House of Lords
Tuesday 22 September 2020
The House met in a hybrid proceeding.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Worcester.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, the hybrid sitting of the House will now begin. Some Members are here in the Chamber, respecting social distancing, others are participating remotely, but all Members will be treated equally. If the capacity of the Chamber is exceeded, I will immediately adjourn the House.
Oral Questions will now commence. Please can those asking supplementary questions keep them short and confined to two points; and I ask that Ministers’ answers are also brief.
Oil and Gas Industry
My Lords, I recognise the impact that the coronavirus pandemic and the lower oil price have had on the oil and gas supply chain. We are working closely with the sector to agree a transformational North Sea transition deal, which we have committed to delivering in this Parliament. The focus of this deal will be on ensuring that the sector can support the energy transition and on anchoring the supply chain here in the United Kingdom.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Does he agree with me that, as we transition to net-zero carbon, we will continue to require fossil fuels and that it is better to use our own, which meet high international standards, and to sustain a quarter of a million UK jobs? Will the Government work closely with the industry, the Scottish Government and local councils to help accelerate diversification into carbon capture and storage and renewable energy, and exploit the huge potential from hydrogen, using the capital and world-class expertise that exists in our industry, so that these high-quality jobs can be diversified into new, low-carbon-sector jobs, rather than be lost?
I agree with the points made by the noble Lord. I congratulate the sector on its response to the twin crises of the pandemic and the lower oil price. The Government launched an unprecedented Covid-19 financial package because we want to support the sector, which sustains more than 270,000 jobs in the UK. As I said earlier, we are committed to a proper North Sea transition deal.
My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register. As oil and gas supply and service companies move increasingly to offshore or renewable business, will the Minister confirm that the energy White Paper will cover the error whereby the energy transition discussions on renewable costs almost always completely ignore the system costs of coping with periods of intermittently zero or limited electron production?
My noble friend makes a good point, as always. The White Paper will indeed address the characteristics of the electricity system as we prepare for a net-zero future, balancing the increased deployment of renewables with more flexibility and low-carbon sources of electricity that are available when the wind does not blow or the sun does not shine. Indeed, our system has already demonstrated that it can operate with a high percentage of renewable generation: 47% of electricity in the first quarter of this year was renewable, and, adding in nuclear, we had more than 60% from low-carbon generation.
My Lords, the key issue of training can be expressed in two ways. What support is to be provided to ensure that, as the industry migrates across to new, sustainable energy markets, UK jobs are retained by reskilling and retraining this highly skilled workforce? Coupled to that, what support is to be provided to UK companies helping developing economies in their continuing efforts to prioritise local content initiatives for sustainable economic development?
My Lords, the Oil and Gas Authority is only just beginning to take account of the UK’s statutory target for net-zero emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050. Official projections from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy take no account of that requirement. Our nation is sleepwalking into an energy crisis of major proportions. National daytime electricity demand is forecast to double from 40 to 80 gigawatts by 2050, when we should have net-zero emissions. Oil and gas will have to be phased out, yet the Government’s industrial strategy does not mention the need to retrain and redeploy oil and gas workers. Although renewables can achieve much, there will always be days when wind and sun cannot meet our demands. Nuclear power provides the green option, yet we are discovering daily that the plan for nuclear power is in growing disarray. How do the Government intend to resolve this imminent crisis of secure nuclear power provision?
I do not accept that we are sleepwalking into a crisis. We are devoting huge expertise and energy to planning for the transition. Renewables and nuclear have an important role to play in the transition, as do oil and gas. However, the noble Lord will have to be patient and wait for the energy White Paper, when all these matters will become clear.
My Lords, what discussions have the Government had with the oil and gas industry about utilising its expertise as we establish the UK’s green hydrogen production? What assessment have the Government made of the potential for the hydrogen industry to provide replacement high-skilled jobs for those lost in oil and gas as we decarbonise the economy?
The noble Lord is consistent in advocating for the hydrogen sector, and it is true that the oil and gas sector has an important contribution to make to the UK’s energy transition. Its world-class supply chain has many of the essential skills and capabilities to support emerging technologies such as hydrogen and carbon capture and storage. The noble Lord will be aware that we launched the Hydrogen Advisory Council on 20 July to help inform the development of a UK hydrogen strategy, which we intend to publish early next year.
The Energy Minister in the other place has said that an oil and gas sector deal will be critically important for the sector as it seeks to recover from the current crisis. There is some confusion over this, as we still know so very little. Can the Minister confirm that any oil and gas sector deal will comply with the UK’s domestic and international climate change commitments and include fully funded programmes to transfer skills into clean industries? Is this sector deal transforming into the North Sea transition deal?
My noble friend is right that interconnectors have a key role to play. There are a number of existing electricity and gas interconnectors, which will play a key role in the transition. They also provide security of supply to both imports and exports of energy. We will be supporting them.
My Lords, I refer the House to my relevant interests in the register. BP has forecast that peak oil will come about in the early 2020s—much earlier than previously predicted. What plans do Her Majesty’s Government have to deal with this? Are they ready for it?
As we have said, oil and gas have a key role to play in the transition and that is reflected by the independent Committee on Climate Change. Many of these things are, of course, a matter for the market. We have historically low oil prices at the moment, and the Government are well aware of it. We need to transition away from fossil fuel. BP, which the noble Lord mentioned, is doing a tremendous job in supporting, for example, the Net Zero Teesside scheme.
Will Her Majesty’s Government support carbon capture and storage technology on a regional basis across the UK, including the north-west, to meet our net-zero commitment while securing the future energy needs of our manufacturing plants, without which we will come to rely even more on imports from other countries? Without such a commitment, we will undermine our contribution to tackling climate change while putting in doubt thousands of jobs in this sector at the worst possible time.
The noble Lord is right. Carbon capture and storage will be a key part of our future energy requirements. The Chancellor announced the new carbon capture and storage infrastructure fund of at least £800 million. We are committed to deploying carbon capture and storage in at least two industrial clusters over the next decade.
My Lords, parts of our world are burning; parts of it are melting. We are already committed to a one degree rise in temperature globally. The Government are not feeling the urgency of this. We have to stop fossil fuel burning now. It is no good talking about transitioning and having little dribs and drabs of plans. The Government need a vision. If I can help with that, I would be delighted.
I thank the noble Baroness; I admire her commitment to these causes. In essence, we agree, albeit probably not on the scale she requires. The UK was the first major world economy to legislate for net zero. We were one of the first countries to commit to ending unabated coal generation and we intend to do that by 2024. I hope that the noble Baroness will also recognise that the oil and gas sector has a key role to play in supporting the transition through its skills, infrastructure and investment. As we move to a low-carbon economy, oil and gas will play an increasingly small role, but we need to utilise the skills that exist in the industry.
Covid-19: Creative Industries
My Lords, the Government are committed to supporting diversity in the creative industries throughout the Covid-19 pandemic and beyond. The £1.57 billion culture recovery fund announced in July provides support for cultural and creative organisations, with funding decisions informed by work that delivers social benefits and encourages diversity in both the workforce and audiences.
I thank the Minister for her Answer. As she knows, many freelancers in the creative industries are still having a problem accessing support. There is talent everywhere in this area, but that cannot be said for opportunity. Those from diverse ethnic and economic backgrounds, and the disabled, are being particularly hard hit. The Minister mentioned the Government’s commitment to impacting on diversity and equal opportunity through the recovery package. However, considering the Government’s commitment to levelling up, can she inform the House of the department’s specific assessment in this area?
I share the noble Baroness’s view that there is talent everywhere and that our creative industries have been an extraordinary success. On the cultural recovery fund, there is within it a priority of focusing on projects that help deliver on levelling up and on organisations that have a track record of social benefit.
My Lords, given that engagement with the creative industries can have such a positive impact on society in so many ways, does the Minister agree that it is crucial for the Government to seek to encourage a much greater involvement of those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds in the creative industries, so as to enable those industries to represent and engage with the whole of society? Does she further agree that this is a matter of urgency, given the vulnerability of such groups at present to Covid-19 and other health risks, as well as to unemployment?
The right reverend Prelate is absolutely right. We are committed, and have been, along with many parts of the industry, to addressing the gap around accessibility for lower socioeconomic groups. It is a complex industry with a multiplicity of tiny organisations, which makes it challenging from a policy perspective—but the commitment is there.
My Lords, the creative industries are so important to this country, in terms of both the economy and our international reputation. Does my noble friend the Minister agree that progress on diversity in the creative industries over the last few years has been disappointing and that this is a time for real leadership to address this issue?
My noble friend is sadly right that the progress in this area has been disappointing. There are pockets of improvement, particularly around ethnicity in certain subsectors of the industry. However, as I said in my response to the right reverend Prelate, there is not a single body that can sort this out. That is why we are pleased to be working closely in partnership with the key industry bodies, including the Creative Industries Council, to address this point.
ONS data from September 2019 showed that 16% of the creative workforce was of working-class origins. Covid-19 is exacerbating this class crisis. Up to 35% of the workforce have had no financial support, and without employment and no access to alternative economic and social resources, 20% are leaving to find work elsewhere. Will the Government publish an assessment of Covid on the creative workforce as stratified by socioeconomic origin, and will they commit to following their own Social Mobility Commission guidance on monitoring the extent of socioeconomic diversity in the workforce, especially in those organisations getting investment from Covid support schemes?
The noble Baroness raises important points. As I said earlier, we take this issue seriously. We were encouraged by some of the work done by the Creative Industries Council, which published its Diversity & Inclusion Progress Report in, I think, May. We are beginning to get more clarity on the baseline from which we are moving. There is better diversity monitoring, better strategies to develop a talent pipeline and clear strategies to address leadership. As I say, there is a great deal of work to be done and much in train.
My Lords, the BBC plays a crucial role in supporting our creative industries and developing greater diversity, with schemes such as its Diversity Commissioning Code of Practice. The new director-general has set a 50%, 20% and 12% target for workforce diversity at the BBC itself in terms of gender, race and disability. Does the Minister welcome this initiative, and is her department giving leadership by pressing for higher departmental workforce diversity targets than currently exist?
My Lords, the Minister has already made clear some of the points I was going to ask her about. But is she aware of the extent to which the creative industries have helped both the physical and mental well-being of the young and the old during lockdown? It is essential—I hope she will make this point again—that this important aspect is not overlooked and that the Government continue to provide support.
My Lords, the Film and TV Production Restart Scheme’s rules, which were published last week, say in rule 11 that it is expected that funding granted under the scheme will comply with social commitments that address issues such as lack of diversity. This is very welcome. However, there appears to be a let-out clause for pre-existing productions. Can the Minister confirm that the Government will scrutinise this issue carefully and that any attempts by producers in receipt of these funds to weaken commitments to diversity will be rigorously challenged?
Diverse talent going into the creative industry depends so much on educational support. Can the Minister inform the House what percentage of schools have restarted their dance, drama and music classes since they went back earlier this month?
My Lords, all supplementary questions have been asked and we now move to the next Question.
Devolution in England
We intend to publish the devolution and local recovery White Paper in the autumn. This will set out our plans for expanding devolution across England to support economic recovery and levelling up, building on the success of our directly elected combined authority mayors.
My Lords, does the Minister accept that while there is major devolution of powers to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, there is a democratic deficit in England? So will the White Paper, when it comes out, include the devolution of real power to major regions throughout the whole of England?
My Lords, there are ways for government to provide support to the devolved Administrations and across borders. I point the noble Lord to the borderlands growth deal as one such way of being able to achieve that. We are not looking at top-down devolution, but focusing on local city and growth deals as the way forward.
My Lords, further to the Question of the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, will the White Paper recognise that devolving more powers to local government needs to be accompanied by greater financial freedom to use those powers? Will the White Paper explore alternative means of funding local government, perhaps broadening the base and possibly replacing business rates, which, in their present form, are increasingly difficult to defend?
I have great sympathy for my noble friend’s point, as a co-author of A Magna Carta for Localism a decade ago. I can assure him that we are reviewing the mayoral combined authority model to identify how to maximise its effectiveness, including such powers as financial freedoms and funding devolution.
My Lords, can the Minister confirm that the White Paper will set out firm commitments to back pan-regional bodies such as the Midlands Engine partnership, given their vital role in driving forward the levelling-up agenda in the Midlands and beyond?
My Lords, as one of the architects of Welsh devolution I firmly believe in bringing government closer to the people in England too. Coronavirus has been a wake-up call to Whitehall that there are four Governments in the United Kingdom. Why has Westminster let so much time go by without a greater effort to iron out minor differences in devolved government health decisions, which puzzle everyone? Is the failure to agree on policies due to stubbornness?
My Lords, I understand devolution to mean the transfer of powers, competences and finance. Decentralisation of tasks under central direction with conditional funding seems to me to be what this Government propose, together with bits of Whitehall departments being sent out to the provinces but still entirely controlled by Cabinet Ministers in London. Can the Minister tell us the Government’s definition of devolution for England?
My Lords, this is much more than simple decentralisation. Devolution has now occurred to eight mayoral combined authorities, which we see as driving forward the economic performance of the regions governed by those mayors. We will continue to build on those successes.
My Lords, the effectiveness of local contact tracing compared to the centralised system has been striking during the Covid-19 pandemic. Can the Minister tell me how the White Paper has been shaped and changed by things we have learned during the Covid-19 pandemic?
Does my noble friend agree that while we do not necessarily need rigid uniformity in the distribution of power to areas throughout England, there does need to be some degree of equity, so that the more rural and smaller areas are not the losers relative to new and larger regional or metropolitan authorities? What is his strategy for achieving that, and will it be addressed in the White Paper?
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for putting the case for rural communities. Our current mayoral combined authority model is successful in delivering both for major cities such as Manchester and areas such as North of Tyne, which have significant rural areas.
My Lords, the city regions process has been seen as a broad success that has shifted public opinion in support of greater devolution in all the UK nations. As vice-chair of the APPG on the western gateway, I assure the Minister that I am a great supporter of these deals. This proposal is unique, insofar as it covers both Wales and England and therefore includes both Governments and councils across the regions. Can the Minister update the House on the progress of this deal? I anticipate that a written reply would be appropriate.
My Lords, this is understood as a political and economic matter, as we have heard, but does the Minister agree that there is a significant cultural dimension, not least because our various institutions are seen as a devolutionary tool, moving the Lords being just the latest idea? Should not the regions be enabled to build on their own culture, which will happen in the fullest sense only if our cities and regions have real power and are represented at the national level, rather than being subjected to a form of London colonialism?
My Lords, will my noble friend look at the proposals in the Policy Exchange document No More Tiers, which proposes that power should reside in communities such as the one I live in now, at Eastbourne, rather than be handed down from higher authorities?
My Lords, I will take a careful look at the No More Tiers paper published by Policy Exchange some 14 years ago. I can assure my noble friend that there will be no blanket abolition of districts and that we will take a locally driven approach and ensure that decision-making is taken as close as possible to the people we are serving.
I am glad to hear the Minister say that, because my question is around unitary authorities. Obviously, the rumour mill is rife at the moment that this is causing some delays. The Minister will be aware that many councils are already working on plans for this, either with a positive frame or negatively, and that any delay or uncertainty is unsettling and demoralising. It has financial and practical implications. If we take recruitment, who wants to move to an authority that might not exist in two years’ time; and who wants to waste taxpayers’ money working up economic models that are never going to happen? Can the Minister reassure us that the Government recognise that this is a real issue for local government, and that these very important decisions will be made swiftly, as soon as possible?
My Lords, the noble Baroness makes the important point that we need to move quickly and make decisions so that we are clear about the future. I have assured the House that unitarisation will not be a topdown, blanket approach and we will not see the wholesale abolition of districts.
My Lords, all supplementary questions have been asked and we move on to the next Question.
My Lords, we are continually assessing progress on removing dangerous cladding from high-rise buildings and publish data on this every month. Progress has been made. Almost three-quarters—74%—of buildings with unsafe aluminium composite material cladding are either completed or in the process of remediation.
I am grateful to my noble friend for that reply and for the funds the Government have made available to deal with the problems following the Grenfell tragedy, but the PAC report last week and the Sunday Times article reveal the scale of the problems that lie ahead. Only one-third of buildings with Grenfell cladding have had it replaced with safe alternatives. There are 186,000 other privately owned high-rise flats where the leaseholders are trapped with high service charges, unaffordable repairs and, in some cases, fire patrol costs of £750 a month. Then there are 1.5 million other flats that leaseholders cannot sell because they cannot get the certificates that lenders are now insisting on. Will my noble friend convene an urgent meeting of freeholders, leaseholders, valuers and lenders to come up with a comprehensive and time-limited plan which both ensures safety in these flats and removes the blight?
My Lords, my noble friend should rest assured that we are focused on the pace of remediation. The Secretary of State or I will be speaking to building owners, local authorities and fire and rescue services to press them to accelerate this pace. We are also looking at the interventions that we may need to take as a Government to deal with this blight. We will obviously continue our engagement with all the stakeholders he mentioned in the course of that endeavour.
My Lords, the Minister must be quite daunted to have two respected former Ministers on this Oral Question. The National Audit Office has said that the department has a long way to go to make all the high-rise buildings safe. The slowest to change has been the private sector. Councils have difficulty in checking these buildings, as the owner may well be a shell company registered abroad. The Housing Act gives councils the right to investigate, but the procedures are slow, costly and subject to a high legal bar. What practical steps will the Government take to overcome these challenges so that they keep their promises?
My Lords, we recognise that there are a number of enforcement approaches, both through the Housing Act but also through the fire safety order, which is being updated and will be debated in this House next week. We continue to use a joint inspection team to look at the best way of enforcing against those building owners that are not moving to remediate unsafe cladding.
My Lords, the Government stated in January that they were considering extending cladding risks to buildings of between four and seven stories. There are around 100,000 such buildings in England, some with dangerous forms of cladding. What investigations have been undertaken to determine the extent of this fire risk, which affects upwards of half a million people, and what remedies are the Government considering?
My Lords, at this stage we have not made a decision to move the high-risk regime beyond those buildings above 18 metres. As Dame Judith has said, it is those high-rise buildings that have the greatest risk, and we are attempting to stop the multiple fatalities that we saw at Grenfell. That is where we will focus our efforts.
My Lords, the Government’s pledge of £1 billion to help solve this problem is very welcome indeed. I was a bit puzzled by the House of Commons Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, which said that this £1 billion was unlikely to be sufficient. Did it give any accurate figures to back up this statement?
Do we know what led the Blair Government to allow this dangerous cladding in the first place? In June 2017, Jeremy Corbyn tried to blame this whole subject—and the Grenfell Tower fire—on this Government, and Prime Minister Theresa May had to remind him that the cladding began under the Blair Government.
My Lords, there is no doubt that the costs of historic failure, with regard to the quality of construction, mean that the costs will exceed the £1 billion that we have committed—but we do not expect the entire burden to fall on the taxpayer. We should note that, from the first fund, a number of private building owners have moved to remediate that or used warranties to raise the funds, so it has not fallen on leaseholders. I would point out that there has been an unacceptable culture within the construction industry, built up over successive Governments, that this Government are trying to address.
In September of last year, the Housing Minister said that those owners who fail to remove unsafe Grenfell-style ACM cladding from their buildings would suffer the consequences. He said:
“There is no excuse for … delay.”—[Official Report, Commons, 5/9/19; col. 373.]
