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.
No, I have finished my remarks.
Would the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, please finish his remarks?
I confirm that I have finished my remarks already.
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 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 up 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 then 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 wellbeing 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 that,
“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.
15 September 2020
Division conducted remotely on Amendment 12
Amendment 12 disagreed.View Details
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.
My Lords, I am pleased to have put my name to Amendment 14, and particularly to emphasise the importance of cross-compliance GAEC regulations on the preservation and management of soils. I spoke to my own soils amendment in Committee, and I appreciate the Minister’s subsequent letter identifying the various ways in which soils may be protected going forwards.
However, the variety of potential soil protection measures and regulations on its own reveals the weakness of the post-Brexit system, as none of the methods identified has the broad and clear application of the cross-compliance regulations with which farmers are so familiar. As the Minister has already accepted in responding to the second group of amendments, sustainable soil management, including the maintenance of organic matter within our soils, is undoubtedly the most important element of environmental land management. Farming is soil management. Healthy organic soils are an essential carbon sink, and provide an astoundingly diverse ecosystem for microscopic life beyond our comprehension. They also minimise run-off and erosion, decrease the need for artificial fertiliser and ensure better productivity. The loss of the regulations, and the gaps that the noble Baroness referenced, will cause terrible damage to our net-zero targets.
My Lords, I think the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, has set a wonderful precedent here. Anything I would have said on this has been said by those who have already spoken, so I shall leave it by saying that I support the amendment.
The noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, has withdrawn, so I now call the noble Lord, Lord Naseby.
My Lords, since Committee I have reflected on two aspects of the broader farming area that we did not really look at in any particular depth at that stage. So I would like to place on record that, in my judgment, horticulture will play an ever-increasing role in the broader farming area. It is land, but of course it may be under glass or may use some of the new techniques for intensive production, particularly of certain vegetables.
Secondly, there is the small but ever-growing viticulture industry. I have done a bit of an inquiry and I declare an interest as a mini-grower, with 100 vines. There are now some major players in the UK who are producing in volume and looking for opportunities to export, which is a very important dimension as we set off on our journey on our own. There are also a lot of micro-growers who are looking for opportunities to develop. So I do hope that land and farming will remember that there is horticulture and, particularly now, viniculture.
My Lords, one of the issues that has persisted in this Bill, and in others, is the lack of regulatory underpinning, particularly here with regard to the ambitions of Clause 1. This could be characterised as an ideological obsession that the market can save us and an attempt to squash agricultural policy into that market mindset.
The truth is that without minimum standards some areas of land will fall into very poor condition. It is unfortunate that the Government have not engaged with your Lordships’ House to address this fact. The noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, presents a sensible off-the-shelf solution, which she explained extremely well. I think the Minister would be hard-pressed to justify the Government’s opposition to her amendment. I support it very strongly.
My Lords, I would like to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, on bringing forward this amendment. It shows what a sense of humour she has: having torn to shreds all the amendments in a previous group as being “little baubles”, she now comes forward with a bauble of her own.
I would like to put on the record that I am quite content with Clause 1(1)(j), which calls for
“protecting or improving the quality of soil.”
I can understand the basis behind the amendment, but for all of us who are concerned about the content of the soil and about good agricultural and environmental condition, I think that it is actually all contained in Clause 1 as it stands.
The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, has withdrawn, so I now call the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, on moving this amendment so eloquently, and the other speakers in this group for their contributions—albeit that they have been very brief. I regret that mine is not going to be brief.
I have added my name to this amendment, along with the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, and the noble Earl, Lord Devon, because I feel it is really important. There is undoubtedly an approaching gap in the legislation. The current Covid-19 pandemic should be a wake-up call to the fact that disease stemming from both wild and domestic animals is attributable in some countries to modern agricultural practices that are unsustainable and increase the risk of zoonotic disease. This is very serious in some countries. In the UK we have high standards of animal welfare, but our practices on land management and soil protection need closer monitoring.
The Minister has, on many occasions, reiterated that the Bill is a framework Bill only. This has led to it being silent on the role of regulation, which is extremely unwise as there is a regulatory gap which it is vital to plug. Without regulation, important environmental protections currently provided through the EU CAP, such as preventing hedgerows from being cut during the bird-breeding season and protecting watercourses and soils, will be absent after Brexit.
The cross-compliance protections under the GAEC are good but not extensive. The new environmental regulatory framework to be consulted on this autumn is unlikely to be in place until 2024, but the Minister indicated in Committee that direct payments could be delinked as early as 2022.
This gap could have a very detrimental effect on our countryside and contradicts the Conservative manifesto promise to
“legislate to ensure high standards of … environmental protection and leave the natural environment in a better state than we found it.”
Unless the regulatory system is fully up and running by 2022 and includes the GAEC rules, there will be a gap in environmental protections, as the noble Earl, Lord Devon, indicated.
The Government have also indicated that in future the voluntary ELMS could be used to pay farmers and land managers to undertake activities that are currently treated as basic requirements under GAEC rules. We cannot pay farmers extra money to carry out the most basic environmental protections; only those who truly engage with ELMS and go the extra mile should receive financial rewards. This would be a weakening, not a strengthening of environmental protection and restoration.
I am extremely disappointed that the Government appear to be back-tracking on their environmental protections. It would appear that this was all warm words and no regulation to back it up. I ask the Minister what the Government intend to do about the cross-compliance gap. I hope that he will accept this amendment, and if not give us very concrete reasons why.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Young for moving this amendment and making the case so persuasively. She is raising an important point about what will happen when the environmental standards, which are currently required through cross-compliance, no longer apply when we leave the EU and the existing payments regime is phased out. We agree that it is vital that the standards that apply, such as to hedgerows and buffer strips to watercourses, should not be lost by accident or intent.
It all forms part of the promise made when we left the EU that our environmental standards should be at least on a par with what went before. It is also part of the bigger promise of the Government that they will leave the environment in better shape than when they inherited it. So we cannot afford to go backwards on this issue.
As my noble friend has made clear, these issues are part of a bigger project to review standards and develop a new regulatory regime. This is fine as far as it goes, but the clock is ticking and we know that these reviews take time. The review will be taking place against intense activity to get the new ELMS regime up and running, with all the supportive secondary legislation that will be required to make that happen.
So there is a real danger that the provision of new regulations will be delayed, and a regulatory gap will occur. My noble friend’s amendment provides a neat solution to ensure that those standards not yet required by UK law will be safely assured for the future.
To be honest, as other noble Lords have said, we do not understand why the Government have not put something similar in the Bill, and there is still an opportunity for them to accept this amendment today. But if the Minister is not so minded, I would be grateful if she could provide sufficient reassurance that the review and its outcomes are on a fixed timetable. Can she also guarantee that our environmental standards achieved by cross-compliance will not be compromised in the meantime? I look forward to her response.
The primary effect of this amendment would be to provide a new lever to oblige recipients of financial assistance under Clause 1 to meet cross-compliance requirements. This includes parts of the cross-compliance regime where there is no backing in domestic legislation.
A large proportion of the rules currently contained in the cross-compliance regime are replicated in domestic legislation. Rules such as those in the Wildlife and Countryside Act, the Control of Pesticides Regulations and the Reduction and Prevention of Agricultural Diffuse Pollution (England) Regulations will continue to provide protection for our valuable wildlife, soils and watercourses. It will remain mandatory for individuals to continue to comply with all domestic regulation, irrespective of whether they qualify for financial assistance.
We understand the important role that regulatory standards play in trade, in protecting our environment and in protecting the health and welfare of animals. That is why the Government will take a proactive approach to engaging with industry. Responses to our landmark Health and Harmony consultation, our wide-reaching review led by Dame Glenys Stacey, and our discussion document on the ELM scheme have informed, and will continue to inform, our regulatory framework. This autumn, we intend to launch an engagement package—the intensive consultation to which the noble Baroness referred—which will provide an update on the thinking around the future regulatory system. We want to use this to start a co-design process with industry, opening the conversation with stakeholders on the best approaches to designing a future regulatory system.
The Government are exploring other possible levers that we could use to encourage more effectively industry compliance, which would deliver improved environmental outcomes. The ELM scheme will cover a range of environmental outcomes to ensure that farmers and land managers improve their practices and are rewarded for doing so. We are considering a range of measures to ensure that we deliver these outcomes, including, for example, requiring individuals to meet certain requirements as a condition of entry within the scheme itself.
Finally, I assure noble Lords and emphasise that we should take the time to get this right—and we have the opportunity to do so. Individuals will be expected to continue to comply with all current cross-compliance regulations until we delink payments from the land or direct payments end, and until not before 2022. The noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Whitchurch and Lady Bakewell, and the noble Earl, Lord Devon, worried about the regulatory gap, but we are striving hard to ensure that this does not occur. Through our engagement process and the development of our ELM policy, we will ensure that our high environmental and animal health and welfare standards continue to remain world-leading.
I hope that I have given sufficient reassurance on this important matter, and that the noble Baroness, Lady Young, will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, I have received no requests from noble Lords to ask a short question, so I call the noble Baroness, Lady Young.
I thank those noble Lords who contributed to this debate. The majority recognised that there was a real hole to be plugged and that something needed to be done.
I thank the Minister for her remarks, but before I talk about them in a little detail, I want to address the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh. This is not just about soils, and paragraph (j) alone does not provide the required protection. To give a couple of examples—one of which has been raised already—one of the provisions in the GAECs concerns cutting hedgerows in the breeding season. Alas, I see that happen too often these days. If there were no requirement for that to be prevented, other than the Wildlife and Countryside Act, I am not sure that farmers would recognise that issue in all cases. The other example is even more germane, because it can impact on the economic profile of a farm business. At the moment, farmers are required to provide two metres of green cover in each direction from the centre of a hedge. If that provision disappeared, we could see the wholesale ripping-up of farm headlands, which would not be protected by any existing legislation.
I very much welcome the letter from the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner, after Committee on the good agricultural and environmental conditions, but many of the schemes that he outlined in the letter are not statutory requirements but voluntary or guidance schemes—that is, schemes that people need to sign up to. They do not have the statutory and regulatory clout of the GAECs and cross-compliance.
I take the Minister’s point on taking the time needed to get the new regulatory system right, but 2022 is not very far away for the delinking of payments and the abolition of the good agricultural and environmental conditions requirements, so I hope that she means getting it right in terms of both timing and content. Personally, I would welcome the entry requirement for ELM being a statutory provision—as the Minister mentioned—with the maintenance of standards and adherence to a basic range of standards being a requirement for ELM. Of course, the big problem is that ELM is a voluntary scheme and bears down only on those farmers who take up that provision.
There is a lot to be done to get a good regulatory framework. The one thing that we do not want to do is pay for measures that farmers have come to know and love—they have got used to them; they have built them into their farm businesses; they see them as giving them legitimacy in the eyes of public and showing that they are looking after the farmed environment; and they are proud of the fact that they have wildlife and habitats on their farms. We cannot then go back in time and see them as something that farmers must be paid for, rather than the minimal social contract with the nation on how farmers will deliver basic environmental conditions.
I will restrain myself and wait for the consultation in the autumn. I hope that it happens quickly. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 14 withdrawn.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 15. I remind noble Lords that Members other than the mover of an amendment and the Minister may speak only once and that short questions of elucidation are discouraged. Anyone wishing to press this or any other amendment in the group to a Division should make that clear in the debate.
15: Clause 1, page 2, line 31, at end insert—
“(2A) Financial assistance under subsections (1) and (2) may only be given to—(a) persons who are involved in the production of products deriving from an agricultural or horticultural or forestry activity, including recognised producer organisations, associations of recognised producer organisations and recognised interbranch organisations as established in Part 6 or as recognised under the CMO Regulation on the day this section comes into force; or (b) those with an interest in agricultural land, where the financial assistance relates directly to that land.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment ensures that financial assistance under the Bill is provided only in relation to farmers, including those operating through POs, APOs and IBOs, agricultural/horticultural/forestry activity and/or agricultural land.
My Lords, this is the Agriculture Bill. As I have said before, it is not the environmental land management Bill—although listening to today’s debates and reading Clause 1, it would be easy to forget this. This is the first piece of agriculture legislation since the 1940s, yet it appears that agriculture and food security are secondary, even tertiary, considerations behind the provision of our environmental outcomes and the enjoyment of the general public.
I have donned the NFU wheat-sheaf to show my backing for British farming. The NFU is particularly concerned about this issue. It strongly supports the amendment and has urged that it be pressed to a Division. This is a key issue for farmers.
Undoubtedly, 2020 has been a terrible year for many, but please spare a thought for the farmers. Despite being lionised for their heroic contribution to feeding the nation through lockdown, they have faced a horrendous harvest. Torrential rain throughout last autumn made the sowing season a washout. Pestilence, such as the flea beetle, killed much of what germinated and the growing season saw a drought before torrential summer rain washed out the harvest. It has been a biblically bad farming year—and what do they have to look forward to? The loss of their basic payment and their European markets.
I discussed my amendment with the Minister and have sought views from far and wide. It has been suggested that, given that agricultural use covers 60% of the UK’s land mass, the lack of direct reference to agricultural support does not unduly matter. This is the exact issue about which farmers are so concerned: not only are they looking at a decrease in direct payments year on year during the transition period but they can expect that the decreased funding will be spread over 40% more of the UK’s land mass, to areas that are not agricultural. I note that those areas of land mass that are not currently farmed may well be more in need of environmental land management support than our farmland, which has been so well husbanded by farmers over the past decades. The result would be an even greater drop-off in agricultural funding just as our largest export market closes and lower-standard competition from overseas increases.
Farmers deserve much better. This amendment will ensure that they at least remain the focus of this, the Agriculture Bill. I am minded to test the opinion of the House on this issue, but I will listen with interest to the debate and await the Minister’s response before deciding. I beg to move.
My Lords, I listened carefully to what the noble Earl said in moving his amendment. For a number of reasons I will set out, I will argue that his amendment does not go far enough and is inherently flawed. Were he minded to withdraw it, I would be happy to step into the breach. Subject to what the Minister has to say, I may be minded to move my amendment in that regard.
There are two reasons why my Amendment 26 is preferable to Amendment 15. Like the noble Earl, Lord Devon, I believe that this Bill should relate to farming and financial assistance for primarily farming activities. As I say in my explanatory statement, this amendment seeks to ensure
“that financial assistance is targeted at active farmers and land managers who are operating units which are predominantly agricultural in nature.”
This is important because it is inclusive; it will ensure that tenants who have benefited substantially from current arrangements, which are going to be phased out, continue to benefit in the future. The amendment sets out in proposed new paragraph (a) what those circumstances will be. More specifically, proposed new paragraph (b) says that
“financial assistance may only be made available to individuals or groups of individuals, natural or otherwise, who are” —
this is important—
“in occupation of the land for which the financial assistance is being claimed”.
If the tenant occupies the land and is performing the activity, by definition they should continue to be able to claim. It would be highly regrettable if a landowner, other than by the very nature of owning the land, claims a prior right, meaning the tenant is no longer able to claim for that land.
The second criterion I set out is:
“taking entrepreneurial risk for the decisions made in relation to the management of the land for which the financial assistance is being claimed.”
The third criterion is being
“in day-to-day management control of the land for which the financial assistance has been claimed.”
The entrepreneurial risk is important. Just because you happen to own the land does not mean you are taking any of the risk involved. We have left the European Union, and this is something we had great difficulty in arguing under the conditions of the CAP; I tried to argue this case with Commissioner Fischler and some of his predecessors and successors. Their eyes would glaze over, because they did not understand the concept of tenant farmers, which is so well developed in this country. We have a unique opportunity to set out what the rights of tenant farmers should be. I regret—I am sure this was an innocent oversight—that tenant farmers may be excluded from the provisions of Amendment 15. That is something the noble Earl, Lord Devon, might like to consider in this amendment, and which the Minister, in summing up, might consider too.
Moving away from direct payment and the existing agri-environment schemes to this new scheme, I hope that the Minister will be particularly mindful of the plight of tenant farmers, who are almost overwhelmingly dependent on tilling the land and benefiting from the schemes they have hitherto benefited from. I hope that he will assure us that tenant farmers will continue to benefit, because I have cause to be concerned that that may not be the case. That is the purpose behind my Amendment 26.
My Lords, I start by begging the forgiveness of the noble Earl, Lord Devon. I feel a slight rat in that, having had his support of my immediately previous Amendment 14, I am going to speak against his Amendment 15, as well as Amendment 26 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering.
Farm businesses and farmers will be the primary recipients of payments for public goods, but the environmental land management scheme will be one of the main ways of delivering the objectives of the 25-year environment plan and should not be limited in scope to agricultural land and farmers. It must support wider land management and multi-objective uses of land, since we now have land needs in excess of the land we have. We will have to get land to work several times over for its living if we are to meet all these land use needs.
Farmers need to think of themselves as land managers in the future, delivering multiple objectives—food, obviously, but also carbon sequestration and storage, biodiversity management, water quality management, soil management, flood risk management and a whole bundle of access, recreation and human health benefits. We need to see that farmers of the future are not just going to be about farming for food but delivering those multiple objectives.
I will give a couple of examples of the sorts of thing that would be prevented if the payment restrictions were only to farmers. One is non-agricultural habitats like blanket bogs, which often occur in farm holdings but may not. They are pretty crucial to combating climate change, and they are cost-effective ways of improving water quality. I should declare an interest as chairman of the Woodland Trust: a second example is support for owners of non-commercial woodlands, such as community woodlands, to plant more trees in the interests of biodiversity, climate change and all sorts of other benefits that trees deliver, which ought to be embraced within the scope of these schemes. I cannot support Amendments 15 and 26.
My Lords, I rise to support the noble Earl, Lord Devon, and my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering, because they are on to a good point. I also take the point that the noble Baroness, Lady Young, has just mentioned. Therefore, I ask my noble friend the Minister to clarify exactly how many extra people or units will be able to claim out of the same pot of money. The noble Earl, Lord Devon, made the good point that the current budget—the current amount that comes out of CAP in its two forms—goes to a set number of people. How many more people are likely to be eligible to get their hands on that pot of money? What will the effect therefore be on current farmers, who rely primarily on the basic farm payments system to exist and continue to farm their land? Of course times have to change, and farmers have to become more diverse, but it is important to know exactly what we are talking about, and I hope my noble friend can help us on that before a decision is made on whether to put this to the House or not.
I call the noble Lord, Lord Rooker. Lord Rooker?
My Lords, I am now unmuted; the order seemed to have changed.
As in Committee, I support the thrust of the amendments. I may have misread the technicalities of Amendment 15, compared with Amendment 26, but I do not see how Amendment 15 would ignore tenant farmers. It may be that I have misunderstood the effects of Part 6 of the Bill.
I remember farm visits as a Minister, at both MAFF and Defra, when on more than one occasion tenant farmers had a chat with me, out of earshot of others, to say that they were doing things with the land that encouraged other activities; maybe they had done something that encouraged its use as a set for a film or an advert. The landlord would then come chugging down the lane—on one occasion in the form of the National Trust, I remember—demanding a big slice of the extra money, which they had done nothing whatever to create the environment for. This is an important point.
As I say, I am not sure about the difference between the two amendments in that respect, but the Minister has to have a very good case for putting the view that those who take the risk—a point made quite strongly by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh—in farming the land and producing the produce should not be the recipients. I obviously agree with the noble Earl, Lord Devon, that this covers producer organisations and others, but it does not cover external landlords who might own the land and receive money from tenants.
This is more or less exactly the same point I made in Committee, and I am glad this has come back. I am not sure whether there will be a Division—I know we are under instructions about various things—but there has to be a point at which, unless the Minister has a really good case, one or both of these amendments should be forced into the Bill.
