Report (2nd Day)
Relevant document: 13th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee
Clause 16: Support for rural development
Debate on Amendment 43 resumed.
My Lords, it seems only right that, having spoken on the amendments in the fourth group, which would have restricted financial assistance to solely supporting production, I also respond to these amendments, which call for the opposite.
Amendments 43 and 44 come from different places but clearly demonstrate the importance of allowing a level of financial assistance for purposes other than production. I absolutely agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, when she said on Tuesday evening that she wishes to see a United Kingdom where there are no food banks. Their proliferation in both rural and urban areas in the last 10 years is a failure of government to address poverty issues in our communities. The devastating effects of the pandemic, combined with the disastrous rollout of universal credit, have pushed more and more people in this country into reliance on these services, which casts an indelible blight on one of the world’s richest economies.
I am particularly interested to hear the Minister’s response to Amendment 44, which raises the lack of progress—in public, at least—in relation to the UK shared prosperity fund. I know that my colleagues in both national and local government in Wales are particularly interested to know what happens next in the distribution of this promised funding, which replaces the generous EU grants of previous decades. I share my noble friend Lady Young’s fears about the shared prosperity fund being neither shared nor prosperous.
In relation to Amendment 44, does the Minister believe this point is covered by the government amendments in the group after next? If not, is there any form of contingency should a gap arise in the availability of development funds?
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions to this debate. I will take Amendments 43 and 44 together. I would like to reassure your Lordships that we recognise the importance of the issues that these amendments raise. Farmers and farming households make a valuable contribution to our national life, and we recognise that the needs of farming households may change as we move away from the common agricultural policy.
As set out in their manifesto, the Government intend to introduce the UK shared prosperity fund to replace EU structural funds. The manifesto also stated that it will, at a minimum, match the size of those funds in each nation, which was reiterated by the Chancellor in the last Budget. The final decisions about the quantum and design of the funding will take place after a cross-governmental spending review.
The Government have made a long-standing commitment to ensure that all policies are rural proofed—that is, ensuring that policy outcomes work in rural areas. This includes the development and delivery of the UK shared prosperity fund, on which Defra and MHCLG officials are working closely. In advance of the introduction of the UK shared prosperity fund, £60 million of funding will continue to flow to rural businesses via the final tranche of the growth programme, which the RPA is currently assessing.
The fund will play a vital role in supporting rural and coastal communities in recovery and renewal from Covid-19, and our expectation is that the growth programme and LEADER elements of EAFRD will be a component of the fund. This was set out in a letter from the Defra Secretary of State to the chair of the EFRA Select Committee on 7 September. Defra officials continue to work closely with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, which leads on the fund’s development, to ensure that its design takes account of the dynamics of rural economies and particularly the challenges faced by rural communities, as well as the opportunities that I believe rural communities have. We have been in contact with MHCLG Ministers and I can assure your Lordships that MHCLG recognises the importance of these considerations.
I fully recognise the importance of reassuring rural communities and farming households about the future of local growth funding. The Government will look to set out their national approach to local economic recovery and devolution through a White Paper expected in the autumn. We firmly believe that the best way to make progress is to continue to work collaboratively at local and national level. The MHCLG has established an economic recovery working group, which meets regularly, bringing together a range of local growth partners to work on emerging themes and concerns across the country, including those relevant to rural areas. This includes representatives from rural local enterprise partnerships and local authorities.
If new socioeconomic support programmes were to be operated under Clause 16, they would have to operate under broadly the same framework dictated by the existing CAP. Clause 16 provides the Secretary of State with the power to modify or repeal retained EU legislation relating to rural development in England. This clause will not be used to introduce any new schemes, as they will be covered under Clause 1.
I very much hope that the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, and the noble Earl will accept my confirmation that the UK shared prosperity fund will provide great opportunities for growth and investment in rural communities and will include the successor for the growth programme and LEADER elements of EAFRD. I believe this is a cause we all share and hope that, on that basis, given the explanation of the work we are undertaking between the two departments and the imperative of rural proofing, the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
I have received a request to ask a question from the noble Earl, Lord Devon.
Following up the question from the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, I ask the Minister to confirm whether he considers that government Amendments 45 and 46 might address the issues raised by Amendment 44. It is important to have that clarified. I thought that they did as I read them in preparation for today. That would certainly alleviate some of the concerns behind Amendment 44.
My Lords, when we come to the amendments in my name I will explain that they intend to, and will, provide for the smooth running of existing schemes under the EU programmes, not only so that they can continue to work well but so that people due to receive funds from them can do so. The amendments we have discussed were about additional and beyond, but my amendments on retained EU law are technical amendments to ensure that the existing programme under the existing schemes can work effectively.
My Lords, I thank all those who have taken part in this short debate, albeit that it has taken place over two days—three, if you add in yesterday. I also thank the Minister for his carefully worded reply. I know that he personally understands the problems I have described and the importance of the wider rural economy, not only to farmers and farming households but to those who live on the edge in our countryside and whose poverty remains largely ignored by government.
Meanwhile, I reassure my good friend, the noble Baroness, Lady Young, that it was never my intention to take money away from ELMS, or even the agricultural budget—or perhaps, as she might have put it more figuratively, I had no wish to hang another bauble on to the ELMS Christmas tree. I was trying to make the “rural affairs” bit of Defra a bit more of a reality, as recommended by two Select Committee reports of this House in recent years. However, as hinted at by my very old friend, the noble Baroness, Lady Chisholm, it is probably best to keep rural communities alongside all other communities and therefore firmly within the ministry for communities, now known as MHCLG.
The Minister has indeed given me some comfort in what he said about the shared prosperity fund, although I realise that nothing is certain before the comprehensive spending review. It might have been good to hear some indication as to when we will get any tangible details about the shared prosperity fund, but I suppose, with our economy currently on a precipice of uncertainty owing to the fallout from Covid and the ongoing doubts about the Brexit deal, it would have been asking too much to expect more detail when neither the Treasury nor MHCLG have any firm grip on where they are going.
Anyway, I will stop there. In the light of the Minister’s undertakings on the Floor of the House about a future rural component of a shared prosperity fund, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 43 withdrawn.
Amendment 44 not moved.
44A: Clause 16, page 12, line 44, at end insert—
“( ) amending Annex IV of the Regulation (indicative list) to cover broadband connectivity and digital literacy.”
My Lords, it is a pleasure to move Amendment 44A. In doing so, I thank my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering for her support. The amendment is incredibly straight- forward. It would enable farmers and all those in our rural communities to have the broadband connectivity and digital skills to operate confidently in that space.
As we have seen through the Covid crisis, our farmers have been on the front line in so many ways, filling in for long supply chains that should, in many ways, probably not have been that length in the first place. Our farmers have absolutely stepped up. Although they have been on the front line, they have often found it impossible to be online. The National Farmers Union broadband survey last year showed that 15% of those in our rural communities had no indoor broadband connectivity at all, and a shocking 36% could say they had only adequate broadband cover.
As we have also seen through the Covid crisis, it is not just the economic imperative to be online; there is a social and psychological dimension. Not only have our farmers not been able to run their businesses efficiently and effectively, the social dimension of keeping in contact with friends and family, and the psychological difficulties often felt with the remoteness of rural communities, have been brought home only too strongly through the Covid crisis.
Amendment 44A would put an end to this parlous position when it comes to broadband, digital connectivity and digital literacy. Earlier this year, in response to the EFRA Select Committee inquiry on broadband conductivity, the Government said that they had in principle put £5 billion in and would look at a shared rural broadband network. It was talked of in principle and intention. How do the Government intend to put that into will?
It is not just good soil and good farm management that produce our fabulous food, fruit and horticulture products but having high-speed broadband and the confidence and digital skills to operate in cyberspace as much as across the fields of the United Kingdom. We must demonstrate that we are all in this together. That means providing a level of broadband and digital literacy for all our farmers and all those in our rural communities. Does my noble friend the Minister agree? If the Government are not up for supporting the amendment, will she say how they intend to get the best out of all our rural communities, not least our farmers, to deliver on the levelling-up agenda and to drive economic, social and psychological benefits for our farmers and all those across our rural communities? I beg to move.
My Lords, I am delighted to support Amendment 44A and I thank my noble friend Lord Holmes of Richmond for tabling it. I pay tribute to his expertise, knowledge and sheer perseverance in this area. It gives me the opportunity to draw further attention to how woeful broadband and wi-fi connections are in many parts of rural England because places are simply too far—more than a mile—from the local box.
Also, many will not appreciate the issue with the mobile phone signal. I look directly at the Woolsack; I am sure this problem is not unfamiliar in Scotland. In the summer in parts of North Yorkshire where the red phone boxes have been removed it is inherently dangerous if you do not have access to a landline. It is incredibly important that we should have a good mobile phone service. I had hoped we would be able to piggyback on the police service, but apparently we are not able to do that for security reasons. North Yorkshire Police made a massive investment to make sure they could apprehend criminals by getting reinforcements where that was the case.
I take this opportunity to bring to my noble friend the Minister’s attention how in many areas of the dales and the moorlands of the north of England there is both poor mobile phone conductivity and woeful broadband—it is persistently bad. I welcome the amendment and the extra spending the Government have announced to be spent in areas such as North Yorkshire, recognising that this is the case.
We went into the last election and the previous one with a commitment to a universal service of “x megabytes by x date”. That date keeps moving. Can I press my noble friend on what date we will have universal service and on whether the additional funds that the Government can find can be spent on the 3% of the population who are hardest to reach? It grieves me greatly to be told that 97% of the population will have universal access to broadband but not the 3% of us who happen to live in rural areas. I want to ensure that we can reverse the priorities and spend the additional money, and any other money that is available, in these hardest-to-reach areas.
As my noble friend Lord Holmes set out, it is an unacceptable situation that, in the 21st century, children who are sent home from school because one of their class has Covid-19, and who are diligently trying to do their work at home, prevent farmers going online to fill in forms. I hope that the Minister uses her good offices to correct that situation.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Holmes of Richmond, for bringing forward this amendment. I suspect that other Peers did not realise that this amendment had been re-tabled, hence the short speakers’ list.
During the Covid-19 lockdown it became painfully apparent how inadequate the broadband system is, as the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, has said. It is vital that all areas of the country have good, fast and resilient broadband, especially those in our agricultural sector. Many Peers attempting to take part in virtual proceedings have struggled with connections suddenly dropping off or being unable to log on in the first place. In 2018, the average broadband speed in rural hamlets and isolated dwellings in a sparse setting was half that of major conurbations. Can the Minister say whether this has improved in the intervening two years?
In the aftermath of the Huawei fiasco, the Secretary of State was clear on the consequences of the Government’s decision to pull out. Operators charged with delivering 5G will now, without compensation, have £2 billion less to spend on rolling it out, at the same time bearing the cost of ripping out high-risk vendor 5G equipment by 2027. This is a huge proportion of the investment which was to be committed by the operators towards 5G rollout. Can the Minister say whether, in the intervening months since this decision was made, the Government have now reconsidered providing compensation to providers and consumers? The change in provider will delay the rollout of 5G by two to three years. Rural communities are already extremely disadvantaged in their connectivity. Many rural businesses have had to relocate to more urban areas to continue operating. Those in the farming community, like others, must fill in all their forms online. This now appears to be the Government’s only way of communicating with those residents to whom they attempt to provide services.
As the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, said, during the lockdown children were dependent on Zoom connectivity to take part in sessions with their teachers. Although this meant that they received some tuition, for many the connection was so poor that it was hopeless. If the Government are true to their word in wanting to support rural communities, it is vital that broadband connectivity and digital literacy are taken seriously. This is not a “nice to have” for the agricultural industry, but an “absolute must”. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, for once again raising this important issue. He is right to draw attention to the alarming lack of progress in rolling out broadband to rural areas. This is hindering the ability of British farmers to do their job, and it will become even more of a crisis when new farming techniques requiring regular digital applications become mainstream.
The latest Ofcom report identifies 677,000 homes and offices without decent broadband, but the vast majority—496,000—are in rural areas. Ofcom also reports that many rural areas are left with patchy and unreliable mobile reception, with less than half having 4G coverage. Sadly, it is all too common to hear stories of farmers driving around the countryside to try to get a signal to carry out even the basic business connections that they need for their work.
The lack of broadband is also having a wider impact on rural economies and is preventing the development of start-up businesses and the capacity for people to work at home. As work and training provision are increasingly focused on home working, where strong digital connectivity is key, a whole new generation in rural areas is being excluded from good employment opportunities.
It is hugely frustrating that it is taking so long to get this right. Since this Government have been in office, promises about broadband have come and gone, so forgive us if we are cynical about the latest announcements. Of course we welcome the latest government promise to invest £5 billion in rolling out full fibre broadband across the country, and we welcome the money set aside to specifically target vouchers at rural homes. We very much hope that these initiatives are successful and able to reach into the hard-to-reach rural settings which have been shunned by the private sector up until now. The £20 million set aside for the rural gigabit connectivity programme does not seem a lot of money, given the costs involved in rolling this access out. Nevertheless, it is a start.
Perhaps when the Minister replies, she could clarify by what date we can expect to achieve access for all rural properties to full fibre broadband and say whether she is confident that this programme is on track and will meet that deadline. I look forward to her response.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, for tabling this amendment which seeks to use the Agriculture Bill to provide for new socioeconomic support programmes to help fund improved broadband connectivity and digital skills in rural areas beyond the end of the current rural development programme. He is indeed a champion of addressing the very real digital divide.
I reassure this House that we recognise the importance of the issue that this amendment raises. This Government are determined to connect every home and business to the fastest broadband speeds available. As the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, has just said, access to digital is key to helping all rural communities build resilient modern businesses, as well as supporting them in their daily lives. Indeed, the Covid-19 pandemic has shown the integral role that digital connectivity plays in our daily lives, economically, socially and in continuing to deliver essential public services. The Government are investing record amounts to level up digital infrastructure across the UK. We are already connecting some of the hardest-to-reach places in the country, including through the superfast broadband programme and the £200 million rural gigabit connectivity programme. The Government want nationwide coverage of gigabit-capable broadband as soon as possible.
We have also announced £5 billion of public funding—not just in principle; it has been announced—to close the digital divide and ensure that rural areas are not left behind. Only last week, we announced that more than £22 million of additional funding is being invested in the UK Government’s broadband voucher scheme, which subsidises the cost of building gigabit-capable broadband networks to hard-to-reach areas. The Government are working with mobile network operators to deliver mobile connectivity improvements through a shared rural network. Much is therefore already in place to improve connectivity in rural areas, and we have already started the 5G rollout.
We also recognise the importance of improving digital skills in rural areas. There is a wide number of initiatives to support this, including the digital skills partnership launched by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport in 2017, to bring together organisations from across the public, private and charity sectors to work together to close the digital skills gap at a local level. Although the current rural development programme allows for support for broadband and digital skills, these wider government initiatives are the key funding mechanisms for broadband connectivity and digital skills. However, we are also committed to supporting rural communities through post-EU exit funding and the UK shared prosperity fund, which will play a vital role in supporting rural and coastal communities in recovery and renewal from Covid-19.
As set out in the manifesto, the Government intend to introduce the UK shared prosperity fund to replace EU structural funds. Defra officials are working closely with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, which leads on its development, to ensure that its design takes account of the dynamics of rural economies and the challenges faced by rural communities. The final decisions about the quantum and design of future socioeconomic funding will take place after the upcoming cross-government spending review.
With these assurances, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
I have received no requests for further short questions. Accordingly, I call the noble Lord, Lord Holmes of Richmond.
I thank the Minister for her full and thorough response, and all noble Lords who have taken part in this short debate. All I would add at this stage is that the Minister consider further whether there is anything in this space which could be considered for Third Reading. The Agriculture Bill provides a real opportunity to focus on such an important bedrock—as important as the soil will be the fibre which enables food to grow, economic development and the social and psychological well-being for farmers all across our rural communities. So I urge her to consider whether there is anything that can be brought at Third Reading. Also, will she consider convening a round table with colleagues from DCMS to see whether there are any further specific support ideas that can be deployed in this space? I once again thank noble Lords who participated and the Minister for her full response, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 44A withdrawn.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 45. 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, or anything else in this group, to a Division should make this clear in debate.
45: After Clause 16, insert the following new Clause—
“Continuing EU programmes: power to provide financial assistance
(1) The appropriate national authority may give financial assistance to—(a) a person who is a party to an agreement entered into in accordance with any of the following provisions—(i) the Rural Development Regulation,(ii) any legacy rural development provision, or(iii) Articles 32 to 35 of the Common Provisions Regulation (community-led local development), so far as relating to support for rural development,where the agreement has not concluded, or(b) a producer organisation implementing an operational programme approved in accordance with the producer organisations aid provisions.(2) In this section—“appropriate national authority” means—(a) the Secretary of State, in the case of an agreement entered into or an operational programme approved in accordance with any provision or provisions so far as having effect in relation to England;(b) the Welsh Ministers, in the case of an agreement entered into or an operational programme approved in accordance with any provision or provisions so far as having effect in relation to Wales;(c) DAERA, in the case of an agreement entered into or an operational programme approved in accordance with any provision or provisions so far as having effect in relation to Northern Ireland;“the Common Provisions Regulation” means Regulation (EU) No 1303/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 December 2013 laying down common provisions on the European Regional Development Fund, the European Social Fund, the Cohesion Fund, the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund etc;“legacy rural development provision” means any EU regulation, EU decision or EU tertiary legislation relating to support for rural development that preceded the Rural Development Regulation (including—(a) Council Regulation (EC) No 1698/2005 of 20 September 2005 on support for rural development,(b) Council Regulation (EC) No 1257/99 of 17 May 1999 on support for rural development,(c) Council Regulation (EEC) No 2080/92 of 30 June 1992 instituting a Community aid scheme for forestry measures in agriculture,(d) Council Regulation (EEC) No 2078/92 of 30 June 1992 on agricultural production methods compatible with the requirements of the protection of the environment and the maintenance of the countryside, and(e) Council Regulation (EEC) No 1096/88 of 25 April 1988 establishing a Community scheme to encourage the cessation of farming);“the producer organisations aid provisions” means—(a) Articles 32 to 38 of the CMO Regulation, which make provision about aid for fruit and vegetable producer organisations (“producer organisations aid”),(b) so far as relating to producer organisations aid, Commission Delegated Regulation (EU) 2017/891 of 13 March 2017 supplementing the CMO Regulation with regard to the fruit and vegetable, and processed fruit and vegetable, sectors, and(c) so far as relating to producer organisations aid, Council Implementing Regulation (EU) 2017/892 of 13 March 2017 laying down rules for the application of the CMO Regulation with regard to the fruit and vegetable, and processed fruit and vegetable, sectors;“the Rural Development Regulation” means Regulation (EU) No 1305/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 December 2013 on support for rural development.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment allows the Secretary of State, the Welsh Ministers and DAERA to continue to make payments where agreements and programmes are currently supported under an EU programme relating to rural development or fruit and vegetable producers.
My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendments 46, 107, 110, 111, 122, 123, 124 and 125 in my name. Following new legal advice from the European Law Group and the Office of Parliamentary Counsel, these technical amendments are being tabled to put beyond doubt that a body of retained EU law relating to multi-annual programmes under rural development and common market organisation will be created at the end of the implementation period, where this is not created automatically by virtue of the interrelationship between the withdrawal agreement and European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018.
Clauses 14, 15, 16 and their equivalents in the Welsh and Northern Irish schedules all rely on a body of retained EU law being created on implementation period completion day that can then be applied in domestic law and modified as required. Article 138 of the withdrawal agreement means that rural development programmes and some parts of the common market organisation will continue to operate under EU law after the end of the implementation period. However, Section 3(2)(a)(bi) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 prevents EU legislation that is directly applicable in domestic law as a result of the withdrawal agreement under Section 7A of EWA also becoming retained EU law. I am sorry about this, but I want to go into some technical detail so that it is very clear to your Lordships.
This created a legal doubt as to whether the legislation governing the relevant rural development and CMO aid schemes would roll over to become retained EU law. These amendments therefore put that question beyond doubt by ensuring that a body of retained EU law relating to multi-annual agreements and programmes in rural development and CMO will be created at the end of the implementation period. They also provide a payment power to continue paying existing holders of agreements or programmes once the EU funding ends. This power to pay does not depend on modifying retained EU law. Such a power is necessary to ensure domestic funding can step in when existing EU budgets are exhausted in circumstances where these agreements and programmes continue to be regulated under the withdrawal agreement.
As I said, these are technical amendments required to ensure the Bill works as it was originally intended, so that modifications may be made to existing programmes where appropriate, simplifications and improvements may be made to schemes and scheme beneficiaries can continue to receive payments. These government amendments are supported by, and made with the approval of, the devolved Administrations. That is most important and the schedules for Wales and Northern Ireland are at their request. I also emphasise that there is no change to the policy intent of Clauses 14, 15 and 16. I beg to move.
I call the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford.
Then we shall move on to the noble Lord, Lord Mann.
My Lords, I appreciate that I may be in a tiny minority in this House. I do not intend to press anything to a vote and I fully understand the detail and the logic of these amendments. But I heard the Minister refer on a number of occasions to manifesto policy at the election and, having in another life represented a 500 square mile rural consistency, I have taken the opportunity to see whether there was any misprint or printing problem in the election leaflets, because I saw or heard nowhere a proposal for retained EU legislation. It illustrates a rather different approach, albeit by consensus across political parties, when it comes to agriculture as opposed to, say, manufacturing industry and other areas of state aid. Of course, this is still one of the two unresolved issues for negotiation in advance of the forthcoming EU Council, although the detail on state aid has been less clear.
I do not recall anyone ever telling me when they voted to leave the European Union that they were voting to keep the common agricultural policy, albeit with a different name, or to retain through legislation, funding and priority the same systems, or indeed that there would be a seven-year transition period. Actually, I think I would sooner have supported leaving the European Union. Transition periods, even ones of seven years, may be very sensible. I am happy to have voted for a seven-year transition period, but I do not think that I am in a minority across the country in being wary of us adopting some elements of what the EU created and what some of us would regard as the worst elements, because the common agricultural policy was the most incoherent form of state aid, the most invalid and antiquated, and one that did not serve the future interests of this country. So I put it very politely to the Minister that I am not suggesting that he should be circulating leaflets saying that the Government are proudly retaining EU legislation and what goes with that in terms of funding, but there needs more thought in debate, particularly in relation to state aid, that what might serve one community might well serve another community. I am quite sure that steel communities, which are part of rural communities in many parts of this country, would be keen to hear similar principles being applied on an ongoing basis.
For some communities and industries, it is too late. There is no coal industry left to provide state aid to. When that was attempted, I led delegations to Brussels and to a range of UK Governments to try to get state aid to allow the few remnants of the coal industry to survive—not because we wanted coal as opposed to green technology but because we wanted British coal as opposed to Chinese or Australian coal. We would rather that it provided wages and employment in this country. We were wholly unsuccessful under the way the EU configured its state aid rules and the way we applied them in this country.
I end on this point: that consistency also comes to mind when I hear noble Lords across this House putting in their requests for the shared prosperity fund. When I had the honour in another life of representing a rural area with mining communities built in, I went into tens of thousands of homes and dealt with the most extreme poverty. I can tell the House that the poverty in rural areas was, and is, nothing compared with the poverty in former coal mining areas. They are a world apart in life opportunities, real standards of living, housing conditions, jobs and real prosperity.
More than anything else, my polite advice to the Government, who breached the red wall in precisely those kinds of mixed rural and former mining communities, is that if these mining communities do not get sufficient assistance, their economies will be strangled, and the Government and the party in power will pay a very high price for that misjudgment.
My Lords, I welcome these amendments. I have only two questions for my noble friend.
It concerns me that these amendments have been tabled at this stage. Why did we not know about this problem before? Why has it only just come to light on Report? It worries me that we might be letting other issues through.
Are there any other related programmes affecting other industries where primary legislation might be needed to cover the gap, as my noble friend is covering it for agriculture in this instance?
My Lords, I am pleased that my noble friend has tabled this group of amendments to clarify the legal situation in what seems a potentially vexatious area.
I want to place on record how dependent many heavily deprived rural areas have become on parts of the European rural development fund. To quote the noble Lord, Lord Mann, I want to place on record a bid to make sure that any offerings from the shared prosperity fund will include a heavy element of rural development and grants.
I also want to put a question to my noble friend the Minister. What will the natural end of these schemes be? I assume that they will be phased out. If the schemes are rolled over in the specific circumstances to which my noble friend referred, will they reach the natural end of their life by 2023? Will the LEADER programme and the other programmes that fall under the current rural development schemes—they have obviously had much funding from both EU and domestic funds—continue to benefit from the new ELM schemes? Is that the Government’s intention?
My Lords, this group of government amendments relates to the rural development regulation and would allow the devolved Administrations of Wales and Northern Ireland to operate once the EU programmes of financial assistance have ceased. It will be extremely important for the rural development regulation to continue and for fruit and vegetable producers to be supported.
As I understand it, the amendments would, under the withdrawal agreement, roll over both retained EU legislation to cover existing programmes and a large number of programmes on which the farmers of the devolved Administrations rely. They cover apiculture in Northern Ireland and Wales, and some consequential amendments cover England, Wales and Northern Ireland only; another includes Scotland as well.
As the Minister indicated, the devolved Administrations are in agreement with these amendments. I note the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Mann, on state aid and have some sympathy with them.
I generally welcome this large group of amendments. They give a lot of technical detail, as the Minister said. I hope that this will mean that slightly fewer statutory instruments follow on from this Bill. I also note the comments of the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, about whether this covers a gap and whether we should have known about it beforehand. Generally, however, I support all the amendments in this group.
My Lords, we welcome these technical government amendments, aimed at providing greater certainty over the state of legacy funding schemes and EU-derived legislation.
I appreciated the Minister’s technical explanations in his introduction. However, I would appreciate it if he could explain why these amendments have been tabled only at this late stage of consideration, given that the points they cover will have been on the department’s radar for quite some time.
A number of EU exit statutory instruments have been found to contain errors that have required correction by later instruments. Is there a mechanism for changes to be made to these provisions should any problems arise? We have spent a summer of U-turns, with a plethora of problems arising across government in a range of offices and service delivery and systems simply not working. Should it not be the case with good governance that problems are dealt with before they become a problem? I urge the Minister to use his expertise in these matters to look at these mechanisms again and ensure that changes can be made to the legislation in good time in this House.
My Lords, this has been a very helpful debate. I am most grateful to noble Lords for their general welcome for the amendments, although I want to deal with some of the points made. I will be the first to say that the perfect form is something we all aspire to, but I am afraid that we are all human.
I want to explain this matter precisely because my noble friend Lord Caithness and the noble Baronesses, Lady Wilcox of Newport and Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, made absolutely fair points. The advice from the European Law Group about retained EU law changed recently, prompting Defra lawyers to want to put beyond doubt that we can continue to pay beneficiaries under existing CAP schemes.