But there are still 246 tall buildings where such cladding remains. Can the Minister say what consequences those who fail to conform have suffered over this last year?
My Lords, clearly the pace of remediation is our utmost concern, and that has meant that some costs, including those on interim measures, have fallen on leaseholders. We continue to push to ensure that this remediation does occur and look at the relevant parties to carry out the necessary enforcement action.
My Lords, I refer the House to my relevant interests, as set out in the register. It has been over three years and three months since the fire at Grenfell Tower. It is unacceptable that there are still tower blocks today with dangerous ACM cladding on them. This is putting people’s lives at risk, and residents are trapped, unable to move or sell their flats. When are the Government going to give the powers and resources to local government or, as recommended by the Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee, set up a national body to get on and do the necessary work to make these buildings safe? It is unacceptable, disappointing, frustrating and worrying that a Question such as this has to be asked so many years after the fire.
My Lords, I agree that it is unacceptable. That is why I wrote to all owners of buildings where there is no remediation plan currently in place, to let them know that we will look to enforcement action if they do not remediate and get on site by the end of this year.
At the Grenfell inquiry yesterday, Mr Bailey of Harley’s, the cladding contractor, said that he had had no training in building regulations, no training in fire protection of buildings and no awareness of the industry guidelines. Day after day we are getting mounting evidence of the catastrophic failure of the industry to deal with this problem. The Minister has an oven-ready building safety Bill. Will he please give us the date that it will come in front of your Lordships, so that we can very quickly put in place a far more effective and stringent regulatory regime?
My Lords, the noble Lord points to the woeful culture in the construction industry. All I can say is that the pre-legislative scrutiny of the building safety Bill has started, and we look to get this through as quickly as possible with the support of Members of this House.
My Lords, I must declare that I am an owner and occupier of a leasehold flat in a building with cladding, and also an elected member of the leaseholder management board of that block. During the course of this Question, the extent of the problem and the effects of it have clearly been highlighted. It is necessary for the Government to prioritise, ensuring of course that the buildings most dangerously at risk are addressed first.
However, this makes it all the more important that the Government reach a new agreement with lenders, in relation to the owners of leasehold flats within buildings who have taken all the necessary interim safety measures. Not only are leaseholders currently prevented from being able to sell or remortgage their property, but those same leaseholders might need to remortgage to finance their very costly contribution to the remedial works. I note what the Minister said, but the costs are falling on to leaseholders, not freeholders. So can the Minister tell us what discussions he is having with lenders on this particular matter in order to address the urgency of it?
My Lords, I have had a number of discussions with lenders, including a round table in June, to encourage them to take a more proportionate approach to risk in this regard. We recognise the points that the noble Baroness raises. However, I would say that, a number of times, we have seen buildings remediated through warranties, but also through building owners stepping up and paying for that remediation. Finally, we have asked Michael Wade, a senior adviser to the department, to look at ways of making remediation costs affordable to leaseholders if they do fall on them.
Afghanistan: Locally Employed Civilians
Private Notice Question
To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the announcement on 19 September that eligibility for the Afghanistan Locally Employed Civilians Ex-Gratia Scheme is to be extended, whether locally employed civilians who have left Afghanistan and now reside in a third country will be eligible.
The Question was considered in a hybrid proceeding.
My Lords, Home Office Immigration Rules stipulate that applications for relocation under the cross-government Afghan ex-gratia scheme for former locally employed civilians must be made in Afghanistan. This is due to the challenges involved with the capability of the Afghan authorities to verify the documents of applicants who are outside Afghanistan as well as difficulties in completing the vetting process for them. Therefore, former locally employed civilians no longer residing in Afghanistan are not eligible.
My Lords, I warmly welcome the decision to expand the scheme, especially for interpreters, without whom our Armed Forces could not have done their job. I know from the time I served on the LEC Assurance Committee that there is a genuine desire to get all this right. Will the Minister reconsider finding a way to include in the ex-gratia scheme those interpreters who felt so unsafe and threatened by the Taliban that they fled to a third country? They too deserve our gratitude and the offer of relocation. May I also ask the Minister whether the Government will guarantee that all children of those who qualify for relocation, but who have turned 18 during the lengthy process of application and additional delays because of Covid, will still be entitled to come here with their parents?
I thank the noble Baroness and I join her in paying tribute to the tremendous support offered by locally employed civilians as our interpreters, working hand in hand with us in Afghanistan; they have been absolutely invaluable. On her first question, as I indicated, there are genuine administrative difficulties in relation to applications from third-country residents. Whether some are able to produce documentation or evidence of their valid entitlement to claim is a matter that would certainly be looked at, but determining the outcome would be a Home Office decision.
On her second point, spouses and children are included in the expanded scheme. I do not have specific information on the technical issue of whether children who have now attained the age 18 would still be allowed to come. However, she has raised an important point and I undertake to write to her.
My Lords, yesterday Mr Mercer, the Minister for Veterans, said that his task was to genuinely change
“what it feels to be a veteran in the United Kingdom.”
Does he mean to include the Afghan interpreters who put their lives at risk fulfilling vital roles in support of our boys and who, with their families, have made homes in Britain, or was yesterday’s statement just another government Minister high on rhetoric while failing to deliver for those who have served our country?
The noble Lord will be aware that the Government are offering a great deal of support to our veterans. We want to do that because it is the right thing to do, and that would be the context in which my honourable friend made his observation. Our interpreters, as I indicated to the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, were an invaluable support. They were courageous and it would have been virtually impossible for us to do our job without their contribution. We have recognised that in a number of ways, which I think is very clear from the conditions that operated when they were employed by us. It is also clear from the ex gratia scheme that we have now made available. Of course, for those who are fearful or apprehensive of intimidation, the noble Lord will be aware that we have provided support through the intimidation scheme in Afghanistan. We are the only country to offer in-house support, which is based in Kabul.
My Lords, like the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, I welcome the extension of the ex gratia scheme. The Minister referred at least twice to the Home Office. There is a concern that the extension might not have much effect if those interpreters who have already felt the need to leave Afghanistan cannot make use of the scheme here. Can the Minister take back to the Home Office the need to look again at the administrative hurdles which seem to have been put in the way of the effective expansion of the scheme?
I wish to reassure the noble Baroness that the expansion of the scheme is clear and the criteria surrounding it equally so. It is anticipated that there are interpreters in Afghanistan who will want to avail themselves of these expanded provisions. That is to be welcomed and it is a positive development. I explained in an earlier response the practical difficulties that surround validating entitlement and claims from those now resident in a third country. The reason that this is not an MoD responsibility is that it lies fairly and squarely within the responsibilities of the Home Office. I have undertaken to seek clarification, but at the end of the day, it is for the Home Office to deal with people making applications from outwith Afghanistan.
My Lords, this welcome extension seems to apply only to interpreters with at least 18 months’ service, whereas the previous support was available after 12 months. What is the basis for the change and what support is available for those who served alongside our Armed Forces for shorter periods but nevertheless provided significant assistance and undertook severe risks?
The history of how we engage with a local population when we need the supply and support of interpretation services indicates that they are highly regarded and very well treated. They are employed and well remunerated for the services they provide. On the distinction between redundancy and resignation, it is fair to say that people who are made redundant have no control over the situation, and it was therefore felt appropriate that their qualifying period should be 12 months. On the other hand, people who decided to resign from the service obviously had their own reasons for doing so; they made their own decisions. That is why, although we think it right to expand the scheme, it seemed appropriate to make their qualifying criteria 18 months.
Does the Minister agree that the Government have a moral responsibility for locally employed civilians and their families who are endangered by their support for British operations, and that this responsibility still exists and must still be met, even when those civilians are employed by an intermediary contractor such as thebigword?
The noble and gallant Lord raises an important point. As he will be aware, the MoD currently does not employ interpreters. The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office has employees and is responsible for the terms and conditions of the employment. It is important that the UK sends out a positive message about how we value those we draw on to provide their skills and support in times of operational activity. That is what we drew on in Afghanistan, which is why we want to recognise the incredible contribution made by these locally employed civilians. I hope the expansion of this scheme reflects that ambition.
I have the greatest respect for the noble Lord, as he is well aware, but I do not entirely agree with that analysis. He will be aware that the scheme first got off the ground back in 2012, but eligibility was restricted only to those serving on 19 December 2012. Quite rightly, that was recognised as inadequate, and that is why the scheme was extended in 2018 so that those who served from May 2006 and, as has previously been indicated, served for over a year but were made redundant became entitled to inclusion. Then, in 2019, we saw that cohort expanded by the addition of their families, which was a sensible and humane decision to make. We now see the expansion of the scheme, so I disagree with the interpretation that this is too little, too late. We have put in place not only the ex gratia scheme to help the interpreters but intimidation scheme support for those who have decided to remain in Afghanistan.
My Lords, the ex gratia scheme for Afghan interpreters rightly recognises our debt of gratitude to those who risked their lives helping us, but the limiting criteria for assistance, such as the need to have served a year for eligibility to settle in the UK, led many—desperately fleeing the country, leaving their families—to seek refuge abroad. Does the Minister agree that we have what is called a Christian duty to help them?
We have a duty to those who served and supported in Afghanistan—I think there were 2,900 interpreters in total—but, as I indicated to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Pittenweem, the Government are cognisant of their responsibilities. That is why they put in place what I think is now regarded as an effective and very supportive scheme with the ex gratia support.
As to the wider implications, at the end of the day we want to support where we can. The noble Lord will be aware that the scheme is in two parts. It offers relocation to the United Kingdom, but it also offers in-country training. That means people can receive five years of training and get a monthly stipend or can opt for an 18-month salary payment. That strikes a very good balance. We do not want to draw talent away from Afghanistan, which desperately needs that talent. Indeed, there is a most positive picture of that training having created doctors, dentists, teachers and engineers. I suggest to the noble Lord that we have balanced our responsibilities appropriately, recognised the contribution made and responded positively and effectively to the obligations on us as a country to make meaningful our respect for and appreciation of that contribution from the locally employed civilians.
My Lords, all supplementary questions have been asked.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, the hybrid proceedings will now begin. Some Members are here in the Chamber, respecting social distancing, others are participating remotely, but all Members will be treated equally. If the capacity of the Chamber is exceeded, I will immediately adjourn the House. I will call Members to speak in the order listed in the annexe to today’s list. Interventions during speeches or before the noble Lord sits down are not permitted and uncalled speakers will not be heard. Other than the mover of an amendment or the Minister, Members may speak only once on each group. Short questions of elucidation after the Minister’s response are permitted but discouraged. A Member wishing to ask such a question, including the Members in the Chamber, must email the clerk. The groupings are binding, and it will not be possible to degroup an amendment for separate debate. A Member intending to press an amendment already debated to a Division should have given notice in the debate. Leave should be given to withdraw amendments. When putting the Question, I will collect voices in the Chamber only. If a Member taking part remotely intends to trigger a Division, they should make this clear when speaking on the group.
Report (3rd Day)
Relevant document: 13th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee
Debate on Amendment 74 resumed.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Hodgson of Abinger and Lady Fookes, for this amendment, which is a means to embed the needs and welfare of animals in agricultural policy and to partly fill the vacuum of this Government not transposing across EU animal sentience legislation or introducing their own legislation, which they had promised to do in their manifesto. The Liberal Democrats accept that animals are sentient beings with intrinsic worth. We have consistently argued this throughout the stages of this Bill, in my remarks at Second Reading when welcoming the fact that Clause 1 allows payments to be made for animal welfare, and in opposition to easing the regulatory framework on gene editing.
Animal sentience is the only issue not being brought across when we leave the EU at the end of the year. It marks the end of a proud era when the UK led the rest of Europe to better animal welfare standards. Indeed, it was the UK Government who first suggested and then got animal sentience accepted into the treaty article in 1997.
We support the intention of this amendment. If the Minister is not intending to accept it, can I press her to say when legislation on animal sentience will be delivered, and whether she guarantees that it will have comparable or stronger powers than the existing EU legislation? I ask her to be very clear on the latter point, as there are rumblings of a pushback in the Government on the way that Ministers report how they take into account sentience when making decisions. Only an open and transparent process will give people confidence about how the needs of animals are considered in policy decisions. Without a guarantee to at least match the existing powers, the sad reality is that our animals will have less protection than has been the case while we have been a member of the EU.
My Lords, during the passage of the EU withdrawal Bill in 2017, there were several amendments in the Commons on animal sentience. There were also debates on the issue when the Bill was in the Lords and attempts to table similar amendments to other pieces of legislation. Theresa May’s Government committed to clarifying the legal position on animal sentience as part of their Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill. This Government reintroduced the Bill in 2019, but it fell when Parliament was dissolved for the general election. A commitment to strengthen animal welfare rules was included in the December 2019 Queen’s Speech, and, as I understand it, there is a Private Member’s Bill which will have its Second Reading in the Commons in October. We hope that it will be similar to the previous Government’s legislation and that, if this is a substitute for a government Bill, Ministers and Whips will give it the time it needs to reach us in the Lords.
In the meantime, I express regret that the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, felt that she needed to table the amendment in the first place, given that Her Majesty’s Government have not managed to deliver a Bill in three years on this important issue. We agree that there should be a strong protection for animals and a recognition of their ability to experience feelings and pain, with all the implications that has for our treatment of them. However, we are not convinced that this is the appropriate vehicle for it. As such, I hope that the Minister can clarify the point about the Commons Private Member’s Bill and, if that response is satisfactory, the amendment will not be pushed to test the opinion of the House.
My Lords, we can be rightly proud that the UK already has world-class animal welfare standards, but this Government are committed to strengthening these further.
We have introduced a ban on the commercial third-party sale of puppies and kittens, known as Lucy’s Law, to clamp down on puppy farming. Through the Wild Animals in Circuses Act 2019, we have legislated to ensure that wild animals can no longer perform in travelling circuses. We supported the Animal Welfare (Service Animals) Act 2019, commonly known as Finn’s Law, to increase protections for police animals, and CCTV is now mandatory in all slaughterhouses in England; this will help maintain and improve welfare standards. We are committed to banning the keeping of primates as pets. We published a call for evidence in October 2019 that ended in January this year. This exercise has informed proposals on which we will shortly be consulting. On Thursday, we reiterated our manifesto commitment to end excessively long journeys for slaughter and fattening.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, that legal obligations towards animals should be enforced. That is why the Government are also supporting the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill, which will increase the maximum custodial penalty for animal cruelty offences from six months’ imprisonment to five years. The new maximum sentence will send a clear signal to any potential offenders that animal cruelty will not be tolerated in this country and provide one of the toughest sanctions in Europe.
I place it on record that it has never been in dispute that animals are sentient beings, capable of experiencing pain or suffering, and this fact is central to our commitment to strengthening animal welfare standards. As the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, should know, this Government have a manifesto commitment to introduce new laws on animal sentience, which we will do as soon as parliamentary time allows. However, this Bill is not the appropriate vehicle to legislate for animal sentience. As the noble Baroness recognises, the Agriculture Bill limits the scope of this amendment to agricultural, horticultural and forestry policy.
The noble Baroness’s amendment also extends the definition of “animal” to include decapod crustaceans and cephalopod molluscs, alongside non-human vertebrates. This is an important step that we should not take lightly. The current science is clear that vertebrate animals can experience pain and suffering. It is on that basis that the definition of “animal” in the Animal Welfare Act 2006 is limited only to vertebrate animals. However, this Act also contains an important power to extend the definition to cover invertebrates where we are satisfied on the basis of scientific evidence that these too are capable of experiencing pain or suffering. Defra recently commissioned an independent external review of the available scientific evidence on sentience in decapods and cephalopods. The outcome of this review will be vital in determining whether our new sentience provisions and other laws should be extended to decapods and cephalopods. This review is expected to report early next year.
In line with our manifesto commitment, this Government will introduce effective, credible and proportionate proposals in due course. I recognise the strength of feeling across the House on this issue, and say to my noble friends Lady Fookes and Lady Hodgson, and to the noble Lord, Lord Judd, that it is imperative that we allow appropriate time for debate to ensure that we get these important measures right. That is why I cannot accept this amendment as an interim solution, as was suggested in last Thursday’s debate.
As noble Lords will all be aware, parliamentary time has been at a premium in recent Sessions, and I am afraid that, with other pressures, it has not yet been possible to find appropriate time to introduce these measures. However, I reassure your Lordships that this issue is a priority for this Government, and I hope that that gives the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, some comfort. When our measures are introduced, I very much look forward to discussing these issues in detail again.
I hope that I have given enough reassurance and that my noble friend will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
I have received no requests to speak after the Minister, so I call the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson of Abinger.
My Lords, I thank noble Lords who have supported the amendment and spoken in its favour, and I thank the Minister for her considered reply.
Sentience is particularly important in the context of farm animals because of the trade in farm animals. They need to be seen as living, sentient beings, not as inanimate goods in the context of being traded. I agree that a limitation of the amendment is that sentience covers only farm animals, and clearly we want to see sentience brought in as a consideration for all animals.
I am concerned by the Minister’s statement that there will be new laws on animal sentience when there is time, as I feel that this is somewhat kicking it into the long grass, but I am glad to hear that priority will be given. At some point I would like to hear further when this will be, because it is so important that all animals, and farm animals in particular, are considered as sentient beings that feel pain and suffering.
For now, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment, but I would like to hear more from my noble friend and may consider bringing it back at the final stage.
Amendment 74 withdrawn.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 75. 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 any other amendment in this group to a Division should make that clear in the debate.
75: After Clause 34, insert the following new Clause—
“Application of pesticides: limitations on use in certain wind conditions
(1) The Secretary of State must by regulations make provision for prohibiting the application of any pesticide for the purposes of agriculture at high wind speeds.(2) In particular, the regulations must make provision prohibiting the use of pesticides when wind speeds are high, near—(a) any dwelling;(b) any water source;(c) any public or private building or space where members of the public may be present.(3) Regulations under this section must specify a minimum distance between any of the locations listed under subsection (2)(a) to (c).”
My Lords, in leading this group, I make it clear that the wording of my amendments is inferior to that of Amendment 78, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. I will not waste time on mine discussing wind speeds and contamination, et cetera, because I hope that he will move his amendment and that it will be supported across the House in a Division. If not, I will call a Division on his amendment.
I am grateful to the Minister for arranging a most informative meeting with officials. They confirmed that, although some parts of EU regulations will be carried over into our legislation after next January, the unused powers on which nothing has yet been done will lapse.
There are three main pieces of relevant EU legislation. Regulation 1107/2009 permits individual pesticides and Regulation 396/2005 sets maximum residue levels for pesticides in food. But Directive 2009/128/EC, which sets a framework for action to ensure that pesticides are used responsibly and that alternatives are developed, is the most important here. It contains a mixture of things that member states “must” do and “may” do. The “musts” have been implemented in Great Britain through the Plant Protection Products (Sustainable Use) Regulations 2012. However, at the end of the transition period the powers in this directive that allow, but do not require, particular actions can no longer be used, because the European Communities Act 1972 will no longer be in force. So we will have a lacuna, unless the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, is accepted.