My Lords, I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Rooker. I did not inform him that the noble Lords, Lord Marlesford and Lord Greaves, had withdrawn.
My Lords, on one of the first amendments we discussed in Committee, I said that for all the other things—the environmental benefits, et cetera—farmers are “the delivery system”, and so you have to maintain farmers. This means that you have to define who the farmer is, in a way that has not happened in the Bill, so that we can go forward.
My question to the Minister is this: do we have a definition of what sort of activity is covered by government subsidy here? That is really what needs to come out. For example, forestry would almost certainly come into the same view as agriculture. It may be that I have missed it, so I am trying to get that clarification down; it might make everybody feel slightly more comfortable about this. Who are the people who are supposed to do the other interesting stuff—the access things we have already talked about and the environmental things that are coming to the fore? Who is the delivery system? I cannot see it being anyone other than the farmer and I cannot see any way of it happening other than if they are paid. There simply is not another delivery system for this. There may be a slightly different version of this, but the farmer or land manager seems to require assurance that they are the focus of the activity.
As for supporting the two amendments, I am afraid the Minister has his fate in his own hands on that one, as ever. The fact of the matter is that if we can get out of it only who the groups are, and the definition of why you are going to support them in this changed regime, that would be a useful thing to come out of this, if nothing else.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, is not here, so I now call the noble Baroness, Lady Northover.
My Lords, we already know that our economy will be under pressure in the coming years from the effects and costs of coronavirus and the drop in GDP expected by almost all economists after Brexit, whatever form Brexit takes. The Bill does not spell out exactly how levels of funding will be sustained. As my noble friend Lord Greaves said at the beginning of our consideration of this Report stage, the Bill is permissive, allowing the Government to take action—which does not mean they will take action.
In such circumstances, with scarce resources, it is vital that any financial assistance is properly directed. We have already heard much today about the fragility of this sector: of few young farmers, the difficulty of breaking into farming and securing tenancies, and the costs of stocking farms and purchasing machinery, and all this against a background of uncertainty in our relationship with our nearest market. Yet we have also heard how important the sector is, not only to our food security but to our environment and our well-being.
The noble Earl, Lord Devon, outlined the special challenges that farming has faced and so often faces. He is surely right that the Agriculture Bill should focus specifically on agriculture, underpinning a farming model in the United Kingdom that is sustainable and productive and plays an active part in delivering food production and public goods, which include those that the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, mentioned. There is indeed a risk that financial assistance will be provided for schemes and beneficiaries that have little or no connection with farming or farmland, diminishing the opportunity to support sustainable food production with the limited resources likely to be made available under the Bill in future.
The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, rightly emphasises the importance of tenants. I share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Rooker: I could not see that the amendment from the noble Earl, Lord Devon, excluded tenants. No doubt he will elucidate that shortly.
I take the point from the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, about wider environmental concerns, but as my noble friend Lord Addington put it, farmers are so often the delivery system.
We also know that clever schemes are set up to take advantage of any funds available. I certainly remember them from before the Common Market and we see in other areas the way in which Philip Green, for example, has drawn on furlough resources, and yet is eyeing up a new yacht.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, I think these amendments are extremely important. The Minister may say they are flawed, but I trust he will not, because what is vital here is the essence of these two amendments. He will know that if these amendments are passed—we will support them if moved—this is where the government lawyers kick in, iron out any problems and address with the movers an acceptable and more targeted plan for making sure that we support this vital sector for the United Kingdom. He is a very experienced Minister, so I am sure he will understand what I am saying. I therefore look forward to what the Minister says and, after that, to what the movers of the amendments wish to do.
My Lords, we welcome the tabling of these amendments, which will allow Ministers to go into more detail on the balance between direct support for agriculture, and other related purposes, and the emphasis that the noble Earl, Lord Devon, puts on the word “agriculture”. We understand that the National Farmers’ Union supports this amendment as a means of ensuring that the Agriculture Bill is truly agricultural in nature.
Following the first two groups, where there were amendments focusing on areas such as countryside access and public health, we understand the concerns of some that, with a limited pot available to Defra, it is important to ensure that the lion’s share delivers for farmers. We certainly want farmers to get the support they need, and to ensure the Government follow through with the many promises they have made to rural communities in recent years. However, as my noble friend Lady Young of Old Scone so clearly noted, there will have to be a wider purpose for land, as it will have to work several times over to deliver its multiple objectives.
However, as we have all said during the Bill’s progress, our departure from the CAP is an opportunity to do things differently. Two of the biggest criticisms of the CAP are about its rigidity and the fact that it has not kept pace with real-world developments. Many concerns stem from the lack of detail and certainty regarding the new schemes that are due to come on stream in 2021. In this respect, my noble friend Lord Grantchester’s Amendment 41, which would require the Government to demonstrate the readiness of year 1 schemes before commencing the seven-year transition, may be of interest.
My Lords, I thank noble Lords who have contributed to this debate. Wearing my farming hat, as I have declared my interests, I very much hope in promoting this Agriculture Bill that its essence is how we work with farmers and land managers on the quests that we have for food production and enhancing the environment. I repeat that it is about enhancing the environment and providing the ingredients for future agricultural production.
I take this opportunity to reiterate that this Government are committed to supporting the agricultural sector, not only with the promise that the budget for agriculture will remain the same during this Parliament but in supporting that sector through Clause 1 and many other elements of the Bill, which I started to outline in earlier debates today. Interestingly, my figures are that 69% of land in the United Kingdom is farmed and 10% of land is in woodland. As such, we will be relying on our farmers and land managers for the public goods which, in our view, they are so well placed to deliver.
As currently drafted, Clause 1 enables the Government to provide financial assistance to land managers—and I encourage noble Lords to look at the way it is crafted—in return for their delivery of public goods. Indeed, the new ELM scheme is a vehicle to provide such funding to those who manage land and water to deliver these environmental goods. I have no doubt that the overwhelming majority of participants in ELM will be farmers. It is proposed that tier 1 of the scheme will be aimed specifically at farmers and will pay for actions that the majority of farmers can take across their land, such as nutrient, pest and soil management.
However, the Government recognise that environmental benefits can be provided across a large variety of land or water types, including farms, rural properties and estates, woodland and other open or green spaces. Many landholdings and farms will embrace not only land that is farmed but wetlands and woodlands—all of which the farmer will, in the contribution of their own ELM scheme, bring forward in terms of land, woodland and water.
For the ELM scheme to be successful, it needs to work for a wide range of farmers, foresters and other land managers, as it will help us to maximise the environmental benefits that can be delivered. This will ensure that the ELM scheme acts as a powerful vehicle for the delivery of the 25-year environment plan goals and the Government’s commitment to net zero. The noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, mentioned that specific point.
It is also the case that the challenges we face will require landscape-scale change. That is why we have proposed that tier 3 of the ELM scheme could fund projects such as woodland creation, peatland restoration and flood mitigation. My view is that it will be overwhelmingly on land which is farmed by owners or tenants, and be a vital part of that landscape change that we all very much need. These are all examples of large collaborative projects which would allow us to improve the health of our environment, as set out in the 25-year environment plan, while helping us to deliver our commitment to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.
I say to my noble friend Lord Caithness that existing agri-environment schemes—such as special areas of conservation, sites of special scientific interest and land that supports priority species—are open to those not involved in agricultural production. We feel that accepting this amendment would significantly narrow the scope of future schemes and the benefits they deliver. I emphasise that I have no doubt that the catchment areas and landscape ranges in tier 3 will embrace many farmers. It may be that, as part of that, there is a woodland owner or land managers other than farmers. It is important that we look particularly at those in tier 3, which is why I emphasise it. I raised this specific point in discussion with the noble Earl, again emphasising my farming interests and understanding of the concerns that farmers have about change. In my view, we should not narrowly restrict the ability for financial assistance to go to those other than farmers, although obviously the overwhelming majority of the funding from the Bill will go to farmers and land managers.
On Amendment 26, in the name of my noble friend Lady McIntosh, it is intended that the ELM scheme will provide funding to those who carry out the management of the land or water to deliver environmental public goods being funded. This might be the tenant or landowner, depending on the specific activity carried out and the arrangements in place. I emphasise this important point to my noble friend: engagement is ongoing with a wide range of farmers and land managers, including landowners and tenants, to ensure that ELM is designed in a way that works for all to maximise the delivery of environmental outcomes, while ensuring effective use of public money.
Representatives of landowners and tenants sit on our core stakeholder group on ELM design. We recently ran a number of sessions looking at ELM for different sectors, including those with tenancy arrangements, common land and uplands. We have six tests and trials that are working with farmers to assess how ELM can work best on tenanted land. In the national pilot, we also plan to have participants from a range of tenancies to ensure that we test the scheme from different land tenure perspectives.
We will discuss this on other amendments, but we clearly see a very strong future for the tenancy sector of agriculture. We think it is often a way in which land can be successfully farmed, sometimes by new entrants. I emphasise the importance that the Government place, through the tests and trials, on finding the right way to have an ELM which is successful for tenants and landowners. That is how we will have more and more land coming forward for contemporary and modern tenancy arrangements.
The Government would find it very difficult to restrict the eligibility for financial assistance in the way that the noble Earl has outlined. This is specifically not because I am suggesting that the funding is going to move from farmers to many other resources but because, by tier 3, we are going to need to work with people beyond farmers: for instance, woodland owners. There needs to be that ability to work with those beyond what I would call “the farming community”, who are four-square at the core of this.
The construction of the Bill, in Clause 1(2), is also designed absolutely to ensure that those starting and improving agricultural, forestry and horticultural activity are supported. I have looked through the Bill, and at every turn its clauses are about how we best look after and improve the situation for farmers. Yes, it is in a period of change, and that is why there is a seven-year transition.
But with those points in mind—I am mindful that I have to work quite hard, as there is a suggestion that this may be a matter for consideration by the House—I hope that the noble Earl and my noble friend will understand why the Government wish to have that flexibility, being mindful of the importance of the farmers of this country. I hope that the noble Earl will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, thank you for a fascinating and very conscious debate on this important topic. I heard what was said by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, and I do not prefer her Amendment 26 because I think it is more limiting than Amendment 15. It requires only active farmers who take entrepreneurial risk to be recipients, which would unduly restrict applicants and fails to recognise that there are multiple different interests in farmland. Tenant farmers are not excluded from Amendment 15; it is crafted to cover the broad range of interests in land, which include tenant interests. It also recognises that often there are contractors, licensees and short-term tenants, who may have an interest in short-term profit, while landlords and those with a longer tenure may have an interest in the longer-term benefits to the land and the returns therefrom. Amendment 15 leaves it, quite rightly, to the marketplace to determine who gains the funding.
The noble Baroness, Lady Young, need not be embarrassed at all; my support is never contingent and I understand her points regarding the multiple objectives that she lists. This just goes to show that this is not an agriculture Bill; it is an environmental land management Bill. I appreciate the support of the noble Earl, Lord Caithness. His question on the dilution of farming support was entirely pertinent. It is disappointing that the Minister was unwilling to answer it. The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, is right: Amendment 15 does not exclude tenants, for the reasons I have discussed. The noble Lord, Lord Addington, greatly assisted in revealing the inconsistencies in the Bill and the need to provide farmers with some proper assurances. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, for re-emphasising the proper direction of funding, and the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, who reinforced the concerns that funding may go to a wider purpose than agriculture.
The Minister made clear that ELMS is designed to work with farmers and land managers. It is land managers who are the concern. The Minister accepted that there are land managers other than farmers, but he did not offer a definition. Are golf course owners included? Are airport owners? Is Network Rail a land manager that will get ELMS funding? The Minister did not exclude those as recipients of ELMS. He says that the budget for agriculture will remain the same. Is that the budget for farmers or for farmers and land managers? Will it therefore be diluted?
I appreciate the point about tier 3. I am excited about the landscape-scale ambitions of ELMS, but it is clear that such funding will definitely go to farming members of a tier 3 collaboration. As I do not wish to be responsible for narrowing the excellent environmental goals of ELMS and I trust that those designing it will be mindful of the very real concerns that your House has voiced today, I hope I do not regret this, but I am happy to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 15 withdrawn.
Amendments 16 and 17 not moved.
We now come to Amendment 18. I call the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe. She is not responding.
Amendment 18 not moved.
Can I move it?
No, you cannot.
I apologise—it is always bound to go wrong if I am on the Woolsack—but I have already said that Amendment 18 is not moved.
Amendments 19 to 25 not moved.
Clause 2: Financial assistance: forms, conditions, delegation and publication of information
Amendments 26 and 27 not moved.
28: Clause 2, page 3, line 42, leave out subsections (8) and (9) and insert—
“(8) The Secretary of State must by regulations require specified information to be published about financial assistance under this Act.(9) Information which must be specified includes—(a) the full legal name of the recipient of financial assistance;(b) the amounts of payment corresponding to each measure financed by the funds received by each beneficiary in the financial year concerned;(c) the purposes of the payment corresponding to section 1(1);(d) the geographical boundaries of the land corresponding to the amounts and purposes under paragraphs (b) and (c);(e) any other information that in the view of the Secretary of State is appropriate to enable the public to evaluate whether the purposes in section 1(1) are met.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment ensures that the public may evaluate whether the Act’s purposes in providing public goods are in fact being fulfilled.
I shall speak to Amendment 18, which has not been moved, and to my own Amendment 28. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Allan of Hallam, for signing it as well.
The common agricultural policy is a huge item in the EU’s budget, making up around one-third of all EU expenditure. The system of payments established under the Bill will be similarly huge, with large sums of public money being paid to private individuals and businesses in exchange for providing public goods. With such huge expenditure, it is, frankly, outrageous that the Bill is so lacking in measures for public scrutiny and accountability for that money. My Amendment 28 seeks to redress this huge accountability deficit by requiring the Secretary of State to publish information about expenditure under the Bill. That does not seem unreasonable to me. Probably every Peer in this House would expect that if they spend money then generally, they will understand where it goes.
That publication would include basic information such as who is receiving how much money and for what. Without that information, I do not see how taxpayers can be expected to trust that public money is being put to good use in fair and proper ways. In particular, I worry that the whole system of public money for public goods will be undermined, resulting in a rolling back of the progress that the Bill represents.
If the Conservative Party were in opposition, they would expect such information to be provided and would want it in the Bill—they would insist that basic accountability be included—so I am horribly disappointed that there is nothing to that effect. I eagerly await the Minister’s explanation as to why a prudent and fiscally responsible Government would avoid publishing such basic information, which would enable the public to ensure that their taxes are being spent properly and effectively.
My Lords, I thank noble Lords for their forbearance—I was sitting in a bus that had been slowed down due to the requirements of Transport for London. Amendment 18 concerns the lack of an impact assessment for the Bill. I thank my noble friend Lord Lindsay and the noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkharle, for their support. Both are distinguished experts in the field. I also thank the Minister for a very useful meeting and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, for the support of the Opposition in Committee. Other amendments in this group look at various aspects of evaluation and financial assistance, including a welcome government amendment of plans relating to the latter.
Impact assessments are a vital vehicle for evaluation and scrutiny of government actions on a coherent, structured and quantitative basis. They provide good guides to how different groups and businesses will be affected by a Bill or a proposal. They are, rightly, a firmly established part of the landscape, with that on the Immigration Bill being the most recent useful example in our House. This Bill represents a huge change in farming and countryside management in the UK, as we have heard. This needs to be quantified. We need to look at the economic costs, benefits and risks that the new agricultural policies entail. That observation applies to the whole Bill but is most important in respect of Clause 1.
Impact assessments could have been invented with such a Bill in mind—I know because I headed the Cabinet Office deregulation unit that pioneered them. Yet on 20 February, the Regulatory Policy Committee, which independently assesses impact assessments, was forced to publish a little slap in the face to Defra. Having considered the matter, it came to the following stern conclusion:
“The RPC has considered the proposals in the Bills and believe that in both cases”
—they were also referring to another Bill—
“these could have significant impacts on business when they come into effect (as set out in the annex to this statement) and that therefore IAs should have been produced by the Department, submitted to the RPC for independent scrutiny, seen by ministers and presented to Parliament. We expect that, in future, government departments will submit IAs to the RPC before the relevant bill is laid before Parliament. We remain open to DEFRA submitting IAs for both of these bills to the RPC, in order to allow us to provide an opinion on whether or not each IA is fit for purpose.”
Matters have moved on a lot. Will the Minister consider making available the draft that was prepared for ministerial discussion? I suspect that much of the material was an updated version of the economic material he published and referred me to in Committee, but of course, in a much more useful and structured format. I would also welcome details of Defra’s plans for secondary legislation made under different parts of the Bill. We agree on the need for collaboration with the farming sector and others in developing the regulations, and I know that IAs can be useful in bringing out risks and opportunities for the wider economy—for example, businesses supplying the rural economy. This leads to better feedback. I always remember persuading the then DTI not to require the minimum wage to be shown on payslips, because of the cost to businesses of reprogramming all their IT systems to make this happen.
This is not a sexy amendment. It is one devoted to the cause of responsible and coherent government, and I suggest that it is none the worse for that. Allied to proper, timely consultation, impact assessments can identify important factors that have been overlooked in policy formation. I look forward to the Minister’s comments.
It may help the House to understand what is going on if I clarify that the debate is now on Amendment 28. We will continue with the speakers’ list, as written down, for this group. At the end, after the Minister has spoken, I will call the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, to respond to Amendment 28.
My Lords, I support everything that my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe has said in moving Amendment 18, so I shall be brief. I added my name to this amendment for reasons I outlined at Second Reading. It is irregular for a Bill—even for a framework enabling Bill—to be sent to Parliament without any sort of formal impact assessment. It is yet more irregular for a Bill of this consequence not to be accompanied by a primary stage impact assessment at the very least.
For well over a decade, successive Governments of different political hues, have for good reason seen the requirement for departments to produce impact assessments alongside proposals for new legislation as central to their commitment to better regulation. Accompanying impact assessments enable parliamentary and stakeholder scrutiny of proposed new legislation to be better informed. Parliamentary and stakeholder scrutiny further benefits from impact assessments because of the role of the RPC, which my noble friend mentioned. The RPC is the government-appointed Regulatory Policy Committee which independently assesses the quality of a departmental impact assessment of the costs, benefits, risks and opportunities of a proposed new measure. It then publishes an opinion, which is available to Parliament and others, on whether the evidence and analysis contained in the impact assessment are sufficient to support whatever is being proposed. As my noble friend said, it is an essential and valuable discipline. It helps Parliament, Ministers and the departments themselves.
I am glad to say that it is rare nowadays for a department to produce legislation without an accompanying impact assessment, but it has happened in the case of the Agriculture Bill. This omission is especially regrettable, given the varying impacts of the wide-ranging measures that this Bill proposes to enable. That is why I have put my name to this amendment.
My Lords, my interests are as listed in the register. I should add in relation to Amendment 18, to which I wish to speak, that I am a former chair of the Better Regulation Executive and worked closely with the Regulatory Policy Committee which has been referred to already. I also worked closely with the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, who has tabled this amendment, and with the noble Earl, Lord Lindsey, who has supported it. I fully endorse their comments. I am particularly disappointed in Defra’s poor performance with regard to the impact assessment of this Bill or, more accurately, the lack of an adequate impact assessment. When I chaired the BRE, Defra was one of the better performing departments and regularly produced satisfactory IAs. As the Minister knows well, I fully support this Bill and the policy changes it will introduce. As has been stated numerous times, this is the most serious change in agricultural policy in a lifetime. We need fully to understand the implications of this fundamental change.
