Motion to Approve
My Lords, I declare my farming interests, as set out in the register. As the matters in these two instruments are closely related, I hope that it would be helpful to your Lordships to consider them together. Made using powers under the Agriculture Act 2020, they implement important aspects of our new agricultural policy, set out in the agricultural transition plan published in November 2020. Both instruments apply only to England.
I turn first to the Direct Payments to Farmers (Reductions and Simplifications) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2021, which sets reductions that will be applied to direct payments made to farmers for the 2021 claim year. The Government are committed to phasing out direct payments that are poorly targeted and offer poor value for money. This will be done over a seven-year agricultural transition period, and it will free up money to fund a new system of paying farmers and land managers for delivering public goods. This includes paying farmers to improve the environment, improve animal health and welfare, and reduce carbon emissions. All funding released from these reductions will be reinvested into new schemes in this Parliament. Help will be offered to those who need it to plan and manage their businesses through the transition.
The reductions will be applied in a fair way, with higher reductions initially applied to amounts in higher payment bands. The reductions for the 2021 scheme are modest, at 5% for around 80% of farmers. This is within the margin of the currency rate changes often experienced in previous regimes. We first published these reductions in 2018, so farmers have had time to prepare.
The Government are on track to introduce new schemes this year, while continuing to fund new and existing countryside stewardship agreements. From this year, farmers will be able to apply for grants under the farming investment fund to help them invest in equipment and technology and boost their productivity. This year, we will also begin the sustainable farming incentive, the first of our pilots under the environmental land management national pilot scheme. Payments to the first pilot participants will be made before the end of the year, before the scheme is rolled out more widely from 2022. These will be funded from the reductions to direct payments. The instrument also makes minor amendments to reflect the fact that direct payments will be calculated in sterling rather than euros from the 2021 claim year onwards.
The instrument also amends the direct payments rules to remove the euro thresholds below which the Rural Payments Agency does not need to recover overpayments or payment entitlements, or charge interest. When deciding whether recoveries should be made, the Rural Payments Agency will apply the principles in the Treasury’s Managing Public Money guidance.
Finally, this instrument makes two consequential amendments which were not covered in the Direct Payments to Farmers and Cross-Compliance (Simplifications) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2020. It removes a redundant cross-reference relating to the greening rules which were removed by that previous instrument. It also changes a percentage figure used to calculate young farmer payments, ensuring the value of these payments will not be affected by the removal of the greening payment.
The Agriculture (Financial Assistance) Regulations 2021 put in place financial data publication and enforcement and monitoring requirements for four financial assistance schemes: Countryside Stewardship, the Farming Investment Fund, the environmental land management national pilot scheme, and the tree health pilot. All these schemes are established under the Agriculture Act 2020. The environmental land management pilot scheme will comprise three schemes, the first being the sustainable farming incentive.
This instrument will provide a critical opportunity to test, refine and develop environmental land management and tree health schemes in pilot form, ahead of their full launch. Countryside Stewardship will be a simplified version of the EU countryside stewardship and environmental stewardship schemes, and a further iteration of the domestic scheme, which opened for applications in 2020 and 2021. I say for the sake of clarity that this instrument provides for rules applying to schemes opened under domestic legislation, while earlier countryside stewardship and environmental stewardship agreements remain subject to enforcement and monitoring under CAP rules. The Farming Investment Fund will provide grants to farmers, foresters and growers so they can invest in equipment, technology and infrastructure to help their businesses prosper while improving resource efficiency and enhancing the environment.
This instrument will require information about financial assistance given under these schemes to be published, consistent with the Government’s commitment to transparency in the use of public funds. Information published will include the total or aggregated payment received by a beneficiary for each scheme they are in and a description of activities financed by the payment, and could enable public analysis; for example, university research. Publication of personal data will not be required for payments below a de minimis level or in respect of payments made under the tree health pilot, where, instead, aggregated data will be published.
In terms of checks, enforcement and monitoring, this instrument provides for a flexible and proportionate framework ensuring that the purposes of schemes are delivered. Provisions include checking eligibility criteria at application stage and monitoring compliance with individual grant agreements and scheme conditions. A range of enforcement options are available under the instrument in the event of a breach, including withholding of payments, recovering payments previously awarded and prohibiting a person from receiving payments under any scheme for up to two years, thereby ensuring that public funds are properly expended, suitably protected against fraud and provide value for money.
The instrument provides powers of entry and inspection to enforce compliance with scheme agreements; for example, to check or inspect land, livestock, crops, plants or machinery and to verify compliance of conditions and review any activities carried out under the schemes. A formal complaints and appeals process is available if agreement holders are aggrieved by certain decisions taken by the department.
These instruments implement provisions in the Agriculture Act 2020. They begin the move from the inefficient direct payments model of the CAP and provide an important framework allowing new financial assistance schemes to operate effectively in line with the agricultural transition plan. I beg to move.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the Minister. He represents Defra, which is the key Brexit department—there is no question about that, and I know that the staff will have worked their socks off in the past year, with the pressures they have been under from all the various changes.
I took the opportunity to read the Commons debate on these important financial regulations last Thursday and I could not help but notice that four Conservative Back-Benchers were put on the committee, one from Scotland, one from Wales and two from England; that is, the Members for Aldershot and Corby. I can well understand why the Members from Scotland and Wales can find other things to do on England-only orders, but why on earth did the two English Tories not turn up to speak for the farming businesses in their constituencies? I am just amazed. It could not have had anything to do with Covid; people could come in and out of the room. This is a key, fundamental issue for farming businesses.
It is all uncharted territory for farm payments; it is new. Is that why we have only one year? The excellent Defra booklet, Farming is Changing, set out quite clearly the seven-year transition from the EU payments, but is it not crucial that farmers have a detailed forward plan for business decisions? When will the details for years 2, 3, 4 et cetera be published? In my view, it must be by October at the latest. We cannot wait to get to the end of the first year before we start to make key decisions for people and businesses for the following years. After all, with Brexit, we are in control. There should be no need for last-minute, one-year-at-a-time processes. Or is it the fact that the Treasury has plans to grab more of the EU money so that it leeches away from farming?
It is good that the publication of payments will remain, which is important for public consumption—it is still public money going to private businesses—but I certainly agree that pilot phases of any kind should not be published. Pilots are there for testing ideas. Some will work and some will not. You can have analysis of the pilots, but not under the public gaze, because it will simply stop people doing them.