Over the years, Defra has been aware of the problems. In 2017, Defra’s former chief scientific adviser, Professor Sir Ian Boyd, published a paper in the journal Science entitled “Toward Pesticidovigilance”. This paper is a damning assessment of the regulatory approach worldwide to pesticides sprayed on crops, including that the impacts of “dosing whole landscapes” have been ignored, and that the assumption by regulators that it is “safe” to use pesticides at industrial scales across landscapes “is false” and must change.
Many of these chemicals are hormone disruptors. Some of them mimic oestrogens, and it has been suggested that this could account for decreased sperm motility and sperm counts and male infertility, as well as for breast, bladder, thyroid and other hormone-dependent cancers, childhood cancers and even brain malignancies.
The other effect of many pesticides is to disrupt mitochondrial function. The mitochondria are like the engine in every cell in the body. Mitochondrial dysfunction can lead to disability and chronic illness, and it interferes with the body’s efforts to heal. Recent studies show that chemical mixtures appear to have a cumulative deleterious effect, even when no single chemical in the mix is at levels defined as toxic, meaning that the “no observed adverse effect” level and the “lowest observed adverse effect” level need to be revisited. Worse still, pesticides are handed on to the next generation in the womb. Studies of umbilical cord blood have repeatedly shown hundreds of different chemical pollutants.
Monsanto, the producer of glyphosate and now owned by Bayer, admitted carcinogenic effects for large numbers, with out-of-court settlements for malignancies, including lymphoma. It has been suggested that such settlements avoid having to disclose secret internal documents in court, which of course is what happened to the tobacco industry. To quote a former civil servant in an email on this amendment:
“I only wish now … that I had been at the time braver and more able to speak out against the mulishly aggressive intellectual dishonesty and subservience to the pesticide companies that was behind so much of what I was asked to do.”
The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, will speak to his amendment and I urge all to support it at the vote. It will plug a gap after next January. Without it, the UK will be left with a hole in its legislative framework which will be extensively exploited by the pesticide industry, to the detriment of human health and the long-term improvement of a biodiverse ecology, which is what the Bill aims to achieve. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am speaking to Amendment 78 and I need to make it absolutely clear that I intend to seek the opinion of the House on it when we reach it. I am very much indebted to the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, for her support and her indication that she will back my amendment. She has made a significant part of my case by identifying the medical impact of exposure to pesticides and the doubts about the authorisation process.
I also thank my co-signatories, the noble Baronesses, Lady Bakewell and Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, and the noble Lord, Lord Randall—demonstrating the cross-party support for this vital but very simple and specific amendment.
I should also thank the Minister for the meeting to which the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, referred. It was useful but we did not agree. As the noble Baroness said, it appears that the department’s line is that there is no need for the amendment because, under EU law now transposed and retained in UK law, the Government already have the discretion to come forward with such regulations. Leaving aside the fact that they have not done so over the 11 years since that law was put in place, on closer examination that assertion appears to be only partly true, and from January, as the noble Baroness, explained, it will not be true at all. We therefore need to put such a provision in this legislation.
In this amendment we are addressing the effect of pesticides on human beings—on those who are exposed to doses of chemicals not designed for humans and in many cases, particularly among residents, on those subject to multiple exposures to multiple chemicals. We want to see a regulatory framework imposing minimum distances between the buildings in which people live and which the public frequent, and the spraying operations of pesticides.
Regrettably, we are not talking about unusual events. Most of the harm comes from everyday tractor-based pesticide spraying at certain times of the year. Local residents, schoolchildren, members of the public visiting public buildings, medical facilities and educational buildings, and other bystanders are all vulnerable.
We have rightly spent some time on this Bill talking about protecting wildlife, biodiversity, farm animals, watercourses and soil from harmful effects of agricultural practice. This amendment is a vital but limited step in the right direction to protect human beings—primarily, residents in rural areas—by requiring spraying to be well away from homes, public buildings and places where the public are congregated. In particular, it moves towards protecting those who live, full-time, adjacent to crops that are subject to blanket applications and those who attend public spaces adjacent to such fields. As I have said, this is a very simple amendment. It requires Ministers to come forward with regulations establishing a minimum distance between such applications and the buildings.
The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, has spelled out the terrible damage that can be done to humans by ingesting chemical pesticides directly into the lungs and bloodstream. Regrettably, pesticides—including some still used on UK farms and elsewhere—on their own or in combination, can cause the breakdown of the immune system and can poison the nervous system, and can cause cancer, mutations and birth defects. The noble Baroness has convincingly spelled that out.
Noble Lords will have received materials from campaigners on this issue, including from the redoubtable Georgina Downs, who has dossiers on rural families who have suffered. In Committee, I cited just a couple of those testimonies; I will now share a couple more. Chris from Sawtry said:
“We have farmers spraying near our home and school. The fumes cause headaches, dizziness and burn the throat.”
Victoria from Curry Rivel said:
“I have witnessed crops being sprayed just metres from my Daughter’s rural school and have had signs of chemical scorching on our fruit trees in our garden … Just meters from my Daughter’s sand pit!”
As I said in Committee, manufacturers rightly and responsibly label their pesticides, insecticides and herbicides with warnings, such as “Very toxic by inhalation”, “Do not breathe spray” and “Risk of serious damage to the eyes”. Farmers and farmworkers are advised under health and safety laws, and by manufacturers, to wear protective clothing, and most do so—but residents are not so protected. Guidance to users that they should inform residents, and that the chemical used should be clearly identified, is very frequently ignored and pretty well never enforced. Ministers and others have lauded the UK pesticides regime as one of the best in the world, but it is wrong to say that it, or the EU system, is safe. In particular, they are not protecting those who live close by.
This amendment would have the effect of protecting members of the public from hazardous health impacts near buildings. It is a simple, straightforward amendment requiring the Government to come up with minimum distances from the application of such pesticides. It is best to leave the precise distance for consultation and scientific measurement, but let us today establish the principle. My amendment is a very small but vital part of the journey to protect our rural populations.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, and of course the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay. I support these amendments wholeheartedly. I would like to speak at length about them, but I will keep my remarks quite short so that we have plenty of time for a vote.
It seems strange that in America, Monsanto—or rather the new company, Bayer—is paying out $10 billion to settle tens of thousands of claims that Roundup causes cancer, yet it still claims that this a perfectly healthy product, does not put warning labels on the product and says that it is safe. It strikes me as very strange that anybody could deny that this amendment is necessary.
The amendment does not do what I would like it to do—that is, ban all pesticides from 9 am this morning—but it protects the more vulnerable people in our country. In particular, it protects children in schools, childcare settings and nurseries, people in hospitals, and people in any building used for human habitation. It seems such a sensible amendment—I do not know why the Government do not see that it is necessary.
I urge all noble Lords to please vote for this and make sure that the Government get the message very clearly.
My Lords, I was pleased to be able to put my name to Amendment 78 from the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, and it is a pleasure to follow him. It is of course always a pleasure to follow the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones and Lady Finlay.
There is no need for me to repeat the arguments that have been so ably put, except to say this. As Members who have been following our deliberations will know, I have been speaking about the importance of preserving our wildlife and biodiversity. One of the seminal works that I remember reading when I was very young was Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, in which she highlighted the devastating impacts of DDT on wildlife. However, this is much more fundamental: this is about protecting human life. If we have not yet learned that people sometimes assure us that everything is all right when it patently is not, we need think only of the tobacco industry—as the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, said—and of asbestos. We would be failing ourselves, the public and our fellow human beings if we did not recognise the harmful nature of pesticides.
I am not an expert to know whether they should be banned entirely, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, has suggested. I am sure that there are many in the agricultural sector who say that they are incredibly important. However, one thing we can do is get this amendment into the Bill, because it would protect so many people. It is not just about protecting those in rural communities, because the fumes can waft over other areas. I have not heard so far—although I am willing to hear it—the reasoning of my noble friend on the Front Bench, but from what I have heard so far, I am happy to support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty.
My Lords, I alert the House that we have been having some technical difficulties with the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, but I hope that he is now on the line.
My Lords, I support these amendments on controlling the application of pesticides. The amendments in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, and others helpfully consider the consequences of different wind conditions, calling for the analysis and monitoring of effects, as well as for immediate limitations on pesticides use in wind conditions that threaten dwellings, water sources and members of the public. Her Amendment 76 usefully urges that when pesticides are already labelled as harmful, it should then become an offence to fail to inform residents living within a certain radius of the pesticide application that such an application is to occur. I am also in favour of Amendment 78, from the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, which seeks to ban pesticide applications near buildings where people live and work.
I come now to my own Amendment 80, which addresses two aspects: first, the need to develop targets for the adoption of integrated pest management associated with agroecological farming practices, including organic farming; and, secondly, and connected to these targets, to develop a system of analysis. This would monitor the reduction of harm to people and animals and the reduction of pesticide residues in food.
In Committee, my noble friend Lady Bloomfield gave a number of reassurances. These covered government backing for research into alternatives to pesticides and other chemicals. She pointed out that the transforming food programme, which includes methods such as robotics and vertical farming, might well cause pesticide use to diminish. As a result, does my noble friend agree that there is already consistency between what the Government confirm and what Amendment 80 seeks? Does she also consider that there is no divergence between confirmed government plans and the amendments in this grouping from the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, and the noble Lord, Lord Whitty? These latter amendments simply advocate safeguards and the expedience of good practice until alternatives to pesticides are successfully found.
My Lords, I too wish to speak in support of these amendments. I am pleased to learn that the Government say that they will carry on research into reducing the use of pesticides. There are perhaps somewhat controversial methods of reducing the use of pesticides, and one I will refer to is known as gene editing. This is a very significant variation on genetic modification, which was understandably opposed by many. Gene editing gives us an opportunity to do what plant breeders have done over the years and make plants less dependent on pesticides and more able to fight diseases. I would welcome a response from the Minister on the Government’s attitude towards gene editing as a contribution to the reduction in the use of pesticides.
My Lords, I declare my agricultural interests as in the register. I wish to speak to Amendment 80 in this group, tabled by the noble Earl, Lord Dundee. It seems to me that any government policy that reduces the use of pesticides in British agriculture is, unarguably, desirable. Farmers, however, will be damaged economically if they are not able to use certain pesticides. Damage to the sugar beet crop in France, as reported recently in the Financial Times, is an example of this. If public money is to be used for public good, reduced use of pesticides should be compensated by public money. The amendment in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, is a step in the right direction and I do hope the Government will accept it. Encouraging conversion to organic farming will, among other things, reduce pesticide use. But I completely take the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, in last week’s debate, that certified organic farming is not the only nature-friendly system of farming.
I really hope that the Government will give the opportunity for farmers from 2021—not 2024—to earn extra payments for nature-friendly farming practices, including by reducing the use of pesticides. Developing targets for integrated pest management and monitoring the effects of pesticide use, and reducing pesticide residues in food, are aspirations that I expect should be embraced by a Government committed to improving the environment, as this Government are.
My Lords, I spoke on similar amendments to these in Committee. I am happy to add my support to Amendment 78, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. My mind goes back to the days when the Countess of Mar was fighting a lonely battle against MAFF on sheep dips and the problems they caused. I am just concerned that the Government are perhaps not taking this issue as seriously as I would like them to.
I am attracted to the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, because it gives the Government flexibility. As I said in Committee, there is a difference between the effects of fungicides, herbicides and insecticides, depending on what you are spraying. Weather conditions make a difference, too. So further research is needed, but the principle of what the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, is trying to achieve is absolutely correct. There have been too many instances when the public have complained, particularly about nasty chemicals that have been sprayed, and some farmers do not take this issue as seriously as we would like.
I support my noble friend Lord Randall on the necessity of supporting biodiversity and wildlife. A lot of bees, birds and animals get caught up in spraying when they are nesting in hedgerows and the spray application is made in a bad way. So I give my support to the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. I hope that my noble friend Lord Gardiner will be able to convince him that the amendment should not be pushed to Division, but I do approve of the principle of it.
My Lords, I am happy to participate in this debate and would like to lend my support to the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty.
There has been a lot of discussion over the last 40 years about the impact of pesticides on the human health of rural residents and on biodiversity, flora, fauna, insects and animals. Therefore, I am very much drawn to Amendment 78, which I believe is a crucial amendment, trying to protect human health from agricultural pesticides. Rural residents and communities across the UK continue to be adversely impacted by the cocktail of pesticides sprayed on crops in our localities, reporting various acute and chronic effects on health.
I am a rural dweller. I did not grow up on a farm but I am very conscious of the impact of those pesticides because I am an asthmatic. I have talked to many people whose health has been impacted by sheep dip, by Roundup and by the emergence of diseases that hitherto there was no family history of, and that they had not suffered from before. Exposure and risk for rural committees and residents are from the release of those cocktails of harmful agricultural pesticides into the air where people live and breathe because, once pesticides have been dispersed, their airborne droplets, particles and vapours are in the air irrespective of whether or not there is wind.
In that regard, I take note of the amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff. Vapour lift-off can occur days, weeks or months after any application, further exposing those living in the locality, and it has nothing to do with the wind. The Government’s stated position that pesticides are strictly regulated and that scientific assessment shows there are no risks to people and the environment is simply not correct. Since 2009, EU and UK equivalent laws legally define rural residents living in a locality of pesticide-sprayed crops as a vulnerable group, recognised as having high pesticide exposure over the long term. Further, the risks of both acute and chronic effects of such exposure are again recognised in article 7 of the EU sustainable use directive. I hope that the Minister will see fit to accept this amendment. If not, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, will press it to Division. It should be given statutory effect because rural populations are looking for this direction and this protection.
My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick.
I congratulate the authors of this interesting group of amendments on the thought and effort that they have put into them. As I am sure the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, will realise, I have some concerns about her amendments, particularly regarding the drafting and how they might be interpreted; for example, the word “drifting” is open to interpretation. The noble Baroness herself highlighted some of the difficulties this group would have. It would be enormously helpful if the Minister could explain the current regulations when summing up. I am not totally familiar with this area but I understand that it is heavily regulated and that there is quite stringent provision in the current code of practice, which is operated by the Health and Safety Executive and was itself updated quite recently, I think in 2005.
I am also concerned about Amendment 78, which is loosely drafted. Subsection (1) includes the phrase,
“prohibiting the application of any pesticide … near”.
That seems very loosely drafted, so I would be interested to hear how the Minister thinks the provision could be implemented, were it to be passed today.
This is a good opportunity for the Minister to raise our awareness of previous research and commercial innovation relevant to air levels and other controls of pesticides. I am minded of the fact that a lot of work is going on, I think in Essex, breeding bugs that eat and destroy other bugs, which I presume would fall within the remit of Amendment 80 in the name of my noble friend Lord Dundee.
My concern is that, for the reasons set out by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, and the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, this area is already heavily regulated and the amendments could be very difficult to implement as drafted.
My Lords, because I do not want to detain the House, this is the only amendment that I am speaking on today.
I strongly support Amendment 79 and have personal reasons for doing so, so I need to tell a story. It is about the late Dr Bill Fakes, an old friend of mine, a former GP in my former Workington constituency whom I met nearly 50 years ago. He was a brilliant man—yes, a bit eccentric, but that is often the case with gifted people. He was a biologist with an intense interest in entomology. He had been brought up in the Fenlands in the small rural community of Willingham. It was a market garden, an arable area, and with his love of nature he took a particular interest in the ditches and characteristics of the land where, with other children and friends, he would gather beetles and other insects, carefully logging their every characteristic. As a bright boy inspired by these activities as a child, he went on to study medicine at UCL in London, ultimately ending up in Workington as a young—yes, rather eccentric but brilliant—general practitioner.
In 1995, Dr Fakes was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma and ended up, via West Cumberland Hospital, at the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle, where a fellow medic and consultant took a particular interest in his condition. What they were not to know at that stage was that a number of his relatives and friends were subsequently to be stricken down with similar or associated conditions. They included his sister, his mother and one of his best young friends, Brian Haddon, all within a few years of each other and all from within the vicinity of the Fakes’ home in the Fens.
Dr Fakes’ response was to research his condition in detail, taking up much of his own time. Part of the research was to arrange for his pituitary gland, I think it was, to be removed from his body on death and sent for autopsy assessment at a special unit in Glasgow. Bill Fakes had been assiduous in making these arrangements as he believed that such an assessment would expose the danger of underregulated spraying arrangements. However, somewhere along the line the gland disappeared and was lost, and all the preparation came to nothing. Dr Fakes was convinced that his condition and that of his family and friends related directly to the use of pesticides in the vicinity of buildings and installations to which the public had access next to his home. He wanted all deaths in pesticide spray areas to be reviewed with a view to amendments to legislation dealing with pesticides, which brings me to Amendment 78 in the name of my noble friend.
I am told by Nick Mole of Pesticide Action Network that farmers can spray right up to the boundary—yes, right up to your garden boundary, bush, fence or wall. I am also told that not only can you use Roundup when doing so but you can spray with even potentially more hazardous and dangerous pesticides. I have to confess that when he told me this, I simply could not believe it and had to ask him to repeat what he had said. Furthermore, I am told that it is permissible under EU pesticide regimes, which have been described to me as not perfect but some of the best in the world. So, we now have climate change, plastic pollution and pesticides all destroying the planet while we stand and bicker over whether environmental protection is too high a price to pay.
This brings me to the national action plan, the consultation, the proposed review and the price we now need to pay. In my mind, the whole debate comes down to the risk approach versus the precautionary approach. We need to reject any risk approach that dilutes our pesticide regimes. We need far clearer pesticide reduction targets. We need a levy on farmers based on levels of toxicity. We need a chemicals regulatory regime with far tougher enforcement, which probably means splitting up the existing regime. We need a review of both the voluntary initiative and the immunity forum, both of which have been described to me as inadequate.
With Dr Bill Fakes in mind—sadly, he died from pesticide poisoning in 2003—we need a complete review of the spraying of pesticides near buildings used for human habitation and for work. We also need new law specifying minimum distances during the application of pesticides—all in Amendment 78, as mentioned by my noble friend Lord Whitty. That is what Dr Fakes wanted. It would be a suitable epitaph to his lifetime’s work on occupational diseases and their cancer-related conditions if the amendment were to pass today. If Amendment 78 had been mine, I would have liked to have called it “the Fakes amendment” in recognition of the work he did in this area, but of course it is not mine. Still, I hope my noble friend Lord Whitty, who is equally passionate on these matters, does not mind and understands the position I have taken.
My Lords, I declare my farming interest in Suffolk as in the register.
We are debating a number of amendments that could loosely be described as antipesticide. I am afraid I cannot support them because they would end up making the task of food production, which is the primary responsibility of the farmer, both harder and more expensive. As I have pointed out before, in Committee, some 70% of the taxable profit of farmers is composed of Brussels money; on my own farm the average figure over 14 years was 67%. As has been pointed out many times, switching money from the present system to environmental obligations inevitably reduces profitability, and it is in that context that we should consider these amendments.
I yield to no one in my devotion to sustainable and responsible farming that protects the environment and, indeed, enhances landscape, which in general is manmade—that is, made by farmers. I served three terms on the old Countryside Commission, two terms on the Rural Development Commission and five years as the national chair of CPRE. A couple of years ago, I retired as president of the Suffolk Preservation Society after 20 years. I mention all this because, all too often, farmers are condemned without justification as people who are interested only in profit and short cuts and are not considerate.