I would not blame the noble Lord, Lord Mann, if he was not listening to our earlier deliberations, but I explained on Tuesday that one reason why the Government were keen to start the transition is that we are the first to say that we do not think that the CAP has been directed properly or that it has given value for money on all the things we want to do. I am happy to send that reference to the noble Lord; we are clear that that is why we want a transition and want to start now. As for existing programmes, I also say to the noble Lord that this is about where people have entered into existing programmes in good faith. We want them to have the ability for that to continue, as the programmes were forces for good, and for those applicants to receive the funds that they thought were the case.
On a point raised by my noble friend Lady McIntosh, I say to noble Lords that part of what we will want to do in supporting the farming sector but also rural communities is that there will be financial assistance through Clause 1 and other clauses in this Bill for farmers. I emphasise that the whole essence of the UK shared prosperity fund is that “shared” means across the country. I assure your Lordships that this is the case everywhere I go; it means to former mining communities, rural, coastal, suburban and urban. It is a shared prosperity fund, and it will not be successful unless it is precisely that. I absolutely understand that it is important that all communities—certainly those that have been going through very difficult times over quite a long period of time and particularly in those areas where industrial change has been so acute—are included.
I am grateful to all noble Lords for their welcome for these measures. As I say, I have had to bring them forward because there has been a change of advice. As for my noble friend Lord Caithness’s question about whether there are other sectors, I try to master this brief but mastering other departments’ briefs might be a little difficult. However, I will send that message back.
As for the length of the programme—the “natural end” that my noble friend Lady McIntosh spoke of—I cannot say precisely for each and every scheme, but we have said that we will fulfil our promise to pay for those schemes that are in existence through domestic funding for the length of those particular schemes. I cannot comment on each and every scheme, but we say that we will back those schemes that have been entered into in good faith.
With those explanations—I will look at Hansard in case there are more technical details—I beg to move.
I have received no requests to speak after the Minister.
Amendment 45 agreed.
46: After Clause 16, insert the following new Clause—
“Retained direct EU legislation
(1) To the extent that any legislation within subsection (2), (3), (4) or (5) would (in the absence of this subsection) be prevented from becoming retained direct EU legislation on IP completion day by section 3(2)(a)(bi) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, section 3 of that Act is to have effect in relation to that legislation as if subsection (2)(a)(bi) of that section were omitted.(2) The legislation within this subsection is—(a) Regulation (EU) No 1305/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 December 2013 on support for rural development,(b) Regulation (EU) No 1310/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 December 2013 laying down certain transitional provisions on support for rural development,(c) any EU regulation, EU decision or EU tertiary legislation relating to support for rural development that preceded the Rural Development Regulation (including—(i) Council Regulation (EC) No 1698/2005 of 20 September 2005 on support for rural development,(ii) Council Regulation (EC) No 1257/99 of 17 May 1999 on support for rural development,(iii) Council Regulation (EEC) No 2080/92 of 30 June 1992 instituting a Community aid scheme for forestry measures in agriculture,(iv) Council Regulation (EEC) No 2078/92 of 30 June 1992 on agricultural production methods compatible with the requirements of the protection of the environment and the maintenance of the countryside, and(v) Council Regulation (EEC) No 1096/88 of 25 April 1988 establishing a Community scheme to encourage the cessation of farming),(d) any legislation made under the legislation in paragraphs (a) to (c), and(e) so far as relating to support for rural development—(i) Regulation (EU) No 1303/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 December 2013 laying down common provisions on the European Regional Development Fund, the European Social Fund, the Cohesion Fund, the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund etc, and(ii) any legislation made under that Regulation.(3) The legislation within this subsection is—(a) Articles 32 to 38 of the CMO Regulation, which make provision about aid for fruit and vegetable producer organisations (“producer organisations aid”),(b) so far as relating to producer organisations aid, Commission Delegated Regulation (EU) 2017/891 of 13 March 2017 supplementing the CMO Regulation with regard to the fruit and vegetable, and processed fruit and vegetable, sectors, and(c) so far as relating to producer organisations aid, Council Implementing Regulation (EU) 2017/892 of 13 March 2017 laying down rules for the application of the CMO Regulation with regard to the fruit and vegetable, and processed fruit and vegetable, sectors.(4) The legislation within this subsection is— (a) Articles 55 to 57 of the CMO Regulation (provision about aid for apiculture), and(b) any legislation made under that legislation.(5) The legislation within this subsection is the following, so far as it relates to producer organisations aid, apiculture or support for rural development—(a) Regulation (EU) No 1306/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 December 2013 on the financing, management and monitoring of the common agricultural policy,(b) any legislation made under that regulation, and(c) any EU regulation, EU decision or EU tertiary legislation relating to the financing, management and monitoring of the common agricultural policy that preceded Regulation (EU) No 1306/2013 (including—(i) Commission Regulation (EU) No 65/2011 of 27 January 2011 laying down detailed rules for the implementation of Council Regulation (EC) No 1698/2005, as regards the implementation of control procedures as well as cross-compliance in respect of rural development support measures,(ii) Commission Regulation (EC) No 1975/2006 of 7 December 2006 laying down detailed rules for the implementation of Council Regulation (EC) No 1698/2005, as regards the implementation of control procedures as well as cross-compliance in respect of rural development support measures, and(iii) Council Regulation (EC) No 1258/1999 of 17 May 1999 on the financing of the common agricultural policy).”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment ensures that legislation relating to support for rural development, fruit and vegetable producer organisations and apiculture that has direct effect under the Withdrawal Agreement in relation to existing programmes will also be retained direct EU legislation.
Amendment 46 agreed.
Amendments 47 and 48 not moved.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 49. I remind noble Lords that Members other than the mover and the Minister may only speak once, and that short questions of elucidation are discouraged. Anyone wishing to press this or anything else in this group to a Division should make that clear in the debate.
Clause 17: Duty to report to Parliament on UK food security
49: Clause 17, page 14, line 20, after “must,” insert “on or before the relevant day and”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment requires the first report under Clause 17 to be prepared on or before the relevant day. The definition of relevant day is inserted by a related Government amendment to mean the last day before 25 December 2021 which is a sitting day for both Houses of Parliament.
My Lords, I shall also speak to Amendments 51, 54 and 56 in my name.
I thank all noble Lords who contributed to the debate on this topic in Committee. I gave the matter considerable thought following your Lordships’ remarks then. The importance placed by noble Lords on the food security reports is shared by the Government. In Clause 17, the Government are making an important new commitment to analyse relevant statistical data by publishing a regular report on the crucial subject of food security. The food security report will be a significant body of work that will use a set of core measurements and indicators for each of the key topic areas. This will include a range of areas covering both global and domestic food security including, although not limited to, supply sources of feed, resilience in the supply chain and household food security.
As I set out in Committee, the Government have no intention of waiting until the end of that five-year period to publish the first report. I and other Ministers have listened closely to the points made by your Lordships and have been persuaded that there is merit in changing the frequency of reporting in the Bill to require reports to be published at least every three years. We have also been persuaded to include a duty in the Bill that the first report be published on or before the last sitting day before 25 December 2021 for both Houses of Parliament. This first report will include an analysis of statistical data relating to the effects of coronavirus on food security in the UK. The amendments that I have tabled reflect the importance of this new duty while maintaining the great benefit of allowing reports to cover long-term trends. I hope your Lordships will recognise that the Government have heard the feeling in this House on this issue and have acted. I beg to move.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 50 in my name. Attentive colleagues will have noticed that our Amendment 50 is very similar to the amendments now being proposed by the Minister. We are very pleased that the Government listened to our arguments on this issue in Committee. At that time we argued that, particularly in the light of the Covid experience, regular reporting on food security was essential. We know that when we leave the EU transition period there will be an even greater need for a focus on the reliability of the food supply chain and our capacity to guarantee that the nation will be fed, so regular reporting to Parliament is essential. It is good to see the Government taking this issue seriously.
I know there are other noble Lords who believe that the report should be published more frequently. We think this is a fine judgment, but on further reflection we continue to believe that a first report to Parliament within 12 months followed by every three years thereafter is the right balance. It would make the three-year report a substantial intervention rather than an annual routine occurrence, it would enable us to have a significant debate on the consequences of any shortfall, and it would ensure that the report stood out from the voluminous annual reporting cycle that Governments are required to issue without any real analysis. So we support the Government’s amendments, and I hope they show the true intent of the Government to make the food security reports a major contribution to future policy direction in this sector.
I also welcome the amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, who rightly raises the issue of “household food insecurity”. It is clearly important that any analysis of food security should look at the national picture but also at issues of distribution, equal access and food poverty of the individual. This is an issue that we hope to address in our national food strategy amendment, which we will come to later.
The amendment by the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, rightly flags up that measures on food security are meaningless unless there are also reliable sources of livestock feed available either domestically or through being imported. The amendment in the name of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans makes an important case for any food security report not just to be aesthetic analysis but to be a document with objectives and targets for the future.
All these amendments are making an important contribution to the shape and substance of any future food security reports, and I hope the Minister is able to take them on board in his response. In the meantime, we thank the Minister for his helpful amendments. We hope this is a sign of the seriousness that the Government will assign to these reports and any action that will need to follow.
My Lords, as we have heard from my noble friend Lady Jones, there is a great deal of agreement between the Opposition and the Government on the importance of the Government’s amendments. The only point that I would make in strong support of what my noble friend has said is that food security is such a vital issue and that things can, through unforeseen circumstances, change so rapidly that, if we are to make what we are attempting to achieve through these amendments effective, shorter time spans are not only necessary but absolutely essential. I hope that the Minister will be able to agree.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 50, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and to Amendment 53, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, both of which I have attached my name to.
I start with Amendment 53, which concerns adding household food insecurity to the matters on which the Government must report. As the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, noted earlier, adding to our remarks last week, although we can treasure the contribution of people who donate to food banks and the volunteers who work in them, food banks themselves are a national disgrace. No one should have to rely on charity to feed themselves. The government reports on food security and insecurity should also include not just what food is available but whether everyone has access to a full, healthy diet, and whether it is available to them financially, physically—I am thinking of things such as food deserts—and practically. On that latter point, do they have the cooking facilities and the energy they need to prepare the food?
On Amendments 50 and 52, I agree with an earlier comment that the question of whether the Government should report every three or five years is finely balanced. I welcome the fact that the Government agree that reporting every five years is not nearly often enough. I think that there is an argument to be made either way, although I can probably live with a three-year reporting cycle, and I hope it is something that we can get a real national focus on. Food security is one of the central roles of government—surely making sure that people do not starve has to be right up there.
I did a little survey of the news this morning, looking at what is happening around the world. I discovered that the Chinese corn crop is expected to fall by 10 million tonnes—nearly 4%—from the latest government estimates after heavy wind and rain toppled crops in major production areas in the north-east corn belt. That follows the events in America in August, when, across Iowa, 14 million acres of insured crops were damaged by what is known as the derecho—that is, conditions very similar to those experienced in China. I do not need to rehearse for your Lordships’ House just how difficult a year this has been for our farmers. The idea that we can simply rely on buying food on the global market is a very dangerous approach for all kinds of reasons, but food security has to be top of the list.
Just this morning I was at a Westminster Food & Nutrition Forum policy conference on the future of agricultural land use. There was a very interesting contribution from Adrian Aebi of the Federal Office for Agriculture at the Swiss embassy in the United Kingdom. I was interested to learn that Article 104 of the Swiss constitution provides that the agricultural sector shall sustainably make
“an essential contribution towards … the reliable provision”
of food and
“the conservation of natural resources and the upkeep of the countryside”.
Mr Aebi also informed us that the Swiss Government have clear targets for local food supplies and for improving diets, and they have expressed their intention of pushing towards a more plant-based diet for both environmental and human health reasons. I do not have the information to judge exactly where Switzerland might sit on a global league table of food policy but the UK clearly needs to do better. The Government keep saying that they want to be world leading in these areas, so we need to see clear targets from them on such things, particularly in relation to England.
It is interesting that reference to this issue is made in the Swiss constitution. Of course, we have our unwritten, accidentally accreted over many centuries, constitution that lacks such provisions. That is perhaps something to think about for the future.
I welcome the progress that we have made in this area. We have moved forward but we need to keep focusing on food security as a crucial part of government policy. Seeing all the work that is happening in your Lordships’ House on this issue, I am confident that certainly we will keep working on it.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for recognising that the House was very uneasy about there being a five-year period between the initial and subsequent reports. If I understood him correctly when he spoke to this group of amendments, the Government will report at least every three years. However, if, for example, there is a shortage of food supply at home and a big fall in our self-sufficiency from the current 60%, and if, at any time after 1 January, there is any threat to the level of food imports into this country that could cause a future shock or crisis, I hope that my noble friend will take the opportunity to review this matter and report more frequently than every three years. However, I thank him for listening to the House and to those of us who raised these concerns at Second Reading and in Committee.
I support the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans in his Amendment 57, to which I have appended my name. It would require the Government to specify food security targets and implement actions to ensure that those targets were met. I hope that my noble friend would in the course of natural events seek to do that in the reports to which he has referred.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for listening and I thank noble Lords who spoke in Committee about the need for more frequent reporting on food security. It is important that we have more frequent reports on food security. Only this year, the Food, Poverty, Health and Environment Committee, of which I am a member, published a reported entitled Hungry for Change. It detailed the need for regular reporting and to address inadequate supply chains, which will be exacerbated not only by Brexit but by Covid. We need to address the effect of this global pandemic on the current levels of food insecurity in the UK, the developing world and other areas on which we rely for food.
I also support Amendment 50, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, which I regard as probably an interim measure. I was happy to put my name to the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering. She and I well recall our time as members of the EFRA Select Committee in the other place, of which she was chair. The committee found that levels of food security and food insecurity were equally inadequate and required to be addressed. Perhaps now we are getting to grips with this issue, which will have been made worse by Covid and Brexit.
On food provenance, it is important that we know where our food comes from and that it is properly controlled. People should receive an adequate supply of food and should no longer have to resort to food banks. However, the reality is that many people rely on them. We have to try to ensure that people have access to the right benefits, and in that regard there should be a review of the whole universal credit system.
Will the Minister talk to his colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions to address the issue of food security? It is a global issue as well as a domestic one. We need specific food security targets to be set on an annual basis, although I welcome the move to a three-yearly basis. Relevant reporting to Parliament is also required every three years, although I would also prefer to see that on an annual basis. We have to see what is actually going on, and when we have witnessed that, surely Parliament, working with the Government, can take appropriate action to address deficits in both food security and insecurity.
My Lords, I thank those noble Lords who have supported my amendments and also the Minister, who has been listening long and hard to all of this. I feel that the Government have come a long way on the issue.
Household food insecurity is very different from national food security and we should measure both. I should say that measurements of household food insecurity are already being taken. The Family Resources Survey does this as a part of its work every year while the Food Standards Agency collects data on household food insecurity as part of the Food and You survey. These measurements are being made and while I realise that taking them every year seems like a lot, if you are hungry, three years will seem like an extremely long time.
Quite frankly, if you are poor and cannot afford to buy food, it does not matter to you if the supermarkets of Chelsea and Westminster happen to be well stocked for those who have enough money in their pocket. The Trussell Trust produced a report this week saying that by Christmas, it reckons that 670,000 more people will be coming to food banks as the furlough scheme is lifted. We have a great deal of household insecurity, which can lead to incalculable damage.
I thank the Government for this amendment and I support it, but I would like to keep the channels open. People cannot wait three years to find out whether the food system is going to be made better for them and their children.
My Lords, I shall speak briefly to Amendment 52 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, and then to Amendment 57 tabled in my name. I am grateful for the way in which the Minister has listened closely to the House and brought forward amendments. This is immensely helpful. On Tuesday, several noble Lords rehearsed the reasons we need the highest levels of food security possible, and I will not repeat those arguments now. Although I agree that this is a difficult call, my personal view is that annual reporting would be preferable. Nevertheless, I shall listen carefully to the arguments as they are made.
On Amendment 57, while I welcome the Government’s commitment to produce a regular report on food security, it is vital that this is a means by which Her Majesty’s Government can express their policy targets and mechanisms to address any issues in this area. Currently, the provisions in the Bill envisage a fairly static output that merely reports on the current food security situation rather than a more dynamic report which seeks to set out an agenda for change where change is required. There is little point in the Government merely producing a report of which Parliament is required to take note; we need a platform for evaluation, repurposing and, of course, to inform future actions. At the very least, it will be essential to ensure that food security targets are both met and monitored. Where the report indicates that there are issues with aspects of our food and environmental security, the Government must come forward with their plans and policies for addressing those shortcomings.
This amendment would provide the necessary architecture for the Government to take the matter forward and ensure responsibly that the UK is adequately prepared for any future uncertainties. It would be a failure if, having taken the time to consider the importance of having a food security report, we do not also ensure that it is used to inform changes in policy and procedures. A statutory requirement for Her Majesty’s Government is needed to address these issues and it needs to be included in this Bill.
My Lords, I support Amendment 53 tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, which recommends that government reports on food security should take into account measures of household food insecurity. As the noble Baroness has just pointed out, it would be anomalous if in isolation, on its own, some assessment of national food security were to have a good reading while at the same time, United Kingdom household food security might have a poor one. That inconsistency would be prevented by this amendment, which requires the Government’s report to consider household food insecurity alongside food security.
I am also in favour of Amendment 57, tabled by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans, on specifying food security targets so that thereafter, actions can be taken to ensure that they are met. The prescription within the amendment is irrefutable, for how can we proceed efficiently and competently if we do not state and specify targets in the first place? If we do not use targets at all, how then can we properly calculate any future level of progress and judge whether we have acted correctly to attain certain levels of food security in the United Kingdom?
I come now to Amendment 55 in my name on supply sources of livestock feed as an input to food production and the reliance on the food supply chain. As I pointed out in Committee, there are three major disadvantages from imported animal feed. First, these imports undermine the country’s food security. Secondly, there is the carbon footprint arising from their production and transport. Thirdly, there is the environmental damage which their cultivation causes in certain countries, notably soya beans in Brazil and Argentina.
In 2019, imports of animal feed broke a record by exceeding £2.4 billion. The feed is mostly soya or intensively produced grain being grown by companies that are responsible for deforestation in the Amazon. If we use feed from land that should be forest, we are adding to the destruction of an ecosystem which sustains our climate and biodiversity. Regarding the resolve to increase our own homegrown animal feed supply as much as possible, my noble friend the Minister has already referred to the Pulse Crop Genetic Improvement Network, a project due to end in 2023. Its aims include the production of better quality animal feed and to discover alternatives to imported soya beans. Based on the existing level of research, can my noble friend say what targets can already be set both for the reduction of imported feed and an increase in homegrown feed?
Meanwhile, United Kingdom importers could be encouraged to buy feed from countries that demonstrate similar environmental standards to those of the United Kingdom, and perhaps guided in this endeavour by international certification bodies. Does my noble friend agree with that? If so, what steps might the Government now take to buy from certain countries rather than others and to make use of international certification bodies?
My Lords, I speak in support of the amendment tabled by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans. What we are talking about is very important and it is heading in the right direction but the approach should be much more about management by exception, as they say in the private sector. Crucial targets and standards should be set and there should be reporting when things go wrong. It should not be a matter of waiting a year, two years or three years. There should be indicators and then the Government should report to Parliament when things are going wrong. It means doing that at the earliest time and saying what is being done to put it right. That is slightly similar to how, in the private sector, companies are required to give profit warnings if the track they indicate they are following is being deviated from. There should be a much more dynamic approach to this question. I would like to see standards set and reports produced when the standards are not being met.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for bringing forward his amendments on this issue. I would still prefer the reporting to be annual, but he has made a move towards us, and I will not dispute his suggestion of three years.
My noble friend Lord Dundee made some interesting and useful points about animal feeds and the damage caused when growing them in other countries, particularly in Brazil, as we have seen recently on television in the Attenborough programme. It is a matter of concern.
More generally, I am concerned about getting too detailed about food security. We must remember that a great many British farmers rely on exports, and if we are restrictive on our imports, it is going to be very easy for other countries to be restrictive on our exports. As the situation stands, I fear the EU could be extremely difficult about our lamb and beef exports in the not-too-distant future. That would have a profound effect on farming, and it is something my noble friend will have to be aware of. Overall, we are not doing too badly on producing our own food. We import an awful lot we do not need for our own diet, but we are lucky to be rich enough to afford it.
My Lords, I added my name to Amendment 53, of the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, in this group because it relates to food insecurity. The point I want to make today, when shortly we are to debate the whole of the food strategy with the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, is that the issue of food insecurity for our poorest households—but not exclusively poor households—is a whole food chain issue. That is why I was a bit disturbed on Tuesday, when it was suggested that this Bill was about the agriculture sector’s relationship with government and government subsidy or support to deliver public goods, expressed primarily in terms of farming’s relationships to the environment, the countryside, biodiversity in the countryside, animal welfare and, perhaps, the wider rural economy.
Those are all vital issues, but arguably the biggest public good is the contribution to the delivery of a safe, accessible and healthy diet to our population. That involves the relationships of farmers not just with the Government or the environment but the whole apparatus of the food chain with which farming trades. Together, they need to deliver an effective food strategy to improve our population’s diet, drastically reduce obesity and other food-related disorders and make healthy food available to all at affordable prices. Food insecurity exacerbates poverty and disease and explains, in large part, the escalating dependence on food banks. That is why we need a national food strategy.
Like others, I served on the Select Committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs. The work of that committee, together with that of Henry Dimbleby’s food commission, will hopefully form the basis of that new government strategy. But it will if society recognises the crisis of unhealthy diet is an important one we are all facing, which has to be addressed, in part, through the relationship between farming and the other key players in the food chain.
Much of the regulation on food focuses on farmers, who are generally small businesses, and final outlets—restaurants, cafés, food shops and takeaways—which are also, largely, small businesses. But the nature of the food chain—the economics of it and, to some extent, its whole regulatory structure—is determined by the substantial companies in the middle of the journey from farm to fork, such as processors, wholesalers and supermarkets. These sectors are highly oligopolistic, but their decisions affect the price and standards to which farmers produce, as well as the tastes of consumers and the price and availability of food. They influence via their advertising budgets and their store displays in a way that affects price, diet and the availability of healthy food. These industries spend 20 times more on advertising highly processed food and confectionery than they do on fresh fruit and vegetables. Farmers and consumers need fairer, more balanced, greener contracts as we trade throughout the food chain.
That is why, when we come to the amendments of my noble friend Lord Grantchester on the groceries ombudsman, I hope the House will support him. I will strongly support the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, in advance. I will refrain from speaking on those amendments myself, but Amendment 53 in this group does, by implication, raise all these issues.
My Lords, I rise to support my noble friend Lady McIntosh’s Amendment 52 and my noble friend Lord Dundee’s Amendment 55 concerning
“supply sources for livestock feeds as an input to food production and the resilience of the feed supply chain.”
Further to my Amendment 12, which did not find favour with the House, I believe the issue of food security is vital, having highlighted the UK’s lack of self-sufficiency in fruit, vegetables and potatoes in that amendment as well as the figure of 30% of our food coming from the EU.
Like other noble Lords, I welcome the Minister’s Amendment 50 to make reporting at least every three years, rather than every five. But, with the transition phase now ending and a volatile food supply possible if there is no trade deal with the EU, I believe that a report on food security every three years is still too limited, particularly when we are having continual cases of extreme weather and perhaps future virus outbreaks. I hope that in Amendment 51 this will be covered as a case for further reports more than once every three years.
My Lords, my interests in this Bill are published in the register. This has been a good debate. I wish to add my voice to those of other noble Lords in support of the Minister’s proposed amendments to Clause 17, which recognise the strength of noble Lords’ feelings, expressed particularly in Committee. That is why the Government have committed to publish the first report on food security before both Houses rise for the Christmas Recess next year, with successive reports in future every three years.
The first report will include the impact of the current coronavirus pandemic on food supply, which will be a critical aspect of it. It will give a particular and important emphasis to the report. As noble Lords will be aware, there is a wide range of statistical data on food supply and consequent security that is already made available annually. However, the whole point of the exercise is to evaluate the longer-term trends in these reports and recognise those in the sound compromise of a three-year cycle.
I may seem like a crowd cheerer for the Minister, but I believe that my noble friend should be thanked and congratulated on reading the mood of the House accurately and acting on it.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 51, in which I join the Government. It was an amendment I proposed in Committee, so I thank the Minister and Government for agreeing to it. I very much appreciate the reaching of a consensus on this point.
I echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. Farming is, obviously, key, and its main focus is the provision of food. It is important that the House has reached consensus on this point. I do not agree with the point made that we need a more regular food security report; it is proposed that it should be annual. An annual report will result merely in a cut and paste of data and little consideration. The three-year cycle is key, because you can pick up trends and some novel work can be put into the process between or during each reporting cycle.
Finally, with respect to food security, I caution that we should not merely focus on the volume of food available. High-volume, low-cost and low-quality food is exactly what we do not want; obviously, we want sufficient volumes of food, but it needs to be food of a quality that will keep this nation healthy. We have all seen over the past six months how important good health and good diet are to the nation’s ability to deal with this terrible coronavirus.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Earl, Lord Devon. This is a vital group of amendments covering food security, and I agree that the main purpose of our agriculture is to provide healthy, nutritious food. I welcome the Minister tabling amendments that require the first report on food security to be prepared before 25 December 2021, so long as it is a sitting day of both Houses. A further amendment requires reporting every three years. Others have tabled amendments pressing the case for more frequent food security reports.
I welcome the change in the Government’s position and thank the Minister for his introduction. I have added my name to Amendment 50 in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, the noble Lord, Lord Judd, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle. This is a similar amendment, which requires that the first food security report be laid within 12 months of the passing of this Bill. It is important that the first report on UK food security should be completed within 12 months of the implementation of the Act and every three years thereafter. The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, made a very powerful case for why it is important to get on with this matter. Food security is important to everybody in the country.
The noble Baronesses, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick and Lady Boycott, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans would like this food security report to be produced annually. We are all concerned about the state of food security, as we should be. However, I appreciate that the production of this report will be bureaucratic and is likely to take a good deal of data collection. I wonder whether the production of a yearly report would create such an administrative burden that the information contained in it would be insufficiently detailed to be meaningful. I look forward to the Minister’s comments on this.
On Amendment 53 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, it is important that household food security is considered. At the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, we saw huge food shortages being experienced by households, including those of people working for the NHS who were unable to get to the supermarkets at a reasonable time. As we approach a second spike, food security will again come into focus.
I support the comments of the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, on the impact of importing animal feed specially grown in what were previously rainforests in Brazil.
It is a terrible thing to be hungry. We are one of the richest countries of the world, and we must have robust measures in place to ensure that we can feed our own residents. Food security targets are one way to monitor this, alongside an implementation plan to ensure that targets are met. I fully support the comments of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans, and I support the Minister’s amendments and look forward to his winding-up comments.
My Lords, I should in the first instance have declared my farming interests, as in the register.
I am very grateful to all noble Lords for their contributions to this debate. I think there is a general feeling, even from those who would have preferred an annual report, that we have come to a good House of Lords consensus on this matter. I particularly want to acknowledge what the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, said in speaking to Amendment 50, and all those who supported that amendment.