I want to talk about a couple of wider issues, because I do not want to take too long. I know that the delinked payments and the lump sum payments are not intrinsically tied up with these regulations, but they are connected. Will those payments be directly linked to assist new entrants into farming rather than enabling existing companies to get bigger? It is a golden opportunity and it should not be missed.
How will hill farmers be treated and protected? They simply do not have the flexibility that other farmers have, not just with the environment but with the land and everything else. It is all self-evident and we understand the reasons, but they must not be forgotten.
As today is the 22 March, can the Minister say whether phase 2 of the farm resilience scheme will be provided as promised this month, with a start date in May? It is getting pretty close to the start of May. Can he assure us that the Rural Payments Agency has the trained staff and resources to deal with the claims? Will the claims be less onerous than under the EU system? The Explanatory Memorandum says that they will be “not … significantly more onerous”, but the point is that they will be more onerous. Why on earth are they not less onerous than under the EU system now that we are in control of designing the system?
My Lords, I note my interests as a Devon farmer. Given the weekend’s criticism of Members speaking in their own interest, I add that I am proud to speak for farmers from Devon. This House is well served by Members with hands-on experience, and I particularly appreciate that both the Minister in this House and the Secretary of State in the other place are themselves farmers and are sensitive to farming interests.
I am grateful for the hard work of Defra in implementing the Agriculture Act, but these regulations raise concerns. Like many farming families, I sat down last week, having established harvest 2021, to review budgets and understand the implications of the agricultural transition on farming operations. The many uncertainties are a challenge for farmers, the environment and the provision of the affordable, healthy and nutritious food that our nation so desperately needs right now. But of more immediate concern is the fact that these uncertainties risk severely limiting the adoption of ELMS, thereby frustrating the Government’s well-intentioned reforms.
As to the direct payments to farmers regulations, do the Government accept that decreased financial support will result in less money to invest in new equipment and technology and will require farmers to intensify their current farming practices in order to maintain their viability? This can only mean a decrease in relative productivity and an increase in environmental degradation. What steps are the Government taking to monitor these impacts during the transition period?
On direct funding, how much do the Government expect to save by these regulations, and where will that funding now be applied? Will 100% of the savings be redistributed to farmers? Can the Minister confirm that none of these funds will be diverted to the administrative expenses of the agricultural transition?
Finally on this regulation, what are the Government’s plans for future reductions beyond 2021? I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Rooker; farmers are already planning for 2022, and necessary investment will not be made if they do not have a clear idea of their future funding streams. Without a clear road map, productivity and the environment will suffer.
I welcome the launch of the sustainable farming incentive pilot. Is it correct that the SFI pilot is unavailable to any farmer already part of the Countryside Stewardship scheme, and thus is available only to those who have chosen not to enter such schemes or whose schemes have recently expired? If so, it seems unlikely to be an effective pilot, if those being asked to trial SFI are sceptics and non-adopters.
Turning to the Agriculture (Financial Assistance) Regulations, the mechanics of monitoring compliance are essential, but the extent to which inspection burdens farmers, and particularly farmers’ families, will directly impact their popularity. In this regard, there are a number of serious concerns. The regulations suggest that inspections may occur at a “reasonable hour”, but nowhere is that term defined. Given the working hours and seasonality of farm work, this may be particularly challenging. Inspection mid-harvest or mid-lambing could be an unreasonable hour, at any time of day.
Inspections may take place anywhere other than a private dwelling, and yet, as the Minister knows, a typical farmhouse kitchen is often the administrative heart of farming operation, and sometimes also a creche for newborn lambs. How will inspectors gain access to the records they need if they cannot access private dwellings? Equally, how will the privacy of farming families be preserved under such an inspection regime?
There are notice provisions before a virtual inspection by live video link, but there are no such notice provisions required before inspection by remote sensing, thus inspection by drone is permitted without notice at any reasonable hour of the day. This raises major concerns for privacy and security, particularly as drones are now popular with criminals scouting rural targets. For those living on isolated farms, the presence of a drone overhead can be very disconcerting. Furthermore, many farmers have diversified into tourism, particularly here in the south-west. As drafted, these regulations may permit drone inspections of campsites and holiday lets, irrespective of the privacy concerns for guests.
It is not apparent either who the “authorised person” will be, and who such “other persons” as the authorised persons think necessary are. These individuals have considerable powers of inspection and enforcement, including the ability to take documents, inspect computers, and take a photograph or a record in digital form of anything on or associated with the land or premises. This is a remarkably wide power. Indeed, it suggests that taking a digital copy of the family computer, if used in the farm office, would be permissible, and I see no safeguards around how these powers may be exercised.
Finally, the right of appeal under Regulation 31 is to a person or persons appointed by the Secretary of State, with no specificity on independence or qualification. Given that it is the Secretary of State’s own determination that is being appealed, it seems contrary to the interests of justice to permit him or her to appoint the appellate tribunal.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of concerns, but they are extensive. Unless they can be resolved, there must be major concerns about the attractiveness of the entire regime. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s reply.
My Lords, it is a reflection of the strange times in which we live that there is not a single person on the Labour, Liberal or Cross Benches actually in the Chamber. It is the first time I have taken part in a debate in your Lordships’ House in over 50 years where this has been the case. Ah, we do have a Liberal Democrat finally arriving—a little late, but do not worry.
I support what the noble Earl, Lord Devon, said about drones, but I want to raise some other points for my noble friend. What does he expect to happen to the underspend on the basic payment system, particularly as we near 2024? Does he expect the Treasury to put its sticky mitts on this, or will it be recycled into Defra’s budget?
Is my noble friend still convinced that the timeframe for the national pilots and the full rollout of ELMS and other schemes by 2027 is feasible? He will recall that we debated on the then Agriculture Bill that a delay of one year might be a sensible option. Given the problems in the countryside at the moment, I wonder if this is a matter at which he should look again.
I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, said about future years, but I also think that there is certainly not enough information about the new scheme. The pain is clear for the farming community but the possible gain is very unclear.
I would like to ask my noble friend about the engagement with land managers and other stakeholders on the design of ELMS and the transitional arrangements. From what I have heard, there is some engagement, but people say that it is not as effective as it should be.