We must make use of safe new technology when it is available, and this includes pesticides. Over the years, these chemicals have been more and more carefully tested and controlled to protect humans and animals, and all life in the environment. Many of the standards, rules and regulations on the use of chemicals are crucial; they must and will continue. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, has just said that she would like all pesticides to be banned entirely, but, frankly, that is quite impractical.
I will give two examples where, lacking full justification and presumably formed on the precautionary principle—the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, has just mentioned this; it is all too often an excuse for sloppy thinking—the rules have actually been harmful to economic farming. These include rules on the use of treatments for seeds to grow two important UK crops, which are now banned. The first is on the use of a chemical called Cruiser for the treatment of sugar beet seeds to protect the crop from the devastating effects of a disease called virus yellows. This problem was mentioned a few moments ago by the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington.
The second example is on the use of neonicotinoids for the seed of oilseed rape before it is planted to protect it from flea beetles, which can—and do—more than halve the yield. The ban on this seed treatment has led many farmers in the UK to give up growing oilseed rape. Of course, this merely means that the product is imported from Canada and the United States, where the bans do not exist. Obviously, I would have thought that there is no way in which the treatment of seeds under the ground can damage insects such as bees and butterflies, which feast on the nectar of a crop above the ground.
Of course, we must treat and use all chemicals with the greatest care and respect, but they are a crucial component of modern farming. I fear that these amendments are too wide and go too far, which is why I cannot support them.
My Lords, I hope I can contribute to this debate by drawing on my farming interests and my experience. Of course, some of the latter is now history: I remember personally hot water treating daffodil bulbs in mercurial dips and, in my part of the world, there was widespread use of aerial spraying. Quite rightly, we live in very different times, as all of us using chemical applications have become more aware. The prohibition of noxious and dangerous chemicals, such as DDT, is well known, and all farmers and growers have an awareness of selectivity in their use of chemical sprays and dips. The use of broad-spectrum sprays is now rare, and most applications are for specific purposes.
Noble Lords will know, as a result of this debate, that a robust regulatory system of comprehensive scientific assessments is in place to ensure that pesticides are not used where their use may harm human or animal health or pose unacceptable risks to the environment. All these regulations include operator risk as well as risk to the general public. Assessments are carried out by a large team of specialist scientists at the Health and Safety Executive, and independent expert advice is provided by the UK Expert Committee on Pesticides. This system derives from EU Regulation (EC) No 1107/2009, which sets the rules for assessing and authorising pesticides, and Regulation (EC) No 396/2005, which sets limits for pesticide residues in food. All of these regulations will be carried over in full to UK law at the end of the transition period.
This brings me to the specific amendments in this group, and I have a great deal of time for all the signatories to them. The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, is a marvellous contributor to this House; I like, admire and enjoy listening to her, but it must be a long time since she was on a modern arable farm. Nowadays, she would see the precision with which sprays and chemicals are used; she would see the field margins adjacent to water courses and the headland nature strips. She would see modern sprayers, which bear no relation to the primitive things I used, with variable flow, nozzles and height. The operation of this kit is a highly skilled job and must be performed by a trained operator.
Farmers are a generous lot, but they do not spray their neighbours’ fields for them; neither do they spray the hedgerows, nor a neighbouring resident’s lawn. If noble Lords ever sought a contract with a multiple retailer—or even a third party who supplies a supermarket or chain—they would appreciate the high standards of husbandry and record-keeping that are required. Most farmers belong to accreditation groups as a consequence. When times are normal, I hope that the noble Baroness will join other noble Lords to visit our farm or, alternatively, attend a local LEAF Open Farm Sunday. Many people do. On our centennial open day last year, we had 500 visitors. If she stayed overnight, she would hear the sprayer go past between 5 and 6 in the morning, when winds are calm just before dawn, because that is the prime time to spray.
The thing that really upsets my nephew—he is responsible for our farming and growing and is active in many local farming groups and the drainage board—is that these amendments give the impression of a lack of trust. I will not repeat his critique of the well-intended but nightmare-inducing bureaucracy of the proposals in this group. We have over 100 fields on our farm plan, for example, and I have to tell the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, that our whole farm, except for 11 fields, is near one or two of the prohibited areas that he lists. How are noxious and persistent weeds and fungal infections going to be controlled with his measures in place?
I hope that my voice from the farm makes it clear that the use of pesticides, fungicides and other chemicals is not taken lightly by the industry and that the authors of these amendments will realise that, if we want more from our farmers in every way, we should maintain our confidence in them. This Bill will encourage farmers and growers, but we should not pass these amendments if we want the House and Parliament to retain their trust.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, who has reminded us of the regulatory system in place at the Health and Safety Executive and given some examples of the impacts these amendments might have on farmers. I have added my name to Amendment 76 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, and to Amendment 78 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. I am grateful to both for their detailed and excellent introductions to this topic.
The use of pesticides was mentioned at Second Reading and in Committee. It is a topic which raises a great deal of concern among those living in the countryside and rural areas. Farmers spray their crops with pesticides to protect them from pests and diseases. However, some farmers—not all—do not exercise care when doing this, and their chemicals drift over neighbouring lands and properties, as the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, mentioned. These chemicals can be extremely toxic and for citizens to breathe them in is likely to have a very adverse effect, especially for those already suffering from respiratory diseases. It is not unreasonable for those likely to suffer from pesticide drift to be notified by the farmer of the fact that they are planning to spray their crops on a certain day at a certain time, so that neighbours may stay indoors or be elsewhere during the process. Amendment 78 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, is specific about the type of buildings which farmers would be prohibited from spraying near. It is essential that our young children should be protected from inhalation of toxic chemicals. Their lungs are fragile. Hospitals where the sick and chronically ill will be cared for by NHS staff should be similarly protected.
New pesticides and chemicals are being developed continually. It is important that all are tested extensively before being used in open countryside and close to human habitation. As a country, we are much more aware than previously of the dangers of toxic chemicals to our health. Like many in your Lordships’ House, I can remember when you knew when a farmer was spraying with DDT, as you could smell it on the wind as soon as you stepped outside—the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, referred to DDT. Strong chemicals may have a smell, but others will have hardly any. The absence of smell could lull farming communities into a false sense of security. Far better to test extensively before allowing wholesale use. We must learn from our experience of sheep dips, as referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, gave us a salutary example of the impact of chemicals on somebody that he knew. I also support the amendment of the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, and note the comments of the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington.
On previous occasions, the Minister has referred to the integrated pest management strategy. The harm that chemicals and pesticides do to people and animals must be minimised. It is not always easy to wash such chemicals off fresh fruit before it is eaten. Not everyone adheres to the very small print on the packets of fruit or vegetables saying “wash before use”. Often, it is assumed that cooking will deal with any substances on the skin of the produce.
On Sunday, our church had its first physical service for months. We all congregated, separated by two metres, to celebrate harvest. We could not sing the traditional harvest hymns, but the organist played them and we followed the words on our service sheets. I was struck by the words of “Come ye thankful people, come”:
“First the blade and then the ear,
Then the full corn shall appear.”
This is what every farmer hopes for in his crops, but it is not achieved without much effort, and often with the use of pesticides. I understand and support farmers in their efforts to raise good crops, but they must be healthy and must not damage the health of those living close to the fields. Similarly, agroecology and organic practices must be preserved from being contaminated with pesticides and chemicals.
I hope that the Minister has some encouraging news for us, and I note that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, is minded to divide the House. We on our Benches will support him if he does.
My Lords, I begin by referencing my interests at Rothamsted Research, as recorded in the register. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, my noble friend Lord Whitty and the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, for their amendments. They have all given powerful examples of the public health concerns that arise from close contact with pesticides. As the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay said, sadly, all too often our experience has been that the health problems come to light when the damage has already been done. You cannot blame the public for their scepticism when they are assured that chemicals are safe, because the reality all too often appears further down the line.
My noble friend Lord Whitty specifically raises concerns about the impact on those living and working adjacent to fields which are regularly sprayed. Farm workers have the details of the chemicals involved and, we hope, the appropriate protective clothing, but no such provision is made for the local population, so the provision in my noble friend’s amendment for a minimum distance to be set by regulation between private land being sprayed and nearby residential areas seems eminently sensible.
When we debated this in Committee, we argued for research into alternative methods of pest and disease control, in keeping with the wider aspirations of the Bill to deliver integrated pest management and greater biodiversity. We also argued that targets should be set for the reduction in pesticide use. This becomes eminently achievable as precision farming techniques become more widespread, and these issues were rightly raised by the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, in speaking to his amendment. I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, that what he is describing is best practice, not universal practice, and this is where the problems lie.
In Committee, the Minister confirmed that once we have left the EU at the end of the year, we will take responsibility for our own decisions on pesticide use in the UK. She also confirmed that the Government will consult on a national action plan to reduce pesticide use later this year, so it would be helpful if the noble Lord could update your Lordships on the timetable for that consultation and the progress to date. Can he also confirm that any recommendations will continue to be based on the precautionary principle?
In the meantime, the challenge of my noble friend Lord Whitty’s amendment is more immediate and pressing. Whatever the Government’s overall plans for pesticide reduction, there are likely to be continuing problems for those living close to fields that are being sprayed. This is an immediate issue of public health protection. I therefore hope that the Minister is able to provide some reassurance to my noble friend that action to protect those residents is being planned as part of the wider review. If he is unable to satisfy my noble friend, I make it clear that if my noble friend pushes it to a vote, we will support him. In the meantime, I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I am most grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate, bringing with them experience of agriculture or medical specialism. I declare my farming interests as set out in the register.
Turning to the amendments of the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, I should first say to all noble Lords that the Government are committed to protecting people and the environment from the potential risk posed by pesticides. As I will explain, the Government have a robust regulatory system in place to ensure that pesticides are not used where that may harm human health. The use of pesticides is allowed only where a comprehensive scientific assessment shows that people will not be harmed. The scientific risk assessment carried out before pesticides are authorised covers all situations where people may be exposed to pesticides, including risks to residents and bystanders from the volatilisation of the pesticide’s active substance after application of the product. Products found to have an unacceptable risk from exposure would not be authorised.
The risks of possible pesticide spray-drift from pesticide use are assessed before a new pesticide product is authorised. This includes the effect of different factors, including wind speed, and the results are used to set specific statutory conditions of use for that pesticide as we only authorise products that will not have any harmful effect on human health.
The label on a pesticide product is the main source of information for the user of that pesticide. Phrases such as those listed in Amendment 76 relate to the classification of the concentrated product rather than the diluted spray. The information is required to minimise the user’s exposure and to ensure that they use the product safely and effectively. All users of pesticides are required to follow the statutory conditions of use for any pesticides they use. They should also follow the guidance contained in the Code of Practice for Using Plant Protection Products. The code requires that all users take reasonable precautions to protect the health of people, creatures and plants, to safeguard the environment, and, in particular, to avoid pollution of water. The code specifies that users must ensure that pesticides are only applied in the appropriate weather conditions with the correct, properly adjusted equipment, and that applications must be confined to the area intended to be treated. Collectively, these controls ensure that people are properly protected, based on appropriate risk assessments. They allow pesticides to be used where this is safe and will help UK farmers to provide a supply of high-quality affordable food.
The Government are committed to monitoring the impacts of the use of agricultural pesticides. Indeed, monitoring schemes are in place to report on the level of usage of each pesticide and on residue levels in food. They also collect and consider reports of possible harm to people or to the environment. We will continue to review the monitoring arrangements to ensure that they remain effective in supporting the authorisation process.
Turning to Amendment 80, I am most grateful to my noble friend for raising integrated pest management and the more precise use of pesticides, including through new technologies and new concepts, to which my noble friend Lady McIntosh referred. Pesticide users can reduce the need for pesticides, further reducing risks to the environment, combating pest resistance and supporting agricultural productivity. This is very important for all farmers: pest resistance is another issue we must contend with. The Government have made a commitment in the 25-year environment plan to putting integrated pest management at the heart of their approach. There are advances in this area that we should all champion.
A number of points have been made by noble Lords, but I particularly want to pick up the matter raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, and the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, and deal with the precise issue of lacuna and gap. That is precisely why the upcoming consultation on the draft updated UK National Action Plan for the Sustainable Use of Pesticides will set out how the Government will deliver our 25-year environment plan commitment. I also say to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and my noble friend the Duke of Wellington that as part of this, the Government are considering the extent to which targets may support the delivery of integrated pest management. The consultation on the national action plan will be launched later this year and will set out these plans in more detail. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Young of Norwood Green, that in Committee we had an extensive debate on gene editing and as I said then, we believe that the best way forward is to have a full and proper consultation on those matters.
I turn now to Amendment 78. I was very pleased to meet the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, and the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, to discuss these matters. The Government agree that pesticides should not be used where they may harm human health or pose unacceptable risks to the environment. By pesticides, we mean all the plant protection products commonly used in agriculture and beyond, including herbicides, fungicides and insecticides. A robust regulatory system is in place to deliver that objective and to make sure that an authorised product, used correctly, does not harm people. As has been said by my noble friend Lord Taylor of Holbeach, that system derives from EU law and, in particular, Regulation 1107/2009, setting out the rules for assessing and authorising pesticides, and Regulation 396/2005, setting limits for pesticide residues in food. All this EU legislation will be carried over is full into UK law at the end of the transition period.
I say particularly to the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, that the use of pesticides is allowed only where a comprehensive scientific assessment shows that it will have no immediate or delayed harmful effect on human health, including that of vulnerable groups. This issue was also referred to my noble friend Lord Taylor of Holbeach. I emphasise this because I well understand the spirit of what has been said by many noble Lords about pesticides. The assessment is carried out by a large team of more than 100 scientists in the Health and Safety Executive. After the transition period, the demands on this team will grow as it takes on tasks currently centralised within the EU. Staffing levels will therefore be increased and this process in already ongoing. Independent expert advice is provided by the UK Expert Committee on Pesticides. Most members of the expert committee are eminent academic or other specialists in fields relevant to aspects of the risk assessment. A similar technical body, the Expert Committee on Pesticide Residues in Food, oversees the substantial programme of monitoring and enforcement for pesticides in food and feed. I should note that the assessment specifically addresses the situation of people who live near to where pesticides are used. The assessment of risks is rigorous, and authorisation is frequently refused. I should also emphasise that authorisations are regularly reviewed.
I was, of course, saddened to hear about previous fatalities; the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, spoke with obvious feeling about someone he knew well. The regulation of pesticides dates back to the mid-1980s in the UK and the early 1990s in the EU. Since then, it has been tightened. Many pesticides that used to be permitted for use are now not authorised or are substantially restricted. Effects on rural residents are specifically considered, as I said, as part of the scientific assessment process. All pesticide users are required by law—the Plant Protection Products (Sustainable Use) Regulations 2012—to take all reasonable precautions to protect human health and the environment and to confine the application of the product to the area intended to be treated. When using a pesticide in areas used by the public or vulnerable groups, including those close to healthcare facilities or in parks, school grounds and playgrounds, operators must also ensure that the amount used and frequency of use is as low as reasonably practicable.
As I have already said, all users of pesticides are required to follow the statutory conditions of use for every pesticide they use. These conditions typically include the frequency, timing and amount of application. They may also, for example, include protective equipment for operators and buffer zones to protect the environment. Guidance on the use of pesticides is also provided in the Code of Practice for Using Plant Protection Products.
The Government’s priority is the protection of people and the environment. Exacting measures are in place through our domestic legislation and the specialists we have in place at the HSE. Pesticides are important in helping farmers produce the food we need—a point made by my noble friends Lord Marlesford, Lord Taylor of Holbeach and Lady McIntosh, based on experience. We also need pesticides to protect infrastructure such as roads and railways. As my noble friend Lady McIntosh highlighted, in extending its scope to any pesticide and any building, the amendment is very sweeping and could well have undesirable and disproportionate effects. It would prevent the use of pesticides that are important for agricultural and horticultural productivity but pose no danger whatsoever to public health, such as products used in a permanent greenhouse. It could also, for example, prevent the use of pesticides for the effective control of Japanese knotweed. I pluck that example because it is a very difficult plant to control close to buildings. Because the amendment extends to
“any building or open space used for work”,
it would also appear to prohibit the use of pesticides in agriculture entirely.
I do not believe that that was what the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, intended, but it is my duty to say to the House that, having taken legal advice, this is how our lawyers interpret this amendment. If any particular pesticide needs to be restricted from use close to buildings or spaces used for work or recreation, that can be done through the authorisation system. We believe that the effect of the amendment would be to impose an unnecessary blanket restriction.
I spent a little time explaining the statutory bodies, requirements and protections for contemporary use of pesticides. I am well aware of previous times when pesticides were used and the rigour with which, through the EU and our domestic journey, we have addressed them. It is why I have spent some time explaining the expertise available to this country, on which we all rely. So I say this with all sincerity. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, has said he wishes to put this to the test—I do not want to take away his thunder, as I respect the noble Lord. But, having taken legal advice, I have sought to outline why I could not advise your Lordships to vote for an amendment that is well meaning but does pose difficulties. In the meantime, I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, is in a position to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for the detail that he has afforded to this group of amendments and for his reply. I will make some very short comments. He speaks about consultation going forward; that is precisely the consultation required to inform the regulations to which the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, speaks. He talks about areas around railways and wastelands, which could become wildlife sanctuaries but are not at the moment because of the way they are handled.
I assure the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, that the lack of trust is not in farmers but in the pesticide manufacturers. The spraying kit that he is talking about is incredibly expensive, as I know from seeing it at the Royal Welsh Show. It is eye-wateringly expensive and costs a lot to maintain, so is not within the reach of every farmer.
I do not want to waste time discussing my amendments. I point out that the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, has rightly said that the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, is flexible. It is simply about making regulations; it does not state what has to be in them, in terms of distance or children, and they would go to affirmative resolution. Therefore, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment and give notice that, in the event of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, being unable to call a vote on his Amendment 78, I will do so on his behalf.
Amendment 75 withdrawn.
Amendments 76 and 77 not moved.
78: After Clause 34, insert the following new Clause—
“Application of pesticides: limitations on use to protect human health
(1) The Secretary of State must by regulations make provision prohibiting the application of any pesticide for the purposes of agriculture or horticulture near—(a) any building used for human habitation;(b) any building or open space used for work or recreation; or (c) any public or private building where members of the public may be present, including but not limited to—(i) schools and childcare nurseries;(ii) hospitals.(2) Regulations under subsection (1) must specify a minimum distance from any of the locations listed under subsection (1)(a) to (c) to be maintained during the application of any pesticide.(3) For the purposes of this section “public building” includes any building used for the purposes of education.(4) Regulations under this section are subject to the affirmative resolution procedure.”Member’s explanatory statement
This new Clause would protect members of the public from hazardous health impacts from the application of chemical pesticides near buildings and spaces used by residents and members of the public.
My Lords, we now come to the group consisting of Amendment 79. 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.