Of course, this amendment is a process issue. For many, it is rather tedious and not “sexy”, as the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, stated. However, it is a crucial part of understanding how new policies or changes in regulation will impact on those affected by it. As one well-known system is demolished and another unknown system is introduced, we have a huge void by not having an impact assessment better to understand of the economic costs and benefits of this change. I hope that the Minister will explore this further with his department and be able to reassure the House that this issue will be addressed as the Bill progresses on its journey through both Houses and into legislation.
My Lords, I was happy to add my name to Amendment 28, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, as I feel it is important that we debate the question of what information will be published under the new farm payments scheme during the passage of this Bill. The provisions in the Bill currently lack detail and firm commitments, and that raises legitimate concerns that we might in fact go backwards from the status quo in terms of transparency around the common agricultural policy.
In supporting the amendment, I want to talk briefly about the value of publishing comprehensive data, as described in the list set out in the amendment. There are two core arguments for this. The first is the accountability that we want for any significant public expenditure, and this Bill will certainly usher in a great deal of such expenditure. The more insight that we have into how our money is being spent, the more effectively we can hold our Government to account for it. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, certainly made that point very forcefully, and it was echoed by the Minister for the Cabinet Office, who in his recent lecture at Ditchley Park talked very much about opening up government data precisely in the interests of other people being able to hold the Government to account.
There is a second benefit that might be even more significant: the innovation that can happen around public datasets. The Government do their best to devise good solutions for the farming community, and I would not for a second question their good faith in doing so, but nobody has a monopoly of good ideas, and there will be people outside of government who have ideas that could be of real benefit to the UK agricultural sector. The dataset described in this amendment would provide a foundation on which those ideas and innovative solutions could be built. I draw attention in particular to making associated geospatial data available—that is, data around the parcels of land that are being funded—as this is especially useful for developers who work in this area. I understand that Defra already collects much of this data. For example, it publishes geospatial data in respect of environmental stewardship payments. Therefore, my starting point is that I do not believe that the list of data described in the amendment would add to the burdens for the farming community as it is data that it produces for Defra, but we are asking that Defra releases it to the wider world.
I hope that in his response the Minister is able to put some more flesh on to the very bare bones of the text of the Bill and that, in particular, he can do two things. First, it would be helpful if he could describe the dataset that the Government are currently thinking of publishing. I understand that they have been engaged in a consultation exercise over the summer, so I hope that they have some idea of what they intend to publish under the secondary legislation that the Bill envisages. Secondly, it would be extremely helpful if they could indicate whether they have concerns about any of the items listed in Amendment 28, so that we can focus on them and discuss them further. With that, I look forward to hearing the contributions of other noble Lords and, in particular, the response from the Minister.
My Lords, I congratulate all those who have tabled amendments in this group. I congratulate my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe and her co-signatories to Amendment 18 which calls for an impact assessment. It would add a great deal to the Bill. I also congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, on moving her amendment.
I shall focus my remarks on Amendment 30 and, in particular, government Amendment 35. The latter amendment, in the name of my noble friend Lord Gardiner, concedes in new paragraph (a) that we need to know
“as soon as practicable before the beginning of the plan”
what the purpose of the plan will be. He sets out very neatly in new paragraph (b) that the plan should be published
“at least 12 months before the beginning of the plan period for the plan.”
I welcome the fact that my noble friend has conceded that we need 12 months’ notice. I do not know quite why my Amendment 36 is not included in this group. When we come on to discuss dates other noble Lords will press their favourite dates, whether it is five months, three months, seven years or five years.
My noble friend has conceded the principle that we need 12 months’ notice. I do not quite understand why we are not then agreeing to delay the start of the transition period in that regard, because we need greater clarification of what the plan will be. I am very uneasy that we do not have the results of the trials of the ELM schemes, which are still ongoing. So what I have set out here is very specifically that we have levels of expected expenditure set out and, equally, we can identify the outcomes for that expenditure as part of this multiannual financial planning. I shall not make the arguments in full, because we debated them quite fully in Committee, but I am deeply concerned that the role of the Office for Environmental Protection is still unclear in this regard. Can my noble friend come forward with a date for when we will be able to look in some detail at the environment Bill? I hope that it will be before the end of this year and of the transition period. It would be most helpful if my noble friend could give us a date.
What is lacking in the current provisions, and why Amendment 30 is required, is a framework that requires the Government to be clear about what they are planning to spend and what they will spend that money on. In Amendment 35, I think my noble friend concedes can and do change over time, but we need a clear direction of travel from the Government so we can judge how well the Government and Defra are doing in achieving these objectives and in targeting these public resources. We need to give farmers and land managers the clearest possible indication and assurance about the certainty of funding, if they are going to be able to enter into long-term relationships to deliver the outcomes for the public benefit and the improvement of productivity. So, in identifying specific levels of budgetary expenditure, we will also need to enhance the ability of Parliament to scrutinise government plans and policies in advance of them being implemented and by way of evaluating their performance. Both provisions would be an important part of good governance.
In summing up, can my noble friend say when he will bring forward a business plan that will impact and be effective for the first year after the transition period, which is next year?
My Lords, I added my name to Amendment 30 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, which seeks, as she explained, to increase the levels of accountability and ensure that Parliament can understand Her Majesty’s Government’s strategic priorities and the extent to which they are being met. We discussed this issue in Committee.
Many Members of your Lordships’ House have already expressed concerns about levels of financial accountability in this Bill, and we have a number of amendments that seek to address that. On page 4, line 15, the Bill specifies that the Secretary of State will be,
“monitoring the extent to which the purpose of financial assistance has been achieved.”
The amendment, dealing with the multiannual financial assistance plans, specifies that the Secretary of State will produce annual budgets for each strategic priority. There is a powerful argument that we need this so that the public can have confidence in the spending of public money. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s and indeed other noble Lords’ reflections and responses on the extent to which this amendment can strengthen transparency and accountability.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the right reverend prelate the Bishop of St Albans. I particularly praise his work as president of the Rural Coalition. I know that he does really good work there. I declare my own interest as co-chair of the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Nature Partnership.
I will speak to Amendment 32, which was not all that popular in Committee, in that it suggested and states that the transition period from the old funding system to the new should be not seven years but five. I will go through why that is so important and why I have bothered to bring it back and take up the House’s time—although I will not be putting it to a vote at this Report stage.
The reason is that the Bill and this programme in terms of changing the financial nature of support for agriculture are absolutely critical for England’s ecology into the future. It is really important because of the crises that the country will face in the longer term. We know very well of the climate change crisis because we hear about it every day, but we hear increasingly about the biodiversity emergency that is facing us globally and also in each of the nations of the world: it is spread across the globe. The Bill has the ability to help to correct that biodiversity crisis, along with various other initiatives that are happening as part of the 25-year environmental plan. We have to make sure not just that we get this financial system right in terms of environmental land management schemes, but that we do it quickly, with alacrity and we get on with it.
What is the evidence for that emergency? Let me give three statistical examples. First, 41% of species in the United Kingdom—we are not talking about the Brazilian rainforest, the Indonesian rainforest or the many other areas we concentrate on regularly—are in decline in terms of their population. Very few are increasing; the remainder are steady state.
The farmland bird index has gone down 57% since 1970. That is a staggering figure and is a direct index around farmland performance in terms of biodiversity in the United Kingdom. It illustrates, regrettably, that agriculture is the main reason for the decline in biodiversity and in the quantum of nature in this country. I do not blame the farming industry for that. It has practised its profession and trade in compliance with the various financial regimes there have been under the common agricultural policy and the legal framework within which it operates. We hope that that is changing because of this.
I also regret to say that in the UK’s sixth national report on its performance on the biodiversity convention in 2019, we met only six of our 20 targets in terms of what are called the Aichi biodiversity targets. In fact, the NGOs would say that our performance was even worse.
Those are statistics, but we all know from our own homes, gardens and farmland that we see fewer butterflies and moths than we did before. We have fewer bees and pollinators than before. I do not see hedgehogs any more where I live. In terms of birds, I remember that starlings and thrushes were one a penny when I was a child in suburban London. We hardly see those species at all now. That is the problem.
So I believe that it is absolutely essential that we do not stroll through seven years of changing this system and that we at least bring it down to five. This country defeated the Kaiser and the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires in five years 100 years ago. We defeated the Nazi tyranny of Europe and the Japanese empire in six years. I cannot believe that we need seven years to change a system of financing that is so important to mend our biodiversity and to get the 25-year environmental plan working properly, and to make this an instrument to do it now, quickly and with alacrity.
The RSPB report that came out yesterday was called A lost decade for nature. We have an opportunity here not to lose the next decade, and I believe that we should start by making sure that that transition period is not seven years but five. For us—an advanced nation that knows what we are doing and has the experience of a good agricultural sector—surely, that has to be possible. Many, many farmers out there are already carrying out the sort of agricultural practices we want to see and that have been shown to be practical. They are there as an example and I hope that the Government will listen and reduce this period, rather than give into the temptation, as some noble Lords want, to extend it.
In this grouping, I support various amendments on monitoring and analysis. First, Amendment 18, from the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, advises that impact assessments be published and that public responses to them be taken into account before financial schemes are themselves launched.
Secondly, and correspondingly, my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering’s Amendment 30 would have the Government set out expenditure levels and their predicted outcomes as part of their multiannual financial plans. I am also in favour of Amendment 34, from noble Earl, Lord Devon, which would improve parliamentary scrutiny by insisting that multiannual financial assistance plans be considered for at least two months before coming into effect.
I also support Amendment 32, from the noble Lord, Lord Teverson. We have just heard him eloquently express the reasons why he advocates this. The five-year period, rather than seven, more accurately reflects how long developments arising from the Bill are likely to take. Thus, the amendment prevents an unnecessary delay or transition from the old payment system to the new one.
Finally, I support Amendment 47, from the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, which correctly points out that financial assistance to United Kingdom farmers should take into account how they are operating and competing within the international economy.
My Lords, Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, is this weekend—Shanah Tovah.
The seven-year period cited in Amendment 33 is not accidental. We all know of the seven fat and seven thin cows of the pharaoh’s dream in Exodus. Jewish law prescribes a seven-year agricultural cycle, with a fallow year—the Shmita—every seventh year. What was good for Moses should be good for us, and we should set our agricultural policy in seven-year cycles.
The transition period is seven years and the period between multiannual financial assistance plans should be the same. This will allow farmers longer to plan and to commit resources to the published policy. It will permit farmers time to recover from any poor harvest, avoid the politicising of multiannual financial assistance plans and remove their coincidence with the five-year political cycle.
As to Amendment 34, along with the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, I note that the Government have published their own Amendment 35, under which they agree to publish the multiannual financial assistance plan at least 12 months before it comes into effect for all instances other than the first one. However, the first plan is by far the most important. It will make by far the greatest impact on farming and take by far the greatest effort to distribute within the farming community. My amendment seeks at least two months’ notice before January’s plan comes into effect, but even this will not be permitted, it appears. We are told the plan will be available this autumn, but I note that the autumn ends on 21 December.
Just this morning, I spoke with representatives of the Dartmoor hill farmers, who are hugely concerned. These small farmers see the Dartmoor National Park, the Duchy of Cornwall and other large commercial bodies secretly trialling ELM schemes about which these small farmers are wholly ignorant. They are really scared that the rules are changing for large wealthy land managers, who can afford professional assistance, while they—the actual farmers—remain wholly in the dark as to what is coming, as do we.
As to the compelling arguments of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, I fear that five years will only increase the negative impacts of what may be a chaotic transition. The noble Lord listed many species that he sees fewer of now. I would ask him to consider whether he sees more crows, magpies, buzzards, badgers and foxes than he used to. Their impacts on nesting farmland birds are well established.
My Lords, I strongly support the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Curry; I am sure that the Minister will take good note of them. I wish to speak to Amendment 47, which stands in my name; it has been grouped with these amendments but does not sit all that comfortably with them. I thank the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, for his support for the amendment. I again draw the attention of noble Lords to my declaration of interests as a member of the Farmers’ Union of Wales, as well as owning a few acres of land in Wales.
This amendment addresses one of the issues that, I contend, any Minister exercising the powers in this Bill would have uppermost in his or her mind: the need to ensure a level playing field for farmers in the context of the financial support they may receive.
Yesterday, in the other place, the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill was given its Second Reading. When the White Paper that preceded the Bill was published in the spring, it referred to the dangers of diverging regulatory standards in each of the four home nations of the UK. From time to time, there will clearly be different approaches within the four nations, and there may well be policies to try to ensure that agricultural producers in one area receive different levels of assistance to compensate them for the negative effects of certain factors—in other words, to bring them up to a place where they can compete fairly, not secure unfair advantages over their competitors within these isles.
However, there is also a danger of which we have to be aware—especially those of us who advocate the freedom of our devolved Governments to pursue policies that help farmers within their territories, particularly hill farmers, as has been mentioned by several noble Lords during the passage of this Bill. There is all the difference in the world between securing a level playing field with common standards and securing unfair trading advantages. My party, Plaid Cymru, recognises the need for common standards but believes strongly that these should not be imposed by the centre regardless of the policies and aspirations of devolved Governments. These standards need to be developed and applied in an even-handed way that recognises the aspirations of all four nations and the policies they support.
The UK Government-led discussion on developing the internal market has largely revolved around the potential of regulatory divergence within the UK, but the reality within farming communities is surely a far greater concern about the dangers of unfair competition arising from the movement of agricultural produce across international borders into the UK, undermining farmers in all four home nations. There is widespread support for amending this Bill to safeguard agriculture throughout these islands against the importation of substandard produce from other parts of the world. Unfair competition does not arise solely from regulatory differences but also from differences in the level and type of state aid. That is reflected in the intense negotiations currently being held between the UK and the European Union in an attempt to define a level playing field.
There is of course an overwhelming wish across all parties in Parliament for a trade deal with the EU that maintains our access to European markets for agricultural producers, and that any deals with third countries or blocs of countries do not compromise our access to the massively important European market on our doorstep. There are two sides to the regulatory coin. One is the need to maintain standards and not have our farming industry undermined by a flood of substandard products from other parts of the world that undercut our own producers. The other is that our own farmers should not be unfairly penalised by the system of financial support operated in countries with which we compete, or the level at which such support is pitched. Such factors should not give farmers in other countries who compete in the UK market an advantage over producers in the countries of Britain.
That is not to advocate some cosy system of agricultural support. On the contrary, since there is now the flexibility to be more innovative in our farming support system, there are more opportunities. However, in defining our new system of support, we must surely have one eye on the reality of both the support and the standards which prevail among our competitors. A failure to do this will undermine both our farmers and our food manufacturers. Disregarding levels of support among our main competitors is potentially as negligent as ignoring produce of inferior quality. Both can undermine our farmers, so I urge the Minister to accept this amendment or bring forward his own with the same purpose. If he refuses to do so, and if he denies the danger to our producers of being undermined by competitors who benefit from greater financial support, that would be a valid cause for concern. This very reasonable amendment merely requires the Minister to bear in mind the levels of financial assistance which underpin our competitors’ prices. I hope that he can respond positively to it.
My Lords, I reiterate my interest in our family farming and horticulture business. Although I no longer have an active managerial role, I retain a residual interest in it.
This group of amendments addresses a number of items which were discussed in Committee. Many noble Lords then, and again today, expressed their anxiety at the relatively short time that farmers, foresters and land managers would have to prepare their businesses for an incoming multiannual financial assistance plan, or, for that matter, where an existing plan is in place, to make any changes to it. The speeches thus far on this group of amendments share this common theme.
Noble Lords will remember the suggestions made in Committee by my noble friend Lord Lucas of a two-year readiness period, and by the noble Earl, Lord Devon, of a delay period of two months. I am sure noble Lords will welcome the Government’s amendment. This is an intelligent compromise which takes note of noble Lords’ concerns on the matter. I thank my noble friend the Minister for listening to the concerns of the House, as he has been exhorted to by a number of noble Lords this evening. I support the amendment he proposes.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Aberavon, has withdrawn from this group of amendments. I call the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard.
My Lords, I support my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe’s Amendment 18, also in the names of my noble friend Lord Lindsay and the noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkharle. My noble friend is a great supporter of impact assessments and she is right. In framing the new financial assistance schemes, it is important for the Secretary of State to understand the likely effect of any new ways of remunerating farmers for their farming activities and for their stewardship of the countryside. Many farmers are presently bemused by the measures contained in this clause and would much appreciate greater clarity from the Government. The publication of impact assessments would improve their understanding and help them to plan for the future.
I do not think I can support the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, in her Amendment 28, because she wishes the Government to publish more information than is appropriate. Farmers should be entitled to rather more privacy than the noble Baroness would allow.
In Amendment 32, the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and my noble friend Lord Dundee seek to shorten the period of the first plan to five years. However, payments under the new ELM schemes are not expected to commence until 2024, and I think the full seven years—which would mean only three years after those schemes start—would be the minimum time necessary for the Government to prepare their plan for the second period, based on their review of the use and effectiveness of the schemes during the initial period.
On the other hand, the noble Earl, Lord Devon, in his Amendment 33, seeks to extend the length of each plan from five to seven years. However, as I said in Committee, I do not think the noble Earl’s reason is valid. Even if the Fixed-term Parliaments Act is not quickly repealed, as I hope it will be, the noble Earl is surely aware that general elections have not taken place regularly every five years.
I think the noble Earl is being a little modest in seeking to ensure that plans are published at least two months before they come into effect, and I am delighted that, in Amendment 35, the Minister proposes that subsequent plans should be published at least 12 months before they come into effect. That is in line with what several noble Lords recommended in Committee.
I am not sure whether Amendments 47 and 106, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, are helpful. The best thing the Government can do for British farmers is to ensure that unnecessary, unjustified red tape is removed, so that they can compete successfully at home and abroad. During our membership of the EU, as noble Lords should be aware, British farmers have not enjoyed a level playing field with their competitors: French livestock producers receive €1 billion a year of voluntary coupled support, as opposed to a mere €39 million available to Scottish crofters.
My Lords, since the noble Lords, Lord Marlesford, Lord Rooker and Lord Addington, have withdrawn from this group, I now call the noble Lord, Lord Carrington.
My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register.
In connection with Amendment 18, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, I admit that I do not understand much about impact assessments. However, I would hate impact assessments to further delay this whole process. As the details of ELM schemes may not come out for another couple of years, I find that quite worrying.
However, my main purpose in speaking is to support Amendment 33, in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Devon, for all the reasons that he has given—although I cannot honestly claim that I have had time to study what either the Bible or the Koran say about the seven-year period. I would, however, add to the list of pests that he mentioned something that is now rather important: the prevalence of the grey squirrel and the muntjac, which are steadily gnawing through our trees. If they are not taken in hand, they will make a new forestry policy extremely difficult—but that is another matter.
From a business planning point of view, it is essential that the agricultural sector be given as much clarity as possible when making any important investment decisions. The sector does not have the luxury of either deep pockets or the same access to banks and capital markets as big business. The costs of farm machinery and other capital items continue to rise, as do running costs. The sector needs the security of being able to plan forward with a considerable degree of certainty if it is to thrive in terms of profits and employment.
There is also the issue of aligning ourselves with our competitors, in particular those in Europe, with its seven-year period. That is why I also support Amendments 47 and 106, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, which relate to another aspect of business planning. We need to watch and learn from others, so that we can compete sensibly on this much-hyped level playing field. I fear that, as an industry that is unlikely ever to become entirely independent of taxpayer support, we will always be brought into the political arena. But this new Bill gives us a chance to rewrite the rules. Let us grasp the opportunity and instil as much sensible business practice into the industry as we can.