I turn particularly to what my noble friend Lady McIntosh and others said about Amendment 52. I understand the desire to publish yearly. We feel that it is very important to allow sufficient time to observe longer-term key trends from a variety of sources. We do not think that this would be as well met if it were necessary to publish reports each year. Producing reports at least every three years will allow proper consideration of trends from data. This is what we will put into statute, but if circumstances required earlier reports, of course we would produce them. That is why we very much feel that a report next year, given corona and, indeed, any other circumstances, will be very important.
Such trends may include, for example, the cost of food commodities; the sustainability of natural resources required for food production and supply; and the diversity of entry ports into the UK for food and drink imports. Some of these trends are slow-moving and do not change significantly year on year, but they may well do so over a longer period. That is where we must have that degree of analysis.
I say to all noble Lords, although I am particularly mindful of my noble friend Lord Marlesford, on the continuing work and vigilance, if there are issues of concern, I—and, I am sure, ministerial colleagues in the other place—would want to bring them before the House if there were certain crises. When there have been issues of concern, whether flooding or resilience because of Covid, we of course want to air them and bring them, in my case, before your Lordships. This is a particular point for the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie: much data on food security will be available on an annual basis. Data that will be used in the food security report, such as the Government’s Agriculture in the United Kingdom, the Family Resources Survey and the Living Costs and Food Survey, are published and made publicly available annually. Of course, Defra officials routinely track to spot any unexpected or significant changes. That is all daily work. The reports required under Clause 17 will consider the data produced through these surveys, in addition to less frequently produced data, to provide deeper analysis to help us provide an accurate picture of the UK’s food security to support the development of policy for the future.
On the important matter of the topics to be covered by the food security reports, we shall draw on established statistics, such as those I have mentioned, but officials will also want to monitor new data sources and emerging issues.
On Amendment 55, I reassure my noble friend that the food security report will already cover—under Clause 17(2)(b), regarding UK availability and access—the capability of UK agricultural production of crops, livestock and fisheries produce. This will include the availability of inputs, such as animal feed products. I was very mindful of what my noble friend Lord Caithness said in embellishing on what we are seeing in certain parts of the world.
The noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, referred to keeping the channels open. As far as I am concerned, I will ensure that the channels she wishes to have open will be, to her and your Lordships, because this is a very important matter. I assure her that the Government will already consider household food security among the themes covered in the report. This is covered by Clause 17(2)(d), as household food security comes under “household expenditure on food”. We will consider the findings of these reports carefully and use them to help inform policy response and appropriate actions, along with anything before the report. Again, I impress on the House that this is not the only matter in this area. It is a continuing, daily issue that we need to work on.
In producing the food security report, the Government will set out analysis of relevant sets of statistics relating to UK food security, ranging from the global UN data to UK national statistics such as the Family Resources Survey. Food insecurity is an issue that we all must—and, I believe, do—take very seriously. I could bandy figures such as the £95 billion a year for working-age welfare benefits. Of course, we all recognise that there is more to be done but I would put it in this context: this is not about no resources going into it. What we all have to resolve is how we do it even better. The noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, asked whether I would take these matters back to the DWP. Of course I shall, because all departments want to do their very best to help people who are in extreme difficulties.
I turn to Amendment 57. I note that the report is intended to provide a detailed and evidence-based assessment of the current position and developing longer-term trends. Our food security depends on supply from diverse sources, with strong domestic production as well as imports from stable sources. I say to my noble friend Lord Northbrook that my figures are that we produce 64% of our entire food supply need, but that it increases to 77% for indigenous food that we can grow or rear here in the UK for all or part of the year. My understanding is that these figures have been pretty steady over the past 20 years.
My noble friend Lord Caithness made a good point: it works both ways. UK consumers have access to food products that cannot be produced here, or at least not on a year-round basis, through international trade. We definitely have a strong future in the export of our excellent, high-quality food. These imports from overseas supplement domestic production, while ensuring that any disruption from risks such as adverse weather or disease does not affect the UK’s overall security of supply. Indeed, the response by the food supply chain to the coronavirus from our domestic farmers and producers and overseas suppliers, along with the role of our distributors and retailers, has demonstrated that diverse sources of supply have helped ensure resilience.
The Government will continue to monitor all this data alongside the range of analysis in the food security reports to feed into the development of policy. This report must not be just worthy. It is all about how that report, and the analysis of it, feed into how we do things better. That development of policy will go across the wide spectrum of food security.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, that in the end this is about healthy food. Wherever that comes from, it is about having a good relationship and respect for the production of food. I hope that, given what we have done in the government amendments and through my replies to noble Lords, I have taken on board all the points made in this debate. Not only that; I will take back the varying comments that have been made as we all seek to do better. In the mean- time, with the reassurance I have given, I ask that Amendments 49, 51, 54 and 56 in my name be accepted.
My Lords, I have received no request from any noble Lord to ask a short question after the Minister’s reply, so I shall now put the question.
Amendment 49 agreed.
Amendment 50 not moved.
51: Clause 17, page 14, line 20, leave out “five years” and insert “three years thereafter”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment requires reports under Clause 17 to be prepared at least once every three years (instead of at least once every five years).
Amendment 51 agreed.
Amendments 52 and 53 not moved.
54: Clause 17, page 14, line 23, leave out “the report” and insert “a report under this section”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on the first Government amendment to Clause 17.
Amendment 54 agreed.
Amendment 55 not moved.
56: Clause 17, page 14, line 32, at end insert—
“(3) In this section “relevant day” means the last day before 25 December 2021 which is a sitting day for both Houses of Parliament.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment inserts a definition of “relevant day” into Clause 17.
Amendment 56 agreed.
Amendment 57 not moved.
We now come to the group consisting of Amendment 58. 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.
58: After Clause 17, insert the following new Clause—
“National Food Strategy
(1) The Secretary of State must, before the end of the period of 12 months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed, lay before Parliament a strategy outlining the steps that Her Majesty’s Government proposes to take to—(a) increase sustainability of food production,(b) support food production and consumption, and(c) improve dietary health and reduce obesity,in the United Kingdom.(2) In relation to the priority mentioned in subsection (1)(a), the strategy must include analysis of the merits of—(a) incorporating the environmental sustainability of food into the Eatwell Guide,(b) ensuring that domestically produced food meets environmental sustainability standards,(c) ensuring that food waste is minimised,(d) ensuring that public procurement meets both health and sustainability standards, and(e) providing increased funding for research and development into sustainable agriculture.(3) In relation to the priority mentioned in subsection (1)(b), the strategy must include analysis of the merits of—(a) supporting local and regional food identities,(b) supporting procurement of food produced in the United Kingdom where appropriate and sustainable, and(c) developing an assurance scheme for food produced in the United Kingdom to enhance consumer confidence in the safety, quality and sustainability of such food.(4) In relation to the priority mentioned in subsection (1)(c), the strategy must include analysis of the merits of—(a) ensuring the reformulation of less healthy foods using fiscal and other appropriate means,(b) restricting the marketing, promotion, and advertising of less healthy food both in retail outlets and through the media,(c) reducing food insecurity, food poverty, and obesity in the lowest income groups,(d) standardising and mandating food labelling relating to nutrition, and(e) improving children’s diets.(5) Before publishing the strategy under subsection (1), the Secretary of State must develop a standardised set of reporting metrics on health and sustainability across the food system by which progress on implementation of the strategy can be measured.(6) The strategy in subsection (1) must—(a) set out proposals for independent oversight of aspects of food policy covered by the strategy, and(b) consider whether responsibility for such oversight should be given to—(i) a new non-departmental public body, or(ii) an existing organisation.(7) In preparing the strategy under subsection (1) the Secretary of State must consult—(a) other relevant Ministers of the Crown,(b) the Scottish Ministers,(c) the Welsh Ministers, (d) the Northern Ireland Department, and(e) bodies that appear to the Secretary of State to represent the interests of the UK agricultural and food sectors.(8) In this section—“Eatwell Guide” means the United Kingdom’s national food guide entitled the “Eatwell Guide”, as produced by Her Majesty’s Government;“food waste” means waste of agri-food products by households or the food service sector;“less healthy food” means foods high in fat, salt and sugars.”
My Lords, I thank the Minister and his officials for spending time yesterday in discussion with all four of us who have signed this cross-party amendment. Amendment 58 seeks to put into the Bill something that the Government are already committed to doing. The Government have said that they are
“committed to ensuring our food system delivers safe, healthy, affordable food for everyone, regardless of where they live or how much they earn, and which is built on a sustainable and resilient agriculture sector.”
This is precisely the purpose of the amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, spoke eloquently a few moments ago about the nature of our food system. He anticipated a number of points that I will make in my short introduction.
The amendment would ensure that the Government put in place policies that will, in combination, help to tackle the dreadful burden of ill-health in this country that is caused by poor diet, particularly among the poorest in society. The Covid-19 epidemic has brought the cost of obesity into stark relief. The Government have spoken of it as a wake-up call. The new obesity strategy, launched on 27 July, is a very welcome step and an acknowledgment of the crisis we are facing.
The amendment would also ensure that our food system is more environmentally sustainable, underpinned by the latest science, while supporting farmers by encouraging local food, where appropriate. The fact that this country is one of the most depleted in the world in its biodiversity shows how unsustainable we have been up to now. I anticipate that the Minister will say in his reply that the Government have commissioned Henry Dimbleby to prepare a report on the national food strategy and are committed to publishing a White Paper within six months of his final report, and that this amendment is therefore unnecessary. However, this process may well take us into mid-2022. Any actions that follow would not only be uncertain; they might not arise until some distant future.
Fixing the failures in our food system is too urgent for further delay. If the disagreement is about not whether but when, let us get on with it now. Neither the children whose lives will be blighted by ill-health from unhealthy foods nor the environment that is being damaged by food production can wait any longer. I will listen carefully to the debate and the Minister’s reply but if he is not able to give a commitment to act sooner rather than later, I will wish to test the opinion of the House. I beg to move.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and it has been an enormous pleasure to serve on the committee of which he was the chair. I think that our report has been invaluable and is extremely thorough, and I know that, like him, we are a little disappointed by the Government’s reaction. However, also like him, I very much thank the Minister for the time he has spent with us.
It is roughly 12 years to the day since I began work as the chair of the London Food Board—appointed by our current Prime Minister, in fact. I have worked for many years in this area: I have loads that I could talk about and loads of things that I have done. However, despite all the effort of so many people working across the sector—charities, Governments, think tanks, consultancies, agencies, doctors and health departments—the situation has not got better. Actually, it has got worse.
Next week, the Food Foundation—of which I am a trustee—publishes the updated version of its annual publication, The Broken Plate. It makes for terrible reading. I will give the House just a few snapshots. Within food advertising budgets, out of a rough spend of around £300 million, 14% is spent on soft drinks, 17% is spent on confectionery, 17.7% is spent on snacks and just 2.9% is spent on fruit and veg. The poorest 10% of households would need to spend 76% of their disposable income to meet the Government’s recommended diet, the “eatwell plate”. Since last year, this has risen by over 2%.
If you are a baby born today, these are your life chances with the system we now have. At age five, 13% will be overweight and 9% will be obese. At age 21, 21% will be overweight and 25% will be obese. However, at 65, 22% will be overweight and a staggering 57% will be obese, and they will have a range of illnesses: diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancers and osteoporosis, as well as really bad teeth.
Why on earth do we let this carry on? I have been asking myself this question repeatedly for 12 years. I have also been involved in many measures to fix it: little moves that perhaps make something a bit better; bits of Sellotape over this problem or that problem. But the thing is—and this is why this amendment is so important—it is not about fixing one little thing here or another thing there; this is a system that is largely outside the Government’s control. As the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said on the previous group of amendments, it is a system run by a few very giant companies that have become very rich at our expense.
If you apply simple capitalism to the food system, this is what you get: sell more products made from ever-cheaper ingredients. It is easy to see it when you talk about clothes or cars, but it is also what we do with food, and these are the results we see around us. We have foods that contain chemicals, that have necessitated cutting down rainforests and that have deprived orangutans of their homes. In short, we have created a system that is out of control. What we have is the politics of the market and not the politics of health.
If we want to make proper improvements, we have to support this amendment. It is only by having a proper food strategy—one that cuts across government, involves all the departments and is treated with the serious attitude that it deserves—that we will make the proper changes that we need. When noble Lords are thinking about voting on this, I ask them to please remember that food is also the major driver of our biodiversity. That is why it belongs here in this discussion about agriculture.
It is not just that we are getting ill from our food system: insects are dying, while animals all over the world are losing their habitats. Right now, roughly 65 billion animals are sitting in some sort of cage somewhere on our planet, eating food that, as was said, often requires deforestation to make, and waiting to be killed and processed on the journey to our plates. This is a really lousy way to run such an important system. It is a tragedy, because nature gives us healthy food—amazing and extraordinary stuff. I believe that we all have a right to it, wherever we live and whatever we own. I beg noble Lords to support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs.
I very much welcome the requirement for a national food strategy being given a statutory basis, as outlined in this amendment. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, for having cooked it up—if that is not the wrong word to use about a food strategy amendment. I applaud its twin aims of environmental sustainability and health. I would probably add a further aim: the eradication of food poverty. As highlighted by Henry Dimbleby’s interim report, our most disadvantaged children are often those in receipt of the poorest diets.
Farming and food production has had, and continues to have, a huge impact on the environment, even where farmers are committed to good environmental performance and where mitigation measures have been put in place. Farmland birds and plants have suffered some of the greatest declines over the last 50 years: in the case of birds, there is on average a 48% decline among species, with some species declining by over 80%. Land use, including agriculture, accounts for 12% of our overall greenhouse gas emissions.
Food has a huge impact on health. One example is the rising tide of type 2 diabetes, which is a serious condition that is now the most prevalent cause of stroke, heart disease, kidney failure and adult blindness. Some 5 million people in the UK have diabetes and many more are at high risk of developing it. One in five people in a hospital bed has diabetes, and it consumes 10% of NHS resources. It is directly linked, primarily, to being overweight. Some 29% of adults and 20% of 11 year-olds are obese. One-third of all children leaving school, and a staggering two-thirds of adults, are now overweight. Diabetes causes 500 premature deaths a week—and that is every week. This is far more than the number of Covid deaths, apart from during that very high period in May, and yet very little song and dance is made about the appalling death rate. However, remission of type 2 diabetes is eminently achievable. Losing 10% of body weight can turn diabetes off, and for those at risk of developing diabetes it reduces their risk by 50%.
We urgently need a joined-up national food strategy to tackle these desperate twin challenges of sustainability and health. It needs to be joined up from food to fork, involving farmers, food manufacturers, retailers, schools, hospitals, employers, the hospitality sector and government procurement. I welcome the Government’s obesity strategy, but it shares with previous government attempts the qualities of being piecemeal and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, has outlined, shies away from really tackling some of the big players on the stage who have resisted moves towards a sensible food strategy.
The Government have indicated that they will produce a White Paper on food strategy six months after Henry Dimbleby’s final report next year, but we cannot wait that long, as both the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, have said. This amendment very sensibly enshrines a food strategy that hits the right targets, is joined up, is statutory and would be in place within 12 months. I hope your Lordships will support this amendment if it goes to a vote.
My Lords, I support this amendment. I hope it will go to a vote and that we will pass it, because it is so important and requires further discussion, and it would be very helpful for the House of Commons to have to discuss it.
This amendment is like the proverbial good pudding—it is full of good things or plums, or whatever you want to say. In particular, I pick out the question of food waste, which is such an important issue—everybody says it is important but nobody does a huge amount about it. How important it is to support local and regional food identities in the production of quality and diverse food. On restricting the marketing, promotion and advertising of less healthy food, I agree with everything that the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, has said.
There has been huge political, economic and commercial pressure in this country in recent years for cheap food. A lot of food in this country is in fact, by historical standards, incredibly cheap—but being cheap does not necessarily mean that it is good food. It can be: in Trawden, an old weaving village just up the valley from where we live, there was no shop left, but a group of volunteers got together to set up a community shop that provides an astonishing range of really good, diverse, nutritious food which is incredibly cheap. Of course, most of the staff there are volunteers; you can do it on that basis, but it is not a basis for everywhere.
On the other hand, in June, when I came down before the recess, the facilities here were not all that great, due to the position that we are in. So I called at a convenience store on the way in and bought a couple of what, from the pictures on the packet, looked like rather nice ready meals. I could not believe how ridiculously cheap they were—less than a couple of bags of crisps, really. I put them in the microwave in the pantry on our corridor and thought I would have my tea. I have not eaten such nasty food for a long time. It was awful. You can tell that I do not do much shopping, given that I was buying these things. Nevertheless, it was an eye-opener as to how nasty cheap food can be.
The problem is that people who are living on the absolute minimum income—the sort of people whom the Minister was talking about earlier, who rely on the DWP—have to buy the cheapest food that they can get, because of their circumstances. So, for the people who buy a lot of the cheapest food because they cannot afford more, not only is the food cheap, it is not good. This is so important.
This amendment, in a way, underlines the whole Bill. We have talked about food production; the environment in which it is produced; the effect of food production on the environment; the quality of food; the standards that will be applied to food that is imported and to the production of that food—and all the rest of it. But where is the food strategy itself? What is the Government’s view on the food strategy? The Minister spoke of “safe, healthy, affordable food” and was quoted again by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs. But we do not know what the present Government’s overall strategy will be when it comes to the trade-offs between incomes for farmers, quality of food, price of food and where it all rests with international trade. We are still waiting for the Government to tell us.
We know what the different systems can be. First, if farmers are to produce food in this country, they must have sufficient income—that is pretty obvious—but the question is how that income will be put together. We know that the existing CAP system, which is mainly, though not entirely, based on the area of land in a farm, will be replaced by payments for public goods. In Committee, I tried to tease out from the Government a definition of “public goods” but such a definition was not forthcoming. It means different things to different people, according to what they think is important. I think that access is an important public good; other people do not necessarily disagree but put more priority on other things—even I might put more priority on other things. What is a public good? Is the production of good, healthy, affordable food a public good or is it, as the Minister said several times previously in his replies on this Bill, a private good, because it is something that can be left to the market and the price that farmers and producers get for that food is a private, not public, good? There is a muddle about this.
You can put tariffs up, which is basically what the Common Market did originally. It protected the European farmers behind tariffs in order to provide food security in Europe. That then turned into production subsidies and a level of intervention in the market that resulted in the famous beefs mountains—which people out there still think are part of the CAP, although they disappeared long ago. Then it was all decoupled from production and the farm payments were based on land; that is the system that we have more or less got to now, with some environmental bells and whistles added. Now it is going to be decoupled from land and based on public goods. That is all very well, but none of that says what our trade relationships with other countries will be—the countries that we import food from and export food to—or what trade arrangements we will have. Deal or no deal, we will have arrangements with the European Union and with countries in the rest of the world. The nature of those arrangements and how they will work will have as much effect on the future of farming and of food—the price and what we get—in this country as everything in this Bill. They must be looked at together.
I would say that we need to concentrate on fair trade, health and well-being and environmental sustainability, putting the whole trade thing in the context of the environment. One of the best books I have read in the last year or two was Doughnut Economics, by Kate Raworth, an economist. She puts economics into the framework of society and the environment, rather than at the top. I recommend it to all noble Lords—and to the Minister. I hope he can tell us what our strategy for food will be in the future, in relation not just to all the things in this Bill but to our trading relationships with the rest of the world.
My Lords, I rise to offer the Green Party’s wholehearted support for this amendment. I reflect, as I did yesterday with the immigration Bill, that the current system of a maximum of four signatures does not allow the full breadth of cross-party support for an amendment to be shown on the Marshalled List. This is something that I may be raising with the House authorities.
I begin by returning to the words of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, in introducing this amendment: neither human health nor the environment can wait any longer. That made me think of Oral Questions yesterday when the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, in a supplementary question, asked the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park, where our peat strategy was. This is an extremely urgent climate matter. I heard the chief scientist from Defra reflecting this morning on how crucial this was, how the UN will soon be including peat emissions in its global calculations and how we need to act. Yet we are still waiting. We have no legislative framework and we do not know when we will get this delayed strategy. When we are talking about the food, health and diet of the nation and the well-being of our agricultural land, we cannot afford to leave this hanging.
It is often said that we are talking about creating, for the first time, a food strategy for England. Wales and Scotland have been well ahead of us in this area for many years—particularly Scotland. But we do have a food strategy. Our current strategy, although it is not written down, is to let supermarkets and multinational manufacturing companies decide what we eat. As the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, set out in her extremely informed speech—she is of course your Lordships’ House’s expert in these areas—how that has given us a truly dreadful diet and a truly dreadful environment. We have to give people the chance to eat well and healthily, which simply is not available to them at the moment through our current food strategy.
There are many good things in this amendment, but I want to focus on just a few of them. One of them is that it focuses on the need for standardised metrics. I am a little surprised not to see the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, who extolled the virtues of such an approach yesterday, speaking in support. The amendment speaks about restricting marketing. We all see how regularly ultra-processed food or junk food—call it what you like—is pushed on all of us, but particularly on our children. I ask your Lordships to reflect on when they last saw an advertisement for an apple or for cooking at home. The last time I saw that was a couple of years ago in Paris in a government advert there.
The amendment refers also to the need to fund research into sustainable food production. I hear again and again from the farming community and small producers of food how desperately they feel the lack of independent agricultural extension and advice. So much of the advice that is available to them is tied to the people who provide often very expensive inputs. This slants the way in which our food is grown. I have met many growers who are essentially forced to take all their advice on how to grow from the supermarkets, producing not in the interests of the land or of a healthy diet but in the interests of supermarket profits.
Another element of this excellent amendment is about improving children’s diets. I know that there is often a great throwing up of hands and a feeling that this is all too difficult, but I point noble Lords to the excellent HENRY scheme in Leeds, which offers a great case study of how parents can be helped to improve their children’s diet. It is very successful. Why have we not seen it already rolled out around the nation? It is something that this amendment could help direct the nation towards.
As is always the case when one supports an amendment that one did not write, I might write somewhat differently
“high in fat, salt and sugars.”
I do not think that phrase adequately identifies both desirable and undesirable foods, or the problems; “ultra-processed food” is perhaps a better identifier. However, that is a minor quibble with an excellent amendment setting out a framework which says to the Government, “This is a key role of your job as a Government and we need to see a food strategy for England as soon as possible.” I think that we have all been impressed by the work of Mr Dimbleby on the interim food strategy—that is lovely and could obviously feed a big part of producing the strategy envisaged in the amendment—but it is just one more privatisation. Relying on a private individual appointed by the Government with no legislative framework simply is not good enough for this crucial area. I urge all Members of your Lordships’ House to back this amendment.
My Lords, my heart always cheers when I see an amendment to any legislation by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs. He brings experience, wisdom, knowledge and insight in a disciplined way to our proceedings, and I thank him warmly for this amendment. I am also glad to see my noble friend Lady Jones in full support.
We can in this House sometimes sound a bit like a Greek chorus, wringing our hands about what is wrong, social evils and the things that are failing to deliver the kind of society we all claim to want to see. The great thing about this amendment is that it takes the opportunity of this Bill to bring in a comprehensive and disciplined way some muscle to what we are going to do—demanding plans for action in specific areas by specific dates.
I have just looked through the list in the noble Lord’s amendment and think of all the hours that we have spent in this House discussing these things:
“increase sustainability of food production … improve dietary health and reduce obesity”—
how we lament obesity, but here is a firm suggestion as to what we should do about it. The list continues:
“incorporating the environmental sustainability of food into the Eatwell Guide … ensuring that domestically produced food meets environmental sustainability standards … ensuring that food waste is minimised”—
the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, spoke powerfully on this point; I too become appalled and disgusted when I see the mountains of food that go to waste. The amendment further calls for:
“ensuring that public procurement meets both health and sustainability standards … providing increased funding for research and development into sustainable agriculture … supporting local and regional food identities … supporting procurement of food produced in the United Kingdom where appropriate and sustainable … developing an assurance scheme for food produced in the United Kingdom to enhance consumer confidence in the safety, quality and sustainability of such food … ensuring the reformulation of less healthy foods using fiscal and other appropriate means … restricting the marketing, promotion, and advertising of less healthy food both in retail outlets and through the media … reducing food insecurity, food poverty, and obesity in the lowest income groups”—
how we profess our concern about this grave social issue, but in the midst of our society we have these areas in which food insecurity, food poverty and obesity are so prominent.
I could go on, but I quote at length from the amendment because the points in it need to be spelled out for all to hear. I am very glad that the amendment has been moved. It is a helpful way of bringing the production of food and the whole system of agriculture into a direct relationship within a comprehensive strategy for dealing with many of the social and immediate problems which confront us. It is a terrific amendment and I shall be glad to support it.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, on moving this amendment, which on the face of it has much to commend it and covers a wide-ranging issue. In his introduction, he stated that he wanted to put in the Bill what the Government are committed to doing to deliver safe, healthy and affordable food to all. I cannot imagine that any Member of your Lordships’ House would disagree with that.
We are very fortunate to benefit from the expertise and knowledge of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, who is, of course, a member of the advisory panel on the national food strategy, and indeed the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, all of whom have signed this amendment.
The noble Lord also went on to say that the Government are committed to publishing a White Paper six months after the publication of part 2 of what I call the Dimbleby report on the national food strategy. After that, Mr Dimbleby is invited to review progress six months later. My concern with the amendment, and I look forward to what the Minister will say in summing up the debate, is that it pre-empts part 2 of the national food strategy. It is not always that I say this, but again I commend the Minister in this regard, because the Government seem to be on the side of the angels and have commissioned Henry Dimbleby to produce his report. I pay tribute to Mr Dimbleby and all those who have contributed, such as the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, Minette Batters and a host of others who have huge expertise and add great value in this field.
I understand, looking at the first part of the national food strategy, that the recommendation covers two main themes: making sure that a generation of our most disadvantaged children do not get left behind, that eating well in childhood is seen as the very foundation stone of equality and opportunity, and so it goes on; and then the second part of part 1, which I am going to draw on heavily when I come to later amendments. Mr Dimbleby talks of the essence of sovereignty being freedom, saying that this is a one-time opportunity to negotiate our new trade deals, that the Government must protect the high environmental and animal welfare standards of which our country is justifiably proud, and so it goes on.
So I am slightly confused, because I do not disagree with one iota of what is in this amendment. But there are many issues that I have found cause to criticise the Government on, and my noble friend has been patient in the extreme in listening to this, both outside and inside the Chamber, and I thank him for that. But when the Government have gone to the lengths of commissioning a national food strategy, are we not being a little pre-emptive in Amendment 58 before the House this evening?
My Lords, I support Amendment 58 on the national food strategy in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, connecting as it does to the useful Amendment 53 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, which we have just debated and which recommends that government reports on food security should include assessments of household food insecurity.
As has been said, healthy food and a healthy environment are central to the Bill; therefore, it would be consistent with the Bill if the Secretary of State should present a food strategy to Parliament. As the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, has indicated, its aims should be to increase sustainability of food production, to support food production and consumption and, not least, to improve dietary health and reduce obesity. I hope the Minister will back this proposal.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, took less than three minutes to move the amendment. I hope to copy that and avoid some of the Second Reading-type points that I have just been listening to.
