions provision disappears with the end of direct payments to farmers and the end of the cross-compliance regime.
The standards that would be lost are primarily those covering the management of hedgerows, the protection of soils and the provision of watercourse buffer strips. My amendment is aimed at ensuring the delivery of all the standards for good agricultural and environmental conditions, which were previously assured by cross-compliance and which all farmers receiving subsidy had to respect, and to make sure that they will continue to be a condition of receiving public money under the new system.
The Minister very kindly organised a meeting with himself and Defra officials, and they acknowledged that the holes that I have identified, which would be left by the cessation of the cross-compliance regime, were indeed holes, and that something would have to be done to plug them. The Minister has indicated that the Government plan
“an intensive consultation on standards in the autumn, laying out what standards should be achieved by all farmers receiving public subsidy, but there is not yet any agreement on the mechanism for enforcing such standards and the design principles and regulatory strategy are still being worked up.”
As noble Lords know, direct payments are due to start to taper shortly, though the date will be a subject of debate in this House later on Report. It is not entirely clear when cross-compliance requirements may disappear. Can the Minister clarify that date? Whenever it is, we could well end up with a gap in hedgerow, watercourse and soil protection during the transitional phase, and possibly beyond, depending on the results of the intensive consultation on standards. I suggest that the holes that the Minister acknowledges in environmental protection would be very easily and, if I may say so, elegantly plugged by this amendment, so I hope that he will accept it. I beg to move.
My Lords, taking my cue from the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, on the previous group of amendments, I do not want to pontificate about this. The amendment has been eloquently proposed, and I am delighted to have added my name to that of the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone. She has previous talked about baubles on Christmas trees, and now she has provided us with an eminently suitable plug. I am concerned that if we are not careful, these things will, although maybe not on purpose, be allowed to slip down the plughole, so I urge the Minister to ensure that we have an ample plug, to stop this happening.