My Lords, we are in a mess on this group of amendments. I would like some clarification. I think that we were misled by the Deputy Speaker when she said that Amendment 18 was not moved. As I understood the situation, if an amendment is tabled, anyone can move it. As my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe was not here, the next speaker, the noble Earl, Lord Lindsay, who was a signatory to that amendment, should have been invited to move it. We are now in a situation where we are told the amendment was not moved, but Members have been speaking to it. As I understand the rules, we are not allowed to speak to an amendment that has not been moved. What is happening? Could this be clarified? If I want to speak to Amendment 18, am I in order? If all the rules have been broken, I hope that my noble friend the Minister will at least reply to my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe and support her by getting this amendment tabled for Third Reading. I think that the House has broken lots of rules and I would like clarification before I continue.
I shall, of course. I shall start with Amendment 28, as it was moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. I will then discuss much about the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe.
What a wonderful thing flexibility is. I am grateful to the Minister for replying this way. That gets us out of the hole.
I support the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe. There should be an impact assessment. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say.
I thank the Minister for his Amendment 35. As said by my noble friend Lord Taylor of Holbeach, it is a sensible compromise. The Minister has moved some way. I congratulate the Government on having moved on at least one amendment. They refused to move on anything in the Fisheries Bill, but on the Agriculture Bill, we have a slight shift. I hope the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, is as pleased as I am that we are making a little progress.
I must pick up on the little discussion between the noble Lords, Lord Teverson and Lord Carrington, about biodiversity. The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, is right: the species that have thrived over the last 10 years have been the grey squirrel and the muntjac, as a result of which we are hardly able to grow any decent commercial deciduous woodland in this country. Until that problem is solved, we will be able to plant a lot of trees and take away a lot of empty tubes in 20 years’ time when the trees have all failed because they have been attacked by deer or grey squirrels.
I cannot support the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, on reducing the period from seven years to five in his Amendment 32. It will be difficult enough for farmers in the timescale they already have. That is for lots of reasons—we have talked about the age profile. Agriculture is a long-term business that needs a lot of careful planning. We need to know what ELMS will be. There will be such a learning curve for farmers, who will need a great deal of help—we will come to that when discussing the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester. By the time ELMS comes in, there will be little time for farmers to get acquainted with the system, particularly those of the older generation and those still suffering from lack of broadband connection. Without social media and broadband, they will not be able to operate the latest modern machinery, which is all digital and high-tech. This will cause them a lot of problems.
My Lords, I will be very short. I was working from an old version of the Marshalled List when I signed up to speak on this group and I discover that the amendment I wished to speak to has been regrouped somewhere else, so I am not going to say anything. I am sure the House will be deeply grateful.
My Lords, I simply want to say that I strongly support Amendment 30, because where the end is wished, the will must be provided. There is altogether too much hollow rhetoric and good intention in this area. We need firm commitments, and that involves the discipline of preparing the budgets that are necessary to deliver them. I congratulate the noble Lords concerned on having emphasised this vital point.
My Lords, this has been another lengthy debate on how the financial assistance provided by the Secretary of State is to be properly assessed, including transparency of information to ensure that the public good principles of financial assistance are fulfilled, and on bringing the multiannual financial plan for consideration in Parliament before being brought into effect—quite a simple statement that has a wealth of detail behind it. The financial assistance scheme will have an impact on the farming community. It is, therefore, imperative that this impact should be assessed and that the outcomes and public responses are considered, as the noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkharle, said. It is important that there is transparency around payments for public good.
At first, I was not in favour of Amendment 28, as I am anxious that farmers are not subsumed in collecting information and data. However, I understand from my noble friend Lord Allan of Hallam that the majority of this data is already collected by farmers, as he indicated this evening. It is therefore important that this information should be readily available and transparent, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans pressed for.
Again, transparency is at the root of amendments around the multiannual financial plans. Setting expectations around financial assistance is key. The farming community, like every other industry and household, needs to know what it can expect and plan accordingly. Will the Minister indicate how such strategic priorities will be funded if a budget for this annual expenditure is not set?
My noble friend Lord Teverson again returned to his wish to see the plan period brought forward from seven to five years. His amendment found little support in Committee, but I fully support him in his very powerful arguments. The Agriculture Bill is heralded as a new dawn for farming and land management, but it would seem that the Government are taking a very softly-softly approach. In many ways, this is to be welcomed, but it is not good for the environment, which is suffering now. We might previously have said that the environment was suffering badly; now, we say that it is suffering catastrophically. The environment can longer afford for us to take a softly-softly approach. We must act now and move the transition forward from seven to five years: that is part of the process of acting now. As my noble friend Lord Teverson so eloquently and passionately said, we have to do something now. Will the Minister indicate why he believes it is better to take a softly-softly approach and watch the environment deteriorate around us? I do not believe that this was pledged in the Conservative Party manifesto.
The noble Earl, Lord Devon, has amendments on the timings of the multiannual assistance plans, as has the Minister. I am encouraged that the Government have tabled Amendment 35, which says
“in the case of the first plan, as soon as practicable before the beginning of the plan period for the plan.”
Can the Minister say just how soon he imagines “as soon as practicable” might be? If he can give reassurances on this, I think the House would be satisfied.
The level playing fields sought in the two amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, are essential so that farmers who are currently living close to the edge of financial viability can be reassured that financial assistance will be provided. This is a very important group of amendments and I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, and all noble Lords who have raised important issues about the application and accountability of multiannual assistance plans. All noble Lords, quite rightly, are seeking to provide some rigour in the allocation of £3 billion a year or more which is being set aside by the Government to fund the farming sector for the future. We all have an interest in ensuring that the money is allocated fairly, in line with the strategic priorities, and is seen to be producing value for money.
At the moment, Clause 4 is remarkably light on detail as to how this will be achieved, so I agree with the noble Baroness that an impact assessment is very important and should be standard practice for a government project of this scale. I also agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, that the public have the right to see how and where this money is being spent. The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, raises an important point, which I very much agree with, about the allocation of moneys to each of the strategic priorities. Underlying all of these contributions is a desire to ensure not only that the money is spent wisely but also that it is all spent, so that we are not left gifting unused moneys which could have been put to good use back to the Treasury.
Several noble Lords, including the noble Earl, Lord Devon, and the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, have raised issues about the timing of the plans and the need to ensure parliamentary oversight. In this regard, the Minister’s Amendment 35 is helpful as far as it goes, and the 12-month advance notice for future plans is welcome, but he will know that the proposal to lay the first plan before Parliament “as soon as practicable” before the start date is not going to reassure many in the sector whose livelihoods depend on the funding. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, that it would be useful to have some clarity from the Minister as to what that phrase means. I would have thought that the proposal from the noble Earl, Lord Devon, of a two-month deadline, was eminently sensible; I hope the Minister addresses it in his response.
I also commend to noble Lords our Amendment 41, which is coming up in a later group and which would require the Secretary of State to report to Parliament about the progress of the tests and trials before the transition can begin, therefore allowing some parliamentary scrutiny of that process.
The noble Lord, Lord Wigley, raises an important point about the internal market within the UK and the dire consequences for all of us if we do not get the balance right and create a level playing field. This is a huge challenge which is not going to be resolved in this Bill, but he is right to raise the consequences for the farming sector and to urge all parts of the UK to work together on this matter.
I said at the outset that there is a compelling case for more detail on how the multiannual financial assistance plans will work. I am very much hoping that the Minister will provide the reassurance we are all seeking that this work is in hand and that we will see more details in due course, and certainly well before the schemes are launched. I look forward to his response.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to what has been a very interesting debate.
Turning first to Amendment 28, the Government believe that it is important that the public can see how financial assistance being provided under Clause 1 is being spent, as part of our ongoing commitment to openness, transparency and accountability. Clause 2(8) allows the Secretary of State to make secondary legislation to provide that specified information relating to the financial assistance given under Clause 1 is published. Clause 2(9) sets out the information which may be specified. This already includes information about the recipient of the financial assistance, the amount of the financial assistance and the purpose for which the financial assistance was given. Sufficient information will be published under the regulations that the Government are currently developing to underpin subsections (8) and (9).
To inform the development of these regulations, on 4 August the Government launched a public consultation on their proposals for financial and beneficiary information publication. Within the accompanying consultation document, the Government set out how they believe that beneficiary data should be published on a publicly available searchable database, and that details of the name of a beneficiary of financial assistance, postcode, amount of funding received and a high-level purpose of the funding payments should be recorded.
The consultation also proposed that the regulations require the publication of the land management plans—LMPs—which will be a key component and requirement of the environmental land management scheme pilot. The Government seek to strike the right balance between accountability and transparency, on the one hand, and the privacy of agreement holders on the other. On that final point, I assure your Lordships that the Government will publish only information that is relevant and limited to what is necessary in relation to the purposes for which it is processed.
Turning to Amendment 18, this is a framework Bill. As a result, the powers in Clause 1 do not in themselves impose a regulatory burden. The Government believe that impact assessments are very important; where the Bill will introduce new regulatory provisions, the Government will produce and publish regulatory impact assessments in line with the Better Regulation Framework guidance. I have reflected on the points raised in Committee by my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch. I assure your Lordships that I am fully cognisant of the important role that impact assessments play in providing a solid basis for scrutiny of government policy. With this in mind, I can confirm that the Government will publish the impact assessment narrative that has been prepared for this Bill. It summarises the measures in the Bill that will have a regulatory impact on business and sets out a clear plan for when more detailed, quantitative assessments will be produced for each of those individual measures. This impact assessment narrative will be published later in the autumn.
The Government continue to work closely with farmers, foresters, other land managers and key stakeholder groups to ensure that they have ample opportunities to inform the design of Clause 1 schemes. For example, the Government recently consulted on their proposals for regulations under Clause 2(8) and Clause 3, which will set out the Government’s approach to financial information publication and the enforcement regime to accompany Clause 1 financial assistance, respectively. The Government will also conduct a public consultation before finalising the design of the full ELM scheme, which is to be launched in 2024. This consultation will be accompanied by a full impact assessment.
Turning to Amendments 47 and 106, the Government are keen that we seize the opportunity of EU exit to remake England’s farming policy so that it is suited to the needs and demand of farmers, the environment and the public at large. Welsh Ministers have decided that it is not appropriate to take powers to allow Welsh Ministers to operate or transition to new schemes in this Bill. These powers will be provided for instead by the agriculture (Wales) Bill. We believe that Welsh Ministers must have the space to develop policy to suit the needs of Wales. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, that in forming the agricultural framework, the Government of course considered other countries’ agricultural policy. As this Government develop these proposals further, we will continue to look across the United Kingdom and internationally to be aware of and learn from agricultural policy in other nations.
I turn to Amendment 32. I should note that Clause 4 was introduced following extensive feedback on the Agriculture Bill 2018, taking into careful consideration what would be a suitable timeframe for multiannual financial assistance plans. The first plan period was designed to match the entire agricultural transition period, providing the necessary details on how financial assistance powers in the Bill would be used. Following extensive consultation the Government have legislated for a seven-year transition, as set out in Clause 8. The Government believe that seven years strikes the right balance between signalling the end of area-based direct payments and giving farmers time to adjust. Certainty, in our view, is very important.
I note that, based on the 2018 scheme data, the reductions to direct payments for 2021 will be no more than 5% for around 80% of farmers. Although the transition period is until the end of December 2027, the ELM scheme is due to launch across England in 2024 and to be piloted at scale from 2021. I think that is how I would answer the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, and the noble Lord, Lord Teverson: it is not about all this important work beginning at the end; it is actually working through. As I say, that is why we believe it is important to start the reductions of a small nature in order to start that early on.
As the Government noted in the farming policy update published in February 2020, a new round of countryside stewardship was opened that month for agreements to start on 1 January 2021. The Government are continuing to offer countryside stewardship schemes under the transition, with a further round opening in 2022. Those who sign a new countryside stewardship agreement will not only have a viable long-term source of income but be well placed to participate in ELM. Agreement holders will be able to break those agreements without penalty once they have secured a place in ELM. The Government will provide productivity grants from 2021, offering grants for a proportion of the total cost of an investment in equipment, technology and infrastructure that will help farmers to improve their productivity while enhancing the environment by using fewer inputs, reducing emissions and cutting waste.
I turn to Amendments 30, 33 and 34, as well as Amendment 35 in my name. I am not able to give my noble friend Lady McIntosh precise dates for the Environment Bill. All I can say is that my ministerial colleagues in Defra are very keen to make progress.
The Government recognise the need for certainty, which is why we have committed to the seven-year transition and pledged to guarantee the current annual budget to support farmers and land managers in every year of this Parliament. That is why we have committed always to have a multiannual financial assistance plan in place. It is also why the Government have added Amendment 35 to Clause 4, which will require the Secretary of State to publish subsequent plans 12 months before they come into effect. The Government feel that Clause 4 gives assurance and clarity to the agricultural industry while retaining the ability to adapt and update plans, including extending the length of subsequent plan periods beyond the minimum period of five years if circumstances mean that it is desirable and appropriate to have a longer plan period.
Clause 4 also states that the first plan period will run for seven years, the length of the agricultural transition period. It will expire at the end of 2027 and the next plan must be in place by 1 January 2028. It is therefore most likely that the renewal of plans will happen at a different time from parliamentary elections, although I think we would all agree that it is impossible to guarantee that. As part of our commitment under Clause 4, and to ensure that we keep stakeholders aware of the latest developments, I reiterate that the Government intend to set out our plans for financial assistance during the first years of the transition in the autumn after we have completed our comprehensive spending review.
I turn to the question of publishing funding levels in the plans. There are well-established existing processes and financial events for determining funding arrangements that I am informed that Amendment 30 might inadvertently disrupt. These will apply to domestic spending. Parliament has the opportunity to vote on the Defra budget each year through the estimates process, and of course the EFRA Committee takes a close interest in scrutinising Defra’s accounts.
I have tabled Amendment 35, which requires that the Secretary of State should lay before Parliament and publish any new multiannual financial assistance plan 12 months ahead of the new plan coming into effect, other than for the plan covering the first plan period. The Government have reflected carefully on this matter following Committee, and I thank my noble friend Lord Lucas for raising it at that juncture.
The government amendment proposes that 12 months’ notice is given to farmers and land managers of the Government’s upcoming strategic priorities for financial assistance. This period will allow our farmers and land managers time to prepare their business activities accordingly. We also think that a 12-month period should reduce the likelihood of a new plan becoming out of date before it comes into effect.
Those were explanations about the importance of certainty, as was raised by the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Whitchurch and Lady Bakewell, and why I think the government amendment is important. I am grateful for the encouragement I had on that during Committee and since. I hope that I have satisfactorily explained that this is not about the Government prevaricating on the important advances in the environment. It is why the transition and ELMS pilots, productivity grants and countryside stewardship schemes will start in 2021. It is all about that. In the meantime, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, for giving me the opportunity to explain the importance of being able to see how financial assistance is provided. I hope she feels able to withdraw her amendment.
I have received a request from the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, to ask a short question.
I ask my noble friend where the business plan that he says will be published in the autumn will be published. I am slightly concerned that “in the autumn” could be interpreted as 21 December, and that the plan could come out after both Houses have risen. Having served on the EFRA Committee for a number of years and looked very closely at the budgets, I am not quite sure which particular spending would be interrupted by Amendment 30.
I would love to give your Lordships a precise date. The Government understand the need to bring forward this information as soon as possible; I said autumn. We in Defra are seized of that importance. I will look at Amendment 30. All I can say is that our lawyers looked at it and advised me that that was the case but, if my noble friend would permit, it might help to have some legal expertise on why there was that interpretation.
I thank the Minister for his summing up. The noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Whitchurch and Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, have summed up extremely well, but there are a few points that I will add. First, I tried to move Amendment 18 on behalf of the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, because I supported it, but unfortunately I was too slow; that is not something you can often say about me. I was entranced by the argument between five and seven years. Honestly, the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, swayed me with his wartime analogies; they were worthy of the ERG. I was lost slightly by the noble Earl, Lord Devon, and Moses. I thank all Peers who have spoken. It was a slightly mixed group.
The Minister asks your Lordships to trust him and almost every Peer in this House does but, when he asks the House to trust the Government, it is a completely different matter. If it is not in the Bill, it does not exist. It is all very well to talk about what the Government will do later but, if they are not bound by the Bill, I do not trust them to do it. With that in mind, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 28 withdrawn.
We now come to the group consisting of Amendment 29. 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.
29: After Clause 3, insert the following new Clause—
“Financial assistance: duty to provide advice
(1) The Secretary of State must make regulations to secure the provision of training, guidance and advice to persons receiving financial assistance under this Act, for the purpose of enabling those persons to deliver the purpose or purposes for which the financial assistance is given.(2) Regulations under subsection (1) may include provision for advice on matters which include but are not limited to—(a) the impact of any practice upon the environment,(b) business management, including the development of business plans,(c) the health and welfare of livestock,(d) the safety and health of workers in any agricultural sector,(e) innovation, including alternative methods of pest, disease and weed control,(f) food safety, insofar as it relates to the production of food or any activity in, or in close connection with, an agri-food supply chain,(g) the operation of any mechanism for applying for, or receiving, financial assistance under this Act, and(h) marketing of any product falling within an agricultural sector under Schedule 1.(3) Regulations under this section are subject to affirmative resolution procedure.”Member’s explanatory statement
This new Clause would require the Secretary of State to make provision for training, guidance and advice to be made available to persons receiving financial assistance.
My Lords, I have retabled Amendment 29 from Committee, as it could be said to reflect very well on the wide-ranging debate we had on the many challenges and opportunities faced by the rural economy as the focus changes towards providing support for production to be recognised for its environmental and welfare impacts. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, for adding their names to the amendment after tabling their amendments in Committee, and to my noble friend Lord Whitty, who has widespread experience of the sector from his excellent service as an Agriculture Minister in a previous Labour Government.
All sides of the House and all shades of opinion acknowledge that, as we move to new funding schemes, there will be a lot of new information, terminology and conditionality that farmers and land managers will need to become familiar with, all accompanied by complex administrative processes that will need to be complied with. Of course, it will be understood that there will be pilots and guidance available to participants but, given the relative speed of the transition proposed, it does not seem unreasonable to expect Defra to recognise the responsibilities it should perhaps take towards those wishing to take part in the schemes by playing a more active role in educating, clarifying, guiding, encouraging and assisting the sector.
Many pitfalls could be encountered. In Committee, discussion also covered the sometimes disproportionate punitive actions that can be taken against farmers when they act in good faith but fall short in some small regard. I was particularly struck by the words of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, who spoke of
“the importance of allowing failure”.—[Official Report, 14/7/20; col. 1654.]
The Government are well placed to step in, whatever the circumstances, should it be necessary. They can pick up on bad experiences and eliminate misconceptions that could quickly deter applicants through social media.
Of course, it is understood that participation in schemes is voluntary. However, we would wish to see the full participation of the agricultural community to enhance our environment and to benefit businesses.
The Minister has outlined the wide scope of the range of measures being identified as public goods across all terrains, all sectors of agriculture and all sizes and shapes of enterprise. It is imperative to recognise, and not underplay, the huge reset the Government envisage with these reforms.
Production methods with new technologies, including agroecology and agroforestry systems, have been mentioned throughout our debates. Radical solutions to sustainable production, including urban and community agriculture and more local food strategies, have also been promoted in amendments.