The new clause is titled “National Food Strategy” and I think the word “national” is important. I shall touch on only three points. Subsection 2(d) concerns public procurement. We do need central control to do something about public procurement. We have devolved so much to bodies such as schools, prisons, the MoD and the NHS in terms of the budgeting. Trying to get national policy without dictating the detail to them is very difficult and needs a cross-government effort. I know how difficult it is to do because I tried and failed. So that is one issue.
My second point concerns paragraph 3 and “developing an assurance scheme”. There needs to be a good government kitemark assurance scheme. To be honest, what we have is not satisfactory, whether it is Red Tractor or the RSPCA. They are all over the place. The public need to have something they can be absolutely confident about, and I therefore think that an assurance scheme that the Government have developed —in consultation, obviously—would carry an awful lot of weight.
My third point concerns the fourth paragraph, on marketing and promotion. Something like 40% of the food in the supermarkets is on promotion. On restriction, I am also in favour of the voluntary changes in reformulation. When I joined the Food Standards Agency, it was almost at the end of its programme to launch the reformulation to reduce salt, which was on a voluntary basis and was incredibly successful. The UN supported it at its conference in London because of the work of the FSA. That work was then removed to the Department of Health behind closed doors by the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, and that was the end of it, in a way. The reductions we have had are nowhere near as good as in the past.
That brings me to my final point. Much of what was required on obesity, and changing the attitude to promotion and marketing, was set out years ago. I only reluctantly mention the names of civil servants, but they have said things in public. Dr Alison Tedstone of Public Health England, who was formerly at the FSA, had all this planned out. She spoke to all-party groups about it when Theresa May was Prime Minister. Theresa May dumped it all—absolutely dumped the programme in terms of advertisements before the watershed and the obesity programme for children. So it is all there; we do not have to invent anything.
My final point ties in with what the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, said. I have been in the Minister’s place, getting up to say to the House, “Well, it’s in the Bill, we’re going to do it, you’re pre-empting something”, when deep down I really know that if I can get this in the Bill, it will be so much easier when I am back in the department to actually get the policy through. Because I do not believe the timetable that has been set out following Dimbleby 2 can be maintained unless there is a real parliamentary push, and the way to do that is to adopt Amendment 58.
My Lords, I too had the privilege of sitting on the committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs—the Food, Poverty, Health and Environment Committee—and I am grateful to the Government for their response to our report. I would classify it in English as “disappointing,” in Scottish as “peely-wally,” and I think the amendment before us goes a long way towards implementing what was unanimously agreed in the report. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, that to have it in the Bill now is the right way forward to help Defra in the future.
The quality of the food we eat is costing us all billions—costing this country a great deal of money, and unnecessarily. We are the processed food capital of Europe, and that is a number one spot that we should not be holding. It was the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, who said that we want to encourage the production of good, healthy food. I argue that the farmers do produce good, healthy food now: it is the industry, as the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said on the previous group of amendments, that turns decent, good food into the poison that we are fed by supermarkets—all this ghastly processed food. Some of it is absolutely delicious, and you have to go for a second helping, but it is poison: it is doing us no good and it is costing the NHS, in due course, one heck of a lot of money.
So it is the industry. I remember that on one occasion we were interviewing Judith Batchelar of Sainsbury’s and then the British Retail Consortium. I pressed hard and it took a long time to get a final answer from Judith Batchelar, but she did finally say that Sainsbury’s would not sell chlorinated chicken. The British Retail Consortium, on the other hand, said, “Oh, no, we have no control over our members”. In other words, “We are not going to say anything, and we are certainly going to produce the cheapest food that we can find on the market.” The industry will be called to the table kicking and screaming against any change.
As so much of the food we eat is either fast food or from restaurants, we have absolutely no idea what we are being served. It is one thing to buy something with a label on it in a supermarket or a shop, but it is quite another when we eat outside our home and have absolutely no idea where the food comes from.
On a point of nitpicking detail with the amendment, I would have liked in subsection (4)(d), on food labelling, to have included the effects of climate change. I mentioned this quite a lot in Committee, and I hope my noble friend has read the book by Professor Bridle that I recommended to him, or at least his officials have and given him a precis of it.
Another point we raised in Committee which is hugely important to the whole of our national food strategy is what I would term Whitehall governance. It is not just Defra; there are numerous departments within government that are all involved in the food we eat, whether it is education—through schools—or the National Health Service, or whoever it is. Whitehall governance has also got to improve. It was quite clear from the number of Ministers we had to interview to get any sort of idea of what the Government were trying to do that it is not a joined-up process.
I believe this amendment would go a long way to push that in the right direction. I do not think my noble friend Lady McIntosh is right in saying that it will pre-empt part 2; it will strengthen the Government’s hand when part 2 is published. By that stage, the Government will be a little bit more ahead of the game than they are at the moment.
My Lords, this amendment would include in the Bill a new clause introducing a national food strategy. I understand that Henry Dimbleby’s team will publish part 2 of their review before the end of the year, and that the Government have committed to publish a White Paper within six months of that. I therefore believe this is the wrong place and the wrong time to try to legislate, as proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs. However, I do agree with many things he said in his introductory speech. In this instance, I tend to agree with my noble friend Lady McIntosh rather than my noble friend Lord Caithness.
I believe that the best way to encourage people to improve their diet and reduce the problem of obesity—which seems to me also worthy of being described as a pandemic—is to produce policies that will maximise prosperity for all. The lower the proportion of household income that basic necessities such as food account for, the more people will choose to buy higher-quality and healthier food products. The creation of another non-departmental public body with powers to influence food policy, including the reformulation of less healthy foods by fiscal means, would run the risk of creating a vast, unaccountable bureaucracy, which would cause distortions in the market.
As noble Lords are well aware, the economy has been badly hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, and unemployment is rising. Does my noble friend the Minister not agree that it is the wrong time to restrict the marketing, promotion and advertising of what the amendment calls “less healthy foods”? Surely it is not good for your health to eat large quantities of certain foods, but modest consumption of many foods containing salt does not harm most people in any way. I worry that a new body, or an existing organisation, that the noble Lord wishes to have oversight of these matters might overstep the mark, besides the obvious risk of tempting the nanny state to be overzealous, which would reduce personal responsibility for matters such as choice of diet and possibly even have counterproductive results.
I think that Henry Dimbleby’s national food strategy can make an important contribution to public understanding of the importance of diet. However, the best way to ensure that a wide range of healthy food is available at reasonable prices is to ensure that our food markets will be free of the distortions that exist today as a result of our membership of the common agricultural policy.
My Lords, I wish to speak to this amendment, to which I have added my name, along with the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Boycott and Lady Jones of Whitchurch. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, for so excellently setting out the rationale for this amendment, and I declare my interest as the mother of a dietician. I am grateful to the Minister for his time, and that of his officials, in providing briefings.
In Committee we had a long debate on this issue, with a large number of speakers raising the issues around the need for a national food strategy. We were headed off by the Minister on the grounds that we were waiting for Henry Dimbleby to produce his first report. This has now happened, and I agree with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, that this is unlikely to be actioned without something in the Bill.
I am sure the Minister will again try to head us off by wanting to wait until part 2 of Henry Dimbleby’s report is produced some time next year—it will not be produced this year, as the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, thinks. After the second report has been produced and digested, the Government have promised to produce a White Paper consultation on the food strategy within six months. After that consultation, a food strategy will appear at some time, but this could well be in 2022. I ask the Minister to give some clarity on the timescales in his response.
There cannot be many in the country who do not know that a healthy diet and exercise are vital if we are to avoid the rigours of diabetes and obesity or avoid falling victim to Covid-19. However, for many people, knowing that a healthy diet and exercise are needed does not necessarily mean that they fully understand what a healthy diet is, what foods they should avoid and which they should eat more of. Other noble Lords have produced really frightening statistics on the health of the nation.
The amendment is specific: nutritious, healthy food must be readily available. The rise in the popularity of television cooking programmes shows that people are interested in the preparation of interesting-looking food made from fresh ingredients. However, many TV adverts we see scheduled, especially from large supermarket chains, often feature food that is high in fat, salt and sugars, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, has referred.
Beefburgers are a prime example. To me, the images on the screen are not that appetising, but I am sure that for those who regularly consume beefburgers, they are enticing and encourage them to fill their supermarket baskets with them. There is nothing wrong with beefburgers, eaten occasionally, made at home with fresh meat and without the addition of salt and sugar. However, when eaten on a daily basis, as they will be in some households—especially those who are on low incomes and cannot afford electricity to cook meals, and find it easier to go to the takeaway— they do not improve life chances. My noble friend Lord Greaves has given examples of ready meals and their quality, and I am sure that most of us have had one of these at some stage in our lives. Getting manufacturers to reduce the amount of fat, salt and sugar is key to improving diet—the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, has said it all so much better.
In this House, we have a duty to do all we can to improve the diet of the nation. As I said at the beginning of my remarks, my daughter is a dietician and frequently says to me, “What are you doing about it?”. Alone, I cannot do a great deal, but together we can make a difference. This amendment is one way in which we can make a difference. On our virtual Benches we will support the noble Lord, Lord Krebs. I urge your Lordships to support this amendment, and I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I am pleased to have added my name to this amendment, so ably introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, and I thank all noble Lords who have added their support in this debate.
In Committee we tabled an amendment calling for a national food plan to complement the previous clause on food security, and we had a very useful debate which highlighted the need to anchor a food strategy to the funding of farming for the future. Since then, considerably more thought has gone into what the shape of a national food strategy should be, and we believe that this amendment sets out a clear road map for the future. As the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, made clear, it was well informed by the excellent Lords report Hungry for Change: Fixing the Failures in Food, a substantial piece of work which highlights the need for action in many of the priorities set out in this amendment. It makes the link between the food we grow, the environmental impact and the public health consequences of a poor diet and emphasises the need for a standardised set of reporting metrics on health and sustainability as well as an adherence to procurement standards. It also calls for the establishment of a national food strategy, backed up by the establishment of an independent body, analogous to the Committee on Climate Change, with responsibility for strategic oversight of its implementation. That is what this amendment seeks to deliver.
I have to say that the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, seemed determined to ignore all the evidence, which shows that a lack of access to healthy food, along with poor diets and poverty are driving up levels of diet-related obesity and non-communicable disease. This adds something in the region of £6 billion a year to the NHS bill. There is a cost to this nation from inaction and a benefit to the agricultural sector if we can shift the solution to healthier food production and away from ultra-processed food. The Government need to address these issues.
In parallel with the work of the Lords committee, we know that Henry Dimbleby has also been working on a national food strategy. His interim report was published in July, and a more substantial final report covering many of these issues is due next year. We welcome that initiative. The Government have committed to publish a White Paper within six months of its publication and to follow up the recommendations, which is obviously a welcome step forward. However, there is no obligation on the Government to agree or to enact his proposals, or indeed to follow up the recommendations in our own Lords report. My noble friend Lord Rooker rightly reminded us that Governments have form on not following through on excellent reports of the past. Our amendment therefore seeks to provide legislative assurance that these proposals will be followed up with actions.
I say to the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, that we are not attempting to pre-empt or prejudge what the recommendations will be; we went to great lengths not to do that. We are asking only that the Government take them seriously and come up with their own food strategy within a set timeframe. Our amendment requires that the strategy be laid before Parliament within 12 months of the day that the Bill is passed, which we believe is reasonable and achievable. As the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, made clear, it is too urgent for any further delay.
For all the reasons articulated by noble Lords, a national food strategy, based on the issues set out in our amendment, is vital for improving the health of the nation. It is essential that our future agricultural policies are aligned with policies that deliver healthier food to feed the nation. It is a fundamental responsibility of government to act on this issue and to ensure that its agriculture, environment and public health strategies are all joined up on this issue.
I also thank the Minister for his helpful meeting yesterday. We had hoped to persuade him to make this a government amendment, and I still hope that we have persuaded him and he can make that commitment today. However, if that is not possible, I ask all noble Lords to support this amendment if it is put to a vote.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords. I am well aware of the mindset of many of your Lordships, having had discussions with the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and other noble Lords yesterday, as well as from what has been said today.
However, I open by saying that the Government are committed to developing a food strategy. I thought that in some of the contributions it appeared as if this was not the case so I point out that commitment, which will support the development of a sustainable, resilient and affordable food system, support people to live healthy lives, and protect animal health and welfare. I say to my noble friend Lord Dundee—without any chiding—that that is why the Government have already commissioned an independent review into the whole of the food sector. The review was launched in June 2019, and in July this year the first report was released, dealing with some of the most urgent questions raised by Covid-19 and EU exit.
The final report from Henry Dimbleby’s review is expected to be published in 2021. It will provide an opportunity to analyse the food system in this country and put forward—yes—an ambitious and comprehensive plan for transforming it. Although it will be for the independent team to develop its final report, it will examine the food system from root to branch, analysing in detail the economics and power dynamics that shape it, the benefits it brings and the harm it does. In doing so, it will look across the interwoven issues of health, climate change—mentioned by my noble friend Lord Caithness—biodiversity, pollution, antimicrobial resistance, zoonotic diseases and the sustainable use of resources.
The Agriculture Bill is a framework Bill, and it is unusual to put detailed commitments into this enabling legislation. The Government have been very firm on their commitment to publish a food White Paper within six months of Henry Dimbleby’s final report—my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering referred to that. It is only reasonable to say that we will need that time to reflect and secure agreement from all government departments ahead of Henry Dimbleby’s final recommendations.
We must also be careful not to pre-empt the contents of the final report, providing the independent team the opportunity to assess independently which measures would be most effective for our food system. Specifying what the White Paper must cover at this stage brings with it the risk that it directs thinking in a certain way, which could lead to new and innovative ideas being missed. It would therefore be premature to set out exactly what the Government’s food strategy must cover in the way that the amendment prescribes. The Government also have an issue with fixing a timetable without certainty on the publication date of the final report.
I also see this amendment in the context of the food security reports. Matters such as food supply and consumption, food safety, the resilience of the supply chain for food and household expenditure are already stated as being within the scope of these food security reports. The first report is be published on or before the last sitting day before Christmas for both Houses of Parliament. This report will also include an analysis of statistical data relating to the effects of coronavirus on food security in the United Kingdom, which was a key focus of the first report from the national food strategy. These reports will therefore certainly support the development and fulfilment of an ambitious food strategy.
I am also grateful for the Hungry for Change report, published this July by our Select Committee on Food, Poverty, Health and the Environment. We will of course be building on a wide range of work as we develop our food strategy, including that report and many others.
I will cut in here and say that the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, mentioned diet, but only one noble Lord referred candidly to exercise: the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, obviously has a lifetime’s commitment to access and walking. Again, this is not just one thing but a combination of many issues that we have to grapple with.
Tackling public health and food issues properly requires a joined-up and practical approach across government departments, which goes beyond this Bill alone. During the Covid crisis, collaboration between government departments has been vital to ensuring that the food system receives the required support. We set up a joint ministerial food and essential supplies to the vulnerable taskforce, and throughout the crisis this example of cross-government working ensured that vulnerable people had access to food.
We are committed to continuing this level of collaboration and engagement across government to develop and deliver a new food strategy, as will be set out in the White Paper. I say to my noble friend Lord Caithness, for example, that Defra is already working with the Department of Health and Social Care and others to ensure that improving public health is a core priority of government policy.
Covid-19 has brought the risks of obesity and other health issues into sharp focus. As we all identify, it is more important than ever that people achieve a healthier lifestyle. The Government launched their new obesity strategy on 27 July to set out practical measures to get the nation fit and healthier, 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.
The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, referred to his concern about “sooner or later”. I understand that, of course. There is an imperative about the Government’s work in seeking out Henry Dimbleby to bring this forward, and our promise remains to bring forward a White Paper within six months of the final Dimbleby report. If we are on target, Royal Assent to this Bill is probably in October. Advancing this amendment, we are voting, if that is noble Lords’ wish, for something the Government will have to reject in the other place in the end—I must not conjecture on what the other place will do—because of the timing.
I say honestly, and can commit this across government, that I am fully confident that the plans already in place by the Government to develop a comprehensive food strategy will deliver the intent behind this very laudable amendment. There are issues, as in all these things. My noble friend Lord Caithness said he would have liked this or that. There are issues in putting something in the Bill now, but I think we are all united in wanting to ensure that our food system is fair, affordable, healthy and sustainable.
I understand the mood of the House. I think I assess the mood of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, although I must not pre-empt him. I ask him to withdraw his amendment because of the points I have made genuinely. The Government are developing a food strategy; it is an issue of timing. The noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, has been engaged in the Dimbleby report. She, more than anyone else, can confirm that this is a report of the utmost depth and rigour. The Government will want to have at least six months—or within the six months, as I have said—to make sure we get cross-Whitehall collaboration to bring forward something of lasting value to every person in this country.
My reasoning for asking the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, to withdraw his amendment is not to reject his and other noble Lords’ very distinguished role in bringing this matter forward but to be honest in saying that I think there are difficulties because of the timing. I respect whatever the noble Lord does, but that is why I ask him to withdraw his amendment.
I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate and the Minister for his careful and considered response. Overall, there has been very strong support for the amendment, with some excellent speeches. I will mention just a few points; I cannot really do justice to them all.
My noble friend Lady Boycott made the important point that, in spite of all the efforts made in recent years, things are still heading in the wrong direction. The Food Foundation’s Broken Plate report highlights some stark statistics to support this. The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, also emphasised the urgency and pointed out that the current strategy is to let the industry rip. She also highlighted, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, the importance of metrics and measurements to ensure that we know whether we are moving in the right direction.
The noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, spoke eloquently on type 2 diabetes and the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, on food waste. As the noble Lords, Lord Judd and Lord Rooker, said, this amendment brings muscle to matters we have discussed many times. With his ministerial experience, the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, put it like this: the Government have been sitting on it for years. We know what needs to be done but simply have not been acting on it.
There were those who invoked the infamous principle of the unripe time: the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, and the Minister. As I—and, I believe, others—have said, the principle of the unripe time is always a way of putting things off. This problem is too urgent to defer indefinitely into the future. As the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, said, when people put it to us, we have to ask ourselves, “What have we done about it? What are we doing about it? Are we content to sit on our hands, delay and wait for Dimbleby’s report and whatever the Government may do afterwards, or are we determined to try to press for action now?”.
As the Minister said in his very careful and considered response, the Government are committed to the development of a national food strategy via the Dimbleby report and it will be a thorough report—but we have heard no guarantee that the report will be implemented in full, nor that there will be some long-term independent oversight of the implementation of the strategy. Although the Minister has done his very best to reassure us and to give as strong a commitment as he can, for me— and, I believe, many other Members of this House— the issues are of such urgency that we cannot wait. I therefore wish to test the opinion of the House.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 59. 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, or anything else in this group, to a Division should make that clear in debate.
Clause 18: Declaration relating to exceptional market conditions
59: Clause 18, page 15, line 1, leave out paragraph (a) and insert—
“(a) there is an acute or chronic disturbance in agricultural markets or a serious threat of an acute or chronic disturbance,”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment will ensure that financial assistance can be provided to the farming industry in England at times of crisis caused by natural phenomena that lead to chronic problems in addition to the acute economic problems already covered by the Bill.
I declare my interests as a farmer and landowner, as set out in the register.
I welcome the provisions in the Bill that will allow the Government to provide financial assistance where there is a disturbance to markets for agricultural commodities causing producers to face reductions in income. However, I am concerned that the Bill unnecessarily constrains the Government from acting in all relevant circumstances. The Bill as presented to us will not provide the Government with sufficient ability to intervene in markets where disruption has been caused by environmental factors such as weather—for example, drought or flood, both of which we have had examples of in recent years.
I have taken on board the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Bloomfield, when similar amendments were debated in Committee and, while I agree that farm businesses need to take responsibility for resilience and sustainability as far as they can, we are looking here at events which are, generally, one-off events which occur outside the control of the farmers affected. For instance, in the case of floods, the farmer has no input into the maintenance of sea walls and other major flood defences.
I am aware of past suggestions that farmers should look to use some form of insurance facility to cover those eventualities but, in reality, such insurance is either unavailable or accessible only at disproportionate cost. In other countries, Governments have offered such insurance, but this has proved extremely costly to the taxpayer and has encouraged moral hazard.
There are also farming disasters which continue on a chronic rather than an acute basis, such as animal disease—for example, bovine TB. The Bill provides only for acute circumstances. In highlighting the issue of chronic or long-running issues, the amendment does not require the Government to intervene in those widened circumstances but provides a mechanism for the Government to do so if it believes it necessary. This seems an entirely sensible approach within an enabling Bill, which contains so much about providing the Government with powers to act when necessary. I emphasise that this amendment provides a power, not a duty.
Although the Minister indicated that the objective of the Bill’s provisions is to deal with acute rather than chronic issues, I believe it would be a major missed opportunity not to include power to deal with chronic issues within the legislation. Without the power to intervene in markets where environmental or chronic issues prevail, the Government could be rendered impotent in responding without bringing forward further primary legislation. Surely it must be better to ensure that the powers are available in the Bill on a forward-thinking basis rather than belatedly having to take them when an issue needs to be addressed. I beg to move.
I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, on tabling these two amendments, both of which I support; I am delighted to have co-signed Amendment 108.
I have just one question. I spoke at some length in Committee, and my noble friend the Minister was generous in her closing remarks in that debate, stating that there is current legislation that would pre-empt these provisions. The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, referred to the specific example of flooding; obviously, one could refer to others, such as the current pandemic. In this instance, I am delighted to say that farmers managed to get the food into the shops and on to the supermarket shelves, and worked all hours to do so. There could, however, be shocks and other glitches to the supply chain. These two amendments provide for such circumstances and it would be neat, in my view, to include them in the Bill.
My question to my noble friend when she sums up is very specific. I think she referred to the new farming recovery scheme as a case in point where there is current primary legislation on which farmers could depend if such assistance was required. But to my certain knowledge, when farmers in North Yorkshire, in the constituency of our right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, applied for the scheme, they were given the proverbial raspberry. We saw the devastation caused to the farms and to tourism in the area. They are still reeling from that result. That was in January—it seems an awfully long time ago, but it was only January this year—and they were still not back on their feet when they had to deal with the total lockdown from March onwards.
I should like my noble friend to revisit that legislation and, if she does not have time to do so today, leave a note in the Library on why she is convinced that that legislation covers the scenario set out in these two amendments, because in my experience it certainly did not in the case of North Yorkshire and our right honourable friend.
My Lords, I meant to declare my interest as a landowner and arable farmer in my earlier contribution. I support Amendment 59, as I did in Committee. It is very important to have the power to extend financial assistance to events caused by natural phenomena, as well as the economic problems already covered by the Bill. As the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, stated, the amendment moves beyond global market changes to other triggers, such as extreme weather and disease. Like him, I do not believe that the extension should be used as an excuse for farmers to claim that they have been victims of circumstance, particularly if caused by their own inefficiency or incompetence. Like he does, I believe that it is very important that once a natural phenomenon event has been identified, intervention should be implemented without delay.
As other noble Lords have stated, the Minister said in Committee that this situation is already covered by current legislation, but I bear in mind the recent comments of my noble friend Lady McIntosh about the situation in North Yorkshire. I also ask the same question. I believe the amendment should be in the Bill.
My Lords, I support the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, on this amendment. It is encouraging that in the briefing note the Minister gave all of us there is a paragraph on the Government’s agriculture bounce-back plan, arising out of the impact of Covid-19. I am conscious that the Government are onside, but the question is whether this should be in the Bill, as the noble Lord described.
I share that I am closely involved with Sri Lanka, as many noble Lords will know. I remember seeing the devastation there on Boxing Day 2004. My wife and I went out there a few days later to help. If you happened to be in the spice trade, it was totally wiped out by two waves. These things do happen.
I also declare an interest in the Cayman Islands. I have family there. Those islands were almost wiped out some 20-odd years ago. In the last season Hurricane Irma did horrendous damage. These are part climate change, part other events.
I add to that list that I worked in India, in Calcutta, for the Reckitt & Colman group when the Indians invaded the tea estates. That hit the tea market something rotten that year—from memory it was 1962. These strange events do happen.
We are used to financial crashes and I think that seed health and other sorts of areas are covered. Nevertheless, today, in the world we are in now, I believe we need to have something in the Bill. It does not proscribe the Government too much. It is just a very sensible precaution relating to climate change and all the other challenges we face.
My Lords, I declare my interests, which I declared on previous occasions. I will make one small flanking point to those made already.
As I explained to the House on Tuesday, you can see from farming accounts that the vast bulk of a farm business’s income is from traditional agriculture. They are businesses that have a relatively high turnover and low margins. Against that background, we have been talking a lot about various environmental changes that we want to see in the country, which in turn will be paid for by the public money for public goods formula.
However, against the whole-farm income of the vast majority of farms in this country, that amount of money will still almost certainly be relatively small. If a farm business faces a complete crash in its market—I speak as someone who has an animal livestock business that was wiped out in the foot and mouth outbreak—it faces an existential threat. When faced with an existential threat, you simply do everything you can to save that business. In reality, that means that, whatever the rules about how public money is paid for carrying out environment changes of one sort or another, it will simply be stopped and it will have to be sorted out later.
Rather the same problem faces Lake District farmers, where I am chairman of the Cumbria Local Enterprise Partnership, with the Covid outbreak, which has killed off much of the tourist trade, although it is picking up now. It had a pretty devastating effect on farm incomes in a form of agriculture where the margins from traditional husbandry are very low and the farm business’s survival depends on generating tourist revenues.
I argue that the effect of market disruption, quite apart from the impact it might have on any particular farm business, poses a very serious threat to a lot of the entirely good propositions for environmental change and improvement inherent in the debate we are having on the Bill. Therefore, the environmental aspects of what we are discussing are a genuine potential candidate for collateral damage from market collapse. As such, for the reasons the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and others have given, it is appropriate that these provisions should be in the Bill.
My Lords, in 2016, before the referendum, I chaired the EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee. We carried out an inquiry into resilience in agriculture, so I can say from the beginning that I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, that insurance is quite often not an appropriate solution for farmers, however it might appear to be so superficially.
Having said that, I find these amendments somewhat problematic. I will explain why. First, it is because the Bill as drafted talks about the disturbances being acute. The amendments would add “chronic” to the description of the disturbances, but all the interventions have been about the results of that disturbance. To my mind, that is quite an important distinction, because you could have a short-term problem with a long-term impact. I am not clear whether, as drafted, this talks about the original problem or the impact.
I am also genuinely unsure why existing provisions are not good enough. I heard with some interest what the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, said, so I look forward to the Minister clarifying that, but this is one area where I feel the Government have farmers’ backs in the event of these sorts of disturbances. I do not recall seeing anything from the NFU on this so I am not sure it regards it as a big issue, but perhaps when he winds up the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, will enlighten me on that.