It is apparent that not enough credit is being given by Defra to the farmers for the work that they undertake on a voluntary basis which has maintained our countryside in the beautiful state that it is still in—the enormous amount of money and time that they have spent on biodiversity schemes, planting hedges and keeping wildlife. I hope that this is an area that my noble friend will be keen to make certain is taken fully into account.
While I am on wildlife, I turn to the problem of access, which I raised during discussions on the then Agriculture Bill. It is clear that, during Covid, people’s attitudes and behaviours in the countryside are fairly reprehensible at times. The leaving open of gates, the amount of litter and the wilful misconduct in the countryside are alarming, given that the Agriculture Act of last year actually encourages people to go to the countryside. There is a Countryside Code; I do not have that much experience of it in England, but I certainly do in Scotland. At the entry gate of a property belonging to a charity which I run, and which is a heritage project, I have on a board the equivalent of the English Countryside Code. I am amazed by the number of tourists and visitors who do not read it, and, if they do read it, they wilfully ignore it. We have had fires, destruction and the removal of historic stones by people. That property is there for people to come and enjoy—not come and destroy.
What is my noble friend doing to make certain that visitors to the countryside, whom we welcome, are better educated and have more respect for the countryside than appears at present? Is he concerned that the alarming increase in the ownership of pets, particularly dogs, will cause a problem for farmers? When people get access to the countryside, they will take their dogs there and, unless the dogs are well trained and managed and kept on a lead, there is every chance that they will harass wildlife and cause distress for farmers. I hope my noble friend can assure me that Defra is looking at these important issues.
My Lords, first, I suppose I should apologise to the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, for not sitting opposite him at this point. I commend those who come in but I have not yet managed it myself.
I want to intervene briefly. I understand the necessity of the regulations, and I supported the general direction of the Agriculture Act towards the public good, but I want to query aspects of the broader transitional strategy on farm support and its differential impact on different forms and sizes of farm.
The one benefit of the much-derided direct land-based payment was that it applied—theoretically, at least—to the whole of farmed land. If the cross-compliance of environmental and agricultural standards had been properly directed and enforced, there would have been a benefit to the whole environment, the agricultural state of the farm and the income of the farmer. Regrettably, that did not happen. It needs to be rectified in this phase. By the end of the transitional period, we need to ensure that, whatever regulations are there, the various schemes and payments are properly explained, understood and enforced.
This is no criticism of Defra—I know that it has put in an enormous amount of work in getting this far—but the pace and sequence of the rundown of direct payments, and the introduction of ELMS and the other payments provided in the Agriculture Act to support land management, must pay heed to two things. The first is the type of farming and the degree of past dependence on direct payments. The second is the appropriate form of ELMS that would suit the land and history of a particular farm.
It is clear from papers published by the Government before the introduction of the then Agriculture Bill that the most dependent on direct payments—in some cases, up to and over 100% of profits—were LFA hill farmers, then lowland livestock, then mixed farms and dairy farms. Plus, it impacted more on tenant farmers, in general, and some part-tenanted farms. It is also likely that it will be those very farmers who will find multiple, piecemeal ELM offers the most difficult to understand and fulfil, and will need the most concerted effort to develop them.
As I said several times during the passage of the Bill, that underlines the need to concentrate on whole-farm schemes for ELMS and other provisions. It is right to decrease direct payments to those who are the most vulnerable in this sense more slowly, but it is also important to develop whole-farm schemes for such farms more quickly and not simply go slowly in that direction—although these regulations do move a little in that direction. There needs to be differentiation and a full understanding of the impact on what are largely small farms, or at least small businesses even if, in geographical terms, they are relatively large farms in the uplands.
My second point on this issue is rather different. I ask the Minister: is it the objective of policy to shift English farming away from livestock towards horticulture and vegetable production? I do so because, like the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, last year I was a member of the Food, Poverty, Health and Environment Committee, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs. One of our conclusions—only one—was that UK diets, particularly those of low-income groups and children, need to move more strongly towards fresh fruit and vegetables. Part of providing that would be having more home-produced fresh vegetables and to otherwise subsidise and incentivise more horticulture in this country.
The problem is that, in many instances, the land now used for livestock is often—though not always—unsuitable for horticulture. Is it the Government’s aim to achieve such a shift in production and diet? Is that part of this transitional period? If so, can they achieve that while avoiding a dangerous escalation in the overly heavy use of fertilisers to make less fertile soil more fertile? That goes for pesticides, too, with the concomitant damage to watercourses, air quality, soil, human and animal health, and biodiversity. Should the approach, particularly in upland areas, be to focus on rewilding some of the land rather than shifting production away from raising livestock and towards producing fruit and vegetables? That is a long-term aim but I would like the Government’s comments on it.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, with whom I share an interest in horticultural production—particularly in the interests of public health—which I think needs to be done through agroecological approaches, addressing his concerns about fertiliser use. I do not think he needs to apologise for not being in the House. After all, day after day we hear from the Woolsack that speakers will be treated equally wherever they are, even if that is not 100% accurate.
Again, I welcome the Government’s at least partial delivery of a long-term Green Party policy. In the days of the common agricultural policy, the Green Party called for the CAP to be capped in terms of payments to the largest landowners. For a number of years, our call was for the maximum payment to be £100,000. Once again, the Greens lead and others follow. I hope that this reflects government understanding about the damage done by the extreme concentration of land ownership in England, and the need to democratise it to deliver land reform.
The fact that payments for the largest farms are being reduced by 25% for payments over £150,000 but by only 5% for the smallest farms is a small step in the right direction, at least. However, it is not nearly enough. I want to see payments directed strongly towards the smallest farms, including those that were regarded as “too small” under the previous CAP rules but which are often hugely productive in terms of healthy food, provide good employment and maintain excellent environmental conditions—care for their soil being a particularly obvious imperative for them.
That is not to say that there are not grave concerns about the progress—or lack of it—of government plans for payments to farmers. As the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, said earlier at a meeting of the APPG on Agroecology, there is a grave concern that payments under environmental land management schemes may be adequate only to maintain what is being done now, more or less, while there is real concern about the slow pace of the development of these immensely complex schemes.