This amendment is about taking a positive and proactive approach to advice to farmers and land managers. The Government alone are in a position to provide a quality assurance mark to effective advice that is pertinent and constructive. That the Government could provide this element of sound advice and perspective in agriculture is beyond dispute, as would be expected with the work that the department undertakes and the expertise it has across the sector. This has been on display in conversations that the Minister, with his officials, has conducted with all noble Lords. The Bill team is to be congratulated on its guidance.
In this regard, the Minister referred to the establishment of a working group as part of the ELMS testing process, and signalled that some of its output had already been adopted in previous policy statements. Can the Minister—the noble Baroness responding on this amendment—provide any more details on whether any substantive developments to its activity are being considered?
In Committee, discussions also included the activities of agricultural colleges and research establishments. Has the Minister considered how their expertise could be drawn on to provide specific and innovative advice, as an alternative way to engage with and disseminate important information to rural economies in the new agriculture that will need to have sustainability at its heart?
I am very grateful to all noble Lords who have come forward to debate this amendment tonight, and I look forward to all their interesting comments. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend the Minister for his responses to my amendments in Committee, and for his kind words in the last group. I am equally grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, for bringing back this subject and for his equally kind words.
To my mind, this matter of advice is absolutely at the core of what is needed in the new system. We need it to be advice based, not rule based. We need it to have expertise, to be capable of being local and to be trusted. The adviser corps needs to be trusted by both Government and by farmers. We need to run the system so that it is objective based, not action based.
For instance, one of the objectives local to me should be restoring chalk grassland. No one has any real idea how to do that successfully in a modern agricultural system; we will have to try lots of different things, and a lot of people are going to fail. They need to be supported in that failure, and we need a system that helps us as a nation to learn from that failure and take people forward. That is what an advice-based system should be doing. It is a learning system, not a static system from some tablets of stone handed down but a system that learns from everything that is going on around the country and shares that learning. It is not centralised; centralised is utterly impossible, given the variety of the countryside and different agricultural situations.
We have had enough centralisation. I do not want the Environment Agency letting the Cuckmere flood disastrously because it is too small for it to be bothered with. I want once again to have curlews in the middle of Eastbourne—to have a local solution and not one imposed by the Environment Agency, such as what the water levels should be in the Langney Sewer, which, despite its name, is a pure chalk stream. I want the system to let us have a go at doing things differently—for instance, to have grass sledging on sheep walks. We need to have some way in which to raise money from our countryside to restore our SSSIs. Our local SSSIs are going back to bramble and scrub. We do not have the finance to bring them back as they should be—we need some greater way in which to earn money from the chalk uplands. We need to experiment and try things, and we need an environment where that is encouraged and supported. Trust, support and advice is what I hope we will get from the new system.
My Lords, I am very pleased to be able to put my name to the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, which we discussed in Committee. At Second Reading, I spent my allotted three minutes, or whatever I was allowed, talking about training. It is absolutely crucial; farmers are individuals and do not work in a uniform way, as businesses do in factories and offices. Soil varies across farms and varies over short spaces; what one farmer is doing in one place could be totally different from what another farmer is doing 200 yards away or half a mile away, where the soil, the criteria and the weather conditions are slightly different, because the soil is a bit colder in the spring. It makes farming a very localised and specialised industry. Also, farmers vary hugely, from those who have large estates with a large amount of land in hand to small farmers who are just managing to get by on almost a crofting basis. These are very different individuals, who will need help with these changes.
At the moment, we are talking in a slight bubble, because everything is going quite well. The Minister is having a peaceful time in introducing this Bill, but what happens when we start to get trade deals that start to cause problems with imports that are not up to our standards? What happens with the EU? Increasingly, I am concerned about its threats and actions with regard to farming in Northern Ireland and fishing. What happens when it takes retaliatory action that affects our farmers and fishermen? These people are going to need help and advice from the Government about how to be able to compete. It would be a very different climate in which we are discussing this Bill if it was in three months’ time when we were actually out of the EU and the EU had taken some of the measures that it has already threatened that it is going to take.
My noble friend and his department will have to respond very quickly to that—otherwise, in the famous words of the president of the NFU, Minette Batters, it will be game over for British farming. That is something that none of us who have been discussing this Bill in this House want. Without an amendment like this, or complete reassurance from my noble friend, it has to be put into the Bill to protect farming.
My Lords, I am extremely pleased to be able to speak in support of the previous three speakers and their amendment, which I briefly touched on in Committee. Everyone is agreed that the future is going to be very different from the past. Having talked to a number of farmers in the bit of England I come from, my first-hand feeling is that a significant number of them have no clear idea about how they should be approaching the future, and what they should do for the benefit of themselves, their families, their businesses, the landscape and the wider community and economy in which they are set. I do not think this is necessarily their fault. After all, a large number of the rules of engagement are being altered. One likely result of this is a large number of people, probably through no fault of their own, ending up going in the wrong direction because they did not know where the road they should follow was.
I personally have a very unusual land-use problem on the land that I farm. It is going to involve a significant amount of money just to discover the right way forward for me. I am not trying to make a point just about myself. There will be quite a number of people who, in completely different ways, find themselves with rather unusual problems which they will need to resolve. It is going to be in everyone’s best interests to try and make sure they get it right in the end. As I have previously raised with the Minister, it is a great pity that some of the money that is being taken off the basic payment scheme cannot be hypothecated to enable people to buy advice on dealing with the specific problems on their farms and holdings.
Finally, the amendment looks at this from the perspective of the farmers and land managers—the people on the land itself. However, I am prepared to hazard a guess that, from a Treasury perspective, if we can avoid making mistakes, we can end up saving public money.
My Lords, I have attached my name to my noble friend’s amendment. As other noble Lords have said, farmers will be faced with the most fundamental changes in the way that they operate—the biggest change for half a century. Although there is a seven-year transition, some decisions will have to be taken early. Decisions will have to be taken at different paces through the transition period and there are huge complexities. The old system of production subsidies and the current one of area payments are simplicity itself compared to what is being put forward in the Bill, which I broadly support. Most farmers, particularly smaller ones, will require guidance and support. Many will need bespoke help. As the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, said, it is up to the Government to ensure that they have the help and guidance to face up to these revolutionary changes. The Government and the agencies which will apply the changes have some responsibility here. It is reasonable for a modest slice of the savings from CAP to be used to ensure that that happens.
When I was a member of the first ministerial team in Defra, it was the habit of farmers to bemoan the disappearance of ADAS. I still find the odd farmer who complains about that. A very eminent Member of your Lordships’ House once confessed to me that he was the MAFF Minister who introduced the abolition and privatisation of ADAS. The theory at the time was perfectly respectable: that a large number of consultancies and specialist support for farmers would spring up if there was a competitive environment. It did happen in some specialisms but, in general, it did not.
I am not saying that we should go back to a state-run operation such as ADAS but that it is the responsibility of the state to ensure that there is advice, not only on regulations and subsidies but on a lot of the technology, economics and accounting that will be required under the new system. The translation from fringe environmental systems to the new ELM system will be pretty complicated for most farmers. I am not really concerned whether private companies, the agencies or the Government themselves provide it. The amendment is designed to ensure that the Government take responsibility for that advice being there, because it will be a bumpy ride for a lot of farmers. There will be some failures and we need to ensure that those failures are not terminal—and that if necessary, that advice is backed by not only government support but government resources. I support Amendment 29.
My Lords, first, for the purposes of all of Report, I declare my interests as a farmer and landowner, as chair of the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, and chair of the advisory board of the Government’s Global Food Security programme on research. In Amendment 29, we have the key to getting the whole new farming and environmental land management programme to work on the ground. It is exciting that we have a new approach to helping farmers produce our food and manage our countryside. But with some basic ELM schemes still being piloted, neither we nor even the Government know exactly where we are going.
The pilot stage of ELMS is, in a way, providing the Government with their own training. I hope they will learn from it, but one thing is certain: farmers and land managers will need all the help and training they can get if we are to make this new approach work on the ground. Because there is little time between now and the putting in place of thousands of ELMS contracts, we must get a training scheme in place as soon as possible—training a farmer not only in how he can best judge what he and his land can provide of value for the nation, but in how best to deliver that value. With proper training it will be better for farmers, better for our flora and fauna, better for visitors and above all, as others have said, better for the taxpayers, who might then get the best returns that their money can buy.
Farming is one of the most isolated jobs in the world. Farmers are not necessarily slow to change, but without some form of proper training scheme it will be hard for them to engage successfully with this brave new world. Without their successful engagement, not only will the brave new world not happen but farmers themselves will fail financially, in their droves.
I call the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Aberavon. No? Then we will move on to the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle.
My Lords, during the dinner break, I went for a brief walk and reflected then on what feels like ancient history: my honours thesis in 1983, which was on abomasal bloat in goat kids. Your Lordships can be reassured that I am aware it is dinner time, so I will not venture further into that subject. However, one thing that emerged during that year, as I was completing that honours thesis, was that the work had received some modest support from a milk manufacturer. It had donated the supplies for the goat kids, and in return got an awful lot of free student labour and the imprimatur of a university using its product. Soon, however, we found that there was a conflict between the commercial interest of the manufacturer and that of the science. It was private profit versus public good.
My noble friend Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb and I have been reflecting on that again and again today. Relying on the market rather than public service’s guidance and rules has led us to the society and countryside we have today. The market will, and by law our commercial companies have to, maximise private profit. All too often, that is at the cost of public good.
A seed company, fertiliser or pesticide manufacturer, or tractor company will want to sell more of their products, but moving in the direction we are talking about—agroecology, agroforestry, looking after the land—often means reducing, and using fewer, inputs: for example, using a local tree nursery for hedges and fruits rather than a multinational seed company. Yet, so much of the advice and information that farmers have been forced to rely on over recent decades has come from those commercial sources, which do not want to head in the direction provided by this Bill. So, we have to provide an alternative source of advice.
If we look at the history of this—to where we went backwards and went wrong—we go back to 1996 and the debate in your Lordships’ House on the privatisation of ADAS. Lord Mackie of Benshie said then that charging for its services had led to less advice being requested, a shift towards commercial suppliers’ advice and a concern about how public opinion of farmers had declined. In Committee on this Bill, I put forward a modest little amendment, 234, suggesting that a service be established by means of which farmers could associate, lead research and work with the experts we have now.
I ask the Minister at some point to look back to that discussion. One interesting, original contribution came from the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, who developed this proposal into something like a NICE for farming. Where otherwise is the advice and support in this clause to come from? It is clear that we need a duty to provide that advice, as so many other noble Lords have said in this debate. Farmers cannot be left on their own in this fast-changing, uncertain situation. This is not just about the Agriculture Bill; so many other aspects of the world are changing—the climate emergency, for example, and different markets and economic situations. We need to develop the expertise; we need the Government to do this. I would argue that this amendment is a crucial step in that direction, and I commend it to your Lordships’ House.
My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register. I supported the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, on the same amendment in Committee and I continue to support him. I will not repeat my previous remarks but emphasise that, without access to funding for advice, the take-up of the proposed environmental land management schemes will be more limited. I certainly agree with the interesting hypothecation idea of the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood.
Farmers will be considering new ventures of which they may have no experience, so they need funding for advice. The average farmer is not a rich man; his success is likely to have come from concentrating on what he knows best. Our capricious climate has clearly demonstrated that sticking to what you do best is a sensible policy in farming. The farmer is therefore unlikely to rush into a new scheme without considerable thought and encouragement. As mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, he is also aware that under previous schemes, including BPS, the sanction regime has been tough. So, once again, he is unlikely to move swiftly into ELMS without a great deal of thought and advice.
I raised in Committee the issue of the digital divide, which was identified by the University of Sheffield and the Institute for Sustainable Food. For many in rural areas, access to good broadband may be limited. This, together with lack of time and, perhaps, age and social isolation, has made it difficult to follow developments on the ELM schemes. All this means that it is so important to provide financial advice to farmers for training and guidance so that they can be encouraged into ELMS on the basis of knowledge and confidence.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, and his co-signatories on bringing this amendment forward. It is absolutely essential that farmers have the best advice available before they make a decision. I notice that the explanatory statement for the amendment given by the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, refers to
“training, guidance and advice to be made available to persons receiving financial assistance.”
I make a plea to the Minister that this advice should be given before they even apply for financial assistance to enable them to decide how best to seek that financial assistance and to put it to good use.
I urge the Minister, when she sums up this debate, to agree to the sentiments behind the amendment and to consider who would best give such advice. Agriculture societies, such as the Yorkshire Agricultural Society, and many farming charities are very well placed to do so, in addition to many government bodies such as Natural England and others that the Minister might have in mind. I commend the amendment to the House.
My Lords, I add my support for the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Grantchester on the provision of advice, training and guidance for those in receipt of financial assistance. The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, made a good point about there being a kind of free application need as well.
As a nation, we are asking farmers and land managers to make big changes in the way they manage the land —to deliver not only productive and efficient farm businesses but a whole range of public goods as well. Therefore, good advice covering all those issues will be really important.
It was delightful to hear the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, reminisce about the demise of the publicly funded agricultural advisory system. It flourished after the war to get productivity up but got knocked on the head in the 1990s. Now, many farmers get advice solely from their commercial agronomists, which is altogether too narrow a focus. Advice and training will be particularly important for small farms.
I do not think that a publicly funded or publicly promoted advisory system needs to be top down and statist. Many noble Lords have made the point that local conditions are very important, and that is absolutely clear. We have experience in this country of a number of organisations that have set up county branches to give advice and support, and to bring together farmers around common issues on a local basis. I think that we could rapidly reinvent that. Therefore, the role of the Government needs to be to stump up some money and to give a modest amount of assurance on the quality of the advice being given. At the end of the day, farmers will take advice only from people whom they trust and feel comfortable with, so that has to be built into whatever system is introduced. It would also be beneficial to create some small local businesses in the advisory field to help boost the rural economy. There is a real role for government here.
My Lords, this is a very sensible amendment. In everything that we have debated in session after session, the scope of responsibility that we now see lying with farmers and their families has been emphasised. The significance of that cannot be underestimated. Therefore, we must ensure that, particularly with all the new requirements that we are properly asking of them, there is proper preparation.
I cannot help smiling when I think back to a time in the 1960s after my and my wife’s graduations—I was at the LSE and she was at Exeter; I am surprised that this is not mentioned more often. Through our marriage, we had a very good friend who was in what was called the agricultural advisory service. Back then, I thought what a sensible, practical service it was, and he was an enthusiastic professional working with it. He brought a lot more to it than just a professional background and skills; he brought a great deal of commitment and imagination, and he formed a real relationship with the farming community. Incidentally, he also told us a good deal about the realities of farming.
I congratulate my noble friend on having introduced the amendment. I am just very sad that, after all these years, we are reinventing the wheel.
I, too, would also like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, for moving this amendment. He and other noble Lords are surely right that it will be vital to have training and guidance available in this way. We have heard a great deal about the changes that may be coming down the track and, of course, the ELM schemes will mean a lot of change. It is important that those receiving financial assistance are assisted in delivering the purposes identified, as the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, said.
There has been some discussion today about tenant farmers. We must look in particular at the smaller players in this regard; they are far less likely to be able to access advice, and this will be an important contribution to what they will be able to do and to ensure that they are indeed acting in the public interest. The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, rightly points out that the average farmer is not well-off—he or she. As the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, put it, almost all the rules of engagement will have changed. Both the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, and the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, pointed out how farms and local circumstances already vary, and now we have massive change added on top.
There can be various sources for guidance, not least from our outstanding agricultural colleges, Natural England, mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, whom I owe much for advice, and experienced farmers in a local area. The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, rightly warns about taking advice from commercial sources with a vested interest, and we looked at that in detail when we looked at pesticides.
There will be a vital need for guidance from the Government because—as the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said—they have a key responsibility here. ADAS did play an important role, as he said, whatever its shortcomings. We support this amendment and look forward to seeing what the Minister says in response.
My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords for their almost universal acknowledgement tonight of the importance of advice in a time of significant change to the industry. The rules of engagement have, indeed, changed fundamentally.
I reiterate the Government’s view that expert advice and guidance is critical to the successful delivery of future schemes. As currently drafted, the Bill already gives the Secretary of State the necessary powers to fund the provision of advice, guidance and other means of support to recipients of financial assistance under Clause 1. The Government certainly intend to use this ability; advice and guidance is one of the priority areas in the 40 live tests and trials that are feeding into this theme.
I will give some examples of how this could be done. For future tree health schemes, we are looking to refresh and improve our offer of plant health advice to ensure that land managers have the information they need to manage and respond to tree health issues. For animal welfare grants, these one-off payments could cover investment in equipment, infrastructure, technology and training. For animal health schemes, we are also looking at ways to increase advice given to farmers, both from vets and other agricultural advisors, to help them improve animal health. We also want to increase peer learning between farmers through, for example, facilitated farmer groups. The Government have also stated their intention to offer advice to those applying for productivity grants to help them decide which investments would achieve the greatest improvements in business performance.
In Committee, reference was made to the ongoing ELM scheme tests and trials. We are using these to identify the most effective means of providing advice and guidance to farmers and land managers, which will enable them to deliver on their funding agreements with confidence. Since then, the number of ELM tests and trials looking at the provision of advice and guidance has increased to 40, demonstrating the Government’s commitment to designing a scheme that works for farmers and land managers. Evidence shows that, for advice to be effective, it must be trusted, consistent, credible and cost effective. The Government are considering how these principles can be embedded into advice for all schemes and working with farmers and other land managers to do so.
The noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, asked specifically about the availability of training schemes. The ELM trials are exploring ways in which skills and qualifications for environmental land management can be improved.
The noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, also asked how agricultural colleges could be drawn upon to provide advice and dispense information. The Government are supporting the work of the skills leadership group in exploring ways to address the fragmented nature of the existing skills, education and advice landscape. Representatives of the agricultural colleges have been involved in these conversations.
Defra is currently running a £1 million grant funding project to explore how it could provide resilience support to farmers and land managers in England to help them prepare for reductions in direct payments in the transition period. The project, which is targeting some 1,700 farmers and land managers, aims to identify how, where and when they may need to adapt their business models and resilience as a result. Evidence coming from this project will help inform the design of a national scheme, which is currently in development for launch in early 2022.
I was asked about the availability of broadband in some areas. We are connecting some of the hardest-to reach places in the country, including through the SFB programme and the £200 million rural gigabit connectivity programme. We have also announced £5 billion of funding to close the digital divide.
I hope that I have managed to give some reassurance that advice and guidance are already considered in the scheme design, that the Government are committed to their provision and that we have the powers we need to deliver in this area. I hope the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
I thank all noble Lords who have spoken on this amendment, especially the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, for their additional reasons for supporting this amendment. As everyone has expressed, this is a fundamental change to the rural landscape and agricultural industries support.
The possible lack of an impact assessment, mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, could be identified as a challenge of detail for what may be required for the successful launch and promotion of this scheme not being fully appreciated. We would want the scheme to be a success.
The amendment is not prescriptive on how the Government may go ahead and deliver that advice. The Minister’s confidence need not be at the expense of caution. My noble friend Lord Whitty drew attention to the withdrawal of advice that, as I was reminded, has reduced the level of the UK’s agricultural productivity in comparison to other EU countries.
The noble Lord, Lord Cameron, emphasised the importance of training to achieve farmers’ engagement. The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, reflected on the quality of advice that could come from more commercial sources, which could be a further challenge. The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, mentioned the digital divide. The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, emphasised, if I am interpreting correctly, that advice must be part of participating in schemes. My noble friends Lady Young and Lord Judd also spoke of the importance of advice in expressing their support.
With all this support, I could be tempted to press this amendment. The Minister assures us that the Government have the power, under Clause 1, to provide advice. This intention should perhaps be promoted more clearly to the agricultural sector. I thank her for her remarks and wider explanations. However, in agreeing to withdraw this amendment, I call on the Government to keep it in mind as the Bill is returned to the other place for further consideration.
