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Environmental Land Management Schemes

Volume 808: debated on Monday 14 December 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress they have made on the pilot Environmental Land Management schemes.

My Lords, I declare my farming interests as set out in the register. Plans for the ELM national pilot are progressing at pace. The pilot will build on the excellent work of 72 ongoing tests and trials, covering a wide range of sectors and geographies, including uplands, commons and tenant farmers. The pilot will extend over time. By 2022, it will cover all three components of the environmental land management scheme.

My Lords, I refer to the recent document, The Path to Sustainable Farming: An Agricultural Transition Plan, which sets out some of the ways in which this is going to be done. It is very welcome, although still very vague and lacking in the detail that farmers and lots of other people want. However, in all the areas—the three tiers of the sustainable farming incentive, local nature recovery and landscape recovery—certain public goods are almost completely absent. Those are the questions of public access and public education, particularly for young people. Will the Minister give a commitment that, in the national pilot that is going to be produced, building on the tests and trials, these matters will be given a prominent position in all three areas of the scheme?

My Lords, as we said in consideration of the Agriculture Bill, access will be part of the schemes, and work is under way in those areas. I look forward to working with your Lordships to ensure that there is a rollout of not only the environmental advancements but access where it will have considerable benefits for people.

Can the Minister please confirm that all the information gathered from the ELMS pilot tests and trials will in due course become available to the public? Can he also indicate when sufficient information will become available about eligibility for tree planting under the schemes, given that we are already half way through this planting season?

My Lords, on the tree policy, anyone signing up to a grant agreement to plant woodland now will not be unfairly disadvantaged when ELM is introduced. It is very important that we proceed with planting trees. I think my noble friend referred to transparency. Yes, the whole point about the pilot is to be clear about learning which areas work well and which do not. This is so that, when we roll out ELM in 2024, all of these features will mean that it will work satisfactorily and well.

My Lords, as the Minister is aware, many family farms in traditional livestock areas are going to find the transition from the current supported system to the new ELM scheme quite a challenge. Will he confirm that, in the pilots, there will be a specific targeting of livestock farms and that they will explore the challenges that these livestock farmers are likely to face?

My Lords, in brief, yes—but in the tests and trials it is very important that, for instance among tenant farmers, 62% were upland tenant farmers. We are working in areas where there is a very strong livestock farming tradition. We want that to continue, and that is why the tests and trials will be very important as we then move towards a national pilot, which will obviously include livestock farmers.

My Lords, I remind the House of my farming interests, as set out in the register. Since a high level of take-up is crucial to the success of the ELM scheme, will the Minister undertake not to repeat the errors of the countryside stewardship scheme, but make this one simple to join, flexible and, most importantly, with payment rates that are commercially attractive not just to the large-scale arable land manager but to small and medium-sized permanent pasture farms?

My Lords, I am a supporter of pastoral farming and can certainly confirm that the work we are doing, particularly the national pilot and the tests and trials, is to ensure that the payments will be fair but also attractive for farmers to take up on a wide participation. Clearly, our environmental goals cannot be achieved unless there is wide participation.

My Lords, the Government are rightly setting great store by the environmental land management scheme to protect and enhance the countryside, and to increase biodiversity. However, the NFU has begun a surreptitious campaign to relicense the use of neonicotinoids on farmland. This tactic is not likely to encourage the public to support the NFU’s “Back British Farming” campaign. Does the Minister believe that the NFU campaign is in line with the government’s ELMS biodiversity agenda?

My Lords, as to any consideration in emergency cases of neonicotinoids, we are always guided by the best scientific assessment available. We will continue to do that and if there was an emergency application, it would be considered according to the science. Obviously, integrated pest management and all those things is another area where advancing the environment is absolutely key.

My Lords, given that the rollout of the ELMS pilots is happening later than we would wish, can the Minister confirm that any money not spent in one year will be rolled over to the next, so that farmers will not be disadvantaged by any delays?

My Lords, the whole purpose of the reductions in direct payments is that they will remain within the agricultural pot. I confirm that any surplus, if there was one, would be part of an agricultural budget.

My Lords, I refer noble Lords to my entry in the register. My noble friend will be aware of the excellent work carried out by the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust over many years and in many areas, advising on land, habitat and a wide range of other matters within the environmental umbrella. Is not that organisation the obvious choice to advise Ministers on the administration, sustainability, development and efficacy of ELMS in the future?

My Lords, it is an excellent organisation and I can confirm that it is among a number of bodies engaged in tests and trials.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that some farmers, especially new entrants now receiving direct payments on arable land or pasture, could miss out after 2024? This could be if the land, as he says, is unsuitable for further stewardship, sustainable ELMS improvements or rewilding. Will they have to leave farming or will they, in that case, receive some form of compensation?

My Lords, I may need to look at Hansard to help the noble Earl. The new entrants’ support scheme, which we want to encourage, begins in 2022. The noble Earl may have been talking about retirement lump sums, but I think I had better get back to him as I was not quite sure of his question.

My Lords, what measures will the Government put in place to ensure the environmental standards that farmers receiving payment under the sustainable farming incentive scheme will have to meet will be higher than the standards already obligatory through legislation or cross-compliance, and that the scheme will be properly monitored to make sure that they are delivered? There is a slight feeling developing that there is a risk that the sustainable farming incentive will be watered down to become simply a financial support scheme for farmers—a sort of basic farm payment in disguise.

My Lords, I can confirm to the noble Baroness that, while clearly we need to safeguard public money, we also think that the bureaucracy involved in the CAP was not proportionate. We want to work collaboratively with farmers but, clearly, we also want to ensure that there is delivery of the environmental benefits that will and must be engaged by these schemes.

My Lords, in a very helpful reply to me on a recent Written Question on ELMS and advisory services, the Minister said that the Government would set up an institute for agriculture and horticulture. I welcome that, but will they locate that institute in Cornwall, which is such an excellent example of horticulture and farming?