Since this House last discussed these issues, we have heard initial announcements about the sustainable farming incentive, but I note the words of a Tenant Farmers Association policy adviser to Farmers Weekly that this is
“just the start of a long journey moving away from area-based payments.”
“There is still a lot of work to be done to ensure SFI becomes a robust and tangible scheme that can be practically implemented for any farming system.”
As the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, said, this is uncharted territory.
We are talking about eight standards to allow farmers to build their own farm agreements for greener landscapes, cleaner air and water, and to guard against the climate emergency and flooding—at three different levels. The complexity of this and the potential difficulty of monitoring delivery look daunting; also, as the noble Earl, Lord Devon, said, farms are often homes too, so there are privacy implications. Indeed, the Minister outlined this in his explanation of the inspection access rules in his introduction to the debate. I appreciate that he may not have time today to talk in detail about the plans for delivery, but we—farmers and communities —need to see the rapid delivery of clarity and hear assurance that this will deliver real progress for our horrendously nature-depleted land, with its poisoned waters and trashed soils.
Another key issue that has been very much at the forefront today is the non-progress of the Environment Bill. I understand the need to hold it in the other place for Prorogation—whether that is really the most efficient way for a constitution to operate is a question for another day—but I heard a concerning comment this morning from a Member of the Government’s party in the other place suggesting that the need to get the Environment Bill in place by COP to avoid international embarrassment meant that your Lordships’ House would have to rush it through and not try to do too much to it. Given the close links between these payment regulations and the operation of the Bill, I hope that the Minister can give me an assurance today that the Government intend that this House, with its large number of expert voices with a strong interest in the issues in the Environment Bill, has proper time to scrutinise it. The Domestic Abuse Bill has demonstrated how much Bills can be improved through such scrutiny. The Environment Bill is even larger in scope and equally crucial in impact.
My Lords, I rather feel that the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, should be congratulating those of us who have not come in but are speaking from home. This is quite an important point; I do not want the public to get the wrong impression from looking at this picture of a relatively empty Chamber. As with the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, my understanding is that the Lord Speaker and the Convenor of the Cross Benches were almost begging us not to come in, to protect the staff and for the safety of other Members. I hope the Minister will reconfirm that.
On the matter at hand, I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Devon, and the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, that forward planning and certainty are essential in any business, but particularly in farming, which is a long-term issue. I am sure that the Minister, being a good Conservative, will take that point. It is very good to have the figures for 2021; I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure us that we will get the follow-on figures as soon as possible.
A point was raised, which also applies to the comments made about hill farming, about how we make a living. I am sitting here on a hill farm; it is very beautiful and I declare my interest as a very small-time farmer compared to some noble Lords. The Minister said that there was money for more productivity; the problem with productivity is that it does not always go hand in hand with conservation. Does he have any thoughts about that?
On young farmers, getting new blood into the farming industry is essential. One way we can sort that out is by thinking about how we make payments and distribute them fairly between landlords, tenants and, very importantly, agents, who are on commission.
The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, mentioned the public. At the top of my hill farm, there is a very beautiful view and people pull in and have a picnic or walk along the top. I am thrilled that they do—they can sit there admiring the view—but I am astonished that they then toss out their sandwich covers and tins. I just cannot understand the mentality. We may need to continue to make the penalties for littering and tipping, which we have talked about before, even more stringent. After all, they go hand in hand with ecology and conservation. This essentially comes down to education. As with so many things, we must do better at explaining to the public why this is such an anti-social thing to do.
However, by and large, I welcome the Government’s thrust here towards a more ecological way of farming and look forward to hearing the Minister’s comments in due course.
My Lords, unlike all those who have spoken from home, I am old enough to have been vaccinated and feel relatively secure in this place, but it is comforting to know that many of them are so much younger than they look.
As is usual with debates on agriculture, this debate has been dominated by those speaking for the landed interest—farmers, landowners and, to a limited degree, environmentalists. It is right that we should hear their concerns. We want a healthy agricultural sector and a beautiful environment. However, we rarely hear from consumers and taxpayers, so I will say a few words from their point of view.
I understand that the Government are bound by the pledges made during the election and the referendum to maintain agricultural payments at the level set by the EU for a number of years. Instead of making direct payments to farmers and landowners, the Government intend to phase them out, replacing them with payments to farmers for providing public goods, maintaining the environment and protecting biodiversity.
This raises a number of questions. First, should we continue the same level of spending that we have inherited from the EU? Virtually all speakers so far have assumed that we should or will do so. That raises a second question: what level of environmental goods do we want? It would be an extraordinary coincidence if the cost of the environmental and public goods we think that the taxpayer wants and is prepared to pay for were exactly the same as the previous level of subsidy, inherited from the EU. After all, we used to get a beautiful landscape as a by-product of farming. It was by accident, not design, and certainly not the result of paying farmers over the centuries to farm in an aesthetically enjoyable way. The presumption must be that we do not need to spend all the EU subsidy on environmental goods indefinitely.
The third question is whether these payments are really intended to provide an income roughly equal to the loss of direct subsidy payments. Farmers and several noble Lords seem to assume that they will, but if the payments for environmental goods are equal to the additional cost to farmers of providing the environmental benefits, they will not replace the subsidy income they have lost. For example, if payments compensate for the loss of income resulting from land taken out of production for reasons of biodiversity or otherwise, they will not also offset the loss of subsidy income. Likewise, if the payment equals the opportunity cost to farmers of their or their employees’ time spent on environmental goods instead of on farming, it will not provide any net income to compensate for the lost subsidy. Similarly, if the payment simply meets the cost to farmers of resources and equipment that they have to buy in or hire to provide environmental goods and services, they will not provide any replacement of the lost subsidy.
However, farmers and most noble Lords who have spoken assume that these environmental payments will replace the lost direct subsidy or a significant part of it. They in effect assume that they will be paid for environmental goods above the cost to them of providing those goods, and probably that they will be paid for providing environmental goods and services which they would have provided anyway as a by-product of farming. We should doubtless be grateful for that, but we should not necessarily expect to pay for it.
I hope that in this and the other House we will look at the long-term costs of subsidies to farming and see whether they can perhaps be phased out. I happened to become a good friend of the late and sadly lamented Michael Moore, the former Labour Prime Minister of New Zealand, who phased out, very dramatically, all subsidies for agriculture in New Zealand. We should learn some lessons from that experience. The first lesson he told me was not to do it as dramatically and overnight as New Zealand had to in the crisis that it faced—any phasing out of subsidies should be sensible and over a period of time.