Amendment 29 withdrawn.
Clause 4: Multi-annual financial assistance plans
Amendment 30 not moved.
We now come to the group consisting of Amendment 31. I remind noble Lords that Members other than the mover and the Minister may speak only once and that short questions and elucidation are discouraged. Anyone wishing to press this amendment to a Division should make this clear in debate.
31: Clause 4, page 5, line 14, at end insert—
“( ) The Secretary of State must have regard to the current environmental improvement plan when setting out strategic priorities for giving financial assistance during the plan period.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would require the Secretary of State to have regard to environmental improvement plans when planning the provision of financial assistance for agriculture.
My Lords, Amendment 31 would require the Secretary of State to have regard to the Government’s environmental improvement plan when setting out their strategic priorities for financial assistance in the multiannual plans.
This amendment tackles an issue raised in previous debates in your Lordships’ House—the lack of joined-up policy across the different initiatives before us. It was an issue in the Fisheries Bill, and there is a similar issue in this Bill. It was a failing identified by this year’s report of the Natural Capital Committee, which criticised the silo approach to policies being adopted by Defra. It is a failing identified by the Committee on Climate Change, which wrote to the Minister, Victoria Prentis, in June this year, urging the department to develop a joined-up approach, stating:
“Defra has yet to set out how ELM”—
environmental land management—
“the Environment Bill, the 25 Year Environment Plan and various policies planned for trees, peatlands and nature will fit together.”
It is also a failing underlined by the latest progress report on the 25-year environment plan, which showed, for example, no progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions from natural resources such as agriculture and forestry.
This amendment would forge a critical link between the Agriculture Bill, the Environment Bill and the 25-year environment plan. It would ensure that we avoid the mistakes of the past, where the common agricultural policy made decisions on farming which bore no relationship to the EU’s environmental policy.
We accept that the Government’s current intention is to base the new ELM scheme on the 25-year environment plan. This point was made by the Minister in Committee when we tabled a similar amendment. But this Bill is for the long term, and policy priorities change. Equally, the 25-year environment plan is a long-term document. It would be all too easy for these documents to diverge over time. Without the clear link to the environment improvement plan set out on the face of the Bill, it would be entirely possible for a future Secretary of State to set out strategic priorities for financial assistance under this Bill that bear no relationship to the key environmental strategy set out elsewhere. The amendment seeks to fill that structural deficit. It would provide stability and reassurance for the long term, and policy direction to address the many criticisms of a lack of joined-up government on these issues.
We were disappointed that the Government did not hear the sense of our argument at Committee and come back with their own version of an amendment which would address our concerns. I ask the Minister specifically to give a commitment to come back at Third Reading with a government amendment on this issue. If the noble Baroness feels unable to do so, I give notice now that I am minded to test the opinion of the House. I beg to move.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and to support this amendment. She set out the issues clearly, so I will be brief.
In Committee, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, has already mentioned, the Government sought to reassure noble Lords that they were committed to achieving their aim of leaving the environment in a better state than they found it and that the environmental improvement plans involved in this strategy would be covered in the Environment Bill. We were also told that the office for environmental protection will monitor progress and make recommendations to the Government for further action. We do not yet know what sort of teeth the OEP will have and whether or not the Government will follow its recommendations.
How are the Government doing in their aim of leaving the environment in a better state than they found it? The 2019-20 government report on progress with the 25-year plan lists 17 indicators, of which seven are going in the right direction, seven are neutral and only three are going downhill. Noble Lords might think that this sounds quite good, but the September 2019 report from the Natural Capital Committee is more concerning. The committee was asked by the then Secretary of State for Defra to provide detailed advice on how the state of nature is being measured to ensure the delivery of the 25-year plan. The Natural Capital Committee concludes that its assessment
“reveals a distinct lack of robust baseline against which to assess changes in the environment.”
So according to the Government’s own independent advisers, we simply do not know whether the state of the environment is improving or getting worse.
If we are to be sure that support for farmers will also support nature, we need not only a proper system of measurement but to ensure that, when farmers are paid to enhance the natural environment, the payments are targeted at the right things. To quote the management guru Peter Drucker, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.” Otherwise, the Government will not achieve their great ambition and future generations will wonder why we got it so badly wrong.
My Lords, I am delighted to have added my name to the amendment, which is now a cross-party amendment. While I will not repeat what other noble Lords have said, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, on the state of nature, I will say that we have had another report only this week from the RSPB, which shows that over the last 10 years the Government have missed a number of key biodiversity targets.
We will turn our natural recovery around only by giving the right economic incentives to our farmers. I think the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, was the first this evening to mention nature-friendly farming. We will not get the recovery we need for our nature unless we give the incentives to our farmers, who manage 69% of the land in our country. They are key to our nature recovery.
As it stands, the Bill gives the Secretary of State complete leeway between the allocations of funding for the different purposes in Clause 1 and Clause 2. Schemes with little environmental value might be supported; we could find that allocations are weighted towards productivity improvements or gobbled up by tier 1 options that add the least environmental value. We cannot afford to do that. We need to ensure that there is synergy between the Agriculture Bill and the Environment Bill. The Government’s own discussion paper on ELMS says that the outcomes in the 25-year environment plan are a key guide for this financial assistance. We need to turn that into a reality. The way to do that is to put this in the Bill.
My Lords, I add my support to the thrust of this amendment, moved so excellently by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch. I support the idea that we need a joined-up approach to tackling environmental challenges. The aim of linking the Agriculture Bill, the Environment Bill and the 25-year environment plan by putting this into the Bill makes eminent sense, especially as I know that this Government are committed to real action and development on climate change and have already done significant amounts to make sure that this country is a world-leader in pushing forward with environmental protections and climate change planning.
I hope that my noble friend will be able to reassure the House on this issue and, ideally, table the Government’s own proposals at the next stage, so that we are able to put this in the Bill. I know that we can be proud of the Government’s record on climate change and that there may well be significant desire to ensure that this is not a contentious issue and that there is cross-party support, as we have seen in the debates so far.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of the EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee. It is certainly a pleasure to follow my noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch—I wholeheartedly endorse her views—and the noble Lord, Lord Krebs.
As a number of speakers have already said, we are seeking to bring about the most profound change in the way agriculture is managed and focused. If ever we had any doubt about the importance of the situation we are in, those who had the pleasure of watching the BBC’s programme on Saturday, hosted by David Attenborough, who talked about extinction in a calm, measured and scientific way, were shown beyond any doubt the challenges that we face. This amendment, bringing home to the Government the importance of linking the environmental challenge to the Agriculture Bill, is absolutely well-founded and I am only too happy to endorse it.
My Lords, I also declare my interest as a member of the EU Environment Sub-Committee. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, on bringing forth this amendment. As its co-signatories and others who have supported the thrust of the amendment have said, it very clearly demonstrates the link between this Agriculture Bill, establishing public benefit and financial assistance for public goods, with the provisions of the Environment Bill.
I understand the difficulty the Minister is in, having listened very carefully to the words of our noble friend and colleague, the Minister who replied to an early debate, saying that he would love to give a date when the Environment Bill might be coming but was unable to do so. I hope my noble friend will look favourably on this amendment on equating the two Bills.
My Lords, this is one of those occasions when we have to try to reference across from another piece of legislation to make a coherent whole. Environmental considerations are key if we are to achieve half of the accepted objective. That is where we are: it is accepted as something that has to happen. We have to combine the two. The entire political class agrees that, since there must be environmental improvement, they are going to have to work with sectors such as agriculture, and just about every other sector, in order to achieve that. Unless something like this is written down, we know that departments and groups of officials and Ministers will tend to go their own way. They are not good at paying attention to people you “should” talk to; they pay attention to people you “have to” talk to. I suggest that something like this would actually be a very good thing to have in the Bill.
My Lords, I too support this amendment and I am grateful to the noble Baroness for tabling it again. Farmers have absolutely no idea what the future holds and what ELMS will contain—and we have none either. We have a blank canvas as far as that is concerned. Even on the last amendment, on training, my noble friend on the Front Bench said, “We are doing schemes—we still do not really know what we are doing, but we are doing tests at the moment to see what the best way forward is”.
Having heard the debates earlier on Clause 1, and having had support across the House for nature-friendly farming, it would seem to me utterly logical to include an amendment such as this, so that any potential farmer who reads this Bill will see that there is an immediate link to the environment. Therefore, I commend the amendment to the House.
I would also point out that this amendment will not cost the taxpayer a penny. In that respect it is one of the great amendments: it merely links two bits of legislation, and in doing so might even save the taxpayer money, because farmers and land managers will have a much clearer idea of what they are supposed to be doing to try to achieve a better and healthier farming environment.
My Lords, the value of the amendment is that it calls our bluff. The environment is something of which we are all in favour, like goodness and all the rest. But the question is: how do we turn our commitment in that sphere into action, and into substance? The amendment brings that home. We should not just get on with the task of agriculture and then add, “There’s an environmental concern, isn’t that nice?” We must relate the two, and this is the way to do it, so I am glad to support the amendment.
My Lords, during the various debates on this Bill I have made the connection between it and the Environment Bill that is coming down the line. The environment improvement plans and the Government’s 25-year environment plan cannot be divorced from what is happening in the Bill that we are discussing. All speakers have supported the amendment, and have made very similar comments.
The Agriculture Bill provides for multi-annual financial assistance plans, including identification of strategic priorities for assistance, the regard to be had to these strategic priorities when setting the budget, and monitoring the impact of the financial assistance given. There is, however, currently no requirement to take the goals and ambitions of the 25-year environment plan and the Environment Bill into account when setting strategic objectives for financial assistance.
It would be possible for the Secretary of State to set these strategic priorities under the Agriculture Bill, and for that to have no relevance to the key environmental strategy that should be guiding all investment in the natural environment. This appears to be nonsense, and presents a risk to environmental recovery, since the financial assistance schemes created by the Bill, particularly the ELMS, will be one of the main mechanisms for funding and achieving the goals of the 25-year environment plan. The CAP similarly failed to make the structural link to wider objectives, which allowed it to undermine environmental ambitions. But moving away from the CAP presents a unique opportunity to rectify this failure.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and my noble friend Lady Parminter, along with noble Lord, Lord Krebs, have set out the case extremely clearly. Amendment 31 would give the Government a duty to consider the country’s environmental improvement plans when setting priorities for financial assistance schemes. This would ensure policy coherence. Environmental improvement plans will be created by the Environment Bill, and the first one will be the existing 25-year environment plan. But we do not yet have the Environment Bill.
The Government clearly intend to design the new environmental land management schemes, which are currently only in pilot stage, in such a way as to support delivery of the 25-year environment plan. However, over the years we have seen the failings of the CAP, highlighting the fact that good intentions do not always lead to the desired outcomes. How often that happens in life. I can hear my mother’s voice in my ear as I speak. Creating structural links between policy areas in law is not only important but vital, with the environment in its current state of catastrophic decline.
The Minister is aware of the concern on this issue, not only in this Chamber but in the whole country. I hope that he is in a position to give reassurance and commitments. If not, we will be supporting the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and others in the Lobby.
On Amendment 31, I reassure the noble Baroness that the Government will fully take into account the proposed steps and goals of environmental improvement plans, including the 25-year environment plan, when they determine the strategic priorities that will sit within the multiannual financial assistance plans, so the amendment is simply not necessary.
The Government are absolutely committed to achieving their aim of leaving the environment in a better state than when they found it. That is why they are seeking to legislate for environmental improvement plans in the Environment Bill that is currently in the other place in order to drive forward long-term improvements to our natural environment. The 25-year environment plan will be adopted as the first statutory environmental improvement plan and the Government expect it to set the benchmark for future EIPs.
The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, asked a characteristically cogent question about the lack of a proper system of measurement, as identified by the Natural Capital Committee. We are engaging with stakeholders, scientists, economists and environmentalists, including the Natural Capital Committee, to develop comprehensive indicators to measure progress towards the goals set out in the 25-year environment plan.
The planned introduction of the ELM scheme under Clause 1 of the Bill clearly demonstrates the Government’s commitment to look at wider environmental objectives when setting their strategic priorities for funding under their multiannual financial assistance plans. Indeed, the ELM scheme will be a key mechanism for delivering the environmental goal set out in the 25-year environment plan by providing farmers and other land managers with public money for the delivery of multiple public goods.
There are six key public goods that the ELM will help to deliver that correspond directly with goals set out in the 25-year environment plan: namely, clean air, clean and plentiful water, thriving plants and wildlife, a reduction in and protection from environmental hazards, mitigation of and adaptation to climate change, beauty, heritage and engagement with the environment. Defra’s ELM team is currently working on understanding the full range of actions that the scheme could pay for in order to deliver across all the goals in the 25-year environment plan.
Should there be any changes to the plan or a future environmental improvement plan, the Government will review the ELM scheme to ensure that the public goods that it is funding remain in line with delivering the priority goals and commitments that the Government have set out in the plan. The Government will be publicly accountable for the delivery of the strategic priorities in both its multiannual financial assistance plan and the environmental improvement plans. This House will of course have the opportunity to scrutinise the drafting of provisions for the environmental improvement plans when the Environment Bill reaches this House.
I had hoped that with this reassurance I would be able to persuade the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, to withdraw her amendment. However, I cannot make the commitment that she seeks to table a government amendment at Third Reading.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have added their support today. As the evening gets later, we seem to be finding more and more consensus around the Chamber, which is very welcome.
I particularly thank the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, who rightly reminded us that, as the Natural Capital Committee flagged up, proper systems of measurement are absolutely crucial in terms of the future of environment plans and the crossover with our agricultural activities. We have to have proper measuring systems to measure outcomes and to measure success, but at the moment those links are not obviously made through legislation.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, for reminding us of the State of Nature report and the RSPB report. They make very depressing reading but show the scale of the task ahead and why the sorts of measures that are in our amendment are so important.
I am very grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Caithness. He is absolutely right that we do not know what the future holds, but we need to get farmers more guarantees and security for the future, and that is why we are attempting to build in those long-term connections. I am also grateful to him for pointing out that the amendment would not cost the Government anything; indeed, there is a very strong case for saying that the integrated policies that we are suggesting should be introduced might actually save the Government money. That should be a welcome outcome.
I say to the Minister that the Government can make commitments but, as noble Lords have often been reminded on other occasions and in other debates, the Government cannot commit future Governments. We are trying to build in a long-term connection between these two separate arms of Defra’s activity. Yes, I absolutely agree that ELMS will be a crucial part of delivering the 25-year environment plan, which is why it is important that that is in the Bill and that it has long-term resonance to it. The Minister was right to anticipate that I would not be happy with her response. I am sorry to say that I am not. I therefore wish to test the opinion of the House.
15 September 2020
Division conducted remotely on Amendment 31
Amendment 31 agreed.View Details
Amendments 32 to 34 not moved.
35: Clause 4, page 5, line 22, leave out “before the beginning of the plan period” and insert—
“(a) in the case of the first plan, as soon as practicable before the beginning of the plan period for the plan, and(b) in the case of a subsequent plan, at least 12 months before the beginning of the plan period for the plan.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment provides that the first multiannual financial assistance plan under Clause 4 must be published as soon as practicable before the beginning of the applicable plan period, and that any subsequent plan must be published at least 12 months before such time.
Amendment 35 agreed.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 36. I remind noble Lords that Members other than the mover of the amendment and the Minister may only speak once and that short questions of elucidation are discouraged. Anyone wishing to press this amendment or anything else in this group to a Division should make that clear in debate.
Clause 8: The agricultural transition period for England and the termination of relevant payments
36: Clause 8, page 7, line 40, leave out “2021” and insert “2022”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment will move the start of the seven-year transition away from direct payments from 2021 to 2022.
My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to move and speak to Amendment 36. This group of amendments covers a range of activities relating to the transition period. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans, and the noble Earl, Lord Devon, for their support in co-signing the amendment. The attraction of Amendment 36 is its clarity and straightforwardness: it calls for a simple deferral of commencement, moving the start of the seven-year transition period away from direct payments from 2021 to 2022.
Why is this necessary, given that the House has just agreed to government Amendment 35? I listened carefully to what the Minister said. He was clear that he could not give a precise date when the Environment Bill will reach this House—that is obviously not within his control, so I am grateful to him for that—and the department is keen to make progress. However, we owe farmers and other land managers a degree of certainty as they prepare for the biggest change in nigh on 50 years in farm support and agricultural policy.
I was disappointed that the Minister was unable to give a specific date, much as he would wish to, for the business plan setting out spending for the initial five-year period. We heard only that it will be published in the autumn. The autumn finishes on 30 November but potentially could run until 21 December. That could be after both Houses have risen—if we do rise—for the Christmas recess. That is very disappointing, although I know the Minister couched his remarks by saying he would like to see the spending and financial plan in place as soon as possible.
The difficulty I—and, I think, other signatories to this amendment—have is that I do not see any logic at all in why, for subsequent plans, a period of at least 12 months before the beginning of the plan period should take effect. My humble submission to the House this evening is that it is even more important for the Government to set out in their initial spending plan what the consequences for farmers will be. We are asking farmers, land managers, growers and others—I know my noble friend Lord Naseby takes great interest in horticulture—to take decisions for the forthcoming year without any of us knowing in any great detail what the terms of this financial assistance plan under Clause 4 will be. My noble friend helpfully points out in the explanatory statement to government Amendment 35 that
“the first multiannual financial assistance plan under Clause 4 must be published as soon as practicable before the beginning of the applicable plan period”,
but, as I have said, only subsequent plans would need 12 months’ notice.
I humbly submit that it is incumbent on the Government to bring forward this first plan, which—if my understanding is correct—will last for the whole transition period. I am not asking for the transition period to be reduced, as others have done. That would be quite wrong. We owe it to farmers, growers and others to have seven years to prepare, but for the life of me I simply cannot understand why we are not having a 12-month period and a delay. I therefore urge the House to look favourably on this simple delay of one year so that we all benefit from the results of the pilot schemes and the ELMS projects. I see newspaper reports that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, for example, has been to visit local farms in his constituency in North Yorkshire, but other than the farmers themselves—and Defra, presumably—none of us has any detail whatever.
I shall listen carefully to what support there is for this amendment in the course of the debate on this group. I seek greater clarification from my noble friend the Minister. I would like to know why there is not a 12-month lead-in to this crucial first business plan and why we are not seeing the results of the trials. I express my concern at how little knowledge there is at grass-roots level about how any plan will affect decisions that, frankly, are being made as we speak. I beg to move.
My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register as farmer, landowner and a recipient of BPS payments and their predecessors for many years. I will speak to Amendment 37, to which the noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkharle, has kindly attached his name, and Amendment 40, to address the problem of the likely payment gap that will affect farmers as the direct payments are reduced in 2021, while the revenues from joining any new environmental land management scheme will not arrive until 2024.
I covered this in some detail in Committee and will not repeat that speech. However, the subsequent response from the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner, and his office, together with the progress made on issues I identified at that time, has not made me rest any easier—indeed, the reverse, which is the reason this amendment has been tabled on Report.
First, we have no information on the cuts to BPS after 2021. Although promised for the autumn—which has arrived, of course—it might well be delayed until after the Bill comes into effect.
Secondly, we still have no real details on ELMS that would enable even elementary planning. Instead, during July Defra organised webinars for farmers to introduce ELMS. These were excellent and slick presentations of the concept but, when it came to the Q&A session with farmers afterwards, there were no answers to be had.