79: After Clause 34, insert the following new Clause—
“Planning guidance for agricultural smallholdings
The Secretary of State may create planning guidance for local authorities to facilitate the development of combined smallholding home and work spaces for the following purposes—(a) to encourage the construction of affordable rural houses;(b) to create employment in farming and ancillary enterprises;(c) to increase supplies of locally grown fresh food to improve food security;(d) to increase productivity and profitability through agroecological farming on smallholdings; and(e) to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, regenerate soil fertility and nurture biodiversity through smallholder farming.”Member’s explanatory statement
This new Clause would enable the Government to give guidelines to local authorities to encourage combined smallholding home and workspace development, thus promoting employment whilst also increasing local food supplies through productive and profitable agroecological smallholder farming.
My Lords, this proposed new clause would enable the Government to give guidance to local authorities. Many new entrepreneurs would like to set up agricultural smallholdings and to start viable businesses connected with high-quality jobs to do with farming and local food production, but are still prevented by restrictive planning regulations. The aim instead should clearly be to encourage innovative smallholding and workplace developments, promoting employment and affordable housing as well as increasing local food supplies through more productive and profitable agroecological farming. Since such smallholdings deliver significant public goods to the environment and society, they deserve full recognition and backing within planning policy.
I moved a similar amendment in Committee, not so much in terms of planning guidelines but instead to ask the Minister, my noble friend Lord Gardiner, what his views were on the scope and benefit of these projects. He could not have been more supportive. He pointed out that the Government, as stated in Defra’s Farming for the Future: Policy and Progress Update last February,
“intend to use the powers under Clause 1 to offer funding to councils, landowners and other organisations to invest in … opportunities for new entrants to access land”.
He also mentioned the Government’s resolve to “work with local authorities” and other institutions, mentioning that
“further details will be set out in the Government’s multiannual financial assistance plan.”—[Official Report, 21/7/20; col. 2134.]
He drew our attention to how local authorities would now be able to use rural sites for the delivery of affordable housing and how the National Planning Policy Framework will help the building of homes in isolated areas.
I am very grateful to my noble friend and, regarding smallholdings, much heartened by the positive background he explained. However, there are two different kinds of smallholding under discussion: county farms controlled by local authorities and the different kind of smallholding, not owned or controlled by local authorities yet entirely dependent on permission from local authorities to be able to establish or develop at all. Perhaps these two types may not have been sufficiently distinguished from each other in Committee. That is why I have brought back a revised amendment on planning guidance.
For instance, a modern agricultural smallholding might well combine farming with other work. Residents would have two occupations: farming some land and working from home. An example could be 30 houses and 180 acres of farmland, thus six acres per unit. A typical occupant might farm vegetables in polytunnels while also working part-time as an IT consultant via high-speed internet.
Post coronavirus, two interconnected trends emerge: a greater demand for property in the countryside and the growing potential of being able to work from home. The proposals outlined therefore fit in with those new demands and facilities. At the same time, such projects would provide excellent fresh produce to local urban markets, as a result strengthening the United Kingdom’s food security while advancing government plans for the countryside by increasing opportunities for rural employment.
In connection with the Bill, the farming methods adopted by these smallholdings would qualify for financial assistance for the purposes detailed in Clause 1. In view of their relevance to the purposes of the Bill, yet taking into account the tendency of local authorities hitherto to be restrictive, does my noble friend Lady Bloomfield agree, first, that the Secretary of State might now give planning guidance to local authorities to facilitate the development of combined home and work spaces for the purposes outlined in this amendment? Secondly, even if planning permissions are now less likely to be withheld or procrastinated over than they previously have been, there would be all the more consistency if the Government were to offer such guidance as envisaged. In any case, I beg to move.
My Lords, I briefly give my full-hearted support to the noble Earl and his proposal. Again, I draw on my own experience at both MAFF and Defra and, at one time, as the Planning Minister, when I had a predisposition to facilitate the use of what you could term redundant farm buildings for other uses, be they housing or small enterprises—sometimes start-up or incubator units. I realise that it is not easy, and I know local authorities are suspicious because there have been abuses in the past. I realise that they sometimes want to limit the footprint of redundant buildings being extended too much, but the fact is that we need a national guideline for the flexibility.
The noble Earl pointed out that there are two classes of situation here. Local authorities could be deemed to be giving planning permission to themselves— or, indeed, not giving it—where they own the county farms. It is always a problem when one has to have these separate walls in local authorities. It does not always look fair.
I give my support for all the flexibility the Minister can give, by way of encouragement to local authorities under the planning system, for more modern uses of agricultural buildings. The idea of affordable housing and issues ancillary to farming are fine; I would go much further than that, but I rest on supporting the noble Earl.
I first declare an interest as a member of the EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee, which has done a lot of work on agriculture. I congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, on an excellent amendment. We certainly need to encourage new entrants and young farmers.
Looking at some statistics about farming apprenticeships, I was interested that they talked about a 2.7% growth in the industry as a whole and something like 137,000 people leaving the industry, so there are plenty of opportunities there. Is it currently easy for new entrants and young farmers? All the evidence we see is that you have to be very determined.
This is a really worthwhile amendment. It falls in line with our new approach to farming subsidies and the 25-year plan. It is a golden opportunity to put the emphasis, as it says, on sustainability and care of the environment. New young people coming into the industry will give it a fresh look; they are much better versed in the new technology. The point the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, made about housing is also important. We need to recognise that it is not enough just to create the opportunity; we also need to enable people to live near their place of work.
The other point I would like to emphasise is that there is, as we have heard in this debate, an awful lot of best practice out there and a lot of good farming going on. Finding the opportunity for those farmers to buddy up with new entrants to act as mentors would be really good.
The noble Earl, Lord Dundee, mentioned food security and fresh produce. In addition, there would likely be less food waste. Giving guidance to local authorities also seems a sensible part of this amendment. I welcome the amendment and give it my full support. I trust we will have a positive and constructive response from the Minister.
I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Young of Norwood Green, with whom I have the privilege to sit on the EU Environment Sub-Committee. I have just two questions for my noble friend the Minister. I thank the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, for providing the opportunity to ask them in the context of Amendment 79.
What I find attractive about this amendment—and I hope my noble friend will agree—is that it is currently notoriously difficult for new entrants to penetrate national parks. Would my noble friend see some merit in an amendment along these lines to ease the restrictions, allowing new entrants to enter into agriculture, particularly in national parks such as the North York Moors National Park?
Another reason to find Amendment 79 attractive is subsection (a), which seeks
“to encourage the construction of affordable rural houses.”
It is often overlooked that one of the reasons it is extremely difficult for older farmers to retire and cease to actively farm is that there is nowhere for them to go. There are large houses and executive-style houses, but there is a lack of affordable homes with one or two bedrooms in rural areas. I have seen some in Hovingham, which are part of the Hovingham estate, and they are tastefully done, but I would hope that this could be more widespread. That is why I hope my noble friend will use an opportunity such as the wording of this amendment, perhaps in a more appropriate place than the Agriculture Bill, to ensure that there is a supply of affordable rural houses for those who wish to make way for younger members of the family to take over the farming commitment. We need somewhere for them to go.
The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, has withdrawn from this amendment, so the next speaker is the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett.
My Lords, when this Bill was in Committee, I had the privilege of contributing on really critical issues to do with the protection of the environment and landscape, proper husbandry of soil for our future, the well-being of livestock, and the importance of protecting and securing our food supply, ensuring that it is environmentally friendly and good for our health. I believe that the amendment of the noble Earl contributes to this. It is clearly beneficial for smallholdings to be able to draw together all those key elements—the protection of the countryside and the decent ways we can grow our food and husband our livestock.
The intervention by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, is an important one. A third of the land-mass of the city of Sheffield is actually in the Peak District National Park, and a co-ordinated approach between local government and the park planning board to providing smallholdings and protecting those that still exist is really important, and that applies to national parks elsewhere.
The University of Sheffield is undertaking some creative and imaginative work on food production, which is being used around the world. That could be applied—expertise goes with the willingness of people to take on opportunity.
As the noble Earl described, the ability to work from home is now greater than ever, not just because people have learned during the Covid pandemic how to use the equipment but because the equipment is now more useable. People can combine one activity with husbanding the soil, and get a great quality of life from doing so. It also helps with local procurement, which will be an important issue, and therefore with the protection of our future food supply. It also benefits major urban areas, such as my own, where allotments have historically been critical, as well as smallholdings. Edward Carpenter, many years ago, was able to combine his wider activities with husbanding the land, and many examples of that sort exist.
I entirely support the noble Earl’s intentions this afternoon, but I offer one word of warning. I pay credit to Francis Wheen’s biography of Marx for this gem. Marx was once eulogising in one of the communist cells about how they would husband the land and livestock in the morning, then be able to write and have leisure and pleasure in the afternoon. One of those listening said, “And who will clean our shoes?” The answer came as fast as you would expect from Karl Marx: “You will”. Marxists have always felt that somebody would do something that would ensure that their lives were a little easier.
My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, and others argued that we will need to take action to promote the development of smallholdings in the variety of ways that they may manifest. The noble Earl has proposed that there should be guidance for local authorities to encourage the development, through smallholdings, of affordable rural housing, as well as to provide employment, promote biodiversity, reduce emissions, and improve soil fertility and the supply of local food. These are very ambitious and imaginative aims, and he introduced his proposals in a very compelling fashion with some very experienced supporters.
There will be areas around the country where local authorities are supportive of this sector; there are others where the sense in the farming community is that the local authorities face the town and never look to the countryside. Challenges to the latter are never addressed, even though the countryside is, at the very least, important for those in the town.
There is considerable concern about how the Government are currently reducing planning guidelines. This looks like a benign way forward, but post Brexit and post coronavirus, local authorities will be even more overstretched. They may not have the resources currently to be looking at this area effectively as well; they will need imagination and expertise. If this amendment is agreed, the Government will need to make sure that any such extra task is properly resourced, or it may mean little. I therefore look forward to hearing the Minister’s response.
My Lords, Amendment 79 follows on from previous debates about how the Government and the devolved Administrations can support the agricultural sector and its workers in providing homes, job opportunities and so forth. Its specific focus on smallholdings is welcome and we look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say. The priorities identified by the noble Earl’s amendment are perfectly legitimate, particularly the emphasis on locally grown food and steps to improve environmental performance, which arguably go hand in hand. Indeed, as my noble friend Lord Rooker said, we need national guidelines so that flexibility can be given to local authorities for more modern uses.
Presumably, the amendment extends to England and Wales only, as is the case with Clause 34. It is important to recognise the doubly devolved nature of planning, whereby responsibility is split between national and local government, and for this reason it is not clear how quickly or effectively any new guidance would filter down. As a lifelong educator, I was particularly pleased to hear my noble friend Lord Young of Norwood Green’s suggestion of a buddy or mentoring scheme whereby farmers who are using new technology could be encouraged to support those in the industry who may need help in the use of those technologies. I would be grateful if the Minister identified any existing or planned schemes in this area.
My Lords, I detect a greater degree of consensus on this amendment than on some others we will debate this afternoon. I am grateful to my noble friend the Earl of Dundee for the amendment. For many years, local authorities and other smallholding estates have provided valuable opportunities for new entrant farmers, enhancing the rural economy and bringing new energy and skills into the sector.
Smallholdings, as we have heard, provide excellent opportunities for sustainably produced, locally sourced food, helping to deliver our environmental objectives and increasing food security, which a number of speakers have described as a priority. That is why this Government are committed to supporting local authorities to facilitate the development of smallholding estates. I assure my noble friend that the Government intend to use the financial assistance powers already provided under Clause 1(2) to deliver the kinds of outcomes he is seeking.
The Government’s future farming policy update, published in February, committed to offering financial assistance to local authorities, landowners and other organisations to invest in the development of small- holdings in order to create more opportunities for new entrant farmers in future. We believe this will provide greater incentives for local authorities and other landowners to invest in the development of more smallholdings than would providing planning guidance. We want to encourage investment that will not only create more smallholding opportunities but provide guidance and mentoring to new farmers in order to develop sustainable and profitable farming businesses.
In addition, local authorities can take advantage of rural exception sites to help the delivery of affordable housing, and the revised national planning policy framework includes new policies to support the building of homes in isolated locations where this supports farm businesses with succession. I say to my noble friend and to the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, who I recognise has a very relevant background in both Defra and housing, that in July 2018 the Government launched the revised national planning policy framework, which offers new support to rural areas. The rural housing chapter gives strong support for rural exception sites and the NPPF has new policies to support the building of homes in isolated locations where this supports farm succession. Indeed, the Government have increased permitted development rights for redundant farm buildings from three to five dwellings.
In April 2018, the Government amended the national permitted development right supporting rural housing and agricultural productivity. The Government recognise that work and home smallholdings are also provided by other organisations and that these require council planning approval. Guidance to councils on planning matters is led by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, with which my department works closely and will continue to engage with on these matters. My noble friend Lady McIntosh raised this issue, which we are well aware of, particularly since my noble friend the Minister has national parks within his portfolio. We recognise the importance of balancing the protection of areas of outstanding natural beauty with enabling the businesses and communities within them to flourish. I hope I have provided all noble Lords, particularly my noble friend, with enough reassurance and I ask him to withdraw his amendment.
No noble Lord has indicated to me that they wish to come in after the Minister, so I call the Earl of Dundee.
My Lords, I am very grateful to noble Lords for their comments and support, as I am to my noble friend Lady Bloomfield for her positive evaluation of this amendment. As already indicated, the focus here is not upon the merits of agricultural smallholdings, which are already recognised by the Government and by your Lordships. The issue instead is whether the Government should give planning guidance for local authorities to facilitate these developments. My own view, shared perhaps by many noble Lords, is that such government guidance would not unreasonably constrain or inhibit local authorities; yet at the same time, it would help to reduce restrictions and delays. I understand that my noble friend might feel that this cannot immediately be done, but I appreciate the very positive context in which she is considering doing it. As time moves on, the Government might increasingly take a view which is translated to local authorities to good effect. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 79 withdrawn.
Amendment 80 not moved.
Schedule 3: Agricultural tenancies
Amendments 81 to 87 not moved.
88: Schedule 3, page 56, line 8, at end insert—
“Requests for landlord’s consent or variation of terms
30 Before section 28 insert—“27A Disputes relating to requests for landlord’s consent or variation of terms(1) The appropriate authority must by regulations make provision for the tenant of an agricultural holding to refer for arbitration under this Act a request made by the tenant to the landlord where—(a) the request falls within subsection (3), and(b) no agreement has been reached with the landlord on the request.(2) The regulations may also provide that, where the tenant is given the right to refer a request to arbitration, the landlord and tenant may instead refer the request for third party determination under this Act. (3) A request falls within this subsection if—(a) it is a request for—(i) the landlord’s consent to a matter which under the terms of the tenancy requires such consent, or(ii) a variation of the terms of the tenancy, or(iii) the landlord’s consent to a matter which otherwise requires such consent,(b) it is made for the purposes of—(i) enabling the tenant to request or apply for relevant financial assistance or relevant financial assistance of a description specified in the regulations, or(ii) complying with a statutory duty, or a statutory duty of a description specified in the regulations, applicable to the tenant, or(iii) securing either or both of the full and efficient farming of the holding and an environmental improvement, and(c) it meets such other conditions (if any) as may be specified in the regulations.(4) The regulations may provide for the arbitrator or third party on a reference made under the regulations, where the arbitrator or third party considers it reasonable and just (as between the landlord and tenant) to do so—(a) to order the landlord to comply with the request (either in full or to the extent specified in the award or determination); or(b) to make any other award or determination permitted by the regulations.(5) The regulations may (among other things) make provision—(a) about conditions to be met before a reference may be made;(b) about matters which an arbitrator or third party is to take into account when considering a reference;(c) for regulating the conduct of arbitrations or third party determinations;(d) about the awards or determinations which may be made by the arbitrator or third party, which may include making an order for a variation in the rent of the holding or for the payment of compensation or costs;(e) about the time at which, or the conditions subject to which, an award or determination may be expressed to take effect;(f) for restricting a tenant’s ability to make subsequent references to arbitration where a reference to arbitration or third party determination has already been made under the regulations in relation to the same tenancy.(6) The provision covered by subsection (5)(e) includes, in the case of a request made for the purpose described in subsection (3)(b)(i), conditions relating to the making of a successful application for assistance.(7) In this section—“appropriate authority” means—(a) in relation to England, the Secretary of State, and(b) in relation to Wales, the Welsh Ministers;“relevant financial assistance” means financial assistance under—(a) section 1 of the Agriculture Act 2020 (Secretary of State’s powers to give financial assistance),(b) section 19 of, or paragraph 7 of Schedule 5 to, that Act (exceptional market conditions: powers available to Secretary of State and Welsh Ministers),(c) a scheme of the sort mentioned in section 2(4) of that Act (third party schemes), or (d) a scheme of financial assistance in whatever form introduced by Welsh Ministers;“statutory duty” means a duty imposed by or under—(a) an Act of Parliament;(b) an Act or Measure of the National Assembly for Wales or Senedd Cymru; (c) retained direct EU legislation.””Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment provides the ability for farm tenants letting under the Agricultural Tenancies Act 1995 to object to a landlord’s refusal to enter into a specific financial assistance scheme in the same way as farm tenants letting under the Agricultural Holdings Act 1986.
Amendment 89 not moved.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 89ZA. 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 35: Marketing standards
89ZA: Clause 35, page 32, line 45, at end insert—
“( ) where a product is imported, a statement of compliance with the relevant domestic standards and regulations specified under section (Requirement for agricultural and food imports to meet domestic standards).”
At the start of the House’s considerations on day three of Report, I declare my interests as stated in the register, and that I am in receipt of funds under the CAP system.
I rise to move Amendment 89ZA in my name, and I thank my co-signatories to Amendment 93—the noble Baronesses, Lady Bakewell and Lady Boycott, and the noble Lord, Lord Krebs—for transferring their support to this amendment as well. This amendment relates to subsection (2) of Clause 35, “Marketing standards”, in Part 5. That imported food products comply with British domestic standards needs to be backed up with certainty for the British consumer. Clause 35 also specifies Schedule 4, where agricultural products are made relevant to marketing standard provisions.
It is vital that the Bill sets the vision for the future approach of the UK’s agricultural and food policy. It can also signal to existing and future trading partners that the UK is committed to championing high quality and high standards in food around the world. While the establishment of the Trade and Agriculture Commission may have calmed some people, the temporary and limited nature of that body—which we will discuss in a later group of amendments—has served only to energise others.
There was a lot of debate in Committee on labelling, and this will be reflected today in discussions on amendments in the next group. In the UK, there are several quality schemes—the red tractor mark, Freedom Food, British Lion, organic and many others—which allow consumers to know at a glance that the products they are purchasing meet certain requirements. While these should continue to act as identifiers of quality British product, rather than being extended in their scope, Amendment 89ZA would allow the department to introduce the merits of some form of “meeting UK standards” badge. However, labelling would not work universally in practice, as 50% of food is consumed outside the home. The importance of the food service sector has been highlighted repeatedly throughout discussions on the Bill. That is why the amendment is linked intrinsically to Amendment 93 in this group, which I shall speak to now.
I am grateful that the Government agree that Amendment 93 is understood to be consequential to Amendment 89ZA. I begin by thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, for adding her name to this amendment, signalling how important this is to her and her party. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, for consistently championing high standards in production methods, the environment and the importance of nutrition.