I am reassured that the amendment would provide a power, not a duty, because a duty to continue to offer support for a “chronic” disturbance could be for years and years. I do not think that would be appropriate; I would be pleased to see it as a power and not a duty. Nevertheless, the Government can move quickly when they need to, as they did in bringing in the furlough scheme, for example. I am not entirely convinced by these amendments, I am afraid.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, for returning to the subject of crisis management in his amendments. The clauses in Chapter 2 bring further into domestic legislation the powers that the European Commission exercised to provide emergency assistance in extreme market circumstances. The Secretary of State may modify the retained direct EU legislation from the withdrawal Act. This would usually involve intervention on storage. At this stage, once again, as I join another day’s proceedings on the Bill, I declare my interest as recorded in the register as being in receipt of funds from existing systems derived from the CAP.
We noted the Minister’s reply in Committee that
“farmers already manage the effects of fluctuating everyday weather conditions”,
and that the existing powers contained here and elsewhere
“are sufficiently broad to ensure that agricultural producers will be covered”
should it be necessary to provide emergency financial assistance
“due to exceptional market conditions”—[Official Report, 21/7/20; col. 2184.]
brought about by unforeseen economic, environmental or welfare factors.
The term “chronic conditions” is interesting, as this would suggest exceptional circumstances becoming endemic and longer lasting. This would suggest that the market would need to adapt on a wider basis after any exceptional market disturbances caused by economic or environmental factors had been provided. It would suggest that the adverse effect on the price achievable for agricultural products may not return to normal. This circumstance would become subject to far more extensive dialogue and analysis, and when such a situation may warrant the actions wanted by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, needless to say it would be controversial and subject to much debate.
We understand that Welsh Ministers are aware of these details and have not drawn attention to any aspect with which they are uncomfortable. The Minister has advised the House that the Welsh Government have agreed to these provisions; that would be our position also. We are generally content with the current drafting. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, for her remarks, which reflect many of our thoughts.
I thank noble Lords for their contributions to this short debate.
I recognise the concern to ensure that farmers in England and Wales are protected against acute and chronic disturbances, including those caused by natural phenomena. The exceptional market conditions powers could be used to address acute and severe market disturbances caused by natural phenomena, such as extreme weather, so long as there is an adverse effect on the price achievable for one or more agricultural products. I hope that that reassures my noble friend Lord Northbrook.
The UK Government and Welsh Ministers are confident that the existing powers are sufficiently broad to ensure that agricultural producers will be covered should they need financial assistance due to exceptional market conditions caused by economic, environmental or other factors. The current Covid-19 pandemic is a disturbance caused by environmental factors and is exactly the type of exceptional circumstance that these new powers are intended to address. We could not have foreseen that this pandemic would be as wide-ranging or prolonged as it has been, and farmers could not have been expected to prepare for the disturbances in daily life that it has caused. I feel confident in saying that if these exceptional market conditions powers were at our disposal now, the Government could have used them to support farmers during these difficult times.
The particular powers in respect to England, in Clauses 18 and 19, and in respect to Wales, in paragraphs 6 and 7 of Schedule 5, are framed to deal with unforeseen short-term shocks to agricultural markets rather than chronic conditions. These powers allow Ministers to act swiftly to deal with a crisis situation. These amendments would lower that bar and risk creating open-ended powers that allow the Secretary of State to make payments to farmers in much wider and undefined circumstances.
In most cases, farmers already manage the effects of fluctuating weather conditions. There are also powers in existing legislation that allow the Government to act in exceptional circumstances to support farmers in the event of extreme weather conditions. For example, the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 could be used to make one-off payments to farmers affected by extreme weather. In response to recent flooding, as my noble friend Lady McIntosh acknowledged, the UK Government launched a new farming recovery fund for England, using powers under the NERC Act.
I have some details about the fund because I was interested to find out why some claims were not being met. I am afraid that I do not have the numbers here for my noble friend but I commit to writing to her with the details of the scheme, which are quite complex, and to furnish the numbers on how many grants have been made available. When I write, I will of course let noble Lords have a copy.
The Government want to encourage farmers to manage their own risk and become more resilient to foreseeable and longer-term disturbances. Elsewhere in the Bill, there are provisions to support farmers to improve their productivity, as well as to provide financial assistance for the delivery of public goods. For example, the Government will help farmers to invest in equipment, technology and infrastructure, and will support high-quality research to promote innovation and productivity in agriculture, horticulture and forestry. Part 3 also sets out powers to strengthen fairness and transparency in the supply chain. This will enable food producers to respond more effectively to market signals, strengthen their negotiating position at the farm gate and seek a fairer return.
I hope that I have given sufficient reassurance and that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
I have received a request from the noble Lord, Lord McCrea of Magherafelt and Cookstown, to ask a short question of elucidation.
To clarify, does the Minister believe that the term “exceptional adverse conditions” covers exceptional events such as extreme weather and serious diseases, which can cause major financial problems for farmers and food security? Does this Bill cover them?
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have participated in this short debate and, of course, the Minister.
I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, that, in moving this amendment, I have the support of the CLA, the NFU and the TFA, so it is a matter of general concern to all farming organisations.
We have heard several examples of problems that have required assistance, whether in Richmond, Sri Lanka or elsewhere. The contribution made by the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, was extremely interesting. His emphasis on farmers’ reliance on income from farming is certainly something that we should bear heavily in mind, because that is what the whole industry is about; it is not about ELMs. As I understood it, the noble Lord’s concern was very much to do with making quite sure that the Government understand the cash-flow implications of these issues and the need to work fast to resolve them.
As has become clear from all the questions we have heard, my real point on this issue is that there is a lack of understanding of what is covered by this clause. The last question very much indicated that that is the case. However, we have received assurances from the Minister. I do not believe that it is worth my taking this any further, so I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 59 withdrawn.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 60. I remind noble Lords that Members other than the mover of the amendment or the Minister may speak only once and that short questions of elucidation are discouraged. Anyone wishing to press this amendment or any other amendment in the group to a Division should make that clear during the debate.
Clause 20: Modification of certain retained direct EU legislation in connection with exceptional market conditions and for general purposes
60: Clause 20, page 17, line 28, at end insert—
“( ) Before laying regulations made under subsection (1), the Secretary of State must consult— (a) the Scottish Parliament,(b) Senedd Cymru, and(c) the Northern Ireland Assembly.”
My Lords, in moving Amendment 60, I will also speak in support of my Amendment 92, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Humphreys, and the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, have added their names. Both amendments have a similar purpose, although Amendment 92 is put in stronger terms.
Amendment 60 relates to the Secretary of State’s powers to make regulations regarding markets and storage in the event of exceptional market conditions. While these powers, if used, would apply to England, the implications for agricultural sectors in the devolved parts of the UK could be significant, as much of the output—certainly a significant amount of it—of farms and food processors in the devolved areas is marketed to and through England.
The Bill gives the Secretary of State the power to provide financial support or make regulations where there are exceptional market conditions, described as “a severe disturbance” or the threat of such, in agricultural markets. That could create a situation where financial support for English producers, or regulations inhibiting non-English producers, disadvantages producers from other parts of the UK. That could arise without deliberate intent, so I argue that it is in the interests of the Secretary of State to accept Amendment 60, which would require him or her to consult the Scottish Parliament, Senedd Cymru and the Northern Ireland Assembly.
Amendment 92 refers to the powers of the Secretary of State to make provision about the standards to which a wide range of products must conform. The clauses in the Schedule are far-reaching in their applications, covering, among many other things, farming and production methods, labelling and packaging, species, plant variety and breeds. The regulations could impose conditions on market entry, record keeping, inspection, and search and seizure, and could apply penalties, including fines and confiscation.
Scotland, as an example, exports over £1.6 billion of food products to the rest of the UK, and that is included in £4.7 billion of food and drink exports to the rest of the UK. So significant disruption would have serious implications for markets on both sides of the border, especially, but not exclusively, if imposed at short notice. Wales and Northern Ireland also look to England as the market for a significant part of their output. Across the devolved Administrations, agriculture is a more significant part of the economy than is the case in England, although it is clearly as important in some regions of England. Any unilateral changes to market storage, transport or standards regulations for England could have a serious impact on the devolved areas.
Amendment 60 would require the Secretary of State to consult the three devolved legislatures before implementing changes. I hope the Minister will agree that that is the minimum requirement and should be in everyone’s interest. Without the amendment, we only have the assurances of Ministers that they would not normally proceed without such consultation. I suggest that it would show more good faith if that were a legal requirement.
Amendment 92 goes further and, I suggest, tests an approach that might return in the Trade Bill and almost certainly will be in the internal market Bill. The possibility of radical changes to what can be marketed in England, and how it can be marketed, could be extremely disruptive to producers in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and, I suggest, should not be proceeded on without their consent. The amendment qualifies this to avoid giving any one devolved Administration a veto by saying that if two out of three Administrations object then the measures should not proceed.
The contentious nature of a number of Bills currently before Parliament requires some serious thinking as to how the devolution settlement can be protected rather than being ridden over roughshod. Yes, the amendments apply to English regulations, but regulations that have implications for the whole of the UK. In other Bills, the Government are going much further and effectively excluding the devolved Administrations, which is negligent or downright provocative. Some form of qualified majority voting should be considered, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, has mentioned that in previous debates. I believe this amendment could be seen as a test run for that because we need to give this issue serious consideration.
I am pleased that these amendments have been welcomed by NFU Scotland, which points out that this House’s Constitution Committee concluded that
“overlapping competencies in agricultural policy must be negotiated and managed by the UK and devolved administrations.”
NFU Scotland continues in its brief:
“NFUS is a keen advocate of commonly agreed frameworks, established between the four UK administrations to transpose powers repatriated from the EU into domestic law, within an appropriate governance framework. NFUS believes that finding consultation and consensus on issues which are primarily devolved, but which have implications for the UK internal market, is absolutely vital. As such, NFUS supports amendments 60 and 92 in the name of Lord Bruce of Bennachie, which would secure the consent of the devolved administrations before making changes to regulations on EU legislation in connection with exceptional market conditions; and marketing standards.”
Incidentally, NFUS also comments:
“The Constitution Committee has also recommended that Part 6 of the Agriculture Bill, relating to WTO compliance, should require the Secretary of State to consult the relevant devolved administrations prior to making regulations for securing compliance with the WTO Agreement on Agriculture.
NFUS entirely agrees with this recommendation, having taken legal advice during the passage of the 2017-19 Agriculture Bill which found that a UK Secretary of State could, in the future, exercise an ability to set limits on the amount of domestic support which could be targeted at specific measures that Scottish Ministers may seek to apply in Scotland to meet their objectives, and that these limits could be set at a lower ceiling than what is currently the case under existing arrangements. NFUS believes that it would compromise the devolution settlement for unilateral decisions on financial ceilings to be taken by the Secretary of State without prior consultation and, crucially, the agreement of the devolved administrations.”
I appreciate that an amendment on this has not been tabled, although I considered it, but it reinforces the case for the Government to tread carefully on the sensitivities of devolution which this Bill, and other Bills the Government are seeking to pass, simply fail to do. If the Government are serious about defending what they call “our precious union”, they need to find ways of ensuring that the devolution settlements are not put into reverse. These amendments are designed to provide appropriate safeguards.
I do not accept that this Bill represents a power grab, but I believe that it undermines the existing devolution settlement by giving the Secretary of State—who is effectively the Secretary of State for England—the ability to set regulations that could seriously affect the devolved Administrations, and to interfere directly in the devolved Administrations in ways where the reverse is not the case. I believe these amendments would give the Government the opportunity to prove not just the assurances that they are prepared to give at the Dispatch Box but good faith by putting these commitments in the Bill. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support Amendment 109, which is tabled in my name. A similar amendment was considered in Committee, but I wish to probe the Minister further on this issue. The noble Lord, Lord Bruce, rightly mentioned the role of devolution and its importance among our devolved nations and regions.
For us in Northern Ireland, the Agriculture Bill mainly contains provisions setting out the future agricultural policy framework for England. However, a number of provisions apply across the UK and some apply specifically to Wales and Northern Ireland. The powers in Clause 45 and Schedule 6 have been included to provide a legal basis to continue existing farm support measures following exit from the EU. The schedule allows the Northern Ireland department to modify direct payment regulations to simplify and improve how they operate in Northern Ireland. The schedule was developed when the Northern Ireland Executive was not functioning, and as a result many of the powers are intended to provide flexibility to develop future agricultural policies to meet local circumstances. Thankfully, the devolved institutions in Northern Ireland and devolved arrangements were restored in January this year.
While the schedule provides much needed certainty in the short term, Northern Ireland is still left without a long-term vision of how agriculture and the environment will be supported in future, with no clarity around what outcomes a future policy framework should aim to deliver. This is despite widespread recognition from stakeholders that the current system is not fit for purpose.
Northern Ireland is facing considerable challenges. Northern Ireland’s economy is largely agricultural, so the challenges centre around species and habitat loss, agricultural and greenhouse gas emissions, poor water quality and market volatility, among others. The way in which we manage and use land will directly impact upon our ability to mitigate and adapt to climate change, as well as to meet other environmental commitments. There is a need to reform how we farm and manage our land, and to move towards a resilient, profitable and environmentally sustainable farming sector. The need to outline the future direction of travel for Northern Ireland is of paramount importance.
There is a need for timebound provisions for Northern Ireland, which the Minister argued against in Committee. Currently, a risk exists that the provisions within the Northern Ireland schedule could continue indefinitely. This would result in the long-term continuation of direct payments in their current form, which have been criticised by a range of stakeholders and do little to address the numerous crises facing farming and the environment. Although the Northern Ireland department has undertaken valuable work with a range of environmental and agricultural stakeholders on the development of a draft future agricultural policy framework, the direction of travel remains unclear. While the provisions within the Northern Ireland schedule are similar to those which apply to Wales, there is an important difference. The Welsh provisions will expire in 2024, but there is no sunset clause outlined in those relating to Northern Ireland, hence my amendment, which has been supported by other noble Lords.
This is largely because the Northern Ireland schedule was created in the absence of an operational Assembly. This is important, as the presence of a sunset clause relating to the Welsh schedule creates an onus on the Welsh Government to develop domestic legislation in a timebound manner. The absence of a sunset clause in the Northern Ireland schedule creates a risk that the development of a future agricultural policy framework for Northern Ireland will be further delayed. This sunset clause is supported by the Committee for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs in Northern Ireland, which has already communicated that. We are of the firm belief that Northern Ireland needs a bespoke, sustainable land management policy, legislated for in the form of a Northern Ireland agricultural Act, which would obviously have to be brought forward by the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly. As long as these provisions are contained in Schedule 6 and in this errant Bill—so to speak—that acts as a break upon the Northern Ireland department and prevents or dissuades it from bringing forward such a policy.
I urge the Minister to review the situation in relation to this and to talk to the Northern Ireland Agriculture Minister. I would be extremely grateful if he could see what can be done. He might then consider tabling a government amendment to that effect at Third Reading, because the bottom line is that we need to set our own agriculture policy and frameworks now that we have a devolved settlement in Northern Ireland. We want to encourage and underpin that, and to ensure that an important sector of our economy is facilitated to do just that.
My Lords, I support Amendments 60 and 92 in the name of my noble friend Lord Bruce, and have added my name to them. As he has already said, Clause 20 gives the Secretary of State the power to modify the retained direct EU legislation for England relating to public intervention and private storage aid, and, as the report of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee points out, this power is replicated for the Welsh Ministers.
I welcome these powers, of course, as it cannot be expected that legislation should remain relevant in perpetuity; as time passes and situations change, the requirement for legislation to be modified will become inevitable. But nowhere in this clause is there a recognition that, with all four countries in the UK having the power to modify and intervene, a mechanism will be required to ensure that a decision taken by one country does not have an adverse effect on the other three countries of the UK. Nowhere is there a recognition that a mechanism will probably be required to avoid or resolve disputes. My noble friend’s Amendment 60 highlights the issue and offers a solution.
The DPRR Committee’s report on the Bill refers to the devolved Administrations at a number of points in its deliberations on Clause 20. For example, in its reference to the ability to repeal or phase out market intervention schemes for England, it says:
“Such a decision would require further discussions with the devolved administrations.”
Throughout this section of the report, the language might seem rather tentative but the implication is clear: discussions and consultations need to happen.
I appreciate that this part of the legislation, together with Clause 35 on marketing standards, which Amendment 92 addresses, applies to England only. But a recognition of the vital lead role that it plays in the UK should be highlighted. If England, through the UK Parliament and as the largest of the four nations, is seen to adopt a co-operative and collaborative approach, that will be reciprocated. If it adopts an indifferent or belligerent attitude, that, too, will be reciprocated, and will add fuel to the increasing calls for independence emanating from both Scotland and Wales.
As my noble friend has already stated, the Constitution Committee of your Lordships’ House concluded that overlapping competencies in agricultural policy must be negotiated and managed by the UK and devolved Administrations. This is a view echoed by Jeremy Miles, Counsel General for Wales and Member of the Senedd. In an article yesterday addressing the UK single market, with comments equally relevant to today’s debate, he makes it clear that the Welsh Government
“have no issue with the objective of ensuring that a UK internal market can work smoothly after the end of EU transition.”
He points to the fact that the Welsh Government were the first to highlight the need
“to develop a new form of joint governance … in order to manage the intersection between devolved competence and the internal market.”
Ignoring the rights and powers of the devolved Administrations or, even worse, attempting to take some of those powers back from them, as we see in the internal market Bill, is, quite frankly, a lazy way of legislating. Co-operating with one’s neighbours takes time and effort; valuing them takes even more time, and an added pinch of humility, but the outcome can be far more positive for all concerned. This is a really important issue for Wales and the other devolved Administrations, and I hope that the Minister recognises this. I shall listen carefully to the nature of his response, as I suspect that it will set the tone for government responses to devolution issues in other upcoming Bills. I hope that he can give me the reassurances I look for on behalf of the people of Wales.
My Lords, I speak in support of Amendment 109, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, to which I have attached my name, and I also wish to express my support for Amendments 60 and 92.
On Amendment 60, which concerns a promise to consult, as the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Bennachie, indicated, the Government have said that that commitment has already been made, so surely it would not be too difficult to agree to put it on the face of the Bill. Securing consent would be stronger, and to avoid conflict or rows, and to make things clear, transparent and open, surely that would be the best way forward.
To address primarily Amendment 109, the absence of a sunset clause in the Bill as it currently stands presents a risk that Northern Ireland will be left with basic payments regulations indefinitely. A sunset clause such as proposed would create an expectation that Northern Ireland’s Government would develop their own specialised agriculture legislation and a fairer, more environmentally friendly alternative to the basic payment scheme. Of course, they could just decide to roll over the existing provisions in 2026. The amendment, or something like it, would not force action but would open up a democratic window and opportunity for debate about action.
In yesterday’s debate on the immigration Bill, the Government Benches spent a great deal of time expressing a desire for non-discrimination. Surely this proposed new clause would put Northern Ireland on the same footing as Scotland and Wales in deciding agricultural policy. This is non-discrimination that should surely apply in this crucial case, given that agriculture is very important to the economies of all three of those nations.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, said, the absence of a sitting Assembly from 2017 to 2020 meant that little consultation took place on this issue, but the Committee for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, in a single day of very packed evidence on a number of issues, said that it wanted this sunset clause, and that is surely where the Government should take their guidance from. It recommended a timescale of 2024, but in terms of the electoral cycle there are good reasons to provide a bit more time. Your Lordships certainly know how long these considerations can take.
In the interests of ensuring that the Minister does not feel too uncomfortable, I shall not refer specifically to internal market issues, which have been creating difficulties for some of his colleagues, but I hope that the Government will take on board this call. It is not political, except in the broadest sense of seeking to ensure that the people of Northern Ireland have democratic control over their own future. Amendment 109 would provide flexibility and the opportunity for action, and I commend it to the House.
My Lords, these powers under Chapter 2 of Part 2 of the Bill make a declaration that exceptional market conditions which trigger financial assistance of a varying kind are to be exercised by the English Minister by way of regulations made under the negative procedure. That means that they will escape extensive parliamentary scrutiny, as we are well aware.
The sort of market conditions that Clause 18 has in mind is where there is a severe disturbance or a threat of such disturbance to agricultural markets that would have such a significantly adverse effect on producers in England as to constitute exceptional market conditions. That is to be judged by the limited criterion of the prices farmers receive for the sale of their agricultural produce. It is made clear in the Explanatory Notes that the devolved Administrations in Wales and Scotland have the ability, under their devolved powers, to make similar arrangements within their own jurisdictions. The noble Baronesses, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick and Lady Bennett, have outlined the unsatisfactory position in Northern Ireland, and I support their call for clarity. However, I suppose that that is the reason it is thought these clauses do not require legislative consent from the Welsh Senedd or the Scottish Parliament —let them do their own thing.
But of course, if exceptional market conditions exist in England, they are bound to have an effect, certainly in the borders of Wales that I know best. I recall that Welshpool was once the largest market for sheep in Europe, but there are equally strong markets in both Oswestry and Shrewsbury, and what happens in one affects the others. I remember that when I was chair of Marcher Sound, broadcasting to north Wales and Cheshire, our farming report every morning at six o’clock broadcast the price of hoggets in markets on both sides of the border. This was vital early intelligence as I headed for the London train.
It seems common sense that introducing financial assistance to English farmers under Chapter 2 would have a vital effect on prices and risk unfair competition. Moreover, agriculture is a significant part of both the Welsh and Scottish economies, as the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Bennachie, pointed out. Surely decisions of this nature should be subject to consultation with, and consent by, the devolved nations. I have no knowledge of the markets of Carlisle and Berwick, but I have no doubt that there would be serious financial implications for those agricultural markets, and equally for those in Northern Ireland.
It may be suggested that exceptional market conditions could be so exceptional that an English Secretary of State would have to move quickly with no time for consultation, but surely he would move and should move in step with the devolved Administrations, and certainly not with any of the belligerence to which my noble friend Lady Humphreys referred.
The Minister will recall that, at the Second Reading and Committee stages of this Bill, I raised the issue of internal markets and price stability, not knowing that the now infamous Internal Market Bill was about to be unveiled to the world. Did the devolved Administrations know of the contents of that Bill? Their alarmed reaction demonstrates that they did not. It is a Bill that is perceived to be a unilateral grab at former EU powers which ought to be directed immediately to the devolved Administrations, and I promise that I will not even mention the attack on the rule of law.
The Government sometimes tell us that we have already left the EU, so get over it. Well, devolution is a fact of 20 years’ standing, and it is about time that the Government understood that one of its main implications is the need for consultation and consent. There is a limit to the extent to which lack of time can be pushed when there is no consultation. As the whole country knows, the reason for the rush and haste and us being here until midnight discussing this Bill is due to the hazard which this Government chose to construct for themselves. I support Amendments 60 and 92 in this group, and I look forward to the Minister’s response.
I should like to speak to Amendment 109 in this group and I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, on bringing this point to the attention of the House. This part of the Bill, which concerns the devolved nations, is a particularly grey area as regards how it is to be administered. The noble Baroness and the authors of other amendments in this group have done the House a service by throwing light on these issues. I had hoped to put my name to Amendment 109, but I was not surprised to see how much support the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, has had.
I want to pay tribute to the noble Baroness’s work in this regard. She is a former Member of and was a Minister in the Northern Ireland Assembly and she was a great support to me in the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in the other place. Rather unnervingly, she was always in her seat before I took my place, which is a little disconcerting when you are chairing a committee. I am sure that she will play a prominent and active role in the new Select Committee on Common Frameworks Scrutiny, to which she has just been appointed, and I congratulate her on that.
I hope that my noble friend the Minister will have regard to the concerns that have been raised in this group of amendments. He and I have had conversations before on the common frameworks and what progress has been made on them, so I will pay close attention to his response. Once again, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, for bringing forward her amendment in this group.
My Lords, I am delighted to support the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, along with other noble Lords, in Amendment 109. As usual, she has set out the arguments clearly and in substantial detail, and I do not intend to rehearse what she has already said. However, on 23 July, I made a number of points when we were discussing a similar approach to these things in Committee. I want to repeat some of those and add to them because the situation has changed and developed in a very unhelpful way.
The first thing that I pointed out—and I point it out again because it is increasingly relevant—is that Ministers in the devolved institutions are serious decision makers in their own right. They are not simply to be rule takers from somewhere else. The Government have been very strong about not being rule takers from somewhere else.
Secondly, in trying to ensure that Northern Ireland representatives continue to work together, despite their difficulties and differences over constitutional questions, this is an opportunity for them to be encouraged to work together on the practical issues in what is still the largest industry in Northern Ireland—agriculture. And it is, of course, a cross-border industry. The agri-food industry ensures that many of the products are dealt with on both sides of the border and, therefore, cross-border co-operation is vital.
Thirdly, it is clear that there will be developments in the relationship between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland over the next number of years before 2026, when this sunset clause is intended to become active.
I said that on 23 July but could not have contemplated that the Prime Minister might take action and decisions that would disturb and indeed disrupt developments on the island of Ireland in the way that has been done with the Internal Market Bill. This has been referred to by my noble friend Lady Humphreys. The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, said that she did not intend to bring in a political dimension, but I hope that the Minister understands that in Ireland it is wholly impossible not to do this. It is not merely an internal matter. Nor is it even a matter of Brexit. It is a matter of relationships between Britain and Ireland that go back to previous agreements—the Good Friday agreement, the Anglo-Irish agreement—and to the very delicate and nuanced framework of relationships developed over years, at great cost and sacrifice, including even the physical sacrifice of people’s lives. It is not to be tampered with and tossed around lightly.
I hope that the Minster understands the deep concern there is in Ireland, north and south, about what is happening with the Internal Market Bill. It is also important to find out that the people of Northern Ireland made quite different decisions—as, indeed, did the people of Scotland—about the approach to their future relations with those outside the United Kingdom. That was the case with people in England and Wales. However, somehow or other, this seems to have been tossed aside.
One way of trying to ensure that there is an appreciation of the sensitivities and difficulties that this raises would be to pass Amendment 109, because it would point out that Her Majesty’s Government recognise that it is crucial for the people of Northern Ireland through their representatives to make their decisions about the future of their most important industry—an industry whose production and marketing require co-operation not just within the internal market of the United Kingdom but throughout the island of Ireland.
I am happy to support the amendment of the noble Baroness. I am just unhappy that it has to be done in such disruptive circumstances.
My Lords, as a number of Members have said, this debate is in the context of exceptional market conditions. I had the privilege in 1979 of being a PPS in the Northern Ireland Office and spending many happy hours in Northern Ireland, where it really comes home to one that agriculture is absolutely vital to that part of the United Kingdom.
I shall make the simple point that, as one who was responsible for a fair amount of drafting in another role in the other place, it seems that officials would much prefer to have an automatic reference in a Bill than an implied one, particularly when it is in sensitive areas. For instance, we are likely to see changes because of climate change. To take an example that I used earlier, who would have thought 20 years ago that Sussex and Kent would be competing in the viniculture market, with enormous opportunities to export? There may well be other developments because of climate change that happen in just a section of England and, unless they are automatically referred to the other three devolved Parliaments, we may find that they too have micro-industries in their particular part of the UK.