Thirdly, there is the ongoing issue of Brexit and whether we have a trade deal with Europe. The consequences of no deal for certain important agricultural sectors such as sheep and cereals are simply too awful to contemplate. Duties of 40% on lamb exports, which account for a huge element of production, would devastate the industry.
Fourthly, we have few other trade agreements in place, and those we have account for some 12% of our trade, which drills down to a fraction of our agricultural exports.
Fifthly, there is the effect of Covid-19, which is consuming large amounts of government time and resources.
Given this situation, farmers cannot plan for the future and should not just exist on the warm words of future government announcements of support. Some of the warm words I have received are that farmers can still access old countryside stewardship schemes and take advantage of productivity grants. Some will certainly benefit from these, but they are not appropriate for all and certainly will not compensate for the income lost. Farmers surely deserve better than this.
This amendment enables the Government to proceed with the implementation of the new agricultural policy on its existing timescale, unlike Amendments 36 and 41, which also have substantial merit. However, it provides an all-important safety net of limiting reductions of BPS to individual farmers until ELMS are introduced. I understand that, in 2021, most farmers will receive 5% cuts, while the larger farmers would be cut by up to 25%. In circumstances where we do not know the cuts in succeeding years, for some farmers in less favoured areas, as the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, will point out, even a 5% cut can devastate their livelihood. Based on these percentages, in 2021 it is entirely possible that some farmers, both owners and tenants, will see their BPS cut by 40% to 50% before they have access to ELM schemes which might address some of the shortfall. This is both too uncertain and too severe for most businesses to plan around.
All noble Lords wish to see a thriving farming industry in this country and this amendment should help in this respect, particularly because the farming businesses likely to be most affected by the BPS cuts, according to the AHDB, are commodity arable producers and lowland livestock farmers, as these are known to be heavily reliant on direct payments. It would not, therefore, just benefit the large farmers. This enormous uncertainty should surely not be addressed by warm words or new schemes brought in at the last minute which add to the complexity of the industry. The Bill should incorporate this provision, which would help underpin the finances of farmers while all these uncertainties are resolved. I may therefore wish to press the amendment to the vote, to test the feeling of the House. However, this will very much depend on the Minister’s response to these concerns.
My Lords, I support Amendment 36 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, to which I am also a signatory. I also support Amendment 41, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester. The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, has clearly articulated the purpose of Amendment 36. It is important that the Government provide a degree of certainty for farmers in relation to the new environmental land management schemes. We are simply asking for a deferral of the commencement date from 2021 to 2022.
As we all know, there is not a lot of detail yet on the ELMS pilots. It is generally felt that it is too soon to switch to this new scheme in 2021, without that background and concrete detail. While we wish to keep the seven years, we are asking for a deferral of one year for the commencement.
I feel that government Amendment 35, moved formally by the Minister, does not go far enough. We do not have enough information on how it will operate, or what the plan is for the next year. Therefore, I am very happy to support Amendment 36, because it provides that necessary deferral for a year to allow the plans to be worked up, to collect the statistical evidence from the ELMS pilots and to provide that much-needed certainty to farmers who are faced with a whole new funding framework after some 50 years. There is a whole new generation of farmers who never knew anything but the European framework that has been with us for such a long time.
My Lords, I can be brief. Amendment 36 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, may appear very minor, but when you consider that we are in the last third of this year and that this is first day of the Report stage of the Bill, there is very little time left before the seven-year transition period is due to begin.
The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, and the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, both laid out the uncertainties facing landowners and farmers, not least until greater details of ELMS are clear. The Bill is going to make a huge change to both farmers and landowners, and it is much better that we take them with us. Indeed, I think it is only fair that we give them time to make the necessary adjustments, as there are still so many details to be worked out and the implications of the Bill are so significant. I hope the Minister will find a way that we can adopt this proposal.
My Lords, I am concerned that the mistreatment of and disrespect for farmers under the Bill is continuing. I speak to Amendment 36 and to support Amendment 37 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and Amendment 41.
The 2022 harvest season has begun. Crops are being sown right now that are due to be harvested next year, and farmers just do not know what rules they will be harvested under. With respect to Amendment 29, the Government accepted that expert advice and guidance is a priority for these farmers, but there is nothing to advise and guide them on—they simply do not know what the rules are going to be. Similarly, in proposing Amendment 35, the Government have accepted that the minimum reasonable period is 12 months, but they are not giving the farmer those 12 months.
There were very reasonable objections raised, I think by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, that we do not want to delay the environmental achievements due to be delivered by ELMS. I agree; we do not want undue delay. However, it would be an environmental disaster to proceed with the transition period that will be stillborn at birth.
No farmers are going to adopt this if they do not know what it is or how it is going to work, so it will be useless from the outset. We need to take time; the Government need to get responses to their tests and trials and work out what they are going to do. Rushing this legislation and rushing the transition period into being is not going to deliver any benefit to farmers, the environment or the public.
My Lords, my interests are as recorded in the register. I fully support and I am very happy to attach my name to Amendment 37 in the name of my noble friend Lord Carrington. I am delighted to support him in this debate.
I am very concerned indeed about the gap in support as the current basic payment scheme is unwound and access to the new ELM scheme becomes available as planned in 2024. As I chat to farming friends, it is very clear that they remain completely in the dark and unclear on what lies ahead, as has been stated many times in this debate—and just now by the noble Earl, Lord Devon.
Smooth transition should be a priority to ensure that we unlock the huge benefits that the new policy is capable of delivering. Farmers have been supported by the CAP, with all its weaknesses, for decades, and are familiar with the systems involved, as the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, just mentioned. As we know, many, particularly those in livestock areas in the uplands, are currently very dependent on that support. To move at pace from where we are today to a satisfactory destination at the end of the transitional period when we have no information on the steps that are being considered by government is not only very worrying to farmers but a massive risk. Time is not on our side, as I stated in Committee. ELMS pilots are just under way and meaningful conclusions will take a couple of years or more to interpret. There will be only three years from the time the Bill becomes law to draw conclusions from the pilots and then launch the ELM scheme to the entire farming sector. There is at present no way that farmers can prepare for this change, because no information is available.
This change in policy is a unique opportunity to facilitate restructuring of the agricultural sector, but it cannot be rushed. It is reassuring that the Minister recognises that there is a gap and in an earlier debate outlined the various options that will be available to farmers from next year: new stewardship schemes, productivity grants, et cetera, to help with the transition. However, if he will forgive me, it all sounds rather last minute, a bit hasty, and an attempt to plug the gap to be seen to be doing something. I do not want to appear cynical but I am concerned that this will suck out capacity from the department and its agencies—capacity that should be devoted to developing the ELM scheme and assisting farmers with transition. It is regrettable that so far we have information only on the deduction from the BPS for the first year of transition. This amendment is important in that it is designed to smooth the process; to limit the dismantling of support from the BPS to a reduction in total of 25% until the ELM scheme is available is a sensible approach.
I restate what I said in Committee—that I
“genuinely believe that we can lead the world in delivering a wide range of crucial outcomes from the management of the countryside, provided that the policy is well designed and land managers”
have access to the advice recommended in an earlier debate and time to adapt. It would
“be a disaster if such an important change in policy was rushed through and we failed to engage appropriately”.—[Official Report, 21/7/20; col. 2070.]
In response to the eloquent comments of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, I say that the outcomes that he and we all desire will best be delivered through a well- managed transitional process. I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure the House that the department will adopt the timetable proposed in this amendment.
My Lords, I declare my agricultural interests as detailed in the register. I am speaking to two amendments in my name, both of which received support from across the House in Committee, and both of which relate to the period before the introduction of the environmental land management schemes.
The first is Amendment 38. I have never been a particular proponent of organic farming, but we should all be worried that the area of land farmed organically in the United Kingdom is down by over one-third in the last 10 years. In this same period, it is up by two-thirds or more in most other European countries. Our performance in this respect puts us in the same league as countries such as Bangladesh, Mali, Saudi Arabia and Syria, to mention just a few. Only 2.7% of our land is farmed organically. Surely a Government who are committed to improving the environment should be prepared to expend taxpayers’ money to encourage farmers to convert to organic systems.
The Minister kindly wrote to me a few weeks ago about this matter, but he said that only £6 million in total has been paid to farmers over the four years since 2016 to convert to organic systems. This is a very small amount in the context of the total support payments to agriculture. We know that the new environmental land management schemes will not begin until 2024. We also know that about £150 million will be saved in 2021 out of the current basic payment system. Would it not be an eye-catching move if this Minister and this department doubled the conversion payments to organic farming just for the years until the introduction of the ELMS? To double a payment of only £2 million a year does not seem unreasonable.
Ministers well understand that during the conversion period of three years a farm’s income is reduced and the costs increase. Yet, the farmer is not paid the premium price for organic product until the end of the conversion period. The policy of conversion payments already exists. It requires the Treasury only to increase temporarily the payments. I believe that reducing the use of pesticides, herbicides and other agrichemicals would be an enormous public good. Surely anyone who watched David Attenborough’s film on Sunday would agree that increasing the land in England farmed organically would be another small step towards helping biodiversity in this country.
My second amendment, Amendment 39, seeks to protect our small hill farms by exempting those in less-favoured areas from the automatic 5% cut in their basic payment next year. These small upland farms are already more than 100% dependent on the basic payment to earn a modest living. The Secretary of State for Food and Rural Affairs declared last week on Radio 4 that no deal with the EU and a 40% tariff on beef and lamb exports to Europe would be a good outcome. Let us hope that a deal can be reached.
Nevertheless, it is proposed to cut the incomes of these small livestock farmers, many of whom will not be able to join other support schemes in the years between now and the introduction of the ELMS in 2024. The Government’s own figures show that livestock farmers in the uplands have a net income considerably less than the basic payment they receive, so a cut of 5% in the basic payment may well be a cut of nearer 10% in their net income.
I very much hope that the Minister will be able to accept my first amendment to help to improve the environment and my second to help to preserve our increasingly marginal small hill farms. I may wish to press these amendments to a vote, depending on the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I declare my interest as a director of Wrackleford Farms Ltd, a tenant farming enterprise. I shall speak to Amendment 42. The amendment, supported by the NFU, would ensure that farmers entitled to payments receive those payments within guaranteed timescales to help ensure certainty of cash flow. I thank my noble friend Lord Caithness for his support.
I said in Committee that any farmer will tell you that cash flow is their number one consideration. As a farmer, it is one thing to know that financial support will be reduced, but quite a different thing to know when that financial support will be received. Regulations relating to the phasing out of BPS therefore need to include clarity on when a farmer will receive payments.
While it is true that the existing payment windows will come over under retained EU legislation, Clause 9 gives the Secretary of State the right to modify the BPS legislation, including potentially by removing the payment window in place at present. We cannot have a situation where no payment window is set.
Furthermore, it is arguably the case that the current payment window under the CAP rules provides little recourse to farmers if the RPA fails to meet its payment obligations. This leaves farmers waiting an unsatisfactory length of time and in great uncertainty as to when payments will be made. The impact of these delayed payments cannot be overestimated. There is the financial impact: greater borrowing costs, lost business opportunities and less attractive prices for farm produce or inputs. But it also has a substantial impact on the well-being of farmers, their families and their relationships with their farm suppliers, which—importantly—filter down through the wider rural economy.
The payment window for direct payments is seven months: 1 December to 30 June of the following calendar year. Current rules state that payments have to be made only to the value of 95.24% of funds by that time. We all know that farming revenue and costs are both volatile; nothing remains the same month to month or year to year. The overwhelming message from farmers is that they need certainty over the timing of payments.
There need to be payment windows—or dates that Defra has to meet—either fixed in schemes or set out in individual agreements. This will allow holders of agri-environmental schemes to plan with great certainty and to manage their cash flow. It is not acceptable to ask farmers to undertake work at their own cost and to comply with associated strict time limits but then provide them with no certainty on payments associated with those works.
The government department BEIS has a prompt-payment policy that requires payments within a certain number of days: 30. I would welcome a similarly prompt-payment policy approach for agricultural schemes with guaranteed timescales. I hope the Minister will provide reassurance on this matter.
My Lords, while I thoroughly support the aims of this Bill and the direction in which the Government are taking us, I have to say that I get more and more concerned as we delve into the detail of the Bill and the experts who are farmers—such as the noble Lords, Lord Curry and Lord Carrington, my noble friend Lady Rock and others—expose the concerns that farmers face. It is for that reason that I support many of these amendments.
I tried to put my name to Amendment 36 in the name of my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering, but there was already a full house of supporters. However, I supported this amendment in Committee and would do so again now. The argument is very compelling that the pilot schemes have only just started and it is going to take a long time for them to report and for the department to go through them, gestate them and work out what the future is. There would be very little time for the farmers to implement the results. Therefore, putting the whole thing back by a year would be a sensible, pragmatic and welcome solution to one of the many problems that the farmers face.
The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, made some very good points when he moved Amendment 37, which also deserves support. On the points made by the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, on Amendment 38, I reiterate that you do not have to be an organic farmer to protect the environment. You can farm in a perfectly normal way and bolster it. My main concern is Amendment 42, to which I have put my name and which has just been so well introduced by my noble friend Lady Rock.
The noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkhale, put it very succinctly when he spoke of sucking out the good of the department—I think those were his words. My concern is that as we move to ELMS, inevitably the department will move the good people into the new scheme and the less good people will remain with the old scheme. I hate to categorise the department in that way because all the members of Defra are good, but inevitably the really bright ones will be with the more attractive new scheme, and as the old scheme runs out, there will be an inevitable tendency for it not to receive the same attention that it gets now.
My noble friend Lady Rock was absolutely right to say that the one thing farmers need is certainty. As that support is reduced, so it is imperative that the payments are made promptly and on time. What recourse does a farmer have if he or she is made bankrupt because the Government, using taxpayers’ money, do not pay as they should? The area of financial support is hugely concerning and we must get it right. As the Bill stands, I am not convinced that we have got it right, which is why I support Amendments 36 and 42.
My Lords, I call this group of amendments “Mind the Gap”, as I did in Committee—although I note that others have called it “The Valley of Death”.
The Minister has shown some flexibility over Clause 4, on the multiannual plans. He has listened well to the views of this House and adapted the Government’s position on Clause 17, on reports to Parliament on food security, but it seems strange that here, where there is every excuse in the world for delay, there has been no shift in the Government’s position—as yet. I am always hopeful.
It is a good two years since this Bill was first published, and since then there have been numerous delays in the implementation of what I have already called the “brave new world” of ELMS. The long, drawn-out shenanigans over Brexit froze everything in its tracks for a good 18 months, with this Bill being withdrawn from its parliamentary passage more than once during that time. Then of course there was this year’s lockdown, which paralysed the system and slowed everything up even more.
Above all, since my first meeting with the ELMS team at Defra early last year, there has been a gradual realisation that the introduction of ELMS is not going to be quite so simple as was first thought. We now know that it will take several years to get ELM schemes up and running across all the country, yet in the Government’s transitional timings there appears to be no allowance for the fact that the brave new world will not be a firm reality until 2024 at the earliest.
All the farmers that I have spoken to are very worried about their future. How are they going to survive, when no one really knows how things are going to work in future? Even the Government do not yet know, and yet, in spite of all the delays—mostly not the fault of Defra, as I said—we still seem to be stuck with the 2021 start of the transition period. This cannot be right. With the rug of the old world being pulled out from under them, and the new rug unlikely to arrive for some time, more farmers than necessary are going to fall down that gap.
So Defra has every reason to take this one back and think again. I do not care how it does it, but we need something to close the horrible gap that is looming. Amendment 37 in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Carrington and Lord Curry, gives everyone the best chance of survival, while giving the Government the greatest room for manoeuvre. A 25% cut in the single farm payment will be enough of a shock to force farmers to throw themselves into the new training for the brave new world that we are assured will be available, but it will not be so much of a shock that they drown before they get there.
My Lords, I shall speak briefly on why I cannot support Amendment 36 in the name of my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering. Leaving the EU, and now dealing with the pandemic, has led to farmers feeling that they are in a more uncertain place than ever before. They are under pressure to feed the nation now more than ever. Therefore, support to them is vitally important, and introducing new schemes that reward farmers for producing that which they do best should not be delayed.
The present system will be simplified. It was in Committee that we heard that Defra is on track and organised for implementation for 2021, and, even more importantly, that the money is in the piggy bank and oven-ready to go to those who will benefit most from the payments. New and existing countryside stewardship agreements can still be applied for up to 2023. Delay appears unnecessary and possibly harmful, and instead of bringing certainty, allows for another year of possible uncertainty. The farmers where I live appear content with the 2021 start.
My Lords, I hope that the Minister will resist Amendment 36, which would delay the start of the agricultural transition. Climate change and the biodiversity challenge are urgent, and we need to provide the financial support and the advice and guidance as soon as possible to equip farmers and land managers to tackle these challenges.
On Amendment 38, in his name, the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, admitted that he was not a great fan of organic farming in the past. I have not exactly waved a flag for it either—but he, like me, is concerned about the decline in the area of land farmed organically in the UK compared with most other developed countries. Organic production accounts for only about 2.5% of agricultural land in the UK; the EU average is 7.5%, and Austria has a whacking great 24%. Yet the UK organic market is growing like a mushroom—far faster—and we are sucking in imports as a result. UK farmers are basically missing out on the growth in the organic market.
The public benefits of organic production are well attested in things like biodiversity, environmental performance and animal welfare, so growth in the organic acreage would be a good thing. What is needed is not only support for the organic transition to be enhanced into the future; it needs to be coupled with the provision of advice. It is a big step change for farmers and to do the transition well they need support. There used to be something called the Organic Conversion Information Service, but support for peer-to-peer learning would be a help.
We also need to see help with ongoing market development, as other countries have done. Using public procurement to increase the amount of organic food consumed in public settings would be an excellent thing. Copenhagen, for example, can now boast of over 80% of food consumed in public settings being organic. What support can the Minister give to organic growth?
I support Amendment 38 in the name of the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington. There is really no doubt that UK performance in the area of organic conversion has been astonishingly poor, and we have not seen a will or determination from the Government to make the progress that we might have hoped for in the past but can now hope for in the future. This amendment is a very modest step in that direction.
We can only look with envy at what is happening across the channel. The EU’s farm to fork strategy aims to see a 50% reduction in the use of pesticides by 2030 and a 50% reduction in the use of antimicrobials for farmed animals and aquaculture, as well as 25% of farmland being used for organic farming—roughly 10 times as much as we have now—by 2030. We are being horribly left behind. We look at countries around the EU and see that Austria is already at 24% and Italy at 15%.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, said, one of the things our failure to support this conversion means is that we are seeing more imported food. It is often food of higher value and it is being denied to our farmers—that is, farmers do not have access to that market because they are not growing organic food.
The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, said that other forms of farming can be environmentally friendly and sensitive. I would certainly say that of course you do not have to be organically certified to be environmentally sensitive, but this is the only system of registration, recognition and guidance that we have for agroecology. Organic systems by definition are agroecological. Anything else is just making a claim or suggesting that it is happening. Many of us probably feel we know it when we see it when we walk into a field, but that is not the same as something that immediately pushes in that direction.
I encourage the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, to consider pushing this issue forward if we do not hear a satisfactory answer from the Minister. We need to take at least this modest step forward.
I also want briefly to express support for Amendment 42. We know that farmers, like many other small and medium-sized enterprises, can have huge problems with payments from the large companies they supply, such as multinational manufacturers and supermarkets, but they really should not be waiting for payment from the Government; they should be able to rely on that.
My Lords, the proposed legislation will inevitably cause a great deal of extra work for not only Whitehall but many farmers on the front line. They have a lot of burden and a lot of challenges; their time is scarce.