The strong theme running through your Lordships’ deliberations on the Bill is that of standards. This is not just a matter of food safety. Standards are important in husbandry methods—agricultural, horticultural and forestry—environmental and climate aspects, food nutrition and labelling, and imported foodstuffs marketed in this country. This group of amendments will determine how the UK’s standards will be set at the outset of our EU exit, and how they will be maintained.
Low-quality food cannot be allowed to jeopardise rural communities by undercutting UK farmers with product made using methods that would be illegal here. The National Farmers’ Union mounted a campaign on production standards that attracted over 1 million signatures. A Which? report found that British people really care about their food and expect that the UK will maintain high standards and, with time, enhance them—95% of respondents agreed with such a statement.
Consumers care about the welfare implications of, for example, US production methods that necessitate that chickens need chlorination to be made safe. They do not want chlorinated chicken or hormone-treated beef to be permitted to be imported and available on supermarket shelves. Voters who voted to get Brexit done can be forgiven for thinking that this was going to be enshrined in legislation—after all, it was in the Conservative Party manifesto. Now certainly is the chance to get it done here. In the Commons, a previous Conservative Government Minister, Neil Parish, proposed a similar amendment. He is now chairman of the prestigious Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee.
This amendment makes various key improvements. It prevents any agri-food chapters of a trade agreement being ratified unless, first, the Secretary of State has laid before Parliament a statement confirming that any products imported into the UK will meet the minimum production standards of British law at the time of entry into the country. Secondly, the Secretary of State must lay regulations specifying a process for determining that the standards to which an imported food product has been produced or processed
“are equivalent to, or exceed, the relevant domestic standards and regulations in relation to animal health and welfare, protection of the environment, food safety, hygiene and traceability, and plant health”.
Thirdly, the House of Commons must approve the relevant trade deal chapters, and your Lordships’ House must debate them, in much the same fashion as it did the Brexit withdrawal deal.
Supermarkets have also endorsed the commitment to protect British food standards from dilution in trade deals. Waitrose and Aldi have committed to not stock lower-standard imported food. Just recently, the first stage of the Defra-commissioned national food strategy, chaired by Henry Dimbleby, also called for such a verification programme of core standards for imported food.
I turn now to Amendments 94 to 96, in the name of the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard. His explanatory statements claim that Amendment 93 as drafted is inconsistent with the WTO’s sanitary and phytosanitary agreement as it refers to domestic, not international, standards. I hope noble Lords will indulge me if I read a short extract from the WTO’s own guidance on SPS agreements:
“The Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures sets out the basic rules for food safety and animal and plant health standards. It allows countries to set their own standards. But it also says regulations must be based on science. They should be applied only to the extent necessary to protect human, animal or plant life or health. And they should not arbitrarily or unjustifiably discriminate between countries where identical or similar conditions prevail. Member countries are encouraged to use international standards, guidelines and recommendations where they exist. However, members may use measures which result in higher standards if there is scientific justification. They can also set higher standards based on appropriate assessment of risks so long as the approach is consistent, not arbitrary.”
Finally, the last part says:
“The agreement still allows countries to use different standards and different methods of inspecting products.”
Noble Lords will know that, in agriculture, as in other areas, international organisations such as the European Union and the WTO set baseline standards and regulations with a view to ensuring some form of level playing field. However, they are just that—a baseline. In the EU, member states often exceed these standards and, by the WTO’s own admission, the UK is free to do so if that is based on evidence and it treats different trading partners consistently. As the Government have said, the UK currently has policies in place that restrict the importing of chlorinated chicken and hormone-treated beef. These policies are evidence-based, with studies showing that certain harmful bacteria can survive chlorine rinsing, and the ban applies equally to other countries. The US is often cited as an example, because it is one of the few producers that employs the technique in a widespread manner. Other countries, such as Australia, also have problematic animal welfare standards.
The noble Viscount, having long espoused the positives of leaving the EU and its supposedly overburdening regulations, now appears to be taking the position of arguing against the UK Secretary of State establishing a set of domestic standards in British law. Instead, he seems to be proposing that we fully align ourselves to international agricultural regulations, even in cases where this may undermine our own interests or those of our farmers. I will allow noble Lords to draw their own conclusions on the intention behind these amendments, but I do not regard them as necessary. I therefore hope that, if they are pushed to a vote, your Lordships’ House will reject them, allowing Amendment 93 to return to the Commons in the form printed on the Marshalled List.
I close by expressing my gratitude to the noble Lords, Lord Wigley and Lord Empey, for their Amendments 103 and 105. They may have taken slightly different approaches, but the theme is consistent: the legislation before the House should deliver on the Government’s own stated aim of maintaining the UK’s high agricultural and animal welfare standards. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, for Amendment 90. We agree with the sentiments behind the amendment but cannot support it, as our amendment is much preferred. I hope that all noble Lords will feel able to support the amendments in my name and I signal my intent, at this stage, to call for Divisions on them. I beg to move.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, and to support Amendments 89ZA and 93, both of which I have signed. Noble Lords have received repeated assurances from the Government that, to quote from the most recent Defra briefing note,
“in all future trade negotiations we will not compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards”.
With this assurance, why is Amendment 93 needed? For me, there are unanswered questions and uncertainties about the Government’s statement. I will summarise some of them.
First, the wording of the Defra briefing notes that I have just quoted avoids saying that there will be no imported food of lower standards than UK-produced food. Perhaps this is because the Government consider that imposing certain domestic standards on imports may breach WTO rules as “technical barriers to trade”. This was just discussed in great detail by the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester. According to the interim report from Henry Dimbleby, we are already able to import certain commodities produced in ways that would not be allowed in the UK—for instance, using neonicotinoid pesticides. It is also unclear whether the pledge that the Government make applies only to novel foods, as it refers to the future, or to existing approved foods. My first question is: what is the Government’s position?
My second question is: what is meant by food standards? Standards is a vague term that can mean different things to different people. How do the Government define it? For instance, do they include food production standards in the definition?
Thirdly, it is not clear what role the Food Standards Agency and its sister organisation Food Standards Scotland will play alongside other bodies mentioned by Defra, namely the Animal and Plant Health Agency, the Veterinary Medicines Directorate and the Health and Safety Executive. This is pertinent, as the Food Standards Agency is an independent, non-ministerial department while the other bodies are not independent—they are executive agencies, or non-departmental public bodies, directly accountable to their parent departments. Will the Food Standards Agency advise on welfare and environmental standards as well as on food safety standards?
Fourthly, the Defra statement does not say who will police production standards of imported food as it crosses the border. The Food Standards Agency and the Animal and Plant Health Agency currently check food safety and phytosanitary standards, but not production standards.
Fifthly, the Food Standards Agency will have to carry out additional duties in future. Has it been given sufficient additional resources in its baseline to carry these out? If so, who has determined the amount of extra money required?
Sixthly, and finally, the briefing says that decisions on imported foods will be taken by Health Ministers informed by the advice of the Food Standards Agency and Food Standards Scotland. What are the other factors that Ministers will take into consideration when making these decisions? The briefing implies that they will not simply follow the advice of the FSA or FSS but will take other factors into account.
It is only by supporting Amendments 89ZA and 93 that we can be sure that the Government are bound to their commitment not to import food of lower standards than our own domestic products. I look forward to the Minister’s answers to my questions but, as things stand, I will support these amendments if there is a vote and urge other noble Lords to do the same.
My Lords, I am pleased to follow the noble Lords, Lord Grantchester and Lord Krebs. I, too, thoroughly support the amendment. I apologise for my internet connection and hope that noble Lords can hear me.
Food is already in a mess, before we even contemplate lowering the standards that we have. For instance, we already know that chlorinated chicken is just the tip of the iceberg of bad food that comes into this country. I am greatly worried not just about the environmental impacts of cheap and bad food on the planet but also about its health implications. Bad food is the result of overconsumption and overproduction of processed, sugary foods, yet recently US negotiators have said that they were concerned that labelling food with high sugar content
“is not particularly useful in changing consumer behaviour”.
Anyone who has been involved in food politics knows that that is rubbish. It is like saying that labelling a packet of cigarettes as jolly good for your health is a way that will not help change consumer behaviour. This is completely contrary to over 20 years of UK policy to introduce clear, front-of-pack, traffic-light nutrition information to help shoppers easily identify which products are high in sugar, salt and fat. Reading any of the Government’s proposed new obesity strategies shows that this labelling is planned to be even clearer.
Across the world, labelling is already incredibly complicated. The industry likes it like that. It does not want things to be simple. However, there are people around the world trying to deal with this. For instance, the Health Minister in Chile recently decided that no cereal companies could use cartoons to sell their products, so Tony the Tiger disappeared, replaced by a black splodge. Children now tell their parents not to eat that cereal. If we do not set high standards, we will never be able to change things like this. We will not even be able to label sugar clearly.
I am also very worried about what will come into this country. Why on earth do we need more American biscuits? If you take a biscuit such as Tim Tams, a chocolate-covered cream biscuit, extremely like a Penguin, we will get this in spades and it will be cheaper than the Penguin, which already sells to 99.1% of households. Low-quality food is unhealthy food. It has usually meant deforestation in its production, terrible treatment of animals and, as I said the other day, there are over 60 billion of them; 80% of all living creatures on earth sit in cages waiting to be fed to us.
We have fought very hard for our high standards, and it seems quite extraordinary that at a moment of extreme crisis in health and the environment, we should even need to have this debate, let alone have the feeling that the Government might try to overrule it when this Bill goes back to the Commons. Even supermarkets are agreed that we cannot lower our standards. I listened the other day to Christiana Figueres say that we only have 10 years to get on top of the climate crisis, and that in 10 years we must cut our emissions by 50%. Food and agriculture contribute hugely to this, and if we do not have standards that look at the environmental impact, then quite frankly, we have not got a prayer. Next year, we are leading the COP. We should now be talking about achieving higher standards, not fighting to defend the ones that we already have.
My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, who is a leading light on the advisory panel of the Dimbleby report, which I will refer to shortly. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, for moving the lead amendment in this group. I do not intend to repeat many of the comments that have been made; he has very eloquently addressed the issues of the amendments in the names of the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, and others, which purport to fall foul of the World Trade Organization.
I shall speak initially to Amendment 90, and thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Henig, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick and Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, who have been on this journey with a similar amendment in the original rollover trade Bill, on which we made a lot of progress. The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, rather annoyingly, got in before me by tabling the amendment that was carried. We will discuss that further in the context of the trade Bill.
As the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, said when moving Amendment 89ZA, this is an issue that consumers and farmers care passionately about. It was front and centre of the Conservative manifesto—not that I saw that—which we want to build on with this amendment, to then adopt what was originally government policy in the rollover trade Bill. I will not refer to it, but it complements Amendment 97 which follows later.
The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and others, referred to part 1 of the interim report by Henry Dimbleby—I almost called him a noble Lord—in the National Food Strategy. On page 7 he refers to
“grasping the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to decide what kind of trading nation we want to be. The essence of sovereignty is freedom—including the freedom to uphold our own values and principles within the global marketplace. In negotiating our new trade deals, the Government must protect the high environmental and animal welfare standards of which our country is justly proud. It should also have the confidence to subject any prospective deals to independent scrutiny: a standard process in mature trading nations such as the United States, Australia and Canada. If we put the right mechanisms in place, we can ensure high food standards, protect the environment and be a champion of free trade.”
There we have it. We are taking back control. I applaud that in this sea change, for the first time in nigh-on 50 years, we will decide how we trade.
I am proud of the high standards that this Government and successive Governments have imposed on production, which our British farmers are only too proud to meet. Consumers set great store by them, as evidenced by the 1 million signatures on the petition to maintain those high standards. We need fair competition and a level playing field. Yes, I applaud the Government saying that we will keep our high standards, but as Henry Dimbleby pointed out, we need to have the other side of the coin. We need to ensure and have it on the face of this Bill, in this place, that we will not import agricultural foods especially, and other goods, that are produced to lower standards. Those are two sides of the same coin. The Government are half way there, and in Amendment 90 I hope to nudge them a little further, building on the conclusions of their own adviser, Henry Dimbleby. Obviously, I prefer Amendment 90 to Amendments 89ZA and 93, but that is something on which the House will decide.
I am reluctant even to consider Amendments 94 and 95, because the terminology is very confusing, and in any event, I worry about us leaving the EU with no deal because the dispute resolution mechanism of the World Trade Organization is in great jeopardy, given the position of the United States. I echo the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, in that we need to differentiate the terminology that we use quite loosely regarding the difference between food standards and food safety. I have the highest respect for the work that is done in England especially, by our own Food Standards Agency, with which I am more familiar.
We must be clear that if anybody in this country were to eat chlorinated chicken, they would not get food poisoning or anything else that was unsafe in that regard. As I understand it, chicken is rinsed in chlorine because of the intensive levels of production. This is also why beef is injected with hormones: they are not reared outside, so farmers must compensate.
I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Empey, on his amendment, and refer to the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, because the argument has moved on. Even if we carry the amendments here today, I am extremely worried that they would not find favour in the House of Commons. It appears that the Government are seriously considering allowing in these substandard products, as I would call them, but placing tariffs on them and labelling them. That is completely unacceptable, and the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, has encapsulated that possibility in Amendment 103. It sets out amending or revising UK global tariff rates, and specifically relates to having regard for the well-being of the UK agricultural sector and the importance of maintaining standards of imported goods which are equivalent to, or which exceed, the relevant domestic standards.
We could end up in a situation that the Minister, in summing up this debate, will remember only too well: the unilateral ban in this country on sow stalls and tethers. Yes, we had the red tractor system, to which the noble Lord referred, and all those accreditations which I entirely endorse and support, but the consumers went out and voted with their feet. They read the label, but they looked at the price and bought the cheaper imports. I do not want to place our consumers in that difficult position, and I do not want to see family farms where I grew up, and which I represented for 18 years, go to the wall because the Government will not sign on the dotted line the Bill with this group of amendments. I shall weigh up the level of debate when deciding on my own amendment.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to speak after the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh. I reassure noble Lords that I intend to speak only once, despite being listed to speak twice on this group.
I put my name to Amendment 90 because it echoed the form of words that the Government accepted in early 2019—only 18 months ago—and it was inserted into the Trade Bill. Now, the Government are no longer prepared to sign up to it. I puzzled over what had changed, but now, given the events of the past two weeks, the answer has become clear. The May Government intended to align the United Kingdom with European regulatory standards. The Johnson Government are not happy to do this and, instead, in the event of no deal or a very skinny deal, want the option to pivot to the United States regulatory regime.
It is clear that a choice has to be made, as the two regimes are very different. If we align with European standards, there will be no issue with our existing animal welfare, hygiene or food standards. However, if we switch to United States regulatory standards, without which a trade deal with the United States will be very unlikely, if not impossible, British agriculture and British farmers will face great challenges, and many, I fear, will lose their livelihood.
Some noble Lords argued in Committee that farmers would rise to the challenge and would find a way to compete successfully in the United States market, but I must tell them that, for a start, those exporting lamb would have great problems, as Americans generally do not eat lamb. My guess is that farmers would struggle to access United States markets, save perhaps in niche areas.
Since Committee, the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill has been published and has passed its Second Reading in the House of Commons. This presents a further threat to British agriculture, as it would allow cheap food imports to circulate freely around the United Kingdom, except in Northern Ireland. This is of course exactly what United States farming businesses are seeking, and no doubt the United States Government are putting great pressure on the United Kingdom Government to deliver it. However active our National Farmers’ Union has been in mobilising extensive public support behind high food and animal welfare standards, I assure noble Lords that its efforts pale beside the relentless drive of the United States farming lobby, which has the weight and power of Congress behind it, plus close ties to a number of British parliamentarians, who are also putting pressure on the Government.
I can think of no greater impetus towards independence in Scotland than the Scottish Government being unable to ban cheap, often unhygienically produced, food imports. As the noble Lord, Lord Empey, reminded us in Committee, the availability of cheap imported food across England, Wales and Scotland would cause huge problems for farmers in Northern Ireland and, as the United Kingdom is its biggest single market, would render them uncompetitive. Farmers in many parts of Wales and Scotland would also face similar challenges.
In Committee, we were assured by the Minister that existing laws on the statute book would safeguard our food and animal welfare standards, and that therefore amendments in this group were unnecessary. As we have also heard, clear promises were made in the Conservative election manifesto. I say to the Minister that laws can easily be changed by this Government, with their great majority in the House of Commons. Who, after the events of the last two weeks, can have any faith in Conservative manifesto pledges? I believe in the sincerity of the Minister but I do not believe in the sincerity of the Government.
Tens of millions of people in this country—over 80% of the population, according to recent polls—are looking to Parliament to uphold our existing high food standards and to keep out of the United Kingdom produce from the United States, in particular, which has been unhygienically treated and cheaply produced as a result of animal welfare standards which would not be allowed in this country, as the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, so graphically told us in Committee. Unless and until our high standards are written into legislation, a large majority of people across the country will not believe that the Government will deliver on their promises. If and when they do not, that will be a much greater threat to British farmers, British consumers and our agricultural exports than the common agricultural policy ever was.
Given the way in which government policy has evolved since Committee, I believe that we now need a more comprehensive amendment than Amendment 90, and I am very happy to support Amendment 89ZA and Amendment 93, if moved, in this group in the hope that they command the support of as many noble Lords as possible. I believe that we need to send a clear message to the Commons and the Government, setting out what the people of this country very reasonably are asking of us.
Finally, I say to the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, and the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, that a Government who are willing to break international law can surely find a way to interpret WTO regulations flexibly. Many other countries find ways of reconciling WTO rules with maintaining high standards of food and animal welfare and hygiene, and I have no doubt whatever that the United Kingdom can do exactly the same if it wishes.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Henig. I commend Amendments 89ZA and 93, and Amendment 90, to which I have added my name.
There should be no compromises on food standards. Agriculture and trade are clearly inextricably linked. From the Northern Ireland perspective, as I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Empey, would agree, we want to protect our existing food standards. We do not want the import of inferior-quality food, because we regard the food that our farmers produce to be of such high quality that it should be safeguarded and protected. Therefore, there must be regulations that do not lower animal health, hygiene or welfare standards for agricultural products below established UK or EU standards.
Animal health and food standards are vital, particularly at this time of a pandemic. I go back to the report of our Food, Poverty, Health and Environment Select Committee produced earlier this year, Hungry for Change, for which we received evidence from Henry Dimbleby, who is leading the national food strategy. As the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, said, he was quite clear that the consumer and the farmer want good-quality food. They do not want any compromise on standards, and they definitely do not want food imports of a lower quality. They do not want chlorinated chicken or hormone-infused beef. Such standards have to be protected, and that has to be written on the face of the Bill.
I remind noble Lords of the debates on the Agriculture Bill in the other place several months ago, particularly on the amendments concerning food standards. Farmers, farmers’ unions, environmentalists, the Food Foundation and the National Trust all believe that we and the Government need to hold food imports to the same standards that currently exist in this country. There must be no lowering or undermining of those standards in order to bring in cheaper food of an inferior quality. I would like to hear the Minister say today that he accepts these amendments—their words, their tenor and the sentiment behind them—and that they should be written on the face of the Bill. I support them.
My Lords, I support the first three amendments, Amendments 89ZA, 90 and 93, and Amendments 103 and 105. I shall ignore Amendments 94, 95 and 96 because they are inconsequential spoilers, and I think it is wrong to put them in this group.