That just seems sensible in Amendment 60. I am not going to be tempted to go to Amendment 109 and I actually think Amendment 92 is wrong.
I am grateful to the noble Lords who tabled or supported the amendments in this group, which raise various issues relating to devolved competence. Amendment 60 makes what seems a very sensible suggestion of consulting the devolved Administrations before laying regulations under Clause 20. Given that certain modifications to retained EU legislation are likely to impact on the devolved nations, perhaps on some more than others, it seems perfectly right that there should be a formal consultation requirement. However, I note that even formal consultations on many important matters have not been taking place as regularly or as needed in other matters, and I urge the Government to work much more proactively in this manner.
For the past 20 years, we have had three other legislatures in the UK, and none of the new laws resulting from our withdrawal from Europe should be an opportunity for a power grab of devolved responsibilities back to Westminster. I am therefore glad to see that Amendment 92 proposes a requirement for the devolved Administrations to consent to any regulations being made under Clause 35 on standards relating to the marketing of agri-food products. While we would certainly welcome a mechanism for meaningful consultation, we recognise that a requirement for consent could, in certain cases, delay the implementation of important changes to marketing standards.
Amendment 109 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, my noble friend Lord Hain and others proposes a sunset on the Northern Ireland provisions contained in Clause 45 and Schedule 6. As the noble Baroness noted earlier, Northern Ireland has an economy based largely on agriculture and needs a long-term future policy framework without further delay. The case has been strongly made for that amendment and I look forward to the Minister’s response in relation to it.
My Lords, this has been a very interesting and thought-provoking debate. I would like to open by setting out a little background, because I think a lot of this would be helpful. The UK Government have been working closely with the Welsh Government, the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs in Northern Ireland—DAERA—and the Scottish Government to develop a UK agricultural support framework. My noble friend Lady McIntosh made this point. We expect to be able to agree this soon.
Defra Ministers already meet our devolved Administration counterparts on an almost monthly basis as part of the inter-ministerial group IMG EFRA, where any modifying of legislation can be discussed. In addition, there are already good working relationships in place within the Defra situation—particularly, from my direct knowledge, between the devolved Administrations. If I am allowed to say so, I very much respect Lesley Griffiths, who is a Minister in Wales. For example, the IMG EFRA meeting, which takes place almost monthly, is used as a forum for discussion on policy changes. The Government intend to keep the devolved Administrations informed on any early thinking on possible policy changes to marketing standards in England.
I also agree with the tenor of this debate, and I want to raise what the noble Baroness, Lady Humphreys, said about collaboration and tone. That is absolutely key, particularly in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland, where agriculture is such a strong feature of national life. I would like to think of England as a rural country but, my goodness, in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales it is at the core of the national economy.
Thinking of Amendment 60, the UK agricultural support framework includes crisis measures, public intervention and private storage aid for collective discussion to ensure there is an opportunity for any concerns to be raised about the effect of changes in one part of the UK or another. The UK Government work collaboratively with devolved Administrations on this matter, and I will give a complete assurance that it is in everyone’s mutual interest that that continues and is successful.
Amendment 92 seeks to ensure the Secretary of State would need to secure consent from devolved Administrations before laying regulations under Clause 35(1). Clause 35 allows the Secretary of State to make regulations on marketing standards for products marketed in England only, so it would not be appropriate for devolved Administrations to be able to veto these England-only changes, which would be the effect of this amendment. In the same way, we have not taken provisions to require the UK Government to consent to change in devolved areas.
I say this because the UK agricultural support framework states that Administrations should refer all planned changes in marketing standards for collective discussion to ensure that there is an opportunity for any concerns to be raised about the effect of changes to standards in one part of the UK or another. The Government think that is the best way forward. It is a way we can collaboratively and collegiately work on such an important issue—the agricultural framework.
Everyone knows that agriculture is devolved, and the Welsh Ministers in DAERA under this Bill have taken powers themselves in Schedules 5 and 6 respectively. Wales can modify retained EU law itself under paragraph 8(2) of Schedule 5, and Northern Ireland under paragraph 2 of Schedule 6.
Turning to Amendment 109; I have thought about this a lot because perhaps there is some confusion at my end. I have heard words such as “parity” on this matter, and a number of noble Lords from Northern Ireland have spoken. My understanding is that the Northern Ireland Assembly has debated and agreed its legislative consent to the Bill. Therefore, we do not believe this Parliament should seek to override the constitutional view agreed by the Assembly.
Reference was made to the committee that recommended a sunset clause, but the Northern Ireland Assembly recommended the LCM without it. Our view, and I entrench this very strongly, is that it is for DAERA to decide and to liaise with the Assembly, not the UK Government. I am intrigued that we are seeking to impose a sunset clause when it has been made clear to me and Defra, as the honest brokers of this, that the Northern Ireland Assembly does not want to set an arbitrary date, and it will be for Northern Ireland to decide how and when it has a new agriculture Bill. We agree with that, and sometimes devolution means that we will have separate ways forward. That has been the LCM from the Assembly and DAERA, and we believe that the Agriculture Bill—of which, as I say, I have been the honest broker regarding the Northern Ireland schedule—gives Northern Ireland plenty of scope to involve its thinking on the delivery of agricultural support. I therefore tactfully suggest that, if we believe that this is a devolved matter, it is for the institutions of Northern Ireland to decide.
As I say, I am very happy to have further discussions—not because the Government will change that view but because I am interested in understanding why the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, thinks that we in this Parliament should seek to change the wish of the Northern Ireland institutions. I would have thought that runs very much contrary to some of the very important things said by noble Lords about respect for devolution, the devolved arrangements—so far as agriculture is concerned—and the imperative of working together sensibly because we all have a vested interest in that.
The Government’s view is that, for the UK agricultural support framework—this covers all the things I have said about collective discussion and the way we want to work closely together while respecting the devolved abilities—the way forward is through this mechanism of a framework, which, I believe, has the best ingredients for it to work very well for the four nations.
I will respond to the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, and others on the first two amendments, as well as to the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick. It is precisely in these areas that I emphasise the respect for the devolved arrangements and, indeed, the respect that my ministerial colleagues have for their fellow Ministers, recognising their responsibility and ours to work collaboratively. It is in this spirit that I ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
I have received no requests from noble Lords to speak after the Minister, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Bennachie.
My Lords, I thank all those who have spoken in this debate for their support for my amendments and the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, and noble colleagues who have spoken on the Northern Ireland sunset clause so clearly and unequivocally. I believe that all three of these amendments are central to how our devolution settlement is to proceed.
The Minister is a face of government that we all find attractive: he is constructive and conciliatory, and I am sure that, given his background, when he talks about engagement and discussion across the devolved Administrations, he does it in entirely the style that we see here. However, I am afraid I have to say to him that there are other members of the Government whose style is far less conciliatory and can be abrasive.
We have legislation coming down the track that is absolutely crucial to the future of the devolution settlement, especially the Trade Bill and the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill, where it would appear that the Government, frankly, are bent on centralising control and weakening the devolution settlement. Given the point about agriculture being so important to the devolved Administrations, there is perhaps an opportunity in this Bill to put those markers down. Actually, I would have liked it if the Minister could have accepted Amendment 60; I accept that Amendment 92 was a tease for further discussion about some form of qualified majority voting.
However, with regard to just saying, “We consult; therefore, we do not need to consult”, I say that the time will come when some decision will be taken without consultation, and there will be no recourse because there is nothing in law to prevent it. That will be disruptive and a shame. The Prime Minister says that he is moving his legislation to protect the future of the union. The reality is that nobody threatens the future of the union more fundamentally than our current Prime Minister, and Ministers should understand that the precious union is very delicate at the present time.
Ministers need to reach out not just with reassurance but a willingness to create a mechanism, as my noble friend Lady Humphreys said, that will enshrine the way decisions are taken and disputes are resolved in ways that do not leave it—because this it is where the Bill leaves it—to Westminster and the English Secretary of State to override devolved decision-making. The Bill allows that to happen; these amendments were designed to prevent that happening, and I regret—but am not entirely surprised—that the Government have not accepted them. However, I can assure him—and I am sure that other noble Lords will agree with me—that these issues will return in spades in the debates we will have on the coming legislation between now and Christmas. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 60 withdrawn.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 61. 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 or the other amendment in this group to a Division should make that clear in debate.
Clause 27: Fair dealing obligations of business purchasers of agricultural products
61: Clause 27, page 22, line 4, leave out “may” and insert “must”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment requires the Government to provide regulations for fair dealing obligations of business purchasers of agricultural products.
My Lords, I rise in the absence of, and at his request and with his permission, the noble Lord, Lord Empey, who has been unavoidably called away and sends his apologies. His two amendments refer to Clause 27. They are minor amendments but would have significant consequences.
The clause relates to fair dealing obligations of business purchasers of agricultural products and enables the Secretary of State to make regulations in respect of them. The regulations may be sector specific or in general terms. As we learn from the Bill’s Explanatory Notes, the Bill provides the Secretary of State with the power
“to make regulations to introduce obligations that promote fair contractual relationships between primary producers, producer organisations, associations of producer organisations, produce aggregators and the business purchasers of their products.”
Obviously, there is a great desire for fairness and for protection from unfair trading practices.
At the kernel of the two amendments from the noble Lord, Lord Empey, is a wish to ensure a better relationship between the processors, the supermarkets and primary producers. I am sure that this is a concept with which all noble Lords agree. Rather than press his amendments at this stage, he seeks to ensure that we enable primary producers to make the investments they wish to make to meet the new responsibilities they face as set out in Clause 27.
The noble Lord, Lord Empey, went to great pains to state, and I am sure that he has reassured my noble friend the Minister of it, that rather than press the amendments to a vote at this stage, he is grateful for the opportunity to set out the views expressed in them and seeks an early meeting with the Minister if it would be possible. I beg to move.
My Lords, I had an exchange of emails yesterday with the noble Lord, Lord Empey, to make sure that I understood his amendments correctly. He basically put it to me that he wishes to place an obligation on government rather than for it to have a discretion, which is as the Bill is drafted, to make regulations on fair dealing. I have told him that I support the fair dealing provisions in the Bill—I said so in Committee—particularly with regard to food waste, which is often in effect forced on farmers, making them less competitive and environmentally more wasteful, by the requirements of supermarkets, which I do not think is fair dealing. I am all in favour of that, but I am less convinced about the placing of such an obligation on Ministers. However, these issues can be well discussed in the next set of amendments, about the role of the Groceries Code Adjudicator.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Empey, for his amendments, for the significance in which he holds them as necessary for the Bill, and for leading the House in returning to Clause 27 on fair dealing obligations. I am sorry he has not been able to stay tonight to make his case due to personal circumstances, and I hope all continues well. Nevertheless, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, for stepping in and moving his amendment. I concur with much of what she said. The distribution of market returns from food between the primary producer and the rest of the supply chain, especially in regard to the retail sector, certainly appears unbalanced. The proportion returned to the farmer has steadily declined over many years.
That regulation is needed to ensure further provision to introduce a greater measure of fair dealing obligations on the supply chain is recognised in Clause 27. Following the establishment and workings of the Groceries Code Adjudicator, the specific task of monitoring relationships between the UK’s largest supermarkets and their direct suppliers has proved very effective. I would go so far as to say it has proved critical in delivering effective change down the supply chain.
We would not be able to support the noble Lord should he wish to press his amendment. The specific details of each statutory code are being developed in consultation with industry and will be set out in secondary legislation. It will be extended across all sectors of agriculture. This is already in progress.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lady McIntosh for introducing this amendment on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Empey. I confirm that my noble friend Lord Gardiner has agreed to meet the noble Lord, Lord Empey, at the earliest opportunity.
There is no doubt that the Government will use these powers. The introduction of fair dealing obligations is vital in the creation of a more equitable supply chain. This is a point on which there is wide agreement. However, the Government believe it is equally important that these obligations are appropriate and proportionate and produce the right outcomes.
To ensure this, the Government intend to consult industry before regulations are made, to ensure that they are properly tailored for the issues at hand. In this regard, a UK-wide consultation exploring contractual issues in the dairy sector has recently been concluded. The consultation invited a broad range of views about future regulations, asking specific questions about various issues. Some of these issues, such as contractual exclusivity, are almost unique to the dairy sector. The Government intend to repeat this approach for any future exercise of the powers in Clause 27, allowing the views from industry and other stakeholders, often about very detailed sector-specific issues, to inform final decisions.
The introduction of blanket obligations across the whole of UK agriculture would hinder the ability to reflect the specific nuances of each sector and potentially fail to address the specific problems experienced by particular types of producer. Also, given that certain agricultural sectors are far better integrated than others, comprehensive obligations could ultimately lead to provisions being introduced into sectors where they are simply not required.
I hope I have given sufficient reassurance and ask my noble friend to withdraw the amendment on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Empey.
I am most grateful to those who have contributed to this debate and am sure the noble Lord, Lord Empey, is grateful for the opportunity to have put forward his views and the sentiments described in these two amendments.
My noble friend is absolutely right that the consultation with the interested parties that has just concluded will be crucial in the development and implementation of the regulations. It would be helpful to have confirmation that these responses will be available on the web so that we can look at them when it comes to implementing regulations before the House at that time.
At this moment, given the confirmation of a meeting with my noble friend Lord Gardiner, I am sure it is the wish of the noble Lord, Lord Empey, with the leave of the House, to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 61 withdrawn.
I remind noble Lords that, other than the mover of an amendment or the Minister, Members may speak only once and that short questions of elucidation are discouraged. Any Member wishing to press this or anything else in this group to a Division should make that clear in debate.
Amendment 62 not moved.
63: Clause 27, page 23, line 15, leave out “a specified person” and insert “the Groceries Code Adjudicator”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is intended to ensure that the role of regulating agricultural contracts is given to the Groceries Code Adjudicator’s office.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, the noble Lord, Lord Curry, and my noble friend Lord Whitty for adding their names to this amendment and to many of my following amendments, which introduce the office of the Groceries Code Adjudicator as the mechanism by which these fair dealing provisions under Clause 27 will be administered. At this stage I will mention that the noble Lord, Lord Curry, asked me to express his disappointment that he has had to leave tonight because of the late sitting of our proceedings; he cannot get home without leaving immediately. He would have liked to have been present to make his remarks on this important series of amendments to this clause.
I introduced these amendments in Committee as probing amendments to draw out from the Government how they expected to take these provisions forward. As with many features of this framework Bill, so much of the detail and the governance arrangements are not being made explicit in the Bill.
That these provisions have been recognised as needed and necessary to the better conduct of a fair market is something that the Government can be congratulated on. The debate in Committee underlined how effective the GCA Act has been in setting out and policing business practice in the GSCOP, which now regulates the behaviour of the retail industry, which must abide by it in its relationships with its direct suppliers. There was universal praise for Christine Tacon on how she, as the adjudicator, successfully encouraged effective change to become embedded down the supply chain.
In response, the Minister explained that his department, Defra, would be the lead department in delivering these obligations. The Government intended to commence these regulations agricultural sector by sector, starting with the dairy industry. This has already started, with a consultation on the operation of contracts that is drawing to a close next week, as I understand it, on 24 September—that is, three months after the opening of the consultation in June. However, I may be corrected, as on a previous amendment the noble Baroness the Minister said that it has already closed. That it is on the cusp of closing or has already closed is regrettable in that we are not able to deliberate on the consultation in our considerations on the Bill.
I table these amendments again to give the House a chance to debate these important provisions and reflect further on the Government’s approach. I state again that Clause 27 is a very bold and ambitious step that the Government have taken. I express concern that, although the groceries code has proved very effective in stabilising fair dealing provisions in the retail sector, difficulties remain regarding whether this was the appropriate mechanism to cover the whole of the supply chain: the service sector as well as the retail sector, the widespread diversity of food products in the supply chain and how they are delivered across many forms of enterprise and business practice.
The Government are undertaking a huge task and care must be taken, as a one-size-fits-all regulatory regime may not fit all in the appropriate manner. The problems and solutions in one sector and the relative merits in the behaviour of various participants may not be suitable to be applied across the board to all sectors, each with differing market imperatives, regarding how the various markets may be made to work more effectively. That there is an imbalance in negotiating power between the primary producer through the processing, manufacturing and product development supply chain and the end market is not in doubt.
I shall not press these amendments tonight, nor support other amendments, including Amendment 87 should it be pressed. The Government have set out on the task and already started a consultation with the dairy sector. As I set out in Committee, I was concerned that these provisions had a narrow focus on contracts. Indeed, Clause 27(1)(a) specifically addresses contracts. Fair dealing provisions should examine the business relationship in its widest implication and interpretations that encompass many various circumstances that arise in primary production. However, it must be recognised that a first step is being taken, and it is starting at a very pertinent point—the contract.
In the interval between Committee and Report over the Summer Recess, I spoke to many in the dairy sector, especially those at the foot of the supply chain—the dairy farmer and his or her processor. I can tell the Minister that the department’s consultation has been widely promoted among the many sections of the industry: the farmer, the producer group representing the farmer’s suppliers, and the processing industry. Many have shared their submissions with me, and I am sure that the Minister’s department will receive a widespread response. Here and now is perhaps not the place to debate this further; I will add merely that the voluntary code of practice—VCOP—in contracts, introduced in 2012, has proved ineffective in improving fairness and transparency on a wider scale and, as has been experienced during this pandemic, urgency is needed to tackle the problem more extensively and in a comprehensive fashion.
I also note that this is a widespread problem throughout the industry that now extends across borders, with the overseas ownership structure covering the dairy industry in both the UK and Europe. The EU is also pressing on with its solutions, through directive 2019/633 on unfair trading practices in business-to-business relationships in the agricultural and food supply chains. Can the Minister make any comment, even though the consultation has barely closed, on the progress of the consultation, concerning the numbers, extent and general features beginning to become clear? Even in the immediacy of the lockdown, the retail relationship with the supply chain is today much better than it has been, due to the activities of the Groceries Code Adjudicator.
Will the department be separating out submissions from the retail sector and the service sector from this consultation? The consultation does not mention the wider farmer-processor relationship with the ongoing supply chain, and specifically with the retailer. Will the Minister give a commitment that further inquiries will be conducted as the submissions are considered? It may prove difficult to make immediate recommendations. Reflecting across other sectors in the industry, can the Minister give any indication as to when further consultations will be progressed? Which sector has the department next in mind? Furthermore, how might the various sectors combine to find comprehensive answers to this very difficult problem of fair dealing in the industry, a problem that is now being tackled by the Bill? I beg to move.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, and the co-signatories for bringing forward Amendment 63 and others in this little group. Amendment 67, in my name and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick—I thank her for supporting this amendment —seeks to achieve precisely the same ends. I join with the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, in expressing regret that the noble Lord, Lord Curry, is not able to speak to this group, but I entirely understand the circumstances in which he felt he had to head north.
Again like the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, I pay tribute to the Groceries Code Adjudicator, who has done a sterling job in regulating the relationships between the major retailers and direct suppliers. I was most grateful to have the opportunity to discuss this amendment with my noble friend the Minister, who I understand may be able to signify some movement in this regard. I look forward to that with great interest.
I hope that the Government are minded to widen the remit to cover the gap that needs to be plugged by including the indirect supply chain, such as dairy, which is currently excluded from the process. For dairy producers and fruit growers, many of whom are quite small in size, it is extremely difficult to bring a complaint to the Groceries Code Adjudicator. That is why I am very keen—and it is something that we concluded some seven or eight years ago on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee next door—that it should be incumbent on the Groceries Code Adjudicator to bring forward, on her initiative, investigations in this regard. The indirect supply chain, as well as the direct, is extremely important for these small suppliers, and things do sometimes go awry. We should not be entirely reliant on complaints from small producers and growers who can too easily be identified and may, as a result, lose their contract, livelihood and mainstay of their income.
I very much support the Groceries Code Adjudicator taking over this role. I understand the difficulties, as she reports to a different department. If there has been some movement and my noble friend is able to see a way forward in this regard, I think it would be very welcome to the House.
My Lords, I support this suite of amendments. As the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, has said, I was quite happy to add my name to her Amendment 67 but, in fact, all these amendments as elucidated by the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, clearly seek to achieve the same ends, namely to widen the remit of the Groceries Code Adjudicator in the indirect supply chain, to benefit those in the dairy industry and fruit growers’ association.
I pay tribute to the outgoing Groceries Code Adjudicator, Christine Tacon, and welcome the new person to that role. It is interesting that there was a review published on 16 July this year into the role of the Groceries Code Adjudicator, which found that:
“The overall evidence from the review also suggested there is still a need for”
such an organisation and such a person,
“to ensure retailers comply with the requirements of the Groceries Code.”
Some responses to the review indicated that some suppliers are still reluctant to raise issues with the Groceries Code Adjudicator. The Government recognise in the report the steps that the current Groceries Code Adjudicator has taken to encourage suppliers to raise issues and make the commitment to work with the next Groceries Code Adjudicator—the new person in that job—and the retailers directly.
Since the Groceries Code Adjudicator is the independent regulator ensuring that regulated retailers treat their direct suppliers lawfully and fairly, it would be good at this stage if the Minister could show us a certain direction of reflection in his thinking in respect of the amendments in this group, which seek to widen the remit of the role to cover the indirect suppliers and to ensure that there are greater levels of regulation.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick. I have added my name to Amendments 63 and 64 in this group, as I believe that the Bill needs to be much clearer on who will take responsibility for complaints into alleged non-compliance.
Fair dealing in agriculture is vital to the reputation of the farming industry, and the public need to be reassured that there is someone watching their backs. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, for setting out the argument so clearly. The aim is to widen the remit of the Groceries Code Adjudicator, who is a truly independent person.
A “specified person”, as stated in the Bill currently, could be anyone. Can the Minister say who the Government had in mind to be this person? Would there be open recruitment, with advertising, or would this be an appointment through the old boys’ and old girls’ networks? The Groceries Code Adjudicator is a far better choice: a nationally recognised person who has a reputation and inspires trust and confidence. This is the proper person to take forward alleged non- compliance.
Amendment 64 sets out how the Groceries Code Adjudicator will interact with the Agriculture Bill in determining a complaint being carried out. I have not added my name to Amendments 65 and 66, but I fully support them. It is somewhat surprising that the Bill just refers to functions being conferred on “any” person. This does not fill me with confidence. Of course, this person must be competent and appropriate, and this should be in the Bill; otherwise, it might be somebody like me.
The noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, has spoken about fairness and contracts. Dairy farmers are at the start of the supply chain and need to be considered carefully. The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, has tabled an amendment which would also give the Groceries Code Adjudicator responsibility for the supply chain in the regulatory clauses of the Bill. There seems to be a wish to achieve the same aim, as has been reiterated by the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick.
Given the very reasonable arguments which have been put forward this evening, I hope the Minister can give a positive response to this debate. I look forward to his response.
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, had requested to come in, and I understand she has not been able to. Therefore, I now call the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, before the Minister responds.
My Lords, this has been an interesting debate, and I thank all noble Lords for contributing toward it. Of course, I regret that the noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkharle, is not with us. He sent me a note, and I will have further discussions and considerations with him, because I am very keen to hear what he would have said in this debate.
Turning to Amendments 63, 64 and 67, I would like to assure noble Lords that work is ongoing to determine the most appropriate mechanism of enforcement for the provisions under this part of the Bill. No decisions have been made about who will be appointed as the enforcement body for Part 3. It is important to note, with particular reference to Amendment 67, that while all the measures contained in this part of the Bill will collectively work to improve supply chain fairness, the Government believe enforcement will work best when each particular policy area in Part 3 can be addressed individually. I say that because it is very important that we get to grips with the issues in each sector, identifying those that are distinct as well as those that may be common. I think that would be a pragmatic consideration.
On the suggestion that the Groceries Code Adjudicator should be given enforcement responsibilities, it is important to note that one of the key factors in the adjudicator’s success is its targeted focus on the behaviours of the UK’s largest supermarkets with their direct suppliers. This has enabled the adjudicator to work closely with the industry in developing supply chain solutions. I join other noble Lords in acknowledging in the work of the Groceries Code Adjudicator. It has been a considerably successful tenure of office.
A government call for evidence in 2016 explored the possibility of extending the adjudicator’s remit beyond those directly supplying the largest retailers. The review found insufficient evidence of widespread problems further down the groceries supply chain and concluded that there was no justification to extend the remit. However, it did identify some remaining concerns. These were sector-specific and predominantly concerned with the first stage of the supply chain. Following on from this, we feel that such issues are best addressed with the appropriate and targeted interventions included in the Bill.
Preliminary analysis of the responses to the Government’s consultation on the dairy sector has shown that there are a range of views about appropriate enforcement. I emphasise that an adjudicator-style model is only one of many potential means to resolve contractual disputes and ensure compliance with any new regulations. Amending the Bill to appoint the Groceries Code Adjudicator as the enforcement body would serve potentially to tie the Government’s hands to only one of the many possibilities available. This would also preclude the ability to listen to the views of industry and respond accordingly, which is really important and, we think, critical in creating effective solutions.
The Government are, of course, aware of the issues that farmers face in the supply chain and that is not confined to the dairy sector. To answer one of the questions from the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, the Government will carry out similar consultations to explore the issues facing other sectors in turn. Discussions with stakeholders have already begun, to look at the situation in the red meat sector and what sort of interventions could improve the position of producers in that supply chain.
On Amendments 65 and 66, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, for highlighting the importance of a robust enforcement regime to ensure that the fair dealings obligations are effective and sustainable. It is important to state that no decisions have been made about the nature of enforcement, or the body responsible for enforcement. The reason is robust and strong: the Government want to work with industry and listen to its ideas and concerns before any final decision is made.
The noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, asked about the consultation on the dairy sector. To be precise, I can confirm that the consultation closed on Tuesday. The consultation included a specific question about dispute resolution and, while the detailed analysis is still being carried out, it is already clear—this is broad-brush, because I asked whether there are any indicators—that stakeholders have a broad range of views about the most appropriate form of enforcement and finding the best solution will obviously require some consideration. The Government aim to publish a summary of responses later this year, which will be very important and will provide greater detail about the views shared and the options available. I hope it will not be too long before there will be scope for that consideration. The Government will exercise due diligence in designing the enforcement regime and appointing a regulator.
I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, that I do not recognise her description of the rigour with which I and other Ministers consider appointments to public bodies. It is a very serious matter; we recognise that it is a matter of people coming forward to help in the public service. I reassure her that it has no input other than that it must be done rigorously, and the right people need to be chosen.
The Government intend the fair dealing obligations to create positive change for the industry. That is why we are doing it and why this is such an important feature. I am very glad that the noble Lord and other noble Lords have raised this, because this is all part of the prism of this Bill. A lot of people are worried that we are talking too much about the environment, but a lot of the guts and detail of what will come out in the provisions of the Bill are designed to help the farmer in the great production of food, and so that we can help the farmer get fairer dealing.