However, we should recognise from New Zealand’s experience that the taxpayer’s interests and agricultural interests are not always as diametrically opposed as they might seem ex ante. Although the abrupt removal of subsidies in New Zealand dramatically reduced average farm incomes, within five years they had reached and exceeded the average incomes before the subsidies were removed. It seems that a lot of the subsidy that was previously given to the agricultural industry in New Zealand—it may be the same here—ended up not in the incomes of farmers but in the margins of suppliers of fertiliser and other agricultural products. In the long run, when farming not for subsidies but for the value of the products produced, the productivity growth of agriculture was greater and the opportunities for increasing productivity were much greater than people had supposed.
My Lords, I welcome these regulations and thank my noble friend for bringing them before us today. The Government have been as good as their word, as they promised to bring forward the details on this. This is obviously a landmark time, announcing the change from the old regime to public money for public goods. I hope my noble friend will permit me to raise a number of questions and to press him further in this regard. I echo what my noble friend Lord Caithness said about the work farmers do, particularly in the countryside and in the bad weather we have had this winter in the north; many go out and clear the roads when other vehicles are unable to use them.
Can my noble friend confirm, as the Government are committed to sharing more information about future ELM schemes, when this information will be available? Paragraph 10.5 of the Explanatory Memorandum for the second set of regulations states that land management plans
“will not be published during the pilot phase”,
which begs the question, when will they be published? I echo the concern expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, and others: we must have the detail, if possible, by the end of this year and no later.
I remember that provision was going to be made to encourage farmers reaching the end of their natural farming life to seek retirement. This was welcomed on all sides during the passage of the Agriculture Bill in this place. Perhaps I am missing something, but I do not see the detail in the regulations before us today. Is this is covered by these regulations, or do the Government intend to deal with it later? This goes to the point made by a number of noble Lords: that we need new entrants but we need to make arrangements for those who are still actively farming but approaching the end of their farming life to retire, where appropriate.
Paragraph 3.1 of the Explanatory Memorandum for the first set of regulations tells us that they apply only to England and that the other nations will make their own arrangements. I am particularly concerned that if Scottish farmers are to continue to benefit from direct payments, which I think they will, there will obviously be some envy on the part of northern farmers looking across the border. Is this a source of concern to my noble friend?
Also, can my noble friend confirm that the arrangement will continue to be that farmers who are doing the work, actively farming and taking the economic risk—in particular, those in sustainable farming and food production—will continue to benefit? That is not entirely clear, particularly given that paragraph 7.1 of the Explanatory Memorandum for the second set of regulations clearly states that the Secretary of State will
“give financial assistance to beneficiaries, including (but not limited to) farmers, horticulturalists, growers, foresters and those responsible for the management of land.”
Will my noble friend confirm today that if the tenant is the active farmer taking the economic risk, they will continue to benefit from the financial provisions before us?
Will my noble friend comment on the link between the Agriculture Act and the Trade Bill, which returns to the House this week? Does he share my view that the two are related and there must be the desire to maintain the highest level of self-sufficiency to ensure that we have a sustainable supply of homegrown food, if for no other reason than food security? I am sure he will wish to join me in again commending the work of Henry Dimbleby on the first published part of the national food strategy in this regard.
With those few remarks, I commend the regulations, but we need to see more detail, particularly on what ELMS will require and when the pilot schemes will be available. Will my noble friend confirm that one of them does extend to the border of North Yorkshire and County Durham, and that tenant farmers who are currently eligible will continue to be so under the new schemes? I would be interested to know if that scheme was in place.
Finally, does he accept that marts reflect the link between market towns and the rural economy, and that livestock farmers deserve to have a continued and vibrant future under these regulations?
My Lords, first, I declare my interest as an arable farmer and a member of the NFU. As other noble Lords have stated, the key point of the SI concerns the annualised confirmation of the BPS cuts. This is the right way for it to be done, given the Agriculture Act’s reference to pausing the cuts. However, like my noble friend Lord Caithness, I would like to ask the Minister, if the farming budget remains the same until 2024, what will happen to the underspend of the BPS moneys?
I would also like to ask the Minister some questions about farmers’ finances that are not directly related to this SI, so I will understand if he would prefer to write to me on these. According to the NFU, there are two main farming industry issues post-Brexit. The first is livestock exports, and the second is the sanitary and phytosanitary matters in connection with the Northern Ireland protocol.
With regards to livestock exports, the NFU has made a detailed submission to the House of Commons EFRA committee inquiry. Now that the UK is now classified as a “third country” by the EU, having left the customs union and single market, the NFU is concerned that this change of status is leading to confusion and delays at the borders, in the short term at least, which could lead to loss of value and increased wastage.
There seem to be several issues. First, EU officialdom is being overzealous regarding the correct paperwork. Dutch and French ports seem to be major culprits overall. Secondly, there are over-rigorous inspection rules for carcasses. Exports of live animals for breeding and slaughter are not possible because of a lack of necessary facilities in EU ports. Export health certificates —EHCs—can be submitted only in hard copy and are required in duplicate for different authorities. The NFU knows one example of a vet needing to stamp paperwork 72 times for one consignment. This is very onerous for the limited number of official vets and adds costs to the export process. The system is also paper-based and must be modernised.
I ask the Minister that Her Majesty’s Government make a clear public statement on the future of exports of live farm animals for breeding, which would give confidence to European investors and breeding companies alike. The pig sector seems to have been particularly badly affected regarding trichinella testing and its ability to export cull sows. The NFU has seen a case where one load of pigmeat took 20 hours to clear border checks at Calais before ultimately being rejected by the customer in Germany because of the delay and loss of specification.
Poultry exporters are also struggling, not only with the levels of paperwork required for export, but with the interpretation of what is required on the EHCS by the French and Dutch border posts in particular. Farmers have also experienced issues with TRACES, the online system used for health certification, and tracking consignments of animals or animal products entering the UK market, as well as the issuing of the common health entry document. Lamb and sheepmeat processors and exporters have also commented on the issues they are currently encountering, including problems with grouped or consolidated loads and the risk of incorrect paperwork, lack of training of staff at the borders and new costs from increased inspections.