At the very start of the Bill, I said to the Minister that the Government had managed to unite the National Farmers’ Union, Greenpeace, consumer organisations, supermarkets, the Green Party and the great British public, and that this probably meant the Government had got it wrong. This is possibly the most important amendment that we will discuss in the whole Bill because it is one that almost everyone in Britain cares about. One of the things that we get knocked around the head with, particularly when we talk about policing and counterterrorism, is Ministers telling us that this is “the will of the people”. Well, Amendment 89ZA embodies the will of the people to maintain our food standards.
When we talk of American standards, we all know that that is an oxymoron; they do not exist. Its farming practices and animal welfare standards are vile, and we should be ashamed that there is any idea that it might be able to import into our country. This is essential protection for British farming. There is no doubt that the amendment has to pass today. I hope that some of the MPs in the Commons will have a bit of backbone and support it as well.
As the internal market Bill, which has not yet arrived in your Lordships’ House, proves, we cannot trust the Government—on anything, really. They are desperate to make trade deals and are happy to bend and break laws and agreements. The Minister has been very helpful and given noble Lords repeated assurances but, as the resignation of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen of Elie, proves, no matter how honourable and trusted Ministers are in this House, Boris Johnson’s Government cannot be trusted and will ignore or overrule Lords Ministers. The only solution to this problem is clear wording in the Bill to protect British farming standards against this desperate Government. Again, I say that this is truly the will of the people.
My Lords, I declare again my interests as stated in the register. I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Noakes for adding her name to mine on these amendments. I look forward to hearing her contribution and those of other noble Lords.
Like many noble Lords, I attended most of the seven days of Committee on the Bill. Although there were amendments that I thought would improve it, I felt that a large majority were either redundant or harmful. Many were proposed by noble Lords who have consistently opposed Brexit and, even if they now accept the decision of the people and the result of the general election of December 2019, still seek to align our rules and regulations as closely as they can with those of the EU, even in cases where the EU is a global outlier.
There is much that I like about Amendment 93 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, as I said in debate in Committee. It is right that any new trade agreements that we enter into should confirm the UK’s acceptance of its rights and obligations under the World Trade Organization’s sanitary and phytosanitary agreement. As we start to participate in the WTO as a new independent member, it is important that we do all that we can to strengthen its relevance and remit, which have been weakened by the ambiguous attitude towards it held by the present American Administration. The US has refused to nominate new members to the appellate body, which is hampering the hearing of appeals. The UK should become a leading advocate internationally for rules-based free and fair trade because that is the way to build a more prosperous world. Indeed, given the US disregard for the WTO, the UK as the fifth-largest economy will be able to take the lead in reviving support for international trade liberalisation, which has lacked a champion.
The problem with the noble Lord’s amendment is that there is a conflict between proposed new subsection (2)(a), which would require trade agreements to conform to the SPS agreement, and proposed new subsection (2)(b), which would require all food imports to conform to domestic standards, which means EU standards. EU standards conflict in some instances with the SPS agreement, which encourages Governments to adopt national SPS measures consistent with international standards, guidelines and recommendations. Most of the WTO’s member Governments participate in the development of these standards in three other international bodies: the Codex Alimentarius Commission, established by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN and the World Health Organization; the World Organisation for Animal Health, or OIE; and the International Plant Protection Convention.
The SPS agreement aims to ensure that measures are applied for no other purpose than that of ensuring food safety and animal and plant health. Such measures should be based as far as possible on the analysis and assessment of objective and accurate scientific data. As the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, said, the SPS agreement permits countries to adopt standards higher than international standards if they think it appropriate but only if there is scientific justification, not if such standards are misused for protectionist purposes and not if they result in unnecessary barriers to international trade.
The EU is a global outlier in international food standards because it gives too much importance to the precautionary principle, which obstructs innovation and interferes with free and fair trade, thus driving prices higher than they need be. A case in point is the EU ban on hormone-treated beef, which the WTO ruled is not based on sound science and denies EU consumers access to US beef at affordable prices. I know there are noble Lords who might welcome the price of beef rising to such levels where economics will force people to change from a mixed diet, including a significant amount of meat, to a largely or all-vegetarian diet, but, besides interfering with the freedom of the consumer to choose what diet he or she wishes to eat at affordable prices, such restrictions will interfere with and limit the ability of British beef farmers to sell to new markets overseas at competitive prices.
The noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, said he thought I was seeking to prevent the Secretary of State setting UK standards and requiring him to conform exactly to international standards. I do not think I am trying to do that in any way. I believe that we import many products manufactured in countries with different labour laws, environmental standards and animal welfare rules. Of course we must set domestic standards at the high levels that we rightly wish to uphold.
The noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, said that chlorinated chicken was “bad food”. For a start, most chicken grown and reared in the United States is treated not with chlorine but with peracetic acid. Secondly, I do not believe that it is bad food; certainly, I have never found it bad when I have eaten rather good roast chicken on visits to the US. If people do not want to buy American food because they think American farmers’ standards are too low, they do not need to. However, we are not quite as good as we always think we are; there have been many articles in the newspapers recently about poor poultry food standards, pollution of rivers and so forth. Neither are the Americans anything like as bad as many noble Lords make them out to be; indeed, there is not much difference between American rules on poultry stocking densities and UK rules on the same thing.
If the UK adopts food standards compliant with the SPS agreement, no one will be forced to eat food produced in countries of whose animal welfare standards they disapprove. However, I have not heard any noble Lords on the other side of this argument call for clear food labelling to identify products such as chicken reared in Poland, Brazil or Thailand, where average stocking densities are higher than those permitted in the US or the EU. I understand that Poland does not yet comply with EU rules. It is also interesting that there is no criticism of animals killed in conformity with halal rules to conform with sharia law.
In common with most noble Lords, I applaud the fact that the UK has made a big contribution to the raising of animal welfare standards in the world and I sincerely hope that we will continue to do so. Our efforts in this regard should be made within the OIE, and not by trying to interfere with free markets in food by applying restrictions on imports which will drive up the cost of food, especially at a time when so many people’s livelihoods have been affected by Covid-19.
For decades, the time-honoured way of dealing with SPS and technical barriers to trade rules has been to rely on equivalence of standards and technical regulation. This is because an equivalence or recognition approach ensures that everyone’s overall approach to risk is the same—not that every country’s rules are identical. We are more likely to get better rules, and more pro-competitive ones, if we adopt an equivalence or recognition approach with regulatory competition. Pure harmonisation is unlikely to lead to the best result and tends to increase the regulatory burden on our farmers, making them globally uncompetitive. Moreover, this is the approach of most WTO members. The EU is seen as the outlier. Our trading partners are asking the question: will we truly be “global Britain” or will we be more protectionist than the French? In the former case, we will be welcomed into the community of trading nations; in the latter, we will not.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow my noble friend Lord Trenchard; indeed, it was a pleasure to add my name to his Amendments 94, 95 and 96. This is the first time that I have spoken during the passage of this Bill. Until my husband retired, I sometimes described myself as a farmer’s wife—but I claim no special expertise in agriculture and, for the avoidance of doubt, I have no interests to declare. I do, however, have an interest in trade matters; that is what has enticed me into the Report stage of the Bill and these amendments.
I start from the position that the main amendments in this group are not necessary. The Government’s policy is clear: they are committed to high food and welfare standards. They have demonstrated that commitment in all the trade treaties negotiated to date—both the continuity ones and the latest jewel in our trade crown, the free trade agreement with Japan. I am sure that we will go over that ground all over again when we commence our scrutiny of the Trade Bill.
We do not need to write into law what the Government are committed to. I fully accept that Governments do that from time to time, but it is generally done when they have weak parliamentary majorities and need to appease their opponents. Writing into law what the Government will do anyway can be a cheap way out of a confrontation. Noble Lords will know that that is the background to the wording of the Trade Bill that was brought forward by the previous Administration. We are not in that position today. The Government have a solid majority in the other place, which has already rejected similar amendments—and if your Lordships’ House passes these amendments, I would expect a similar response.
There is another reason why these amendments are unnecessary. International treaties have to be ratified using the CRaG procedure, which gives the other place the power to refuse ratification. Amendment 93 contains the equivalent of the CRaG procedure, but I fail to see why we need, effectively, to duplicate CRaG solely for the purpose of agricultural and food imports. If the other place does not like what the Government have negotiated in a trade treaty in relation to food and agriculture, it is open to the other place to refuse to ratify the agreement. Parliament already has the power that it needs by virtue of CRaG. Nevertheless, I have added my name to my noble friend Lord Trenchard’s amendments because, as he has explained, without his amendments, Amendment 93 would not make sense.
Now that we have left the EU, the starting point for our international trade will be the World Trade Organization. I welcome Clauses 40 to 42, which give the Government the necessary powers in the area of agriculture. This means that we should be ensuring that our standards comply with WTO standards; at the moment they do not, because our standards are derived from the EU and are in some respects non-compliant.
Noble Lords may not like the idea of imports of genetically modified crops or hormone-treated beef—I do not want to debate that today—but the plain fact is that the EU has been ruled in violation of the World Trade Organization. Therefore, we will be in violation, too. It is not simply a question of so-called higher UK standards, as the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, sought to argue.
I am in favour of free markets; I stand against protectionism in its many guises, including protectionism around farmers. I favour science and innovation; that is one reason why being outside the EU is so exciting. But if we start our life outside the EU rigidly applying the rules that we have inherited from the EU, we will be missing a trick. We must start to act globally—and the WTO is where we should start, rather than by putting a wall around our own farming practices.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 103, which stands in my name; in so doing, I again draw attention to my registered interests. The noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, and the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, will hardly be surprised if I do not follow their line on this matter. I support the amendments put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, and the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, with which my amendment partly aligns itself.
It is not disputed that imported agricultural goods can have both negative and positive impacts for those in the UK agricultural sector. On the one hand, we may rely on certain imports to maintain and improve the viability of our farms, as well as to protect the health and welfare of our animals. On the other hand, goods which may very well meet the required WTO sanitary and phytosanitary standards can nevertheless represent a major threat to the viability of our food producers if they are able to undercut them by incurring lower costs in meeting regulatory standards. Such unfair competition can undermine our domestic food production. It can consequently threaten food security if our domestic capacity is indeed eroded. This is particularly relevant as a consideration at a time when the global pandemic has laid bare our susceptibility to the disruption which extreme events can cause to global food chains.
Just weeks before the coronavirus lockdown, it was revealed that the UK Treasury had been advised that farmers were not needed in the UK, and that we could follow the example of Singapore, which, the Treasury was told,
“is rich without having its own agricultural sector”.
Yet, by the beginning of April, Singapore had announced drastic new measures to accelerate local food production, including desperate plans to grow food on the rooftops of public housing estates, as disruption of global food supply chains started to hit home.
The sort of lower standards that could undermine domestic producers would be ones which allow more lax regulations relating to plant health, animal health and welfare, and environmental standards. Equally important in this regard are employment and human rights issues. We should not abandon our principles in relation to food production, environmental standards, and the welfare of animals or people around the world. This amendment proposes that we ensure that tariff levels and tariff rate quotas are maintained at levels which minimise the risk of there being a back door to our market for those without a trade deal with the UK.
Were a UK Government to lower the UK global tariff significantly, and thereby encourage lower-standard goods to enter our market, they would be threatening the well-being of both consumers and the UK agricultural sector, undermining our rural communities and jeopardising our food security. There is more than one way to tackle this threat; we shall come later to other possible avenues—I am thinking particularly of Amendment 97 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, which relates to trade deals. In the meantime, we should take the opportunity afforded by this bank of amendments to write into the Bill the safeguards which consumers need and which may be of existential importance to the future of agriculture in these islands.
My Lords, the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, made a number of comments when speaking to his amendments, including how he felt that a number of noble Lords have tabled amendments because they wish to stay wedded to EU rules, even though the UK has, theoretically, left the European Union. That may or may not be true, but people in my part of the country do not have the luxury of that choice, because we are left in the EU. That is the brutal reality of the situation.
On 2 October last year, the Government produced a document called Explanatory Note: UK Proposals for an Amended Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland. That amended protocol used phrases such as “Border Inspection Post”. It said that products coming from Great Britain to Northern Ireland would be “exported” to Northern Ireland, and that people moving goods would have to notify the authorities of that fact. It talked about a “zone of regulatory compliance”, which is the 27 EU countries plus Northern Ireland. This is the first time that I can recall a Conservative and Unionist Government proposing a border between one part of the United Kingdom and another. To their eternal shame, the Democratic Unionist Party in the House of Commons endorsed that proposal, describing it as
“a serious and sensible way forward”.
It is neither serious nor sensible.
There are consequences to that. We export to Great Britain the vast majority of our agricultural products, whether milk or meat. Therefore, if the standards with which we are forced to comply begin to differ over time from standards here, our products would become uncompetitive. The Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Grimstone, have attempted to communicate to us, by various means, that they wish to retain standards, but they may or may not be in their posts in the future, and we have to look long term. The worry I have, and which I know is shared by many others, is that once you have done a trade deal, if you try to then apply tariffs or to change your own standards and regulatory environment, it will start to break the deal you have done. You can then be brought to whatever adjudication processes are agreed, and no one knows what the outcome will be.
I do not believe we want a situation in which we put up food prices—that is not what I want to see. Other amendments that I put down earlier on Report sought to ensure that people at least had a choice and that the primary producer would, for once, get a decent slice of the cake, so that it was not always left to the supermarkets and processors. However, I fear that if things change over time, and because our farmers will be regulated by whatever the EU decides—which includes state aid, because we will be bound by state aid rules as soon as the Northern Ireland protocol is implemented—in such circumstances, we could very quickly become uncompetitive.
If noble Lords think it is only in my imagination that there is a border in the Irish Sea, I say this. In the first week of July, the Government allocated £25 million to help business deal with the consequences of the additional administrative work that would be required to handle a new situation. By 29 August, that had risen to £355 million. If there is no border, why are we spending £355 million, over two years, to help businesses with the transition?
For us, any diminution of standards in Great Britain is a matter of life and death for our farmers—it is as simple as that. It is a competitive issue. If EU and UK standards remain as they are, or if there is equivalence, that is fine. I hope that that is what happens, because you cannot freeze things in aspic for ever. As my noble friend Lord Trenchard points out, we are not perfect: we make mistakes and there have been examples of these. Nevertheless, if the balance changes over time, our farmers will effectively be hammered. In my belief, it is not in the best interests of the United Kingdom to see one of her four nations left in that situation. Although some of us warned of this in advance, the whole protocol has come about in a way that has the potential to break up the United Kingdom and cause huge damage. It is a very bad idea, but that is a debate for another day.
In Committee, I referred to the FSA and the Scottish equivalent. It is not entirely clear to me how an equivalence in standards would be enforced against the background of international trade deals being done and the fact that we are left in the European Union while the rest of the United Kingdom is not. I would be interested to hear what the Minister has to say. Given all these things, and that Northern Ireland’s biggest food customer is Great Britain, we are very concerned. Our farmers are very concerned that they would be left in a hopelessly uncompetitive position.
There are a number of amendments in this group and there will be a sequence of votes. I reserve the right to test the opinion of your Lordships’ House in circumstances where some of the other amendments are perhaps unsuccessful. I have put that on the record and look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord. I am glad that he gave his speech because, with all the either deliberate or inadvertent diversions of the debate on the internal market Bill, the reality remains that only three of our four nations will be covered by elements of this Bill. For the first time in our nation’s history, one of our home nations will be governed by a set of regulations and laws for which there will be no elected parliamentarians with the authority to make any decisions or to hold to account those making the regulations.
The well-argued speeches of the noble Baronesses, Lady McIntosh of Pickering and Lady Henig, reminded the House that we have debated this before. I rehearsed an argument in Committee about the merits of why it was necessary. I do not want to repeat that, but I want to highlight elements and remind the House of the debate we have already had and the cross-party consensus that was secured. There is merit in doing so. If the Government had had their way and the Trade Bill 2017-19 had passed, none of these amendments, or this debate, would be necessary, because that Bill had been amended. I do not recall the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, arguing strongly against a government amendment that was in that Bill. I may have forgotten, but I do not recall her making that case.
I want to remind the House of what was said. The cross-party consensus was for legislation that would create statutory provision under, as it would have been, new Clause 2 in that Bill, that
“in any of the areas … under subsection (4B), the provision must be consistent with maintaining UK levels of statutory protection in that area … The areas referred to in subsection (4A) are … the protection of human, animal or plant life or health … animal welfare … environmental protection … employment and labour.”
It goes on to say that
“‘UK levels of statutory protection’ means levels of protection provided for by or under any … primary legislation … subordinate legislation, or … retained direct EU legislation.”
That government amendment secured cross-party support.
I want to give some quotes from that debate, because I think that they will be helpful. The first is this:
“I am bringing forward amendments designed to maintain UK levels of statutory protection when implementing continuity trade agreements ... The fact that I am able to do so is testament to the cross-party working that makes this House so valuable, and I have no doubt that this process has enhanced the legislation.”
Further on in the debate is a reference to continuity in trading relationships, which is what we are debating:
“A key aspect of that continuity is to ensure that UK statutory protections are maintained. These protections are highly valued by our businesses and consumers and are an important component of the UK’s offer to the world.”
Later, it was said of the amendment:
“It makes it clear that the power can be used only in a way that is consistent with the maintenance of UK levels of statutory protection in the listed areas.”
In addressing the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and others on the WTO, that debate was helpful to the wording of that amendment. I quote Hansard again:
“The purpose of this is to safeguard all legislative protections affecting human, animal or plant health. It may also be helpful to observe that this form of words is well understood in the WTO context, thus ensuring consistency with our wider international obligations.”
Finally, from that debate, it was said that it was
“an improvement to the Bill.”—[Official Report, 20/3/19; cols. 1439-40.]
Noble Lords may think that I have done a good Liberal thing and given a cross-party selection of various people from all the different parties that contributed to that debate—one might be forgiven for thinking that I took one quote from each Bench. But they were not my words, or the words of any Labour or Cross-Bench Peer moving an amendment from the opposition. All of those words are from the then Minister for Trade, the noble Baroness, Lady Fairhead, in moving the government amendment.
My simple question is: does the Minister here agree with the then Minister? What were the risks that the Government felt were inherent in the lack of statutory provision that meant that they felt that they had to bring forward statutory protection? Does he agree that the amendment did indeed improve the Trade Bill 2017-19? If he could say why it has been stripped out of the Trade Bill that we are now considering, that would be most helpful. It follows that if the Government are now removing government amendments, those risks would present themselves again. It would simply be sensible for them to maintain continuity of policy and accept Amendments 89ZA and 93.
It would surely be cynical to think that the Government only wanted statutory protection and to amend legislation to provide it because they wanted to get a Brexit Bill through at the time and that they no longer believe in it. I have been around politics for a long time and I would like to think that I am not a cynic. It might be that the Government are capable of making cross-party agreements only to remove the commitments made in those agreements a year later. If that is possible, how can we believe what the Minister says at the Dispatch Box now, when what he is saying directly contradicts what the Minister for Trade said last year?