I have a note relating to the remarks of my noble friend Lady McIntosh on the GCA launching its own investigations. The Groceries Code Adjudicator can launch its own investigations, if it has reasonable grounds to suspect that a large retailer has broken the code. Again, I think the adjudicator’s work has been essential. I think and hope that, in the spirit of this debate, the reason the Government would at this time resist putting forward a particular body, however successful the adjudicator has been in this area, is that the best way to deal with difficulties in certain sectors is to work with the sector to see what is the best mechanism for enforcement. Let your Lordships be in no doubt that these are provisions that we recognise must be attended to, and in short order, because they are the way that will help the farmer in this situation.
In that spirit, I very much hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have come forward to speak tonight. I certainly appreciate the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, in calling for the extension of the role of the adjudicator, and the various discussions with the Minister. I agree that the widespread experience of the Groceries Code Adjudicator should give rise to exploring how the role of that office may be extended.
I remind all noble Lords that agriculture can be characterised as unusual: it is almost unique in that producers invariably buy retail yet sell wholesale. I certainly appreciate the Minister’s comments and the gracious way in which he is going to include the noble Lord, Lord Curry, in further discussions. He has also come forward with a very helpful update on his department’s ongoing deliberations. I appreciate that the Government need flexibility to get the right solutions to each sector’s issues, and I look forward to clarity being provided in the publication of this consultation and to the debates we will have on that later. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 63 withdrawn.
Amendments 64 to 67 not moved.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 68. 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 or anything else in this group to a Division should make that clear in the debate.
Clause 32: Identification and traceability of animals
68: Clause 32, page 29, line 44, at end insert—
“provided that those functions do not extend to a geographical area or species outside the original remit of that body when established.”Member’s explanatory statement
The purpose of this amendment is to ensure that Clause 32, as included in the Bill, does not undermine the democratic answerability of the devolved administrations.
My Lords, once again I draw attention to my registered interests. The amendment maintains the theme of devolved consideration and is a simple probing amendment, which I suppose I should really have tabled in Committee. But I shall not detain the House for any great length of time.
The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that Clause 32 does not undermine the democratic answerability of the devolved Administrations, which I am sure the Minister would never want to do. I shall try to spell out clinically the problem that this amendment tries to address. I have given the noble Baroness, Lady Bloomfield, notice of these issues to facilitate her response.
Subsection (1) of new Clause 89A, proposed by Clause 32(1), allows the Secretary of State to assign functions to a body established under Section 87(1)(a) of the NERC—Natural Environment and Rural Communities—Act 2006 relating to the identification of animals and
“collecting, managing and making available information regarding the identification, movement and health of animals”
in all parts of the UK. The Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board Order 2008, which I will refer to as the AHDB order, established that board in exercise of the powers conferred by Sections 87 to 91, 93 and 96, 97(1) and 97(2) of the NERC Act, as well as paragraphs 5 to 11 of Schedule 8 and Schedules 9 and 10 to that Act.
Under subsections (2) and (3) of Section 87 of the NERC Act, an order may specify only one geographic area
“in relation to which assigned functions are exercisable.”
As such, Article 2(1) of the AHDB order explicitly states:
“This Order relates to … the beef and sheep industry in England”.
I quote those words directly.
In Wales, we have our own body, which exercises many of the equivalent functions of the AHDB in relation to the beef and sheep industry in Wales. It is known as Hybu Cig Cymru and is a limited company owned wholly by the Welsh Government. Its main responsibility is
“the development, promotion and marketing of Welsh red meat.”
We also have our own legislation relating to the identification of animals and collecting, managing and making available information on animal identification, movement and health. For example, our sheep movement database, EIDCymru, collects much of the sheep movement information covered by the Sheep and Goats (Records, Identification and Movement) (Wales) Order 2015.
Yet new Clause 89A, proposed by Clause 32(1) of the Agriculture Bill before us, appears to allow the Secretary of State to grant powers to a body such as the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board in relation to sheep and beef animals in Wales. As one would expect, the AHDB Beef and Lamb Board comprises English members. No doubt they do sterling work for English beef and sheep farmers, and good luck to them, but it appears that, unless amended or clarified, Clause 32 may allow a body such as the AHDB to be granted powers relating to the identification of animals and collecting, managing and making available information on animal identification, movement and health in other geographical areas of the UK, including Wales. At best, this could be confusing. At worst, it could lead to duplication and unnecessary extra costs.
I hope that I have spelled out the problem clearly. I suggest to the Minister that my Amendment 68 would overcome the potential difficulties. I believe that, for the absolute avoidance of doubt, such words should be in the Bill when it becomes an Act. If the Minister acknowledges this need but sees some technical deficiency in my amendment, perhaps she could undertake to bring forward her own amendment at Third Reading to clear this matter up to everyone’s satisfaction.
I beg to move.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Wigley. I declare my interest as a livestock producer from Scotland.
Amendment 68A in my name emphasises much the same point for much the same reason. I have considerable admiration for my noble friend the Minister, who, along with his officials, has laboured hard and finally found a formula through which it has been possible to get a legislative consent Motion from the Scottish Parliament, as well as other Administrations, for this part of the Bill.
My amendment reflects the fact that given the present political views of the devolved Administrations, the Government have realised that they must get devolved agreement. Can my noble friend the Minister give the House some idea of which functions the body that is being proposed under this power will be expected to carry out? When we found that we were going to have the chance to resume control of our own laws, many in the agricultural and rural industries hoped that there would be frameworks to ensure seamless regulation across our own UK market. The Government then found that these functions under the devolution Acts had not been reserved to Westminster, so it was possible to argue that anything which could be considered to be part of agriculture and the environment was a devolved competence. It now appears that what we have in front of us is as far as we can get by way of a framework, but any final outcome will be hard won.
The noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Bennachie, has given a considerable description of the attitude with which these powers were received in the devolved Administrations. Rather like the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, I see this as an issue about the identification and traceability of animals being an area where the need for a joined-up policy is truly vital. It is an area where new technology is making an enormous difference to the capabilities of the information which can be included. Inevitably, it is triggering updates to the systems in the different parts of the country.
The noble Lord, Lord Wigley, has just explained the situation in Wales in some detail, and I must admit that I am not familiar with how this works in Ireland. However, in England, the AHDB is now moving on to using electronic identification for all livestock. It is in the middle of setting up the livestock information service using a database supplied by a company called Shearwell Data which will hold all the English data. Quite separately, the Government in Scotland are introducing electronic identification for cattle; the system is to be called ScotEID. They already have a well-tried one for sheep which has been running for some years.
Noble Lords will be familiar with the tremendous trade in livestock within the UK, both north to south and west to east. A large quantity of cattle and sheep which have a Scottish electronic identity will land up in England and vice versa, and it will be the same for the other Administrations. The normal expectation is that their identity would remain on the database of their registration. The person buying the animals would have to know their origin and then have to input or source any relevant information from that database, perhaps at a different end of the country, as will the authorities if there is an issue with health or disease. Other areas of possible similar divergencies are in carcass classification and food standards. I shall be interested to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, who has such wide experience in these fields, has to say.
Apart from all these complications, at what point do the Government hope to be able to have a comprehensive view of what is going on? Is this the final framework in this area, and what about other similar areas?
I call the next speaker, the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle. The noble Baroness is not here, so I call the next speaker, the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering.
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, and my noble friend the Duke of Montrose, for introducing their respective amendments. These two amendments refer back to comments that I made earlier about the status of the common framework agreements. It is very clear at this time that this is a fuzzy area and it is not quite clear what the status of the common framework agreements is—and yet, in the very specific circumstances that both noble Lords speaking to Amendments 68 and 68A referred to, time is pressing on and we need to know how the different Administrations across the United Kingdom will administer this part of the Bill.
My question to the Minister is: what is the status of the common frameworks at this time? I understand that they have been reduced to 21, but obviously the process is ongoing. It would be helpful to know whether this level of detail has been reached in the current negotiations and how circumstances referred to in Amendments 68 and 68A can be avoided if at all possible.
My Lords, I avoided devolved issues in Committee and was seeking to avoid them on Report, but I want to come in to support the noble Lord, Lord Wigley.
I have a couple of points to make. One is a general one, and it is no reflection whatever on the Ministers on the Front Bench: the Government do not do devolution. My experience of that comes from 2010 to 2013, some years ago now, when I was chair of the Food Standards Agency and the coalition Government came in. It was quite clear that there was a major problem with their attitude towards devolution, and I think that has carried on. I realise that there are relations between Ministers and they talk to each other, but the government machine does not do devolution.
My more specific point is that I plead guilty on two issues, really. The Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board was one of my babies when I went back to MAFF, or Defra, in 2006. The merger of the six levy boards was done under my watch. Of course, I realised at the time that I was the English farming Minister, not the Great Britain farming Minister, and the issue applied only to England. Furthermore, before that—this shows, I freely admit, that as the years go by I get a bit out of date, and I have had a year when I have not been on the ball, as it were—the cattle tracing service for passports and birth information, located in Workington at the time, was a UK-wide body; indeed, we recruited Welsh speakers. It could be that that has been taken apart and is no longer there, but the fundamental issue behind all this is traceability.
One reason we do it is self-interest, but the reason we were forced to do it by the European Union, as it does elsewhere, is so that we know what animal has been where if a disease breaks out. The issue should not be one of a dispute between devolved Administrations not being able to access the information; it is absolutely fundamental that the traceability of animals, their movements, the feed they have had and other matters is available if an animal disease breaks out—I hope that it does not happen but we have to prepare for the worst—particularly where there is a transfer to humans, or indeed if it is widely spread to other animals because they move around the country, as has just been said, east, west, north and south, and that leads to real problems.
So, first, I fundamentally doubt that the Government really do devolution. Secondly, in an area like this, Clause 32 is quite specific that the Government are in fact taking on board UK-wide information; indeed, relating to Scotland as well. The Minister is going to have to explain exactly what the detail is in terms of the devolved Administrations and how traceability—and the way we need it to operate in an emergency, because it is always an emergency when you actually need it—will actually function.
My Lords, we are, again, addressing how matters might be properly devolved. The noble Lord, Lord Wigley, has identified some key challenges in his amendment, and the amendment in the name of the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, is complementary to it. It seems to me that these amendments need to be taken very seriously by the Government, who need to assess the implications laid out by noble Lords.
We are addressing the important issue of the identification and traceability of animals. We have a UK single market, so we will expect animals to be moved around, across the boundaries of our nations and regions. But animal traceability must be clear. Most years, my father would head for the Welsh borders, to Builth Wells, to buy his Welsh mountain ewes, and they arrived by lorry on our farm on the South Downs. That was a common pattern. The noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, outlined the same pattern for England and Scotland. It is the way that market works in the UK and, within it, animals must be traceable.
The system needs to involve each of the devolved Administrations, which must also be able to be held to account on this. As the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, indicated, traceability is exceedingly important in terms of disease control—for example, as we saw so clearly with foot and mouth or, more recently, blue tongue.
My noble friends Lord Bruce, Lord Alderdice, Lord Thomas and Lady Humphreys spelled out earlier how important it is that all parts of the United Kingdom work closely together, with proper devolution and consent. The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, is surely right that the Government do not do devolution, and this has to improve. My noble friend Lord Alderdice mentioned earlier that agriculture is, for example, the major industry in Northern Ireland, and traceability must be done in conjunction with the EU, given that Northern Ireland is in the EU internal market. Can the noble Baroness comment on this aspect?
I am very glad that these amendments have come forward. Both noble Lords are right to seek clarification here on the record, and we support their propositions. I look forward to the Minister’s response. It will need to be very specific.
We might not strictly be noble friends but I am grateful to my noble compatriot Lord Wigley for tabling Amendment 68, allowing a brief discussion of how the changes contained in Clause 32 will impact on the devolved Administrations. I agree with my noble friend Lord Rooker that, despite the better efforts of some people—Ministers and officials in his Government—generally people do not do devolution 20 years on.
I am also grateful to the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, for his Amendment 68A, which is designed to probe how these traceability provisions will work as animals or their meat move across the UK’s internal borders. I understand that, although agriculture might have always been devolved in a theoretical sense, the UK Secretary of State has, in many areas, tended to act on behalf of all four nations.
These provisions on the identification and traceability of animals are important, and I am sure that the current drafting has the approval of the devolved Administrations. Indeed, I will pass on the Minister’s earlier kind comments to my good friend the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs in the Senedd Cymru. However, I would be grateful to the Minister if, in her response, she could shed greater light on the points of detail raised by those who have tabled these amendments.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, for his amendment, and I am very grateful to him for his advance notice of the points that he made. I will deal with Amendment 68A, in the name of my noble friend the Duke of Montrose, at the same time.
As the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, rightly observed, Clause 32 provides that the Secretary of State may assign functions to a body relating to, first, collecting, managing and making available information regarding the identification, movement and health of animals, and, secondly, the means of identifying animals. These functions are vital for the purposes of disease control, for complete movement traceability of all animals across UK borders and for UK trade negotiations with international partners. The meat and livestock sectors have championed this new service and are strongly supportive of it.
In Committee, we introduced a government amendment providing that the Secretary of State secure approval from the devolved Administrations for orders assigning functions exercisable in relation to Wales, Northern Ireland or Scotland to the AHDB, such as the handling of movement data shared with the AHDB by those Administrations. We have always said that we would engage intensively with the devolved Administrations prior to making any UK-wide orders.
The wording in Section 89A(2) of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006, as inserted by Clause 32, requires the Secretary of State to seek approval from the devolved Administrations for making orders assigning functions exercisable in those Administrations. Where any such function is assigned, it will be following full discussion with, and approval from, the devolved Administrations. These discussions will give the opportunity for any further concerns to be raised. Therefore, any appropriate limitations on species covered or geographical extent for any function relating to identification and traceability of livestock will be specified in the order and, I repeat, subject to approval from the devolved Administrations.
Regarding how livestock traceability will work between UK Administrations, each Administration will run its own multi-species traceability service. Currently, there is a GB-wide service for cattle and a service for pigs in England and Wales, but in the future, traceability will be fully distributed. The Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board needs to be able to process movement data on animals that are not in England, or that have crossed borders within the UK, to provide a complete picture of an animal’s lifetime traceability in disease-control situations. This is termed “the UK view”. It will enable livestock identification and movement data collected by each Administration to be seen by others and to be available to veterinary officials in all UK Administrations. I hope that this reassures my noble friend the Duke of Montrose.
I take issue with the assertation by the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, that this Government do not do devolution. As the Lords’ spokesperson for Wales and someone who is proudly Welsh, I assure him, and the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, that we pay careful attention to preserving the devolution settlement in all three departments of which I am Whip.
The AHDB will also run the livestock unique identification service on behalf of England and Wales. This controls the issuing of official individual identification numbers to animals. All data will be handled in accordance with data sharing agreements and protocols agreed by all UK Administrations. No Administration will be able to use data outside the terms of that agreement.
My noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering asked about the status of the negotiations on the common framework. In the last debate, my noble friend the Minister said that the UK Government have been working closely with the Welsh Government, the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs in Northern Ireland, and the Scottish Government, to develop a UK agriculture support framework. We expect to be able to agree this soon and we will update the House shortly.
I believe that this provides the assurance that the assignment of functions by the Secretary of State under this clause will be fully accountable to the devolved Administrations. With these assurances, and my belief that there is genuinely no clearing up necessary, I ask the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Baroness for her response, and to the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, the noble Baronesses, Lady McIntosh, Lady Northover and Lady Wilcox, and the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, for their input in this debate.
Quite clearly this is not a subject area where one is seeking controversy; rather one is seeking to resolve a practical problem which might arise if it is not planned for in a way that avoids such eventualities. There must be clear demarcation of responsibility for all four bodies within the UK that have various responsibilities in these fields. They have to know what their responsibilities are and how far they go. To the extent that from time to time there has to be some cross-border activity, by the nature of the market, there must be clear ground rules on who does what and who communicates with whom.
To the extent that the Welsh Government have indicated that they see a way forward on this, that is fine, provided that it is the same interpretation on the other side of Offa’s Dyke, and in Scotland and Northern Ireland in relation to their powers. If we can get a situation in which it is clear to all what their responsibilities are—where they start and where they end—we can avoid difficulties. If we do not, we will find ourselves in quite a complex situation with a lack of clarity with regard to responsibility.
I conclude with this. There is a saying, particularly in the farming fraternity, that good fences make good neighbours. In this instance, there has to be clarity, understood by all, on who is responsible for what fence and for what function. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 68 withdrawn.
Amendment 68A not moved.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 69. 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, or anything else in this group, to a Division should make that clear in debate.
Clause 34: Agricultural tenancies
69: Clause 34, leave out Clause 34
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is intended to remove agricultural tenancies provisions.
My Lords, Amendments 69 and 89 seek the removal from the Bill of Schedule 3 and the reforms contained therein updating the law on agricultural tenancies. This is not because I am not in favour of agricultural tenancy reform. To the contrary, it is because I do not believe that this is reform enough. My proposed amendments therefore form a protest and express frustration at the modesty of the admittedly sensible agricultural tenancy reforms contained in the Bill.
As discussed at length in Committee and on Tuesday, agriculture is key to meeting the nation’s net-zero carbon ambitions and assisting the Government to ensure that this generation hands a better environment on to the next. To achieve that, agriculture will need to change fundamentally. The biggest change will be to swap short-term profit for long-term sustainable investment and productivity.
The clearest illustration of this change is in the handling of our soils. The building of organic matter in soils, along with a healthy soil structure, requires long-term investment and a short-term decrease in productivity before any financial return can be realised. The same can be said of agroforestry, hedgerow management and any number of the worthy ELM schemes we have debated. None of this is possible if the farm operator enjoys only a short-term interest in the land.
The tenanted sector accounts for approximately one-third of our farmland, of which nearly half is now let on farm business tenancies. The average length of an FBT is less than three years, and 90% of all new tenancies are let for no more than five years. It is difficult, if not impossible, to achieve both a sustainable business and a sustainable environment when farming with a three-year horizon. There is an urgent need to change this and to permit everyone who farms in the UK to enjoy a much longer horizon in which they can expect to reap the long-term benefits of adopting environmentally sensitive farming techniques.
This is urgent, and I am concerned that if we make do with what TRIG has agreed is possible now, we will lose the impetus for further reform for a generation and our agricultural landscape will continue to be blighted by a short-termism diametrically opposed to the noble goals of environmental land management, as set out in Clause 1. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am glad of the opportunity to support the amendment and to speak to my Amendment 84, which is attached to it. My amendment is very simple; the words on the amendment paper spell it out. It is to ensure
“that tenant farmers in Wales have a mechanism to object”—
if they need to—
“to a landlord’s refusal to consent to enter into a financial assistance scheme.”
I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, for her support for it.
The point is that there must be a system operating in Wales, and for clarity it should be included in the Bill that this right exists and that the responsibility lies with Welsh Ministers. For that reason, I am glad to speak to Amendment 84 in my name.
I understand that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans is not on the call, so I call the next speaker, the noble Baroness, Lady Rock.
My Lords, I declare my interest as a director of Wrackleford Farms Ltd, a tenant farming enterprise. I shall speak to Amendments 81, 82, 83, 85 and 86, which stand in my name. I am grateful for the support of the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, for these amendments. I shall also speak to Amendments 69 and 89 in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Devon, Amendment 84 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, and Amendments 87 and 88 in the name of my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering.
In speaking to my Amendment 81, I speak also to Amendment 84 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, which will achieve the same outcome for Wales prior to it coming forward with its own legislation, as this amendment envisages for England. This amendment is a straightforward change to require the Government to come forward with the necessary regulations to allow an agricultural tenant to refer to dispute resolution an unreasonable refusal from a landlord following a request made by the tenant to join a scheme developed under the provisions for financial assistance.
While the Government may give an assurance that they will use the power available in this part of the Bill to bring forward the necessary regulations, there is no reason why the Government should not commit to doing so in the Bill. Tenant farmers are rightly concerned about their ability to access new public payments for public good schemes in light of their tenancy agreements and some of the restrictive clauses which they contain. Tenants must be given the assurance that they will be able to enter new schemes without the landlord being able to unreasonably withhold consent. The change which this amendment will make is entirely in line with the Government’s policy and should not cause any issue for them but at the same time it would give a tremendous boost of assurance to tenant farmers who are looking at the possibility of taking part in new schemes as they develop.
Sadly, there are circumstances where landlords refuse consent on an unreasonable basis for their tenants to enter schemes. Although it may be considered prudent for landlords to allow their tenants to remain profitable, it can sometimes be the case that landlords seek to use the leverage involved in having to give their consent to make unreasonable demands of their tenants, including surrendering secure tenancies in favour of insecure farm business tenancies, seeking the surrender of land, buildings or dwellings or merely to make the life of the tenant difficult. Having said that, there are, of course, plenty of examples where relationships between landlords and tenants are very good and where the changes being envisaged by this amendment would not be a risk to those good relationships or undermine what the parties are trying to achieve in those circumstances.
Amendment 82 closes a potential loophole in the provisions of the Bill around gaining the consent of the landlord, which is required to be obtained by the tenant in entering a financial assistance scheme. The Bill contains a relatively narrow set of criteria which need to be in place before the tenant has recourse to potential dispute resolution for an unreasonable refusal of consent to join a financial assistance scheme. The Bill envisages providing the tenant only with the option to object where the tenancy agreement or legislation governing the relationship between the landlord and the tenant restricts the tenant’s ability to participate without the landlord’s consent. However, there may be individual requirements set out within the financial assistance schemes which require tenants to seek the landlord’s consent. It may be because of the nature of specific land use changes envisaged by schemes being considered by tenants. Currently, that situation would not be covered by the provision in the Bill, and the amendment seeks to address that by ensuring that all refusals by a landlord can be referred by the tenant to dispute resolution on the grounds of reasonableness.
The Government may say that they will ensure to address this point in the way in which they design schemes, and I have some sympathy with that, but it would be better to have the provisions in the Bill rather than have to rely on individual schemes having their own appeal mechanism.
Amendment 83 would address specific issues around unreasonable restrictions within tenancy agreements which prevent farm tenants investing in their holdings to carry out activities or improvements which assist with the productivity or sustainability of the holding. This could include using the holding for non-agricultural activities which are in keeping with and complementary to its agricultural uses, which many farms want to do and which adds much-needed financial stability to those holdings.
Many tenants will have agreements which require them to seek their landlord’s consent for the installation of new fixed equipment or to carry out new activities where the requirement for the landlord’s consent is absolute. In these circumstances, there is no recourse for the tenant, who feels aggrieved by a refusal from the landlord. In that it is a point of public policy that farming should become both more productive and more sustainable, it would be an error not to allow tenants the same ability to fulfil those objectives as others. Of course, reasonable landlords will give reasonable consent for activities which improve the productive capacity of the holding and/or its sustainability, but, sadly, there are situations where such consent is not forthcoming. This is mostly because landlords are seeking to extract other concessions from their tenants, as I have set out previously. This amendment does not seek to provide a carte blanche ability for tenants to avoid reasonable clauses within their tenancy agreements, but it would provide the opportunity for them to appeal against an unreasonable refusal from their landlord. Indeed, this suggestion formed part of the recommendations of the Tenancy Reform Industry Group in its report to Defra in October 2017.
Amendments 85 and 86 would enhance the franchise of individuals who are able to apply for succession of tenancy for the limited number of Agricultural Holdings Act 1986 tenancies which continue to have rights of succession. Where those rights of succession apply, a narrow list of close relatives are able to apply to be considered to be eligible to take on succession tenancy. Up to three generations of members of the family can be tenants of the same holding. The current franchise includes husbands, wives, civil partners, sons, daughters, individuals brought up in farm families and treated as children of a marriage or civil partnership, and brothers and sisters of the deceased or retiring tenant. However, crucially, the list of potential successors does not include the grandchild, the nephew or the niece of the deceased or retiring tenant, nor does it include children from a cohabiting partner of the deceased or retiring tenant. The amendment seeks merely to correct for those omissions. This is also an issue that was considered by the Tenancy Reform Industry Group. It is often the case that the most appropriate successor in a family business is not to be found in the immediate generation but in the next, and there is no reason to deny the ability for the tenancy to be passed to those individuals should they also be able to meet the other eligibility criteria.
I strongly support Amendment 87 in the name of my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering, as it seeks to provide a framework for encouraging longer-term farm business tenancies. As the noble Earl, Lord Devon, raised, the average length of FBTs is under four years. With 90% of all tenancies let for five years or less, this is a crucial issue. I look forward to hearing what the Government plan to do about it and ask that consideration be given also to the taxation environment within which landlords make decisions about farm tenancy letting, as has been proposed by the Tenant Farmers Association.
Amendment 88 in the name of my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering is crucial to this legislation. FBT tenants should not be left out of the possibility of objecting to their landlord’s refusal to allow them to enter into a financial assistance scheme. Should my noble friend push this matter to a vote, I would certainly vote in favour of the amendment, as it closes a dangerous loophole for nearly half the tenanted sector of agriculture.
Finally, I turn to Amendments 69 and 89 in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Devon. I cannot support the removal of the tenancy provisions in the Bill that those amendments would achieve. However, I understand and fully agree with his view that we urgently need a specific Bill covering agricultural tenancies. It could pick up on many of the issues already recommended by the Tenancy Reform Industry Group. I urge my noble friend the Minister to give an assurance that an agricultural tenancies Bill will be brought before this House in the not too distant future.
I know that my noble friend the Minister is very supportive of the tenanted sector and highlights its importance to the whole agricultural industry. I thank him particularly for his empathetic engagement on this. It is therefore right that new legislation, providing security and stability to the tenanted sector, should be brought before the House. Although I am minded to test the will of the House on my amendments, I will listen carefully to what the Minister says before making my final decision.
My Lords, I am delighted to follow my noble friend Lady Rock and thank her for her staunch and eloquent support for Amendments 87 and 88. Perhaps I may briefly address Amendments 69 and 89, in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Devon. I have great difficulty with them because they would remove from the Bill all provisions relating to agricultural tenancies. That would be a very regrettable move. However, I support Amendment 84 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, which is a mirror image of the amendments standing in my name.
I will address my remarks primarily to Amendments 87 and 88. Clearly, as I say in my explanatory statement, Amendment 87 would seek to
“bring into effect a legislative change proposed in the tenancy reform consultation carried out by DEFRA and the Welsh Government, which has not been covered by the Bill, to encourage landlords to let longer Farm Business Tenancies.”
I would like to draw out some of the comments made by my noble friend Lady Rock in speaking to her amendments as passionately and eloquently as she did. I am minded to press Amendment 88 to a vote, not on my behalf but on behalf of all the agricultural tenants for whom, I know, this is close to their hearts.
I have had cause to raise this issue at previous stages of the Bill and I feel passionately about it. I grew up in a part of the world—Teesdale, in the Pennines in the north of England—where the farm incomes are among the lowest in the land. The farmers there probably survive only because their wives go out not just to help on the farm in all weathers, particularly at lambing time. In normal circumstances, outside Covid, they also go out and try to earn a living to keep the family afloat.
The basis of Amendment 88 is very simple. It is to put the tenants’ agreements under the Agricultural Tenancies Act 1995 on exactly the same basis as under the Agricultural Holdings Act 1986. My noble friend Lady Rock referred clearly to the devastating effects of moving from a secure tenancy agreement to an insecure tenancy, which do not bear thinking about in the present climate. Tenant farming is the bedrock of this country; it is almost unique to the English countryside. I remember so clearly from my years as a Member of the European Parliament how we stand out as one of the few areas of Europe with such a well-developed system of tenancies.