Moving on to Northern Ireland, livestock sector problems also abound. First, there are major issues on the movement of live farm animals. EU regulations are making the export of cattle and sheep from Great Britain to Northern Ireland a very difficult and costly exercise, which will curtail trade, bar a few high value exceptions.
I do not have time to cover the problems in other areas, namely the scrapie requirements for export of breeding sheep from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. In addition, there are poultry import issues. Sending young birds to Northern Ireland has become unviable due to EU regulations. The horticulture sector is suffering, due to export delays because of complex additional paperwork and lack of government staff to undertake inspections. The potato sector is badly affected by the prohibition of seed potato imports. As with the UK-EU trade, mixed loads and groupage are becoming too complex and stopping trade with the rest of the UK. Other issues include live plant root-washing requirements and machinery parts and field machinery movements across the Irish Sea. Will the Minister write to me on the latest progress in solving these issues?
Finally, is there any news regarding the changes for exports and EHCs for composite products due on 21 April? The NFU states that the sooner this information is produced the better.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for introducing the debate on these regulations. I declare my interest as a trustee of the Fonthill estate in Wiltshire.
I refer first to the direct payments SI, which contains the words “reductions” and “simplifications” in its title. From the farmer’s point of view, it is all too clear what “reductions” means. What “simplifications” are achieved in these regulations? The Government and Ministers have, rightly, made much of our new freedoms to adopt a more agile, simpler regulatory regime, now that we are no longer bound by the cumbersome, expensive and bureaucratic EU regime, which gives much too much importance to the precautionary principle. Look how that played havoc with the vaccine rollout in EU member states. On 18 March, my honourable friend Victoria Prentis said in another place:
“We published the reductions back in 2018, so that farmers would have time to prepare for the changes. The SI sets the reductions for the 2021 claim year only; we will set out the reductions for later years in future SIs.”—[Official Report, Commons, Delegated Legislation Committee, 18/3/21; col. 3.]
On 7 July last year, in Committee on the Agriculture Bill, and on other occasions, I asked whether my noble friend the Minister could be much more specific in informing your Lordships of how much financial assistance will be made available under the ELM scheme, and whether it will completely compensate for the loss of direct support payments, which will hit farming businesses hard in 2021. I think he said that the total savings from the progressive cuts in dividend payments would be channelled back into payments to farmers, but it is not clear whether the reduction in direct payments will be made good in the same year, or if the Government intend to retain the saved payments for a year or more.
I understand why the Government have decided to hit the larger farming businesses harder. However, although the larger estates are better able to survive the withdrawal of direct payments, it is also true that the larger farming businesses will suffer reductions in income amounting to a large percentage of their profit or, indeed, to an amount greater than their profit, pushing many businesses in to a loss-making situation. The larger farming businesses employ a large majority of agricultural workers and the prospects for future employment in the sector will be negatively affected unless the Government can give much more clarity on how businesses can mitigate the loss of direct payments. Indeed, it should be made possible for those who are particularly innovative and active in introducing new, environmentally friendly practices to receive more than they have been receiving under the present system.
The Agriculture (Financial Assistance) Regulations provided an opportunity for the Government to explain exactly how much farmers will be able to earn from four different schemes. The Explanatory Memorandum describes the environmental land management scheme as
“the cornerstone of our new agricultural policy.”
However, this will not be launched until 2024, so only those few farmers chosen to participate in the national pilot will gain any financial benefit from it. The tree health scheme is also subject to a pilot scheme and will not be launched across England until 2024, although those who benefit from the current countryside stewardship tree health scheme may, as I understand it, continue to do so. It is not clear what criteria will be applied to determining whether applications to the farming investment fund will be successful.
It is not clear when, or how, the money saved from cuts to direct payments will be paid over to farmers. Furthermore, a large farm not selected for the ELM pilot scheme, however well managed from an environment standpoint, will face a substantial shortfall in income for three years. There is not yet enough information for farmers to estimate how much they will be able to earn in mitigation of the cuts to their income, which will take place this year, so it is impossible for them to make sensible plans for the future. The questions asked by my noble friend Lord Lilley in this regard are very pertinent. In particular, does the Minister expect that farming may indeed become more profitable when subsidies are withdrawn, as in New Zealand? Will the Minister commit to making available as much precise information as he can, as early as possible, to help farmers make realisable plans? That should help stabilise employment prospects in the sector. I look forward to his reply.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his time, and that of his officials, in providing a briefing on these two instruments, and for his introduction. I regret that I am not able to be in the Chamber, due to underlying health conditions, but do not apologise to the noble Earl, Lord Caithness.
The first SI deals with this year’s reductions in direct payments for England only. I understand that there will be future, annual SIs to cover each year’s payment reductions. The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, referred to this, and to having the information sooner rather than later. Farming is not a short-term function. Paragraph 7.5 of the Explanatory Memorandum refers to the abolition of the 5% reduction for payments over €150,000. The SI itself, in the table under paragraph (3), refers to amounts above £150,000 being reduced by 25% and then, in paragraph 7.3, refers to substituting 25% for 17.5%. I understand that this relates to the young farmers payments, but would be grateful if the Minister could provide some clarity on this issue.
The simplified processing of applications of cross-border farmers who have land in England and other parts of the UK, is to be welcomed. This should make everything easier and simpler. Can the Minister give reassurance that the devolved Administrations are completely on board with this aspect? The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, referred to this matter. The simplifications and flexibility on rules and inspections are also welcomed, but this may lead to some confusion among farmers. The noble Earl, Lord Devon, referred to notice of inspections. Again, can the Minister provide some clarity over this?
The second SI, on agriculture financial assistance, deals with four schemes, as has already been said: ELMS, the tree health pilot, the Countryside Stewardship scheme and the farming investment fund. ELMS has been the subject of ongoing pilots and we now appear to be in a position to ask for expressions of interest. The process will continue in June, when eligibility will be checked. Can the Minister say whether this is extended to tenant farmers or is the scheme open only to landowners? It is important to restructure payment to smaller farmers, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, indicated.