In recent years, but particularly in the context of Covid-19, we have seen the consequences of ill planning, of the rushed implementation of new measures and of promises unfulfilled, including the consequent maximum disruption. Rationalisations after the event are no substitute for all the promises at the beginning. For those reasons, there must be time for civil servants and others, and particularly farmers themselves, to prepare properly. In that context, the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, has insight and sensitivity and realises the practicalities of what is involved.
When it comes to Amendment 41, in the name of my noble friend, the same arguments that I have just applied are highly relevant. What is important about this amendment is that it sets out in detail the things that must be in place and tested. That means not just uttering words off the back of an envelope or making a press statement from No. 10 Downing Street, but ensuring that these things are tested and proven. At stake is the success of the new arrangements. That will be very important, as we do not want disruption of agriculture and total chaos for farmers. From that standpoint, I believe that Parliament has an overriding duty to make sure that it is convinced about what is proposed and that we are able to vet it and give, or withhold, our approval. This is an important amendment and I am glad to be able to support it.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a landowner, an arable farmer and a recipient of payments from the BPS and its predecessor schemes. I will be brief, as the arguments have been well rehearsed on most of the amendments, which I support.
I support the reasons given by my noble friend Lady McIntosh for seeking to delay the start of the seven-year transition rule, having heard her concerns about farmers not knowing about the first plan, mentioned in Amendment 35, until after the Bill has become law.
I also support Amendment 37, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and his well-judged comments on the countryside stewardship and production grants. This amendment seems entirely sensible, in that it would stop any further reduction beyond 25% until the ELMS was available.
I also back Amendment 39, tabled by my noble friend the Duke of Wellington, the aim of which is to support small hill farmers. I wonder whether he might consider extending it to small lowland livestock farmers.
I am also sympathetic to Amendment 42, tabled by my noble friend Lady Rock. I would just like to say how good the RPA’s performance has been in recent years, and I am sure that that will be extended to the new regime.
My Lords, listening to this debate, it is quite clear that the one thing not available here is any degree of certainty or confidence regarding the future. My name appears on Amendment 41, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester. I do not know whether he saw it, as I added it at the last moment, but it is there. For me, this amendment offers the preferred option in providing a degree of certainty. A year’s trial is probably the option that I like best. However, I am not a farmer and am not in the system.
I hope that when the Minister responds he will try to address some of the many concerns that have been expressed. The central theme running through them is that people are worried about the change and the transition. When there is that degree of concern running through a system and people feel that they cannot buy into it because they are uncertain, I suggest that something has gone fundamentally wrong. Without a degree of buy-in, it will not work.
I have already said today that the Minister is facing a challenge, but I believe that he is facing a slightly bigger one here. People in and around this industry really need to know what is going on. We have also heard people say that they do not want delays because of other schemes coming in, but if the fundamental group—the farmers—are concerned, we need something that gives them a solid basis for confidence. At the moment, it just is not there.
My Lords, a transition period of seven years is quite a long period in which to phase out old policies under the CAP and bring in new policies under the Agriculture Bill. The transition is currently planned to begin in 2021, and it will be vital for Defra to put in place the necessary support to enable a stable and just transition for the farming community. There is currently much unease in this community about just how it will be affected in the future—a point made by many noble Lords.
Farming is not something that can be changed overnight. Time is needed to adjust farming plans and to secure the necessary capital investment to make some of the changes required. A key part will be support for business advice and skills training, time-limited support for capital investment to improve productivity sustainably, and wider improvements to connectivity in rural areas, such as rural broadband.
On the other side of this equation is the environment and climate change. It is undoubtedly true that our current farming practices have damaged the environment and are contributing to climate change. We are engaged in a delicate balance between the two opposing views but I do not believe this is an insurmountable problem. Given the pressing nature of the climate and nature emergencies, and the need to bring forward financial assistance under the Bill to support farmers to tackle these, it is imperative that the current timescales are retained. The Government should focus on what can be done during this seven-year period to support farmers to adapt, and benefit from the public money for public goods scheme that will be available in the future. Moving the start time of the transition period from 2021 to 2022 is not the answer. As I said on earlier amendments, the environment and the climate need action now, not later. While farmers are fearful of change, many of them are up for this change and looking forward to it.
Amendment 37, tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Carrington and Lord Curry of Kirkharle, is a more pragmatic approach to this problem and one which I support. Similarly, I support the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, on Amendment 38. The number of organic farms in this country is extremely small compared to other countries; only 2.7 % of our land is farmed organically at the moment. It is important that this sector is increased and more choice is made available to consumers of organically produced food. It should not necessarily come in from other countries—we need to produce our own.
Amendment 39 is welcomed as an amendment to Amendment 37. My colleague in the other place, the honourable Tim Farron MP, has long championed the cause of hill farmers. They struggle to make a living out of their land in less favoured areas. I fully support this amendment to secure a specified amount of income for three years, until 2023.
The noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, who knows far more about farming than I ever will, has tabled Amendment 41. Little is currently known about the outcomes of the ELMS pilots—what is successful and what is not. It is therefore sensible to ensure that schemes are successful and viable moving forward. I look forward to his comments.
Lastly, I support the noble Baroness, Lady Rock, and the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, in their efforts to ensure that payments to those entitled arrive in a timely manner. She laid out her case extremely well. It is completely unacceptable for those entitled to payments to have to wait months to receive them. I cannot imagine what would happen if those working in this House had to wait months before receiving their salaries for the work that they do in ensuring the House can operate effectively. Farmers should not have to wait for their payments. Everyone will have had periods in their lives when their cash flow was problematic. As we say, they have had too much month—or week—left at the end of their salary.
We really must do better for our farmers, who are ensuring that the land is looked after and healthy food is produced. Given the extreme importance of this group of amendments, I hope that the Minister will have some encouragement for us.
My Lords, the lead amendment in this group, Amendment 36, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, and others was subject to much debate in Committee. There were many alternative proposals for the transition period between the present system and the full implementation of ELMS being separated from landholdings. This amendment would delay its start for one year. I thank her for her amendment, as she has foreshadowed many of my remarks.
I will speak to my Amendment 41 in this group. However, before I do so I thank the noble Lords, Lord Carrington and Lord Curry of Kirkharle, for their Amendment 37. Further amendments to it have been tabled, in Amendments 38 and 39 by the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, and Amendment 40 by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington.
I understand the approach of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and his anxieties concerning cuts in direct payments. I appreciate the emphasis given by the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, to the organic sector by doubling conversion payments, and to the hill-farming sector in the less favoured areas by freezing their reductions below £30,000 per hill farm.
Amendment 40 specifies that the regulations in this amended clause are subject to the affirmative procedure. However, we could not consider supporting these amendments without extensive further information being available to apprise us of their merits.
I would also like to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Rock, for her amendment concerning the importance of cash flow and grants to the viability of farming businesses in today’s increasingly volatile business circumstances.
However, I propose an alternative approach to these amendments. Amendment 41 disapplies Clause 8. In Committee, amendments around a transition period and the multiannual plans were spread between groupings. This has been reflected today with the consideration of Amendment 32 from the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and Amendment 33 from the noble Earl, Lord Devon, being in a previous group. This has meant that the debate has been at cross-purposes with Amendment 41, as these other amendments concern the length of multiannual plans only. However, I recognise that multiannual plans were subject to extensive consultation in the 2018 Bill and set for seven years in conclusion then. This has possibly overshadowed the merits of my Amendment 41. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Addington, for adding his name to this amendment and for his recent remarks. I also thank my noble friend Lord Judd for his remarks in support.
How the changes to the ELM system and the nature of each seven-year period between plans and a transition period interact can indeed be very confusing. This is why I have tabled my Committee amendment with a few changes. Having reflected on the debate, as well as on evidence both formal and anecdotal from recent trials and pilot schemes, we have revised our approach in a fair, common-sense way that is also flexible to circumstances. This is because so much is unknown and the results of any trials have yet to be considered. This appears to be recognised to some extent by the Government’s own Amendment 35.
Amendment 41 removes from the Bill the previous start date of the transition period and gives the Government a degree of flexibility by having a start date set in regulations. There is no need for the Government to define a start date in primary legislation which they could later regret, and which would set the legislation off into a period of uncertainty should ELMS not be adequately ready for implementation—as their Amendment 35 partially recognises. The amendment states that the start date would be set once the Government have confirmed that any scheme to operate in the first year of the transition was fully operable.
Everyone can agree that it is important to get started on the transition phase, but so much preparatory work is yet to be done. There is anxiety already that countryside stewardship schemes starting in 2021 can be withdrawn, yet schemes started this year, in 2020, cannot be withdrawn without penalty. There are also very considerable concerns being highlighted and heightened in relation to Covid-19 and the potential onset of any phase 2 consequences this winter.
I highlight that Defra’s plans are themselves being reconsidered in relation to the transition period. I understand that the department is now planning a new interim or stepping-stone scheme to bridge the gap that may appear between the BPS and the ELM scheme. The sustainable farming incentive, or SFI, will bring in limited elements of ELM tier 1, while avoiding the funding gap that will arise from the Government’s ill-considered cutbacks before full schemes are available. This is some- thing we drew attention to as early as Second Reading.
I understand that claimants are expected by Defra to have lost half of their payments by 2024, when full pilot schemes are expected to be rolled out. Can the Minister be transparent on this new scheme and the amount of cutbacks being envisaged? It is important to the credibility of the Government’s plans, so forcibly expressed by the Minister.
Is this SFI scheme under serious consideration, and where will the funding come from if funding cuts to BPS are to finance ELMS, as repeatedly expressed? Will the Countryside Stewardship entrants be excluded once again, as already mentioned? Surely Amendment 41 is preferable to the uncertainty, complexity and confusion that will arise if these reports are confirmed. I understand that the announcement is held up with the Treasury’s comprehensive spending review. It would be more than unfortunate if the Minister could not be forthcoming tonight when the House is considering this Bill.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to this debate. I will be the first to say, coming from a farming background and being a farmer myself, that I know that change can present these great concerns, and that is why the Government are clear that they want to work with farmers to ensure we get the schemes right. I think we are doing that properly, and I would like to explain why.
On Amendment 36, with which I will also address Amendments 37, 39, 40 and 41, the Government are committed to introducing new schemes that will reward farmers for producing goods that are valued by the public. Our planned reductions for 2021 are intended to send a clear signal of reform. It is important that farmers have certainty about when the agricultural transition will begin. There may be some in this House who do not agree with this. But many people, including those in the farming community, will feel that direct payments are poorly targeted and offer poor value for money. This is something that I have been very seized of, as have many of us farmers who seek to farm well and look after our land. This is a conclusion we all have to draw from the current regime. Therefore, applying appropriate progressive reductions to these payments will free up money that can be used to support farmers better—I repeat, “to support farmers better”—and deliver public goods.
We believe it is important that this process is not delayed. The Government are on track to introduce new schemes from 2021 while continuing to fund new and existing Countryside Stewardship agreements which farmers can apply for until 2023. Signing a Countryside Stewardship agreement gives a viable, long-term source of income for providing environmental benefits. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, and other noble Lords that no one in a Countryside Stewardship agreement will be unfairly disadvantaged when they move to new arrangements under ELM. I should also say to the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, that the Countryside Stewardship scheme includes a specific uplands wildlife offer.
We will also provide productivity grants to farmers for investments in equipment, technology and infrastructure, which will help their businesses to prosper while improving their productivity and enhancing the environment. These grants will be available from 2021. In addition, the national pilot of the future ELM scheme will also begin in 2021 and will be funded from the reductions in direct payments. The national pilot will be informed by the engagement with farmers, land managers and other stakeholders which is already well under way, including tests and trials.
I have to say again that I think we may sometimes be attending different webinars or whatever, because the impression I have been given is that many farmers have found it stimulating, particularly the younger ones, who have found talking about such matters, and the innovation of the new way forward, refreshing. As I have said before, they will be able to look the taxpayer in the eye and show that we are producing better for the public and better for farmers.
We have already published the maximum reductions that we intend to apply in the first year of the transition. The maximum reductions for 2021 are at no more than 5% for around 80% of farmers. This is within the margin of the currency rate changes often experienced in previous regimes. We first published these reductions in 2018. We have also provided important commitments on future funding. The Government, in their manifesto, guaranteed the current annual budget in every year of the new Parliament, plus a seven-year transition period. Coming from a farming background, I know that many farmers have actually expressed surprise that this should have been so explicitly generous, and that seven years was the transition period.
As I noted in Committee, we are working across government to develop schemes under Clause 1 and, recognising the need to give farmers certainty, will set out further information on funding for the early years of the agricultural transition period, including direct payments, later in the autumn. I absolutely understand and respect noble Lords’ frustration—but this will happen in the autumn. If noble Lords will believe me, I can add that I am pushing this very strongly—and of course I would have liked to have it with me tonight.
I should note that Clause 11 provides for the phasing out of direct payments under the basic payment scheme. Regulations laid under that clause, including the rates at which direct payments will be reduced, are subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. This will allow for debate on the reductions, the impact of which was set out in the evidence compendium published in September 2018, alongside the previous version of the Bill. By the time the SIs are debated, we will have published further information about funding for the early years of the agricultural transition.
In relation to Amendment 38, while payment for organic conversion is not currently a feature of the basic payment scheme, our existing countryside stewardship schemes will continue to include several options rewarding farmers where they convert farmland to organic condition. I can also say—this is further information—that since 2016 the Government have spent £25.8 million on organic conversion and maintenance. That is £20 million on top of the £6 million for conversion.
As I have set out, during the transition we will offer financial assistance to enable organic farmers to invest in the equipment, technology, and infrastructure that they need to improve their productivity, manage the environment sustainably, and deliver other public goods. Farmers who adopt organic farming methods will be well placed to benefit from our future ELM schemes.
With reference to Amendment 42, I am fully seized of the importance of timely payments. I agree with my noble friends Lady Rock and Lord Caithness that this is a very important issue for farmers. The amendment concerns payments under the basic payment scheme. The Rural Payments Agency has worked hard to improve payment performance across all its schemes. This is reaping rightful benefits for farmers, land managers and the rural economy. For the 2019 BPS scheme payment window, over 99.9% of 2019 claims have been paid. We intend to simplify the basic payment scheme to make it easier for the RPA to process applications efficiently and to benefit farmers. For example, we are working with the devolved Administrations to try to make improvements in the way we deal with cross-border farms, to speed up payments to these applicants.
Timescales for basic payment scheme payments are already set out in the retained EU regulations. We have no plans to change the payment windows in retained EU law. We do not therefore consider it necessary to set further rules in regulations about the timing of BPS payments.
This has been a very interesting debate. I have sympathy with much of what has been said, but some of the unduly negative words about the Government’s assurances on funding are not apposite. The Government have been clear about our intentions. I hope that noble Lords, particularly my noble friend Lady McIntosh, will reflect on this. I think we should start this reform with a seven-year transition period and that the moneys from these reductions will start to bear fruit in all the things we aspire to do, such as having strong food production and an ever-enhanced environment. I hope my noble friend feels able to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, I am disappointed, unless I have misunderstood, that my noble friend did not reply to the basic question of why we cannot have a 12-month notification of the first plan. I am no farmer myself—the closest I got was having two fields on which we claimed a tiny amount, which I have now left my brother to get on with.
I understand that, according to the Companion, I can take this opportunity to put another question to the Minister. The Government have spoken about easing access: how do they imagine easing access to the existing countryside stewardship scheme and new measures to assist improvements in productivity through the transition period? That would go some way to allaying the fears. I have to say that this is a key concern of both the Tenant Farmers Association and the NFU in the briefings I have had from them. Obviously, they represent the lion’s share of farmers.
The Government have talked about a new interim scheme, called the sustainable farming initiative, but surely this would just add to the complexity of an already busy policy space, particularly when existing schemes are available and just need to be improved. Might not such a sustainable farming initiative take Defra’s eye off the ball in properly developing what we all want to see—a good ELM scheme? Will my noble friend reply to that and to my original question as to why we are not having 12 months’ notice of the original business plan?
My Lords, I think I have been very clear that we will be announcing the funding for the early years of the agricultural transition period, including direct payments, later in the autumn—I hope as soon as possible. I cannot say any more than that. As I said, that announcement will provide much of the reassurance that I suspect noble Lords and farmers are looking for about those early years. I have set out the maximum reductions for 2021. Those are all designed, as I said, to enable the Government, at the beginning of the transition and the reforms, to provide extra countryside stewardship agreements and productivity grants to farmers, which I think will be very desirable to start next year, and the national pilot for the future ELM schemes.
All this is designed to combine all that we want to do in enhancing food production and the environment. It is sensible to start these schemes next year, and the resources, through the reductions, will be there to work on this. It is a seven-year transition and the Government are very mindful of the manifesto pledges about the resources that will be available to this agricultural budget. We intend to support and work with farmers to make a better scheme, with a public return for it. I do not think there is much more I can say to my noble friend, other than that this Government have shown by our commitments to funding that we are four-square behind the farmer, but I say candidly that the current system is poor value for money.
I understand that the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, wishes to ask a short question for elucidation.
My Lords, I apologise to the House for asking the Minister a follow-up question. I listened carefully to his remarks but, by the time the communication channels had reached the Deputy Speaker, she had already intimated to the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, that she could have her consideration of the amendments. I had not heard any reference in the Minister’s remarks to the sustainable farming incentive, but the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, repeated that question to him. I understand now and am very grateful to him for the fullness of the reply that he can give tonight.
My Lords, I have been very clear that the Government are bringing forward schemes of a countryside and environmental aspect, which will be funded through reductions in the direct payments. This is what we want: to start sustainable environmental and countryside stewardship schemes. This is all about what we want to do with farmers, as part of a major plank of this legislation. I am beginning to wonder whether it is me or whether noble Lords do not want to press the receive button for what I am seeking to say.
My Lords, I have to express disappointment that I have not received the assurances I sought, but I do not wish to test the opinion of the House. I wish to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 36 withdrawn.
37: Clause 8, page 7, line 40, at end insert—
“(1A) Where any business is in receipt of direct payments under the basic payment scheme, any financial assistance from the Secretary of State may not be reduced by more than 25% of the specified amount in subsection (1B) prior to a scheme providing financial assistance under section 1(1) being introduced.(1B) The specified amount is an amount to be determined by the Secretary of State by regulations, and may be based on—(a) the amount a business received under the basic payment scheme for a specified year, or(b) the average amount a business received under the basic payment scheme over specified years before 2021 determined by the Secretary of State.(1C) Regulations under subsection (1B) must provide for a right of appeal if a business believes that any financial assistance they receive will be reduced by more than 25% of the specified amount prior to a scheme providing financial assistance under section 1(1) being introduced.”Member’s explanatory statement
This will ensure that cuts in direct payments for 2021, together with the currently unknown cuts in the following years, do not inadvertently damage the viability of farming businesses before they can adapt their business plans to benefit from the productivity grant schemes due to uncertainties regarding trade agreements and the proposed agri-environment schemes.
My Lords, I listened very carefully to what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner. Frankly, none of the responses added any further light, other than the very last response, which was achieved by questions from the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, and the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, on the sustainable farming initiative. That appears to be the only new news we have had all evening. I talked about the inadequacy of the old countryside stewardship schemes and productivity grants. So I must say that I am extremely disappointed.
Having said that, I cannot find great consensus around the House to combine on one of the three proposed amendments that broadly cover this issue. I certainly would not want to divide the House without seeing that sort of consensus so, with great reluctance, I move and withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 37 withdrawn.
Amendments 38 to 41 not moved.