What I find so heartbreaking about the current situation is that the two Acts have not yet been brought together. To me, the provisions covering tenants under them should be absolutely as one. This is a highly regrettable situation. To be fair, my noble friend the Minister tried to go to some pains to put my mind at rest in Committee. Yet I find myself tabling the same amendment on Report, and potentially putting it to a vote, because I have not had satisfaction on this point.
I believe I am here as a voice for those people who cannot be represented otherwise than through our good selves in this House. I urge my noble friend to consider any reason why the tenancies under the two Acts cannot be treated in exactly the same way. It would be grossly unfair if any tenants’ possible access to financial assistance could be refused at the whim of a landlord. I accept there are good tenants and bad tenants; there are good landlords and bad landlords. But we have to look at the worst-case scenario.
My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register, together with my membership of the National Farmers Union and the CLA.
I sympathise with, but do not support, the noble Earl, Lord Devon, in his amendments which would remove both Clause 34 and Schedule 3 from the Bill. Although, in an ideal world, the legislation on the reform of tenancies would be in a separate Bill, the clauses cover several matters that have been agreed by the industry through TRIG. So, if necessary, I would reluctantly accept Clause 34 and the schedule. However, what I certainly would not support—and I am afraid I do not support either the noble Baroness, Lady Rock, or the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering—are Amendments 85 and 86 regarding succession on the death of an Agricultural Holdings Act 1986 tenant.
The suggestion that the rights of succession should be given to nephews, nieces, and grandchildren as well as partners and their children is several steps too far and begs the question, “Why stop there?” It would unnecessarily prolong the life of the AHA 1986 tenancies when we have moved on to the Agricultural Tenancies Act 1995, along with a more modern and flexible regime for letting agricultural land, with the hope of bringing new entrants into the industry.
All these amendments would achieve is benefiting a small group of successors, some of whom might succeed anyway in view of their existing competence and relationship with the landowner, and others who might see it as an easy way to inherit an otherwise unaffordable house and a deceptively attractive way of life. It would also have the serious effect of depriving landlords again of their property rights and access to their own land for another generation.
Land could and should be freed up for a wider pool of occupiers under arrangements and agreements that are more flexible and more market-oriented and might help deliver productivity advantages. New tenancy agreements or share farming, as well as joint ventures, which are more collaborative, work well for new entrants and young farmers.
I am also opposed to Amendment 88 with its proposed changes to the Agricultural Tenancies Act 1995. All stakeholders in the industry have expressed their agreement that the 1995 Act provides a suitable framework for tenancies in the modern era, with flexibility for the parties to agree the terms that suit their arrangement. This legislation has generated very little need for litigation or dispute resolution, and on previous occasions, all parties were agreed that the Act did not need revision or reform.
The amendment would create a situation where a recently agreed tenancy agreement can be amended in a way not foreseen or agreed to by the parties. If the parties are not able to agree on amending terms—an option that is, of course, open to them—to do this by recourse to an expensive alternative dispute-resolution process will have a very negative impact on that relationship and more widely on the landlord/tenant sector. It will undermine cross industry efforts to encourage parties into longer term agreements and possibly undermine the lettings market altogether. It is a different context to that under the Agricultural Holdings Act 1986 framework and will be counterproductive to the industry. It is also proposed in the amendment that the detail of how such a dispute would be resolved by secondary legislation be determined at some later point. This is very unsatisfactory.
Issues and factors like these certainly need to be further discussed and considered by TRIG before being legislated upon. The National Farmers’ Union has welcomed the reforms in the Bill but also urges that other reforms, such as landlords’ consent to variation of terms under tenancy Acts, are taken forward through TRIG. Please could the Minister consider separate legislation to cover tenancy reform issues that are not currently in this Bill on the back of the TRIG recommendations?
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and to participate in the debate on this group of amendments. Noble Lords will know of my interest in my family business, which is on the register.
I speak as someone privileged with “boys’ land”—they say this of the silts around the Wash. This land is ideal for arable farming, and we grow a diverse range of crops, from bulbs, in which we are prominent, to cauliflowers and potatoes. My neighbours are engaged in a great variety of different cropping, and this diversity —together with the marketing and distribution facilities —has encouraged field-scale horticulture similar to that in the Netherlands. It has also led to large-scale investment in protected cropping indoors and not exclusively under glass. I admit that this experience colours my thinking as to how we can raise productivity and harness modern techniques of scientific agriculture. It also colours my thinking about the role that the occupation and use of land plays in allowing a lively and prosperous industry.
I spoke in Committee on amendments covering tenancy issues and, in particular, about the value of cropping licences. I explained the background to my conviction that a dynamic farming and growing industry depends on having a lively market for land occupation to make this land readily available to up-and-coming farmers and growers. Schedule 3 is the product of the dialogue between the Government and the Tenancy Reform Industry Group, where different parties to this issue are seeking to find consensus on landholding issues.
Consensus must be the right way to seek to change something as complex as this. I might add that it seems to me that this whole Bill is about establishing a consensus on a path for agriculture into the future. It is with this in mind that I cannot support the wish of the noble Earl, Lord Devon, to remove Clause 34—and, with it, Schedule 3—of this Bill. I believe that Schedule 3, which his amendments seek to remove, delivers on the Government’s consultations in England and Wales and, indeed, on many of the recommendations from TRIG.
The Bill is not a root-and-branch reform of tenancy legislation. It is not intended to be. Listening to this debate, I am very much aware that many noble Lords are impatient for more changes. However, these modest key and agreed changes, which form Schedule 3, will help to modernise agricultural tenancy legislation and, more importantly, play a part in giving this key industry the flexibility to adapt to change, and this is why they should remain in this Bill.
Having said that, I hope there can be consensus on further issues that the UK and Welsh Governments will wish to discuss with TRIG to see what other actions will lead to a thriving tenancy sector. In turn, this will require further consideration by Parliament and legislation. However, as it is, Schedule 3 makes considerable changes now, and they should be supported.
My Lords, although I declared my agricultural interests earlier, I should specifically declare that I am, and have been, a landlord, as a freeholder and as a trustee of let agricultural land, as well as having been a tenant, both of family land and, until recently, some land belonging to a third party. What I found interesting and remarkable about the speeches on the amendment is that, while a number of speakers have taken varying stances, they almost all seem to be coming from the same general place on the map—as I do and hope will become apparent.
It is helpful when thinking about these matters to start from the original economic rationale for the landlord and tenant system. Landlords provided fixed equipment and the tenant the working capital. The parties negotiated around that and the farm business was put together as what might be described as a form of joint venture. The reality in days gone by was that the landlord’s negotiating power was frequently stronger than that of the tenant. This point was graphically drawn to the attention of the House by the late Lord Williams of Mostyn in his final speech on the Bill reorganising the composition of this House, some 15 or so years ago, in what I consider to be the finest speech that I have heard in this Chamber. The imbalance over the years has led to a series of specific pieces of legislation to introduce rules for fair trading—something that we have just been considering in a different context—into this marketplace. That is as it should be.
Too often, the debate is conducted in black and white terms, when it is in reality shades of grey. Landlords range from hard-nosed financial institutions and Dukes to widows, orphans and charities—for example, the National Trust, which interestingly is not always popular among its own tenants. Tenants range from huge farming companies to smallholders. Their circumstances are wide-ranging. There are good and bad landlords, and tenants who are exemplary farmers and some who are chancers and incompetents. However, both sides, whatever characteristics they have, ought in a free society to be treated even-handedly within the legal framework surrounding whatever arrangement they wish to put in place. While this may, to a degree, depend upon one’s perspective, the landlord is not, in granting a lease, conveying away his freehold or emotional and other commitments to the land. It is not the re-creation of some form of copyhold system.
A tenant, particularly when he also obtains a farmhouse, is acquiring more than a mere business asset but a home, and making a considerable investment in someone else’s property. This must not be forgotten. Questions around bare land may be different. On top of that, both parties may be investing substantial sums of money, and all this must be taken into account. There is a perhaps an understandable tendency, at least superficially, to treat tenants as good and landlords as bad. That is not, by any means, universally the case. I speak from first-hand experience on which it is unnecessary to elaborate further here.
The conclusion that I have come to when thinking about these matters over the years is that perhaps the best way to make a mess of the landlord and tenant system is to rewrite it on the hoof on the Floor of Parliament in an ad hoc manner. Rather, as a number of speakers have said, those in the industry should, from time to time, review the matters to find a middle way that, as far as possible, represents a compromise acceptable to all those involved. That will need to be led by some entity or organisation like the Tenancy Reform Industry Group, TRIG. Failure to do that will not only wreck a system that must adapt anyway to completely new circumstances as the output of farming changes but, as many speakers have said, but properly ensure fairness on all sides. It is certain that if changes are made in an ad hoc, incremental way, real injustice in all kinds of unexpected places is likely to result. I am old-fashioned enough to think that it is a matter that Parliament should do its best to avoid.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkeharle, has withdrawn, so I now call the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood. This is an important group of amendments, to which others have spoken eloquently. I added my name to Amendments 81, 82, 83, 85 and 86 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Rock. I congratulate her on her speech and agree wholeheartedly with her detailed comments.
The noble Earl, Lord Devon, moved Amendment 69 and spoke to Amendment 89, which would remove agricultural tenancies from the Bill. I listened carefully to his speech and I am afraid I cannot agree with him. Removing reference to tenant farmers from the Bill because insufficient importance is given to them is not the answer. Tenant farmers are a vital part of the patchwork of agricultural holdings across the country. If they are removed from the Bill, I am unclear on just how we can safeguard their survival. However, I agree that three years is far too short for a farm tenancy business.
The amendments I will speak to all apply to Schedule 3 and would ensure that those currently involved in agriculture on a tenancy basis can function effectively. I support the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, and those of the noble Baroness, Lady Rock, on financial assistance schemes. These must be open to all tenant farmers. It is unacceptable for their landlords to refuse consent for them to engage in these schemes. Those who work the land and do the back-breaking jobs involved should be able to reap the rewards. It is unacceptable for landlords to block the rewards, cream them off for themselves or alter the tenancies to the disadvantage of the tenant, as the noble Baroness indicated.
I turn to the amendments that relate to the rights of succession to a tenancy on death. Many tenant farms will be run by extended family members. For some, the nephew, niece or grandchild of the farmer will have been helping to run the farm for some time and see it as the only way they themselves can get into farming. It is therefore imperative that they should be able to succeed to the tenancy. They have experience and expertise, often gained over many years, and the farm will be in safe hands. Similarly, those in civil partnerships or cohabiting should be able to succeed to the tenancy where they wish to do so.
We have on previous days on the Bill debated the importance of encouraging new entrants into farming. To shut out those who wish to carry on the family tradition by refusing succession to the tenancy would be both cruel and unwise. These are the very people the Government should be encouraging to take up the reins and carry on. They are also the ones likely to welcome a move to a more environmentally friendly way of farming. I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Carrington: no one related to a farmer or his extended family could possibly think that farming is an easy option.
Lastly, I support the letting of longer farm business tenancies. In Committee, the noble Earl, Lord Devon, referred to the woefully inadequate length of farm business tenancies of three years. This is hopeless for anyone wanting to plan ahead and make the best use of the land.
While I accept that short tenancies mean that others can come on to the land, it is not likely to encourage proper management of the land if, at the end of three years, the tenant farmer has to give up and move on. Often, there are no farms for them to move on to, as the popularity of pony paddocks means that some farmers have sold off land piecemeal for this purpose. A longer tenancy agreement is vital if the Government are to ensure that ELMS are successful. The Government cannot insist that it will take farmers seven years to convert from CAP to the ELMS system and then legislate only for three-year farm tenancy businesses. These are all vital issues, and should the noble Baroness, Lady Rock, wish to test the opinion of the House, we will support her. I look forward to the Minister’s comments.
I thank the Tenant Farmers Association for its communications on these clauses. I also thank the noble Lords who have tabled these amendments for further consideration. They tackle many aspects of the two major Acts, the Agricultural Holdings Act 1986 and the Agricultural Tenancies Act 1995, following the Government’s consultations on their workings, on which there has been so much debate. I recognise the passion with which many speakers have spoken tonight. These relationships can certainly become fraught and I appreciate the experiences that the noble Baroness, Lady Rock, shared with the House. It is a difficult and complicated subject that has been deliberated on by the Tenancy Reform Industry Group over many years. The Bill delivers on many of its recommendations, and the Minister will see that they are drafted to balance the interests of tenants and owners.
I understand that many of the amendments were consulted on last year but did not receive enough support and that therefore further, more detailed work may be required. I understand that there remains an appetite in England and Wales to consider the situation further before coming to a conclusion by the enactment of these amendments. The amendments are certainly important and have our broad support, including Amendment 88 in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans. We agree that there should be parity between tenants under the 1995 Act and those under the 1986 legislation in objecting to a landlord’s refusal to enter into a specific financial assistance scheme. We wish generally that all farming operations, whatever the terms of their occupancy, should be encouraged to take up the various ELM schemes and make their contributions towards an environmentally sustainable agriculture.
We would also be receptive to the modern interpretation of relationships that could lead to wider inclusion in tenancies, in line with our general encouragement for new entrants to come into the industry, provided they can meet the various eligibility provisions. The noble Earl, Lord Devon, argues that these clauses should be excluded from the Bill, but we would not go along with such an approach. If improvements to the legislation have been agreed as part of the TRIG process, we would not wish to hold them up. However, regarding further amendments, we can see that these may not have received the more considered support as widely as may be necessary for enactment in the Bill. We await the outcome of a more comprehensive assessment throughout the industry.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords. The noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, used the word “passionate”. It has been a passionate debate and I think that, whatever the tenure of ownership, tenancy or commonhold, the challenges of farming are very profound. Obviously, the Government need to work towards creating an environment in which all types of tenure are able to run a strong business.
Turning to Amendments 69 and 89, the noble Earl, Lord Devon, proposed that we should in effect decide not to take forward what we have banked in our work. The package of tenancy reforms included in Clause 34 and Schedule 3 were shown by public consultations in England and Wales to have broad support. They deliver on many of the recommendations from the Tenancy Reform Industry Group—TRIG. The noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, made that point rightly, because the Government have brought forward those recommendations which commanded broad support. These provisions will help to modernise agricultural tenancy legislation, providing tenants with more flexibility to adapt to change. That is why it is very important that they remain in the Bill, so that they can be delivered now.
I understand that the noble Earl, Lord Devon, would like to see tenancy reform delivered through a separate dedicated Bill, and I can assure him and noble Lords that both the UK and Welsh Governments are keen to engage in further discussions with members of TRIG to explore whether any further actions may be needed to ensure what we all want, which is a thriving tenanted sector.
On Amendment 84, the tenant farming sector remains, as the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, said, and as we all know, a crucial element of agriculture in Wales. Within last year’s consultation, the Welsh Government outlined their proposals for a new sustainable land management scheme in Sustainable Farming and Our Land. It also consulted on a series of measures to modernise the tenant farming sector in the agricultural tenancy reform consultation. Policy development on tenancy reform remains ongoing in light of the consultation responses received and is being carried out in conjunction with development of sector-wide proposals for future agricultural support.
The Welsh Government acknowledge the importance of ensuring that tenant farmers are able to access any new scheme, and their view is that a Senedd Bill would provide a more appropriate legislative vehicle for that purpose. Further consideration will be given to what provision is needed in due course. The Welsh Government intend to publish a White Paper later this year to pave the way for an agriculture (Wales) Bill to be introduced in the next Senedd term.
On Amendment 87, there can of course be benefits from tenants and landlords entering into a longer-term tenancy agreement. There has been a lot of talk of three years. As far as I am aware, the parties can, if they so choose, have any length of term they desire; in the same way as with arrangements with any other property, that is a matter for the parties. I was therefore a little concerned that there appeared to be among certain of your Lordships this idea that everything was for three years and there was no leeway. As far as I know, and from my experience, that is not the case.
However, when the Government consulted on this matter of longer-term tenancy agreements, the feedback gathered indicated that introducing shorter notices to quit would be unlikely to affect significantly landowners’ decisions about the length of tenancy to offer. Other factors such as the size, quality and location of the land, and personal motivations for owning land have a much greater influence on decisions about the length of the tenancy term offered.
It is also important to recognise that, while there are benefits to longer-term tenancy agreements, shorter-term tenancies can be more suitable for different business models. For example, short-term lets have been shown to be very often more appropriate for new entrants looking to rent land on a flexible basis to gain experience. They can also be more suitable for some seasonal horticultural businesses. However, I can assure your Lordships that the Government will continue to work with TRIG on this important issue. That includes exploring how the sector can encourage more landowners to offer innovative long-term agreements to tenants who would welcome them rather than defaulting to standard short-term agreements.
On Amendment 88, when considering changes to agricultural tenancy legislation, we consider the effect on the tenant farming sector. Responses to our public consultation showed that there is not the same need for dispute provisions for farm business tenancies as there is for Agricultural Holdings Act tenancies. I refer to this because I can well understand the instinct which questions why the two forms of tenants are not treated the same. The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, referred to these two pieces of legislation and I would like to explain why they are different. I am worried about the proposals here because, in my judgment, there are dangers.
The Agricultural Holdings Act agreements were negotiated 30 to 40 years ago, in a very different policy and commercial environment, and they often contain outdated restrictions that have not been reviewed for many years. Farm business tenancies—FBTs—are the modern commercial agreements negotiated more recently, and within the context of environmental schemes being available. This a very important point. They are reviewed more regularly, giving tenants the opportunity to renegotiate terms if they deem it necessary, for example to enable diversifications or to enter future financial assistance schemes.
Respondents to the consultation also noted the risk that challenging the terms of very recently negotiated agreements could undermine landowner confidence in letting land through FBTs, reducing opportunities for tenants in future. I cannot believe that this is what anyone wishes. My view on the tenancy structure and sector is that we need to do everything we can to foster a climate in which owners see FBTs as a desirable route for the farming of their land.
I am very concerned that, as my noble friend Lord Inglewood said, if we go along what I would call the ad hoc line, there could be unintended consequences. In my view, if we want to have more innovative new entrants coming into agriculture via the FBT system, it is absolutely necessary, with no more land being created, to have owners who might well think of having a tenancy with their neighbour or someone else, and that this is seen as a positive. Particularly given the more modern arrangements that have been so recently negotiated, I think there are dangers in this.
I say to my noble friend Lady McIntosh, because of her passionate introduction of this amendment, that the Tenancy Reform Industry Group is updating its guidance to support tenants and landowners in discussions about diversification and entering environmental schemes, including what I believe is important in any financial arrangement between parties—highlighting the benefits for both parties.
In addition, we are designing our future schemes, such as ELM, to be accessible to as many farmers and land managers as possible, particularly tenant farmers. We have six trails and test areas where landholders and tenants are working together to deliver ELM schemes. For example, the Barningham Estate Farmers Group is made up of tenant farmers and landowners who farm on and around the Barningham Estate in County Durham and North Yorkshire. It covers an area of over 7,000 acres, reaching from open moorland with blanket bog habitats and miles of dry-stone walls, through rough pasture and a black grouse lek, to hay meadows, wetlands and SSSI ancient woodland.
The group is testing an innovative cross-holding, collaborative system for planning and delivering environmental management on land that encompasses a variety of farming systems and a tapestry of nationally and internationally important habitats. This will include testing how a natural capital approach could be used to create a landscape-scale management plan within the context of tenancy agreements, and how collaboration between tenants and landowner can be supported and incentivised.
On Amendment 81, I understand my noble friend is seeking assurances that the Government will make these regulations, and I can give that assurance. We will make them at the earliest opportunity. It is important to ensure that tenants of Agricultural Holdings Act agreements are not unreasonably prevented from entering future financial assistance schemes due to outdated restrictions in their agreements which may have been agreed many years ago in a very different commercial and policy environment. The Government will develop the details of these regulations in discussion with members of the TRIG over the next few months to ensure the interests of both tenants and landowners are taken into account.
I will take Amendments 82 and 83 together. I assure my noble friend and other noble Lords that the Government are designing ELM, and all other future schemes, to be accessible to as many farmers and land managers as possible. I have mentioned tenant farmers but, in another group, I mentioned the importance of those who work on common land. The question of landowner consent will be considered as part of the co-design process. This includes delivering test and trial projects involving tenants and landowners, so we can learn from their feedback. These dispute provisions have been very carefully constructed using feedback from the Government’s public consultation considering the needs of both parties. They are designed to offer a fair dispute process to be used in limited circumstances and as a last resort by tenants of Agricultural Holdings Act agreements who find they are unreasonably prevented from applying for financial assistance schemes due to outdated restrictions in their leases.
Broadening the provisions any further would risk undermining confidence in the benefits of letting land through agricultural tenancy agreements. In practice, many landowners and tenants come to practical agreements on environmental schemes without the need for dispute resolution. To encourage this approach further, TRIG is working on updated guidance to support tenants and landowners in discussions about diversification and environmental schemes, highlighting the benefits to both parties.
On Amendments 85 and 86 on tenancy succession, the Government consulted last year on proposals to expand the list of relatives eligible to succeed a tenancy agreement. Concerns were raised that doing so would disproportionately affect owners’ rights to their property. This is because the proposed changes could extend a tenant’s occupation of the holding for many years beyond the timescale a landowner has been expecting, particularly in the case of succession by grandchildren of current tenants. Of course, there are examples of landowners wanting and willing to negotiate solutions to family succession, such as offering long-term tenancy agreements to grandchildren of the tenant where they are the most suitable future tenant with the best knowledge and skills to continue the farm successfully. I and the Government believe that this is a sensible way forward. The Government will continue to engage in discussions with TRIG, which represents both parties, to encourage this approach.
I conclude on these tenancy matters by underlining the supreme importance that the Government place on our ongoing work with TRIG. This is crucial as we continue our work over the coming months to implement the provisions in this Bill through regulations and then, as we take the next steps, to review and progress the actions from our tenancy consultation which require further work, either through legislative or, possibly, non-legislative means. I assure my noble friend and other noble Lords that this important work with TRIG will continue with care and attention, so that we can ensure, importantly, that landowners are confident in letting land that they own and, equally and probably more importantly, that tenants can thrive and build successful businesses.
I have something to recommend to noble Lords—and, of course, my noble friend and noble Lords can do as they wish. The reason why I have spent a little time on my reply and have considered it beyond my script is that I understand the thrust of what has been said. It is my responsibility to say that, if we want to have the numbers of new entrants, very often younger people, coming into this great and important sector, we have to think about how we can encourage people who own land, who may decide that they do not want to farm it themselves—it may be small parcels of land or large parcels of land—and do everything we can to create an environment in which this is seen as a positive and a route by which people who own land, of whatever size, decide “This is the route,” rather than saying, “Oh no, I might never be able to say that this is land I own. This is a route whereby I might go down the contract farming line or I might get a contractor in”. The tenant farming sector is, as has been identified, historic—but, importantly, there are strong reasons why, for current and future tenant farmers, we want this to be a very contemporary way of farming in this country.
In asking the noble Earl to withdraw his amendment, I take the opportunity to say to my two noble friends—for whom I have continuous regard and with whom I enjoy working—that I am very worried about the potential unintended consequences of their amendments. I will take the opportunity, if I may, to say that this is continuing work; let us get this done in a way that pulls everyone together in a consensus position. That is what we have done so far, and there is every reason to think that, through TRIG, we can make much greater progress; it may require legislation and other methods to get us forward. I very much hope that tonight at least the noble Earl might withdraw his amendment.
I have received no requests to speak after the Minister, so I call the noble Earl, Lord Devon.
I am very grateful to all noble Lords for their conscientious and passionate contributions. I did not expect much support but wanted to prompt some vigorous debate, which I am pleased to have done.
I pay tribute to the wise work of the noble Baronesses, Lady Rock and Lady McIntosh, in this area. TRIG deserves great credit for its tireless efforts, and I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, that we should follow the industry where we can. The ability of tenants to obtain access to financial support and support for capital improvements is important, albeit that I would note the need to maintain contractual freedom in such a highly regulated area. Increasing the opportunities for new entrants to farming via succession is also an important consideration—I say that as landlord to at least one tenancy that began under Queen Victoria. However, I note the words of warning from the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, about unduly extending cumbersome and outdated AHAs.
I have heard what the Minister had to say and appreciate the length of his response. I look forward to holding him to his assurances of further engagement with TRIG in the years to come. I agree with the need to foster enthusiasm among landlords and tenants with the increased adoption of FBTs, but preferably those that enhance the environment and our rural communities.
In three days of debate on Report, we have spent barely a late hour on agricultural tenancies. I believe this proves my point: it is not nearly enough.
Before I conclude, as this is my last appearance on Report, I thank both Ministers for their endless courtesy and patience with the efforts of a novice. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 69 withdrawn.
We now come to the group consisting of Amendment 70. 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.
70: After Clause 34, insert the following new Clause—
“Duty to sustain the UK agricultural industry workforce
(1) The Secretary of State must, before the end of the period of six months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed, lay before Parliament a strategy outlining the steps that Her Majesty’s Government proposes to take to—(a) ensure an appropriate supply of seasonal agricultural workers,(b) increase the number of people undertaking—(i) practical training, and(ii) formal qualificationsrelating to agricultural work,(c) ensure agricultural workers have sufficient access to—(i) financial advice,(ii) affordable housing,(iii) mental health support, and(iv) any other support the Secretary of State deems appropriate, and (d) ensure agricultural workers are subject to fair sectoral terms and conditions.(2) In preparing the strategy under subsection (2), the Secretary of State must consult—(a) other relevant UK Ministers,(b) the Scottish Ministers,(c) the Welsh Ministers,(d) the Northern Ireland Department, and(e) bodies that appear to the Secretary of State to represent the interests of the UK agricultural industry.”
My Lords, I move Amendment 70 in my name and those of the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, and my noble friend Lord Whitty. I tabled a similar amendment in Committee and we had an excellent debate, with considerable support around the Chamber. I was rather hoping, therefore, that the Minister would have heard the case and taken action to follow it up—but, sadly, that hope was in vain. So I now bring back a variation, which includes my noble friend Lord Judd’s very sensible addition of access to affordable housing.
Our amendment is fairly modest. It would simply require the Government to draw up and publish a strategy to address the concerns about the provisions for agricultural workers set out in the amendment. As we argued, the workforce will be fundamental to delivering the changes in farming practice envisaged in this Bill. There are about half a million people working in the agricultural sector across the UK, and their skills will need to change.
The sector is about to experience a huge transformation, moving from low skill to high-tech, and the workforce will need the training and resources to adapt to the new world. We already know that robotics, precision farming, and data capture and analysis will become commonplace. Add to this mix the new requirements to understand biodiversity, soil and plant health, and the operation of ELMS, and we get a flavour of the challenges ahead. The sector has previously been characterised by low skill and low pay. But now there is an opportunity to make employment in the agricultural sector an exciting proposition