The tree health pilot is ahead of a three-year pilot which will be launched in the spring and summer. If I understand it correctly, it will monitor and cut down diseased trees and ensure that we have the right trees in the right places. That sounds sensible. However, given that trees take an age to reach maturity and often grow because of seed dispersal by birds, animals, and the wind, I am somewhat concerned that if it is discovered that a tree has grown in the wrong place, it may be felled. I realise this is only a short pilot, but I am worried about the impact of this scheme.
It is not clear just how finance will be allocated to those taking part in the initial pilot or the following three-year pilot. Can the Minister confirm that the tree health pilot is likely to be funded from the Forestry Commission and give some indication of just how the funding for this scheme will be allocated, and against what criteria?
The Countryside Stewardship scheme is a transition from the EU schemes and the move towards ELMS—other noble Lords referred to this. I welcome the fact that this allows farmers to exit the EU scheme as and when they are accepted on to ELMS. However, what will happen to those who are not accepted on to ELMS and fail the eligibility test?
The farming investment fund allows farmers to apply for grants for equipment and new technology and receive support from a specified list. How does a supplier of equipment and technology get on to this specified list? What happens if a farmer requires a grant for investment but for something which is not on the list? Does the UK infrastructure bank have a role in assisting farmers to modernise their farms to help them meet the Government’s environmental agenda?
The Explanatory Memorandum refers in the fourth bullet point of paragraph 6.1 to the discretion of the Secretary of State over matters of non-compliance. It is welcome that a more flexible approach is being taken but this could lead to some confusion for farmers. Can the Minister give some clarity over the three-stage process for appeals on non-compliance, which other Peers referred to? The Explanatory Memorandum refers to agreement holders having to keep records and provide certain information. Does this mean less paperwork for farmers or will it result in more?
I was disappointed that the consultation on the changes in this SI was directed only at a limited number of stakeholders and ran between 4 August and 1 September last year. This was a very short period and the stakeholders have flagged up several concerns and questions in the Explanatory Memorandum.
There is a lot of change in this very short SI, and this will have implications not only for farmers but for the Rural Payments Agency. The RPA has not had a wonderful reputation in the past and I wonder whether it will cope. Does the Minister feel that there is sufficient capacity in the RPA for these changes to be effected smoothly and without a detrimental impact on farmers? The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, referred to that.
Lastly, I completely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley of Knighton, on thoughtless waste and littering. It really is time for much stricter penalties in this area.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his helpful introduction to these SIs and thank all noble Lords who have contributed to this debate this afternoon.
As the Minister said, the SIs represent an important step in the transition from the old CAP regime to the new financial assistance proposals based on public money for public goods, which we spent many happy hours debating during the passage of the Agriculture Bill. Undoubtedly, the Government have taken on a huge task in attempting to draw up the details of a new funding regime, which needs to be robust in its systems of accountability but also fair to those who have to navigate it.
The Path to Sustainable Farming, published last November, and now of course the launch of the sustainable farming incentive pilots, are useful first steps. However, as many noble Lords have illustrated in this debate, as each building block of the transition is announced, it answers many questions but raises even more. With that in mind, I have a number of questions which flow from these SIs.
First, the direct payments to farmers SI provides for the reduction in direct payments of between 5% and 25% in 2021. I think it is fair to say that this announcement last year was received with some dismay by the farming community, given that they were being asked to take a payment cut without any chance of claiming under the new sustainable funding regime until 2022; in other words, it is an absolute cut. I would be pleased if the Minister could explain why it was necessary to proceed on this basis rather than to run down access to one fund and increase access to the new fund on a balanced basis. It seems rather provocative at a time when the good will of the farming community to embrace the new regime is absolutely essential. Can we be clear: have those savings gone into a ring-fenced pot of money, and can we be assured that they will be used only for funding the three tiers of ELMS as they are rolled out in the coming years?
Also, as the Minister knows, the details of the sustainable farming incentive pilots announced this month have only eight categories of activities for which payments can be made via the pilots. These seem quite limited in scope. Can the Minister update us on whether the timetable for the rollout of other schemes, which might provide other new opportunities for farmers to access grant funding, is still on track? In particular, given the economic hardship being experienced by many farmers, can he confirm that details of the farm resilience scheme—phase 2—which was announced earlier, will still be provided this month, with a start date of May 2021?
Also, as has been said, this SI deals only with the reductions in direct payments for the year 2021. We know that the original plan was for this to be a progressive reduction year on year. Is it still the plan that future years’ reductions will come before us each year as the transition continues to be rolled out, rather than allowing it to be done on a more obvious long-term planning basis, perhaps grouping a number of years at a time?
The Agricultural (Financial Assistance) Regulations 2021 set out the principles on which financial payments will be administered. I think it is fair to say that this is an enabling SI which puts all the onus on the Secretary of State to devise a scheme with more flexibility and fairness than was perceived to be applied by the CAP regime. However, the devil is in the detail, and we do not have that detail before us today. There is a great deal of trust resting on the shoulders of the Secretary of State to create a less bureaucratic and less burdensome system for applying and checking claims. In fact, as my noble friend Lord Rooker pointed out, rather worryingly, it says on page 4 of the EM:
“The instrument does not impose duties that are significantly more onerous than before”.
I hope that the opposite will be the case and that people applying for financial assistance will find the regime more accommodating and user-friendly. However, if I am honest, the track record of Defra does not bode well on this, and the recent experience of hauliers and exporters to the EU is testament to that.
Also, I think I am right to say that the Rural Payments Agency will administer the claims. Can the Minister explain what extra training and support it will receive to ensure that the envisaged light-touch regime is actually in place? Does it have sufficient staff to make individual determinations of claims on a more flexible and common-sense basis? Who exactly will provide the independent appeals process for those who feel that they have been dealt with unfairly? Can we be assured that they will be truly independent? Is the “public-facing Defra database” of payments already in existence, or will this require a new database separate from CAP, with all the ensuing problems that we have had with databases in the past?
Finally, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, says, we are told that the consultation on the SI ran from 4 August to 1 September 2020. By any stretch of imagination, this was a short consultation, of about three weeks.