I had hoped that these amendments were not necessary, because I hoped that the cross-party consensus which was secured would continue. I hope that the Minister can explain why it has not and that the House will reassert its position that it believes in cross-party consensus when it comes to the highest standards that we have already resolved to protect on a statutory basis.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, and to be reminded of our debates on the Trade Bill—it seems so many aeons ago—and the amendment which, as I recall, was not adopted in the other place in its revised form.
I have been reflecting for some time on how, if I was still a Minister, I would deal with the three related and important amendments before us: Amendment 93 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, on which I will focus; and two amendments in a later group, Amendment 97 in the name of my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering and Amendment 101 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkharle, who for many years has been a towering figure in farming. They raise some similar issues, and they all have lots of supporters and some detractors, led by my noble friend Lord Trenchard.
I am a supporter of the World Trade Organization and its predecessor, GATT. Having been trained as an economist, I know that trade brings great benefits in terms of world prosperity, as is convincingly explained by the theory of comparative advantage. This is particularly important when we face recession and the shock of the Covid pandemic affecting, I am afraid to say, every corner of the globe. That is a very different background from that when we were debating the Trade Bill. We must support the WTO and have regard to its rules. The Minister suggested in Committee that provisions of the kind we see in Amendments 93, 97 and 101 might be incompatible with them. We could be ushering in a new argument with the WTO and major problems of compliance, which would be particularly unfortunate given the current problems with the WTO—in particular with the Appellate Body, referenced by my noble friend Lord Trenchard. It is not easy to see a way round this, and there is a severe difficulty in establishing equivalence in order to implement the necessary criteria for maintaining standards, so we must tread a careful path.
Since this Bill was first presented in the other place, the Government have come a long way. They have established the Trade and Agriculture Commission, in which Red Tractor is involved—I should again register my interest as its chair. The noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, was kind enough to mention it and the importance of high food standards in the UK, which I endorse. The comments of Henry Dimbleby, quoted by my noble friend Lady McIntosh, were also interesting and relevant.
The new trade commission, which we will discuss later, is a victory for the farming unions who fought for it, as they felt that their interests were being ignored. It has wider value as an excellent sounding board for Liz Truss, the Secretary of State for International Trade, and her teams on a swathe of current trade negotiations. The widely welcomed Japan agreement is the first green shoot and, to pick up the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, has not bent the rules.
In closing, I shall revert to my question about what a Minister might do. I would try to address the substantive issues, without coming down in favour of one approach. I would build on what has already been done, by, for example, agreeing to extend the life of the Trade and Agriculture Commission for a few months and by planning some wider consultation to bring in the voice of those who might feel excluded from the commission once it has published first its interim and then its final reports. Among other things, I would do more to reassure, by repeating the promise the Government have made that they are not planning to change food regulations to let in chlorinated chicken or hormone-treated beef. Such undertakings could not be reversed in the other place, and I rather agree with my noble friend Lady Noakes that we do not always need to make amendments to have concerns addressed. I also agree with her that science and innovation matter a great deal.
The UK benefits greatly from the international order and enduring economic ties, especially free trade. This is the future and we must tread with care. Before there is a vote on any of these important amendments, the Minister may want to comment on whether they could fall foul of WTO rules.
My Lords, I rise to support the amendments proposed by my noble friend Lord Trenchard and agree with what he, and my noble friends Lady Noakes and Lady Neville-Rolfe, have said. However, listening to this debate, I have occasionally felt the House has been transported back to the debates on the corn laws in the early 19th century. Then, as now, landowners, supported by their friends—romantic believers in an unchanging rural England—argued that we should prevent the import of cheap food, protect the labouring classes from their predilection for it and require them to eat more expensive food and that if we did not, it would mean our farming industry would be destroyed, our fields would remain untilled and our agricultural capacity would be permanently diminished. We know, of course, that the protectionists lost and the free traders won. Most people look back and think that was one of the great victories for progressive legislation in this country which raised the well-being of the labouring classes, although it may have diminished rents of landowners for a time. I hope we will bear that in mind as we consider these amendments.
It is generally accepted that WTO rules permit us to ban foods based on their risks to human health. So it should, as long as those rules are scientifically based. It is also generally accepted that WTO rules do not, unless in rare and exceptional circumstances, permit bans on imports based on the production processes used if they do not have an impact on human health. That is why the EU ban on US poultry washed in peracetic acid or very dilute solution of chlorine is based on the supposed risk to human health, not on the welfare of chickens. We all know the scientific basis for the allegation of risk to human life is tenuous, otherwise the population of North America would not be so large. That is why the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, and others, want a standard based on the welfare of poultry, not on the welfare of humans. However, to do so would be contrary to WTO rules. Paradoxically, they are asking us to set aside an international treaty, albeit for specific and limited purposes. There are reasons the WTO has these rules. First, when countries prohibit the import of goods, particularly food, based on the alleged inferiority of standards in other countries, it is usually done for protectionist reasons and not for the reasons they give. Secondly, it is extremely difficult to enforce rules about standards applied in another country, unless you adopt quasi-colonial controls reaching out into those countries from more developed countries, which many countries in the world do not want to see themselves subjected to. The WTO recommends where possible we adopt international standards, as my noble friend Lord Trenchard said, such as Codex Alimentarius and so on, as long as they are based on sound science.
I hope that the House will think twice before going back more than a century to introduce protectionism, flout international law and do something where the sole purpose is to raise the cost of food.
My Lords, I should begin by declaring the interests I declared earlier during the passage of the Bill. I shall speak to Amendments 89ZA and 93 and to the gist of the arguments behind others. It is important that UK agriculture and the UK public should be confident about the marketplace for food in this country.
UK farming—using those words in a wide sense—is operating in a global marketplace and needs to be sure that it will be playing on a level playing field not only because of the food implications of its activities, but because of the implications the revenues from food production will have on the delivery of all other public goods, using that word in a general sense, that we have been discussing during the currency of the Bill. That differentiates the debates that we are having from the arguments that pertained at the time of the repeal of the corn laws. I am afraid that as an individual I think that it is invariably the case that reassurances from any Government today are no guarantor of government actions tomorrow. Under our constitutional system, the best guarantor of such things is a specific provision in an Act of Parliament.
From the food perspective, for the entire population the problem is summarised as what has come to be known as the chlorinated chicken issue. It seems to me that chlorinated chicken, which may or may not be disagreeable, is not the issue. The problem is that the place where that chicken originates is so rife with damaging disease and practices that it is necessary to apply those techniques to it. That being the case, it is surely better not to have food from those sorts of places in the first instance. Finally, environment, welfare and other land use factors are important for the globe as well as for the United Kingdom. Encouraging and promoting bad practices elsewhere is something we should be ashamed of doing and we should not do it.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, who brings ministerial and practical experience as a farmer to this debate. I declare my interests as set out in the register. I shall speak to Amendment 89ZA and Amendment 93, tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Grantchester and Lord Krebs, my noble friend Lady Bakewell, and the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott.
I spoke on food standards and other matters in my contributions at Second Reading and in Committee. I remind the House that I farmed on my own account for more than 20 years and had the honour of representing the rural constituency of Torridge and West Devon from 1997 until I retired from the other place in 2005. I still live in the constituency. In 2001, the constituency was probably the most adversely affected in the country by the outbreak of foot and mouth disease. Since 1976, and particularly since 2001, I have observed first-hand the agricultural industry making substantial investments in time and money in improving animal welfare, protecting and enhancing our environment and complying with rightly stringent provisions relating to food safety and hygiene, traceability and plant health. British agriculture is justifiably proud of the high standards it has attained in responding to all these challenges and of its ability to provide to good and safe food for the British people. I am aware that some Ministers have declared that the Government will not enter into agreements with countries that dilute these high standards. At Second Reading I stressed that Ministers come, and Minsters go. I gave other compelling reasons why the British public and the agricultural industry should have assurance of statutory protection in relation to high standards for all the matters covered in Amendment 93.
This was all before the Government took the momentous and deplorable decision to provide, or endeavour to provide, powers to renege on the international treaty with the EU, which they had negotiated and agreed less than one year ago. This has shocked most of us in our House and also the British public. In the past, this country has rightly been respected for our commitment to the rule of law and our compliance with international law.
This proposed legislation—which enables this country to resile from its treaty commitments—is outrageous and undermines the good faith of this Government, whose cavalier approach to the rule of law is the most compelling reason why this new amendment on food standards should be enacted. The British people and the agricultural industry must all have all the protections we can provide. Thank you.
My Lords, I speak in support of Amendments 89ZA, 93 and 103, and I simply ask the Government to honour their election manifesto commitment that
“In all of our trade negotiations, we will not compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards.”
Amendment 93 would ensure, on a statutory basis, that import standards cannot be lowered to below equivalent domestic standards as part of free trade agreements. Such agreements cannot be a race to the bottom; environmental, animal welfare and food standards need to be protected and improved over time. Imported products produced to lower standards than required from UK farmers would undermine our farming industry and create unfair competition. Import standards have not been addressed in the Trade Bill, so they need to be addressed here. I do not accept the belief of the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, that the Government can be trusted to stand by their word; we need statutory assurance.
For example, a few weeks ago, I was one of a number of Peers briefed by the Trade Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Grimstone, who said that such standards issues would be best dealt with by differential tariffing against substandard imports. I remain unconvinced that tariffs alone would effectively prevent the import of substandard products. However, I am very interested in Amendment 103 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, which would ensure that tariffing, combined with other measures, also worked in the interests of maintaining standards. It would be a useful, but not sufficient, condition.
Others have talked about labelling, but, with regard to standards, this will not work. If you are poor and hungry, cheaper food will be attractive irrespective of standards. To enshrine the Conservative manifesto commitment in primary legislation is, in my belief, entirely in line with World Trade Organization rules, which allow countries to put in place non-discriminatory measures designed to protect human, plant or animal health or a limited natural resource. The Government need to use fine UK ingenuity and leadership to design and justify sensible import restrictions, which could be made compatible with WTO rules; that is what Governments and trade negotiations are for.
We know that the US negotiating mandate for a free trade deal sees harmonising standards as a central objective, and this means harmonising them to their standards. We know that statutory instruments introduced using European Union (Withdrawal) Act powers have already deleted from the statute book considerable amendments governing, for example, antibiotic levels in foodstuffs. That is just one example of what can happen if we do not keep our eye on government commitments.
Once the transition is over, the Food Standards Agency adjudicates on the risks of foods and treatments, but its chief executive officer has recently said that Ministers have the final say on whether food produced to lower standards can make it onto UK supermarket shelves. I think that UK supermarkets will have a view on that. Maintaining high standards is supported by farmers, by 75% of the public and by major retailers across the board, and they are responding to the concerns of their customers. They will not stock produce that they believe their customers do not want to see on their shelves.
I know that the Government will want to maintain wiggle room in the trade negotiations, but, to be frank, the more they wiggle, the more they will reap the wrath of the people they are here to serve, who are committed to high food, environmental, employment and human health standards.
My Lords, within this grouping, I support my noble friend Lord Trenchard’s helpful amendments. First, on United Kingdom and EU standards, he corrects a misapprehension or, maybe, he forestalls it before it has time within the Bill to solidify as a regular misunderstanding. For, as he points out, there is no difference between domestic standards and European Union ones. They are identical.
Secondly, what is also insufficiently known—and as my noble friend also usefully observes—in certain respects, the UK and EU are not compliant with World Trade Organization rules. I am in favour of Amendment 103 of the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, which urges that United Kingdom global tariff rates should take into account the well-being of the agricultural sector and that imported goods must be equivalent to, or exceed, domestic standards.
My Lords, I will make a brief contribution. In fact, I was going to opt out altogether because I did not want to repeat anything that anyone else had said. Certainly, I support the questions that the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, asked at the beginning of the debate and, frankly, I expect the Minister to answer all six of them. They were quite specific.
It is worth pointing out that, unlike Ministers, the Food Standards Agency is actually required to do things by law. I will read out Section 1(2) of the Food Standards Act 1999:
“The main objective of the Agency in carrying out its functions is to protect public health from risks which may arise in connection with the consumption of food (including risks caused by the way in which it is produced or supplied) and otherwise to protect the interests of consumers in relation to food.”
By law, Ministers do not have that obligation. They think they can hump it away in the Commons, but I have news for them: if they want to take on the role of Food Safety Minister, they ought to have a bit of a history lesson about salmonella, orange juice, BSE and CJD. Then they will realise why the FSA was put there in the first place. It was not a happy experience for previous Ministers without its support.
I will make one further point relating to what the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, has said about chlorinated chicken. I do not think I have got her wrong, but I do not want to mislead. She said that she could eat it safely because the issue was about animal welfare, not the safety of the food, and she is right. However, published research from the University of Southampton has shown that chlorine washing of food does not take away all the nasty bits. They started off, I think, by washing vegetables, but they have since looked at meat—I am not sure whether this was chicken or other meat. However, the fact is that this is not a solution to the problem.
The other thing that is also worth point out is that, in the United States of America, over 400 people a year die from salmonella. In this country, no one has died—I think there was one case in the last eight years—compared to 400-plus in the United States. I am not saying that it is because they ate chlorinated chicken, but I am saying that it is pretty unsafe in respect of deaths from salmonella in the United States, which seeks to push its food onto us without necessarily labelling it. Therefore, there are some issues here that must be carefully looked at.
As for the Minister, I have not been in my office or at my desk for well over 12 months, but I have a little file up there with at least a dozen quotes from the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner, who is a reputable Minister, on food standards over the last three or four years. He has more of a claim than any other Minister to reassure the public and Parliament.
The final point I want to make is relevant if one considers Ministers taking the final decision—as of course, under the law, they are entitled to do; the chief executive of the Food Standards Agency is quite correct. The reason that is okay is built into the legislation: Section 19 of the Food Standards Act 1999 gives the Food Standards Agency the statutory right to publish its advice to Ministers. It does not need Ministers’ permission to publish its briefs to Ministers. It will be a brave Minister who gets advice from the FSA that something is a bit below the standards, and who wants to take their own decision. They will certainly not be able to do it behind closed doors.
The noble Lord, Lord Lansley, removed some functions relating to food labelling and Defra from the FSA and took them behind the closed doors of the Department of Health because he wanted to abolish the FSA, and part of the price was that he had to take some of its powers away but leave it there. So, it is not quite the same. The agency in Scotland still has all the original powers: nutrition, labelling and composition. That is crucial, because there are differences. You can still have food that is safe to eat that may be an appalling composition. There is a difference between the two issues, which I think the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, originally raised.
The debate has been very interesting, but I want to hear the answers to the six questions from the noble Lord, Lord Krebs.
My Lords, at this late stage and given all the powerful speeches we have heard, I shall be very brief in my remarks, which are aimed at supporting Amendments 89ZA and 93. I also express my support for the remarks made by my noble friend Lord Grantchester in his opening contribution.
There have been many excellent speeches, but I was particularly struck by my noble friend Lady Henig’s telling analysis of the problems that we are in danger of creating in the UK’s internal market and the consequent political tensions between different parts of the UK if we do not stand firm on our commitment to high food and environmental standards. This danger of disunity has already begun with the Prime Minister’s dramatic U-turn, which resulted in a trade border being established in the Irish Sea.
In addition to listening to us—I know the Minister is doing so but I hope the Government will too—I hope that the Government will respond favourably to the impressive and wide-ranging coalition of farmers, environmentalists, consumer groups and those who have signed petitions, emailed and written to us as parliamentarians on this issue.
Amendments 89ZA and 93 are an effective improvement to the amendment which, sadly, failed in the House of Commons. They are not identical to the earlier amendment and I hope that, as a result, the Government will accept them and translate their stated commitments into proper guarantees in the Bill.
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, said that we need this provision in the Bill. She is absolutely right. The reason why the amendment proposed by my noble friend Lord Grantchester and others is so important is that we have put considerable effort and commitment into build up the standards of food, animal welfare and husbandry and, as we were debating earlier, pesticides. It would be quite wrong, inadvertently or deliberately—and we cannot discount deliberately, given the way things are—to allow the commitment with which we have made all these improvements to be rapidly undermined. We need these amendments very seriously.
As a former Defence Minister—albeit long ago—I often remarked that we like to use the phrase, “The primary responsibility of government and Parliament is the safety of the British people”. Here, we are talking about a very real dimension of the safety of the British people, not to mention animal welfare; it is as strong and important as that. I therefore hope that there will be widespread support in the House for these vital amendments.
We get lots of interesting and well researched briefs from all sorts of people who are concerned about the Bill. The strength of feeling about our responsibility at this juncture to put our commitment firmly in place and reinforce it has never been more convincing. I am very glad, therefore, to be able to support the amendments.
My Lords, it is always a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Judd. I speak in support of these amendments, in particular, the requirement to meet environmental and other standards which are at least equivalent to, or exceed, those which apply to UK-produced agricultural goods.
Noble Lords may recall that I spoke in Committee in support of protecting and enhancing our countryside and of concerns about the pollution being suffered in the catchments of chalk streams such as the Rivers Alre, Itchen and Test, all in Hampshire. In particular, I referenced the activities of the agricultural processing and distribution group Bakkavor in its industrial plant close by the River Alre in Alresford. The abstraction and discharge of water from the Alre has been linked to the rise in pollutants exceeding the levels permitted by the Environment Agency.
I can now advise your Lordships that Bakkavor has since announced its decision to close Alresford Salads in October. The resultant job losses at a difficult time are, of course, a worry, but clearly, Bakkavor and similar businesses can operate their food processing plants from proper industrial sites anywhere, near or far. They do not have to pick sites that threaten the ecology and environment of unique chalk streams with their pollutants, or damage the infrastructure of historic towns with their 40-tonne lorries trundling through medieval streets. As the chairman of the Alresford Society has pointed out in a letter to the Hampshire Chronicle of 3 September:
“The focus now needs to be on what might happen to the Alresford site in the future. The market for ready to eat food, including washed and bagged salad, is large and growing”.
Could the current large water extraction licence held by Bakkavor be transferred to another operator? Could the discharge consent licence be renegotiated in the face of damning scientific evidence? If diversion into a mains sewage system was considered feasible and affordable, the town would still continue to suffer the daily stream of 40-tonne lorries through streets that were built to cater for stagecoaches.
I believe there is an opportunity within this Bill to avoid this. Alresford is just one example. It is on the boundary of the South Downs National Park. The local plan states:
“It will only permit development …. which has an operational need for a countryside location … or proposals for the re-use of existing rural buildings, which should not cause harm to the character and landscape of the area, or neighbouring uses, or create inappropriate noise, or light, or traffic generation.”
Nevertheless, the Minister will be aware that in 2018, the Government announced changes to the town and country planning order 2015, allowing adaptation of agricultural buildings, which could undermine restrictions set out in local plans. Could the Minister assure me that, in such sensitive rural areas, local planning restrictions will remain paramount?
This Bill can provide the means to protect towns like Alresford and surrounding villages, within the chalk stream catchment, from environmental vandalism for generations to come, if only by employing and reinforcing the regulations that are now in place. Unchecked industrial development should never take precedence over the preservation of our rural environment, particularly the unique chalk stream catchments of rural Hampshire. To that effect, I am very pleased to place on record that, following its inaugural meeting, I have become a vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Chalk Streams. Its intent, inter alia, is to monitor and hold to account, those agencies whose actions could damage chalk stream ecology and environment.