I hope that the Minister can assure us that the proposals before us today have the confidence of the farmers and land managers who will be expected to roll out the new regime and make it a success. I look forward to his response.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for contributing to this very interesting debate. I am afraid that, inevitably, there are matters of detail on which I will have to write to noble Lords. I open with the reference of the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, to Defra: I think not only of socks but of other garments that have been worked extremely hard. In turn, I reference the work of farmers, which has been so evident last year—as it has been throughout history—in the production of food for our nation. Also, as my noble friend Lord Caithness said, contrary to some of the contributions, my experience of farmers and landowners includes the work that they do that has not been rewarded on enhancements on their farms. They do it free of charge because they want an attractive farm and are custodians of their land for the next generations.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, asked about the SI situation. Our intention is that we may well lay an SI every year—a point that the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, made. We intend to allow Parliament to debate the reductions closer to when they will be applied. The savings from reductions in direct payments will be ring-fenced for agriculture—a point raised by noble Lords. The noble Earl, Lord Devon, and my noble friend Lord Northbrook asked about the money saved on direct payments and where it is to be redeployed. The 2021 direct payments reductions will free up between £169 million and £179 million to be redirected into more Countryside Stewardship agreements, higher-level stewardship extensions and other schemes for farmers.
The reductions that we plan to apply to direct payments for 2021 to 2024 were set out in our agricultural transition plan on 30 November 2020. We intend to continue to make gradual reductions in direct payments across the rest of the transition period until the last year of direct payments in 2027. The new schemes will address productivity, hence profitability, and environmental enhancement. Mindful of my own farm, on productivity improvements, I think of what precision farming and integrated pest management present in terms of enhancement of the environment but also increasing productivity. That is a point I make to the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley of Knighton.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, and the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, referred to the future farming resilience fund phase 2 and its launch. The grant application process for the next round of funding is planned to open at the end of this month.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, asked for clarification on percentages. This instrument changes a figure used in the calculation of the young farmer payment from 25% to 17.5%. This ensures that eligible farmers receive roughly the same amount for their young farmer payment as they did before the greening payment was removed. I say to my noble friend Lord Trenchard that the removal of the greening payment was indeed, I think, a sensible simplification.
My noble friend Lord Caithness and several other noble Lords would like more information on new schemes. Obviously, I understand that. The Farming is Changing leaflet was made available to farmers and land managers last November. We have since published further information about the schemes. The Countryside Stewardship scheme opened an application window on 9 February. Details of the sustainable farming incentive scheme pilot were published on 10 March.
Perhaps I may unite my noble friend Lord Caithness and the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, on this matter. They both spoke about ensuring that visitors and, indeed, their dogs respect the countryside. I was at a meeting on this last week. Natural England is working on a refresh of the Countryside Code alongside stakeholders, and a relaunch of advice to the public is planned for Easter. There is much more to be done on educating the many people we want to come to enjoy the countryside to respect it. It is a working and living countryside that we all want to enjoy.
The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, raised an important point about new entrants, and my noble friend Lady McIntosh raised the issue of retirement schemes. These are clearly all part of what we want to do to encourage new entrants. We plan to carry out a consultation on the proposed lump-sum exit scheme, but it is not covered by the regulations.
A number of noble Lords raised the issue of upland farms and lowland farms—a range of farms. As I said before, our pilots are intended to involve farms of all sizes, topography and tenures, and it is very important that they work. That is why the pilots are all about a codesign—a point I should have made—with the people who will take them forward, and we will then have a national rollout.
The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, raised an issue that I do not see as an either/or. I am absolutely convinced that benign pastoral farming of livestock is a net benefit to the environment and a producer of healthy food, as is the production of fruit and vegetables. I am not sure that fruit and vegetables would be very easy to produce on some of the uplands that we all know of. Different parts of the country produce different parts of our food and all sectors are important in the balanced diet we wish.
My noble friend Lord Lilley raised an interesting point about the taxpayer and the consumer, one of which I am very conscious as a farmer and a receiver of support. I do not have time to get into it today, but I was talking to a New Zealand Minister of a previous Administration about the consequences of the change that my noble friend mentioned there for the environment and how unpopular it was with many parts of the electorate. That is why we seek a balance and why I spent quite a lot of time during the passage of the then Agriculture Bill stressing that the farmer has many purposes. The first, of course, is producing food but, with 70% of the land of this country of ours farmed, farmers play a crucial role in ensuring that we address emissions, climate change, environment enhancement, clean water, clean air and many other things besides.
My noble friend Lady McIntosh and the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, asked about the devolved Administrations, with whom we work closely; as I said before, the future agriculture framework is important in that regard. I should also say that the time-limited package to support farmers in protected landscapes, particularly upland farmers, is an important scheme that we are working on.
Turning to financial assistance, the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, asked about the onus on the Secretary of State to come up with the detail of schemes. The scope of this instrument is specifically enforcement, monitoring and data publication in relation to the schemes. This reflects the relevant powers of the Agriculture Act 2020. The detail of the schemes themselves will be set out in guidance.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, and my noble friend Lord Caithness asked when detailed guidance for the four schemes would be published. Detailed guidance for each scheme will be published ahead of its launch so, for tree health, we will publish this summer; for environmental land management, guidance will be published ahead of the application window for pilot opening in June.
A number of noble Lords raised the issue of the new schemes. Our ambition is to deliver new schemes which are simpler for farmers than their predecessors, and we have worked closely with a range of stakeholders to ensure that.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, asked about the agency’s readiness for the pilot. The RPA inspectorate has been preparing inspectors over the past 18 months to move towards a more supportive tone of inspections. Indeed, the RPA payment record has become very impressive.
The noble Baronesses, Lady Jones and Lady Bakewell, asked about consultation. During the consultation, Defra engaged with 59 key stakeholder organisations to ensure that it had a thorough understanding of their views. Those views became extremely helpful and their responses were invaluable. The results of the consultation were summarised in a response document.
The noble Earl, Lord Devon, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Bakewell and Lady Jones, asked about the independence of the appeals process. Under Regulation 31 of the Agriculture (Financial Assistance) Regulations 2021, the Secretary of State must appoint a person or persons to consider appeals. In practice, this will be an independent panel, which is the process currently in use. The Independent Agricultural Appeals Panel is an advisory non-departmental public body; members are independent external experts.
I am afraid that I will have to write on many other points. I will deal with the definitions referred to by the noble Earl, Lord Devon, which will give him reassurance. I say to my noble friend Lord Northbrook that we are working on this, but there is more to be done—many of the export problems have now been resolved. The tree health pilot is being delivered by the Forestry Commission. With those details and many more to come, I beg to move.